Joe Biden has chosen Sen. Kamala Harris of California, at one point his most critical rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, to be his running mate.
"You make a lot of important decisions as president," Biden said in an email to supporters Tuesday afternoon. "But the first one is who you select to be your Vice President. I’ve decided that Kamala Harris is the best person to help me take this fight to Donald Trump and Mike Pence and then to lead this nation starting in January 2021."
Harris would be the first female, Black, and Asian American vice president.
To Biden, who will be 78 on Inauguration Day, Harris represents a potential generational successor to his long career in public service. A former vice president himself, he has talked of being a “bridge” to a new era of politicians — like Harris, the 55-year-old daughter of immigrants from Jamaica and India. There also has been persistent speculation around Biden’s campaign that he might not seek a second term if he beats President Donald Trump.
"I need someone working alongside me who is smart, tough, and ready to lead," Biden wrote in the email. "Kamala is that person."
Harris, who is scheduled to join Biden for an event in Wilmington, Delaware on Wednesday, tweeted that she was "honored" to join the ticket.
Biden had promised to pick a woman to be his running mate. And in the midst of a pandemic that has disproportionately devastated the Black community and the national protests against systemic racism and police brutality, Black Democrats, long the party’s most reliable base, had called for him to choose a Black woman.
House Majority Whip James Clyburn, an influential South Carolina Democrat who advised Biden informally during the search, praised Harris's selection Tuesday in a conference call with reporters.
"What we have experienced here today is one more chapter in this country living out it's true creed: That all men — and, in this instance, women — are created equal," Clyburn said. "Those of us who have been battling for years now, tying to get this country forward, toward a more perfect union are very, very pleased with the day."
Harris is likely to serve Biden’s campaign as a weapon against Trump. As the former top prosecutor in San Francisco and later for the state of California, Harris had built her own presidential bid as a prosecution of Trump, with a national profile that was elevated by her grilling of Trump administration officials during Senate hearings.
She advocated for police reform as district attorney, implementing early training for police against racial bias and spearheading efforts to reduce recidivism among low-level offenders. Other parts of Harris’s record as a tough-on-crime prosecutor, however, have been criticized by criminal justice reform advocates, and they could put Biden further out of step with young voters and progressives who have embraced calls to “defund the police.”
A longtime ally of former president Barack Obama, Harris also had been close with Beau Biden, Biden’s late son and political heir, before he died of brain cancer in 2015.
"I first met Kamala through my son Beau," Biden said in his Tuesday email. "They were both Attorneys General at the same time. He had enormous respect for her and her work. I thought a lot about that as I made this decision. There is no one’s opinion I valued more than Beau’s and I’m proud to have Kamala standing with me on this campaign."
On Tuesday night, a photographer with the campaign tweeted a photo of the two of them speaking over video chat.
Biden’s original list of vice presidential possibilities included more than a dozen women, including other former 2020 rivals, such as Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. (Klobuchar, whose prosecutorial record at home came under scrutiny after Minneapolis police killed George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, withdrew from consideration in June.)
In late July, Biden told MSNBC’s Joy Reid that four Black women, among others, remained in the running. He didn’t reveal names, but his campaign at points had signaled interest in Reps. Val Demings of Florida and Karen Bass of California, former Georgia lawmaker Stacey Abrams, former US national security adviser Susan Rice, and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.
A Biden–Harris pairing became unthinkable to many after she got the better of him during the first Democratic debate last year in Miami. Harris — at the time struggling to break out in a field of candidates who were bunched up behind Biden, the frontrunner — called back to his opposition to busing as a means to racially integrate schools in the 1970s.
“I do not believe you are a racist,” she began as she criticized Biden for boasting about his amicable working relationships with segregationist senators who shared his views on busing.
“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,” Harris added. “And that little girl was me.”
Biden, caught off guard, stumbled through a response. Afterward, his allies grumbled that Harris’s attack was out of bounds, especially given her relationship with Beau when both served as state attorneys general. Some Biden team insiders in the weeks that followed talked as if Harris had killed her chances of the vice presidency that night. And Biden began the next debate by jokingly telling her, “Go easy on me, kid,” a comment that came across as patriarchal and condescending.
When Biden’s search for a running mate began, he talked of finding someone with whom he was “simpatico” and called back to the partnership he had with Obama, who found in Biden a trusted adviser worthy of a meaningful White House role. As Biden’s search deepened, his campaign took public-facing steps to suggest no bad vibes lingered with Harris. After Biden won the South Carolina primary and cleaned up on Super Tuesday, Harris, who ended her campaign two months before the first caucuses in Iowa, endorsed him and was prepared to hit the trail as a surrogate. She and Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, another one-time 2020 contender, joined Biden and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at a campaign rally in Detroit in March.
It was there that Biden offered himself as a transitional figure — a bridge to future generations. It also was Biden’s last major event before the coronavirus pandemic shut down traditional campaigning.
Harris also joined Biden’s wife, Jill, for a virtual fundraiser in late June. Around that time, a campaign spokesperson quoted by the Washington Post dismissed as “rumors” any suggestion that Jill and Valerie Biden Owens, the former vice president’s sister and longtime adviser, were unhappy with Harris.
But other tensions within the campaign over Harris became public in recent weeks, after Politico reported that former senator Chris Dodd, who helped steer Biden’s vice presidential search, was unhappy that Harris seemed unremorseful about her attack at the first debate and some Biden donors labeled her overly “ambitious.”
The attacks on her ambition were read by many as sexist, especially as it’s not exactly unusual for a politician who has run successful campaigns for multiple competitive offices to be ambitious.
"I thought it was problematic," Clyburn said Tuesday when asked about the fairness of those concerns about Harris's loyalty and ambition. "I've never heard about anyone asking a man a question like that."
Clyburn also characterized Harris's debate clash with Biden as proof of her toughness.
"The fact of the matter is, there was never any hatchet to bury," Clyburn said. "The fact is, I think that Joe Biden was a bit surprised by that question. But I do believe that Kamala Harris demonstrated with that question that she was willing to take the fight to the opposition."
At a July 29 news conference in Wilmington, Delaware, where Biden revealed he’d make his pick soon, he himself was prepared to deescalate the Harris drama. An Associated Press photographer captured notes Biden had made in case he was asked about her.
The first talking point? “Do not hold grudges.”