From The New York Times, I'm Michael Barbaro. This is a daily. Today, Joe Biden picks Senator Kamala Harris of California as his running mate, making her the first black woman and the first Asian American woman to run for vice president on a major party ticket. Alex Burns on the historic decision.
It's Wednesday, August 12th. Alex, did you get the text message from the Biden campaign? You know, I had the text messages forwarded to me by several other people before I got it myself, but I suppose I was notified by text message, just not directly from the Biden campaign, just not the Biden.
I actually am pretty disappointed because I signed up for the text message from the Biden campaign and I didn't get a text message. So I suppose this answers the inevitable question. How do you make an enormous announcement during a pandemic, which is you do it via text message, you just don't send it to Alex Burns or Michael Barbaro. OK, so onto the decision itself.
It is 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday evening. Joe Biden announced his choice about three hours ago that it was gonna be Kamala Harris. And Alex, the last time that we spoke with you, we talked about three overlapping realities that you said were influencing Biden's choice of a running mate, the nationwide protests over race and policing, the pandemic and the economic collapse. And then there was Biden's age, the fact that he would be the oldest president to assume the office.
So how does Biden get from those realities to Kamala Harris?
So I think in some ways they are three distinct forces and in some ways they really are different strands of the same big current, which is that Biden was looking from the start for a running mate who he saw and who he believe the country would see as a really serious person for really serious times.
Now, that could mean a whole bunch of different things.
But one of the reasons why I think you end up seeing Kamala Harris emerge as the vice president is that she straddles all the different forces of this moment in a way that nobody else on the short list did, or at least demonstrated that they did. She was a senator who marched in racial justice protests this spring and who led a charge in the Senate to make lynching a federal crime. She is a familiar face to Democratic voters, not only from her presidential campaign, but from her interrogations of Trump officials in the Judiciary Committee at a time when Democrats are really struggling to hold the administration to account over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
And she's somebody of clearly, in Joe Biden's eyes, sufficient and diverse enough political experience and stature that she will look to voters like somebody who is ready to be president.
Mm hmm. Well, let's drill into these three realities, each individually just a little bit further. And I want to start with the nationwide protests, the questions around race. How did that influence the choice? You mentioned Kamala Harris marching in some of these protests and the work she has done in the Senate.
Right. You had at the outset of the season of protest, a number of figures on Biden's vice presidential list really speak up about matters of racial justice and police. And you had Val Demings, the congresswoman from Florida, a former police chief, become an outspoken champion of police reform.
But you also saw people come under the microscope in less flattering ways, including Val Demings, that there was a sense from the start among Democrats that anybody on the shortlist who has touched the criminal justice system in their career is going to really need to have their record picked over. And that happened with that. She was the police chief in Orlando. And there are some questions about how appropriately she handled matters of police misconduct on her watch.
Well, what about Harris's history as attorney general in California? Because that was a significant focus during her own primary run for president. And my sense is that a lot of progressive voters, a lot of black voters, especially in California, are skeptical of her record and question whether or not she's the right figure in this moment. I recall that she once described herself as the state's top cop.
I think that's one of the questions that we are going to see play out in this campaign going forward is whether she can address the criticism of her record as a prosecutor more convincingly in a general election than she did during the primary.
And the question is, has she done enough in the last few months in the wake of George Floyd, in the midst of these demonstrations to show that she is serious about criminal justice reform as a matter of governing now that people who looked askance at her record during the Democratic primaries say, you know what, this is good enough or even better than good enough.
And thinking about race and this moment, how should we be thinking about the. The fact that Harris is herself a black woman, well, that's, of course, of enormous importance in this moment that I think starting in the late spring, the sense among people close to Biden was that it would be tough in this moment to really meet the political mood of the country if the Democrats put forward an all white ticket that Joe Biden, as a seventy seven year old white guy, needed a running mate who could speak to the country's multiracial future in a way that he, with his identity, could not.
And so between her identity as a black woman and as an Indian American woman, Senator Harris, I think, clearly has an opportunity to speak to the country in a different way than a white running mate with her criminal justice record might have had that. There are people who may be willing to accept or embrace her evolution on certain matters of police misconduct, police reform, criminal justice, because she can speak to those issues from the perspective of her own identity in a way that a white candidate could not.
