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[00:00:03]

Hey there, it's the NPR Politics podcast. I'm Susan Davis. I cover Congress. I'm Scott Tatro. Cover the presidential campaign. I'm Asma Khalid. I also cover the campaign. I'm Juana Summers. I cover demographics and culture.

[00:00:13]

And it is four forty nine p.m. on Tuesday, August 11th. And Joe Biden has announced his running mate, California Senator Kamala Harris. His pick was announced in a text to supporters.

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I don't know, guys. I'm just not that surprised here.

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You know, I think the best way to think about this is something that a Harris ally said to me a couple months ago, and that was that, in their view, Kamala Harris was going to be the Joe Biden of the vice presidential race. Right. It kind of starts surrounding this person. It's probably going to be this person. And then everybody picks through every single other potential and everyone else has a moment of up and down that it ends right back where it started.

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And that's California Senator Kamala Harris. Absolutely.

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She was seemed like she was the odds on favorite from the start. So the fact that it's her just feels like it was meant to be. That doesn't seem like there's any anybody really shocked in the world of politics today that the ticket is going to be a Biden Harris ticket.

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Scott, I want to start with you, because you've covered Harris the longest. You've covered her back to your California statehouse days when she was attorney general. And for people who might need a reminder, what are sort of the main highlights of her political career?

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Sure, she was elected to the Senate in 2016, and she's just the second black woman elected to the U.S. Senate. And that's that's a really important part of this conversation. But before she went to the Senate, she had a long time career in law enforcement in California. She started out as a prosecutor, first in Alameda County, then in San Francisco. In the Bay Area. She ran for San Francisco district attorney and after serving as San Francisco district attorney, she ran for California attorney general.

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And during her time as a prosecutor, you know, this is something that was really covered a lot during her presidential campaign. She kind of carved out this reputation as somebody who was on the leading edge of of being a progressive prosecutor in that moment. But, of course, in that moment is very different into in this current moment in terms of the stances that you take as a prosecutor. And I think more than anything, she really developed a reputation over the years as someone who is a real political pragmatist, somebody who was constantly trying to make sure that she wasn't getting too far ahead of public opinion on a lot of topics, but certainly built a big reputation for herself across the state of California.

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And then once she got to the Senate, particularly due to her role in high profile Senate hearings on the Intelligence Committee and Judiciary Committee, really became a standout senator, mostly for her ability to tap that prosecuting career and really grill witnesses during high profile hearings.

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She was definitely one of those senators that as soon as they got to Capitol Hill, the speculation began on sort of wondering when they would run for president and want to you know, this is a history making pick. She's not the first woman to be on a presidential ticket, of course, but she is the first non-white woman to be on a ticket. Do you think it's just a reflection of this political moment that we're living in, especially with so much reckoning in the country right now on issues of race and racial justice?

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Yes, yeah, that's right.

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Kamala Harris is the daughter of immigrants from Jamaica and India, something that she wrote about in her memoir that came out some time ago and talked about openly on the campaign trail. But as you point out, it's important to note that this is coming at a time of racial reckoning in the country. And it puts Harris, who is arguably one of the best known nonwhite women in politics, in the middle of a contest against President Trump, who has repeatedly stoked racial divisions in the White House and on the campaign trail.

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I've heard a lot. I've spoken to a lot of black women in particular who had said that it was crucial and critical for former Vice President Joe Biden to pick not just a woman of color, but a black woman to put on his ticket that that was important, noting the fact that black women have for a long time now been the backbone of the Democratic Party, something Harris and her own presidential run consistently put at the center of her focus, such as announcing her candidacy on Martin Luther King Day and paying homage to Shirley Chisholm, who was the first black candidate to seek a major party nomination.

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She was sort of subjected to a recent wave of negative scrutiny in which you could also argue that some of it was familiar, sort of sexist, misogynist criticisms that she's too ambitious or people didn't like her that much. And clearly, Biden felt strongly enough about her to maybe ignore those criticisms or maybe they just didn't resonate with him.

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But I mean, I see I also think what's interesting about this criticisms is very quickly after we began to hear them bubble up, we heard from so many different women's groups, you know, African-American groups basically calling out this behavior and saying that they thought it was no longer just important for Biden to pick a black woman, but that it was urgent and necessary and a requirement. And I actually felt like it made it feel more urgent for people who felt like having a non-white person on this ticket was really important in the year 2020.

