Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) will be former Vice President Joe Biden’s running mate on the Democrats’ 2020 presidential ticket, Biden announced Tuesday.
The development came in a tweet from Biden:
Back when Kamala was Attorney General, she worked closely with Beau. I watched as they took on the big banks, lifted up working people, and protected women and kids from abuse. I was proud then, and I'm proud now to have her as my partner in this campaign.
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) August 11, 2020
In a tweet of her own, Harris said she was honored to join the ticket.
.@JoeBiden can unify the American people because he's spent his life fighting for us. And as president, he'll build an America that lives up to our ideals.
I'm honored to join him as our party's nominee for Vice President, and do what it takes to make him our Commander-in-Chief.
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) August 11, 2020
In a press release accompanying the news, Biden’s campaign said that “Joe knows that Kamala will be ready to tackle the work that is needed to heal our country on Day One of the Biden-Harris Administration.”
“Joe knows that we can’t just return to the way things were – we have to build back better,” the campaign added. “From her track record of managing through multiple crises to standing up for the people who need it most, Joe knows that Kamala will be ready to tackle the work that is needed to heal our country on Day One of the Biden-Harris Administration.”
On Wednesday at a time to-be-announced, Biden and Harris will deliver remarks together in Delaware, the campaign said.
— Adam Schultz (@schultzinit) August 11, 2020
Former President Barack Obama, in a statement on the news, said Harris had “spent her career defending our Constitution and fighting for folks who need a fair shake.”
“Michelle and I couldn’t be more thrilled for Kamala, Doug, Cole and Ella,” he said, referring to the senator’s husband and kids. “This is a good day for our country. Now let’s go win this thing.”
Before Harris spoke a word as a part of the presidential ticket, she’d made history: The senator’s mother immigrated to the United States from India, and her father from Jamaica — making her both the first Black vice presidential candidate from a major political party in American history, as well as the first Asian American in that position.
Kicking off her own presidential campaign in January last year, Harris said she and her sister were “raised by a community with a deep belief in the promise of our country — and a deep understanding of the parts of that promise that still remain unfulfilled.”
As a political calculation, Biden’s pick of Harris could be a reflection of the lessons Democrats learned in 2016, specifically when it comes to Black voter turnout, said Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia.
Biden’s advantage over Hillary Clinton’s 2016 performance, at least according to current projections, is so far “almost entirely predicated on improvements with white voters,” Kondik said.
Choosing a Black running mate could help Biden in this regard, he said — “but we’ve never had a Black running mate before, so we ultimately don’t really know what the effect might be.”
President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign, reacting to the pick, said Harris had “embraced the left’s radical manifesto” during her own unsuccessful bid for the Democrats’ presidential nomination. Trump’s spokesperson, Katrina Pierson, said Biden announcing Harris as his running mate amounted to him “surrendering control of our nation to the radical mob.”
Prosecutor Turned Politician
Harris has a long record in public life that bolstered her case for the number two job, but also opened her up to attacks during the Democratic presidential primary.
She has served as California’s junior senator since 2017, and before that was California’s attorney general for six years and the San Francisco district attorney.
In the Senate, she’s made a name for herself with her tough questioning of witnesses before various committees.
When Attorney General Bill Barr appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee in May last year, for example, Harris stumped him by asking — and then pressing for an answer when Barr evaded — whether “the President, or anyone at the White House, ever asked or suggested that you open an investigation of anyone?”
“Seems you’d remember something like that, and be able to tell us” she said, when Barr hesitated to respond.
But her history as a prosecutor opened Harris up to criticism during the primary over issues like the state’s truancy policy — the threat of jail time for California parents whose kids missed school too frequently.
In 2014, she drew criticism from the left for appealing a court ruling that found that the death penalty was unconstitutional. Still, Harris has said she is personally against the death penalty, and declined to seek the punishment a decade earlier against a man who killed a police officer with an AK-47 — despite widespread pressure to do so, including from fellow Democrats such as Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).
“The context is really important,” said Eric Schickler, professor of political science at UC Berkeley and co-director of the Institute of Governmental Studies. “She did not want to be perceived as too far out-there, on the left, on those issues.”
“What’s happened is essentially, the understanding of policing and prosecutors has shifted, especially among Democratic voters,” he said.
Today, Schickler noted, Harris’ politics as district attorney and attorney general are “kind of out-of-step with the mood of the party now — though it was in-step at the time.”
Given Harris and Biden’s recent chumminess, it’s worth noting their more contentious moments during the Democratic primary.
Harris clashed with Biden at times over his opposition to government-mandated busing programs, which were used to integrate schools.
“There was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bused to school every day,” Haris told Biden at a debate in July last year. “That little girl was me.”
Reporters subsequently noted that the busing program used by Harris’ elementary school was voluntary, not mandatory. As the Washington Post reported last year, “Biden never explicitly took aim at voluntary busing programs such as the one that took Harris to school in the 1970s.”
And while he was (very publicly) mulling Harris as a VP contender, Biden also repeatedly stressed that the debate scuffle was just that — a debate.
“Do not hold grudges,” read the notes under Harris’ name on a notepad of Biden’s, captured last month by the Associated Press photographer Andrew Harnik. “Great respect for her.”
Though Harris was considered the front runner for Biden’s VP nod, she had plenty of competition from other high-profile Democrats who the former vice president had vetted at length in recent months. On Tuesday, several sent well wishes to Harris on Twitter.
Susan Rice, former President Barack Obama’s national security adviser and another top contender for the Biden running mate job, congratulated Harris and called her “a tenacious and trailblazing leader who will make a great partner on the campaign trail.”
A Crucial VP Pick
The debates also highlighted the age gap between the pair: Biden was writing federal law when Harris was in elementary school. The Democratic presidential nominee will turn 78 two weeks after Election Day and would be the oldest president in American history on the day of his inauguration. (Trump turned 74 in June.)
“A lot of voters are cognizant of his advanced age,” Kondik said. The Trump campaign’s attacks on this front will only underline the importance of a solid vice president.
Harris dropped out of the Democratic primary race in December and endorsed Biden in March, after the former vice president decisively won the South Carolina Democratic Primary and established himself as the alternative to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
“I really believe in him, and I have known him for a long time,” Harris said at the time. “One of the things that we need right now is we need a leader who really does care about the people and who can therefore unify the people, and I believe Joe can do that.”
Given the limited nature of Biden’s campaign — he doesn’t currently hold elected office, and his campaign has been severely curtailed by the COVID-19 pandemic — the vice presidential pick served not only as a way to amplify the candidate’s message, but also as a window into his decision-making process.
Harris was seen as a frontrunner for the VP slot both because she had already built a national following, and also because her views aren’t too out-of-line with Biden’s own. And given Biden’s already-strong position in the race, Kondik noted, his vice presidential pick didn’t need to “change the electoral calculus.”
“Biden wants the electoral calculus to remain as it is — with him leading.”