OK, so next, in these overlapping realities that guided Biden's choice, we have the pandemic both as a public health crisis and an economic crisis. So how did that further narrow the field influence the choice?
So this is a trickier one because the candidates for vice president who were most directly in contact with the pandemic, most directly involved in responding to the pandemic, were governors and mayors. But the pandemic has made it really hard for a lot of people to imagine choosing a running mate who would be campaigning for vice president at the same time as they were managing a crisis on the ground, where it would just be awfully difficult to imagine the governor of a state being out at a political fundraiser every day or doing political morning shows when their state is experiencing a second wave of the virus in October.
So are you saying that Kamala Harris is lack of responsibility in this pandemic was actually kind of an asset?
Well, I think for all the senators, the lack of day to day management responsibility in the coronavirus pandemic.
Yes, absolutely. An asset to them and being considered as a political candidate for the fall.
And finally, Biden's age and his energy are this kind of third overlapping reality that you said would shape the decision. So how did that shape?
It shapes it in a couple of ways. Some of them are about governing and some of them are about the political future of the Democratic Party. When you talk to voters, when you see polls about how people see Biden, how people think about his vice presidential choice, there is clearly a sense that he is choosing a back up president in a way that you might not have if Biden were fifty seven. And you put that together with the gravity of the crisis that this country is in and the bar for what a vice president needs to bring to the table on the first day gets a lot higher.
Kamala Harris ran for president. People know her as a former presidential candidate. She's not a new face to most of the country. And that feeds into the dimension to this. That's about the political future of the Democratic Party as well.
Well, so you're starting to get at this, but how strongly do you think the age question, the succession question influenced who Biden felt he could select in terms of their politics, not just in terms of the future of the party, but the future of his ticket, you know, whether he can win in the fall.
And I'm thinking about a voter who might be comfortable with the idea of a vice president, Warren, for example. Right. But if they are thinking to themselves, but if something happens to Biden or if he doesn't seek re-election, am I comfortable with a president Warren?
And therefore, he needed to choose a candidate whose politics are aligned with his resembled his so that voters didn't feel like a more progressive figure was kind of being snuck into office to the back door of Joe Biden?
Well, that is exactly the message that the Trump campaign is trying to push about Joe Biden, that he is a Trojan horse for the left.
So we know that Joe Biden feels an affinity and a respect for Elizabeth Warren and they've gotten closer over the last few months. It clearly would have been a significant political risk for him to choose a running mate who is seen by a lot of the moderate white folks who are currently supporting him as an alternative to President Trump might make them feel like maybe the president has a point.
But in Kamala Harris, I think they feel they have somebody who cannot easily be caricatured as some flag burning or radical who wants to burn down police stations. Right. That's not the truth of her political biography. And it leaves the Trump campaign with a somewhat difficult task in trying to caricature the Biden ticket and a potential Biden administration as some kind of stealth project of the extreme left in this country.
So with everything that you have laid out here, did all this leave Biden with many choices? Did you expect it to be Harris? So I'll say two things to that. The first is, and I'm glad you asked this, because part of how we've been talking about this, I hope it doesn't sound to people like this was merely a process of elimination with Kamala Harris as the last person standing. She was one of the strongest candidates at the start and then the middle and obviously at the end.
And there was never really any doubt that she would be one of the finalists.
You know, in the second part of this is that one thing we heard consistently was that he was making this election from a position of political strength, that he is substantially ahead of President Trump in the polls right now. And if he had felt like, you know, the governing partner I want is somebody who I will have to defend from attacks that she is too liberal like Elizabeth Warren or that she's inexperienced, like Keisha Lance Bottoms, he definitely could have done that.
And he didn't. He chose Kamala Harris.
So now that we have Harris as the running mate, let's talk about what she brings and what kind of voters she is meant to appeal to. Who might go to the polls or I guess that mailbox in this case because of this choice of Kamala Harris in the mind of Joe Biden and his advisers? I mean, how does this help him win in the fall?
I think that they hope she will keep the broad appeal that Joe Biden currently has, while exciting groups that are currently voting for him, but maybe without an enormous amount of enthusiasm. Think about young people.