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So you have we've talked a lot on the pod before, especially. And we've been speculating about what Biden was looking for in a vice president, that ultimately, you know, the running mate doesn't matter all that much to the bottom line. The voters still really decide based on who they want the president to be.

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But I do wonder if this is a little bit different this time, because so much of the conversation around Biden has centered around his age and that he would need someone that voters felt like would be ready on day one if if if something happened to him.

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You're right. So, I mean, he's 77. And part of this speculation is coming about because Biden himself has kind of referred to him himself at times as being this transitional figure. And so many people within the Democratic Party have thought that whoever he selects as his running mate would likely be seen as the potential future of the Democratic Party. Right. And Kamala Harris is 55 years old. She's much younger than him. I think so, though. The other thing that I will say, as much as I have definitely been on this bandwagon of saying that VP running mates, you know, they don't really sway the election extensively.

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What I heard from people where they were to kind of moments or incidents in which they can win is if people feel like you've made a really poor decision. Right. And people will often say that that was what happened in the McCain Sarah Palin choice. And secondly, this kind of ties into it. It's seen as really the first big decision that you are seeing from the person that you are potentially choosing as president. And so how people interpret that decision matters more, they say, than who the actual candidate is.

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Yeah, it seems to be, too, in this moment that Kamala Harris is the safe pick, that she was the expected pick, that she was the conventional wisdom pick. And in a race where Joe Biden currently is leading, why do anything but the safe thing?

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And I think that's probably why and well, that is why she was the odds on favorite from the beginning to the point where way back in twenty when she was still running for president, people kept saying, are you just running to be Joe Biden's running mate? Enough that at one point she said, I would love for Joe Biden to be a running mate. You know, he already did it for eight years with Barack Obama. He can do it with me.

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But that's like if you look through the things that you want as a vice president, she was one of the few people considered that really checked every single box. And I think the big difference compared to her and a lot of the other people at the end was the fact that she had won a statewide race in a big state. She had run for president and knew what the national political scene was like. And and she had that just enough foreign policy, national security experience based on that that time on the Intelligence Committee.

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All right.

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Well, let's take a quick break. And when we get back, more on the Biden Harris ticket support for this podcast. And the following message come from the Annie Casey Foundation developing solutions to support strong families and communities to help ensure a brighter future for America's children. More information is available at ABC Dog.

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Back in the day. As Netflix began to gain popularity, its rival Blockbuster, was looking for an edge. At one point, the investors were asking for Blockbuster to sell jeans in the store.

[00:08:05]

Yeah, it was matinees, like older investors being like, you know what the kids want? They want jeans.

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You get a Tom Cruise movie and some stonewashed jeans. The downfall of Blockbuster and the rise of Netflix. Listen to it's been a minute from NPR and we're back.

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And we've all spent a lot of time over the past year covering the wings within the Democratic Party and sort of the ideological battles going on inside the party.

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Where does Harris fit in this debate?

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So I think that's an excellent question. And during the primaries, you'd often hear from voters who also weren't entirely sure where Kamala Harris fit into this ideological spectrum, in part because we had this, you know, progressive wing of the party with Bernie Sanders, and then we had more moderate candidates like Boudjellal or Joe Biden, and voters weren't really sure where to put Harris. I would argue that she's largely been seen as as pragmatic, and that's how many folks would describe her.

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You know, that wasn't necessarily a huge selling point in the primaries, but I don't necessarily think it's a liability now as a running mate.

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Yeah, I think that's fair to say. If you look at the positions she took, especially when she was a prosecutor in California, she was often kind of creeping a little bit past the edge of of where voters were at the time.

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She she never really wanted to weigh in on whether or not to legalize marijuana when she was a prosecutor. That's something she supports now. She has certainly over the last few months after the George Floyd killing, really, really come out with with full throated calls for reform of police departments, for oversight of police departments, independent investigations into police officer killings. That's something she was much more hesitant to do so when she was attorney general and district attorney, when the politics of that looked a lot different.

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I think there's a couple of exceptions that are high profile from her career, including the fact that she was one of the first Democrats to really take a big stance toward same sex marriage when she was one of the first attorney generals to refuse to defend California's. A law that banned same sex marriage that made its way to the Supreme Court and partially because she didn't defend it, that law was overturned. I wonder what you think about Kamala Harris being a consensus pick, because I know during the primary you covered a lot of her rival campaigns.

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You spent time with Tom Stires campaign with Andrew Yang's campaign, certainly time with Bernie Sanders campaign.

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I mean, people that weren't initially sort of the Biden Harris voter. Do they come home or does this ticket have work to do?

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Yes, I think it's going to be really interesting to see how voters respond to this ticket with the big caveat that we're having this conversation in a campaign year that looks nothing like anything any of us have ever experienced before. I think a lot of people who I've talked to about the potential of Kamala Harris being on this ticket are really interested to see her in that vice presidential debate against Vice President Mike Pence, because they have seen her must see cross-examination of Republican witnesses and hearings that sue your you're familiar with and that we've all been watching and we've seen her have these electric performances.

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I was at that rally in Oakland, California, where she drew more than 20000 people at this rally that looked almost like an inauguration. It was very flag draped and seeing her that her profile there. So I think that there is a lot of questions of what's next. A lot of people were surprised to see her own presidential campaign and so quickly. So I think there are a lot of questions on what she will bring to the ticket and what voter she can and will energize.

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We should note the Trump campaign is already up with an attack ad against Kamala Harris.

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Voters rejected Harris. They smartly spotted a phony, but not Joe Biden. He's not that smart. Biden calls himself a transition candidate. He is handing over the reins to Kamala while they jointly embrace the radical left.

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I'm curious if you think it's going to be easy or hard to paint Kamala Harris as a radical leftist, especially what I think back to the primary campaign where she was sort of she never really won the hearts and minds of the progressive wing.

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I think that would have been a lot easier to do with this running mate no matter who it was. We've talked a lot about the hard time that the Trump campaign has defining Joe Biden, somebody who's been on the political scene for decades and has such a moderate reputation. And they've really struggled with that. And they've taken down ads and tried a few different lines of attack. I think no matter who it was, certainly with Harris, this is somebody who is a a newer face on the national scene, somebody who's much more closely aligned with the the more activist side of the Democratic Party than Joe Biden would be.

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Again, that would have applied to almost any of these running mates.

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So and also there's the fact that Biden supporters, the Biden campaign has been a little candid about the fact that Joe Biden benefits from the fact that he did not he does not face the sexism that Hillary Clinton faced when she was a candidate for president. Kamala Harris is a woman. She's a woman of color there. Certainly, certainly probably going to be a lot of elements of that in the attacks against her, whether that's from the official campaign or just kind of lurking around on the Internet.

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All right.

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So is there any sort of weaknesses that you'd point to about Harris as a politician or as a campaigner? You know, Scott and I both spent a lot of time covering the Harris campaign. And it's interesting she has these moments of extreme magnetism on the campaign trail where she inspires people and drew these huge crowds. And she raised a lot of money. But her performances on the campaign trail were often not consistent. There were inconsistencies in policy, I think, about health care, for example.

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And a lot of people that I talked to told me they really liked Kamala Harris and they saw her on the campaign trail, but they found her message either confusing or unclear or they said they didn't know where she stood. And if you recall, her campaign ended up ending actually before the Iowa caucus even occurred.

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And I think I think one thing you'll probably hear a lot of is kind of the flip side to to the argument that she's really taken some careful, pragmatic approaches to policy over the years is that she's somebody who very quickly changes her beliefs on on topics or doesn't really have a core set of policy principles for why she's running. That's certainly probably going to be a theme. And it was a theme when when other Democrats were campaigning against her last year.

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I also wonder, you know, being the first non-white woman on a ticket, it also seems to me that part of her job here might be to make sure that female turnout and black turnout go where it needs to be for Democrats to win.

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Look, I think this is a clear recognition by the Biden campaign of the diversity of the coalition that Democrats bring together in every election, but especially the foundational role that black women play within this party as a loyal constituency. And let's just keep in mind, it wasn't that long ago that black people, black women were the force that helped former Vice President Joe Biden win the Democratic nomination in the first place. If you just think back to that South Carolina primary where things really started to shift into high gear and turn into his favor by nominating a black woman for national office, it.

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Could be seen that Joe Biden is acknowledging the debt that he owes to black voters for tipping the scales for him.

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All right, let's leave it there. As you can imagine, there is plenty more vice presidential coverage online at NPR, dawg, and, of course, on your local public radio station. I'm Susan Davis.

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I cover Congress. I'm Scott D'être. I'm covering the presidential campaign and Asma Khalid. I also cover the campaign. And I'm Juana Summers. I cover demographics and culture. And thank you for listening to the NPR Politics podcast.