Think about educated, left of left of center voters who may have supported Elizabeth Warren in the Democratic primary and see Joe Biden as just a figure from the past. They're not looking at Kamala Harris as somebody who is going to go out there and electrify the left the way somebody close to Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren might. They're looking at her as somebody who will excite Democrats and liberals and young people because she does represent a breakthrough for the country, because she can speak about the themes of the Biden campaign with a perspective and a biography that Joe Biden himself lacks.
And so the hope among Democrats in the hope of the Biden campaign is that Kamala Harris can do all of that without becoming a divisive or scary figure to voters in the center and to the right of center who are currently supporting Joe Biden, but maybe haven't voted for a Democrat in a while or ever.
So what Harris does theoretically in the eyes of the Biden campaign is she firms up Biden supporters who may be skeptical.
She helps bring in some people who might be on the fence, and she does that without alienating his existing base of supporters and without inflaming a whole bunch of other Americans, including Trump supporters.
Again, that's the hope.
Whether it turns out that way, I think is a really open question. And there are Democrats, including pretty senior Democrats, who are pretty close to the Biden campaign, who will acknowledge, at least in private, that they really don't know how a lot of those voters in the middle will react to the idea of a black woman being a 72 year old heartbeat away from the presidency.
So it's not that there's no risk involved here, there is just a bet that there are more people in the country by a lot who will be excited by somebody who looks and sounds like Kamala Harris than people who will be turned off or at least people who will be turned off who were open to Joe Biden to begin with. But again, I think there is a high degree of confidence that the country is broadly ready for a ticket that looks like this.
There's just some uncertainty about exactly who is ready for it. We'll be right back. Hi, I'm Kristen Mainzer and I'm the co-host of Innovation Uncovered, a new podcast, The World is changing in real time, often in ways we don't notice and can't predict. Innovation Uncovered explores the breakthroughs that are driving our culture now from how we play to what we consume, to how we connect. Learn more about the ideas that are reshaping our reality in extraordinary ways.
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Alex, we've been talking a lot about Biden, how he's thinking about this decision of a running mate. We haven't talked much about how Kamala Harris is thinking about it. And I am mindful that she delivered the single most searing and memorable attack on Joe Biden. Vice President Biden during the Democratic primary.
I do not believe you are a racist, but I also believe and it is personal. And I was actually very it was hurtful.
To hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senators who built their reputations and career on the segregation of race in this country, and it was not only that, but you also worked with them to oppose busing, basically saying that he was sympathetic to segregation and segregationists.
Do you agree today that you were wrong to oppose busing in America, though? Do you agree?
I did not oppose busing in America. What I opposed is busing ordered by the Department of Education, words that you really can't ever take back when you have said them on live television.
So how does Harris Square that that point of view, that statement with this decision to be Biden's running mate?
In a couple of ways. You know, even at the most pitched moments of conflict between Joe Biden and Kamala Harris in the Democratic primary, I didn't talk to anybody in either of their camps who suggested that they just cannot stand each other, that they fundamentally see each other as bad people who were in politics for the wrong reasons. I think it's pretty clear at this point that she did not think that his views on race were utterly disqualifying. And one of the things that I am personally going to be watching for with great interest is what is the public chemistry and personal rapport between Joe Biden and Kamala Harris?
How do they talk about this stuff when they get asked about it? Right. I think it it's hard to imagine that Joe Biden would have chosen her if he didn't feel he had sufficient confidence based on her private conversations that the past is the past. But let's hear him say that for himself, if that is indeed how he feels.
Mm hmm. How do you think in any way the Biden campaign liked the idea of picking someone who had so publicly attacked him? Did they see any value in that?
I'll tell you what they did like is they liked the idea of picking somebody who can deliver that kind of attack not against Joe Biden, but against Donald Trump, against Mike Pence in a vice presidential debate that, you know, just a recognition that that person has real moves and real skills. Right.
And that even people who didn't like what she did to Joe Biden recognized that there was a kind of political dexterity and panache that Joe Biden himself has really not exhibited in this race.
Well, to that point, are we expecting Kamala Harris to be used to attack the president over the next three months or so? I mean, I vividly remember people during the Democratic debates, the pundit class, talking about the prospect of seeing Paris apply the same kind of sharp prosecutorial flair that she had used against Biden on Donald Trump. I think there's a universal expectation among Democrats that Kamala Harris will be a obviously major carrier of a message of criticism and denunciation against the Trump administration and that in her role in the Senate, she will continue to really hold the administration's feet to the fire in different ways.
There is not to get too far ahead of the game here. But if we did have a Supreme Court confirmation battle in the middle of all this, she is a member of the Judiciary Committee that has been a major source of her stature and popularity within the Democratic Party because of how she handled moments like the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation.
So I'm going to ask you one last time, are you willing to ask the White House to authorize the FBI to investigate the claims that have been made against you? Well, I'll do whatever the committee wants, of course.
And I've heard you say that. But a witness statement. Yes. I've not heard you answer a very specific question that's been asked.
So I think there's a high degree of optimism and sky high expectations for the role that Harris will play in, as she would put it, prosecuting the case against Donald Trump.
So are you willing to ask the White House to do that and say yes or no? And then we can move on that six background investigations over twenty six years as it relates to the recent allegations?
Are you willing to have them do it?
Did the witness testimony before, you know, witness who was there supports that I was there.
OK, I'm going to take that as a no and we can move on.
You have said well, with that in mind, what are we expecting the Trump campaign to say about Kamala Harris, about this choice? What are they saying about her? So far, it's been pretty scattershot so far.
Voters rejected Harris. They smartly spotted a phony. But you have had the Trump campaign immediately putting out videos, statements attacking her as yet another Trojan horse for the radical left.
Kamala Harris ran for president by rushing to the radical left, embracing Bernie's plan for socialized medicine, calling for trillions in new taxes, attacking that she adopted these more left wing ideas during the primary.
And that, you know, in her heart, that is truly her agenda, just like they claim it is for Joe Biden. The president himself, we saw at the White House earlier today come out and call Kamala Harris a nasty for how she handled the Kavanaugh hearing.
I was a little surprised. She was extraordinarily nasty to Kavanaugh judge Judge Kavanaugh then now Justice Kavanaugh. She was nasty to a level that was just a horrible thing, the way she was, the way she.
And again, there was the sort of she like Joe is just going to be another radical lefty.
She's also known, from what I understand, as being just about the most liberal person in the U.S. Senate.
And I would have thought that Biden would have tried to stay away from that a little bit, because I don't know how convincing that is going to be as an attack on Senator Harris. And a lot of the stuff that's been said about her by the Trump folks so far, with the exception of of what the president said on the Cavener hearings, you could really imagine them saying about basically anybody Biden chose as a running mate. So there's kind of a boilerplate quality to it.
And I think you still do kind of have the sense that they are trying to run against the Democratic ticket, as though the Democrats nominated Bernie Sanders when obviously they nominated somebody much more moderate than that.
You know, it's actually been a pretty long time since we've had big political news. You know, politics is not the dominant story of America right now. It's Smikle that hurts my feelings. I know that.
I know that. Look, you're just as essential as you've ever been. But that being said, what are you thinking about with this decision, knowing everything else that's going on? What do you mean, just like what's on my mind personally, not like what are you making for dinner?
But like, you know, you know, we have been talking about these intertwined realities of the campaign that all fed into this decision by Biden.
What ties together everything Joe Biden has done in this race so far, I think including his choice of the vice president, is his real conviction that you can bring the country together again, that you can run as a unity candidate in a country this divided and in so much painful turmoil it worked out for him in the Democratic primary. It seems to be working out for him so far in the general election. But just because it seems to be working out for him politically so far with Donald Trump as your opponent doesn't necessarily mean that that is an achievable thing for any president to do in this country at this time.
This is in some ways less of a question for the next few months of this election than for the next four years, if Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are elected, is how justified is Joe Biden's faith that you can put things together again? And how much is he setting himself and his party up for disappointment and turmoil? If it turns out that the coalition that you put together to beat Donald Trump in November isn't necessarily held together by a whole lot besides this urgent desire to beat an unpopular president to.
Alex, thank you very much. Thanks, Michael. Biden and Harris are scheduled to appear together for the first time as a ticket later today at a hotel in Delaware, the same hotel where Biden first announced his campaign for U.S. Senate in 1972. We'll be right back. This podcast is supported by Quarmby presenting about Face, a new Quimby's show featuring the world's biggest beauty entrepreneurs. In this docu series, host Rosie Huntington Whiteley explores the stories of trailblazers that have revolutionized the beauty industry episodes.
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