Joe Biden chose Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate, betting that her ties to the African American community and self-branding as a “progressive prosecutor” will help propel him to the White House.
Harris, 55, who ran against Biden in the Democratic presidential primaries, becomes the first black woman and first Asian American on a major party presidential ticket. Known as an aggressive campaigner, the junior senator from California has won statewide elections in the most populous US state three times. She built her early career as district attorney of San Francisco and later California attorney general.
“I have the great honor [sic] to announce that I’ve picked @KamalaHarris — a fearless fighter for the little guy, and one of the country’s finest public servants — as my running mate,” Biden tweeted.
“@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,” she said.
The Democratic nominee announced the selection six days ahead of the party’s convention, which begins August 17.
Biden made his decision based on his own eight years as Barack Obama’s vice-president. He often said he hoped to choose a running mate with whom he’d be compatible and shares values, even if she came from a very different background than his.
The Biden campaign pointed to the personal relationship between the two as important in his choice. Harris knew Biden’s son Beau when he was attorney general of Delaware and Harris held the same job in California. Biden was impressed by her work on the Senate Judiciary Committee, the campaign said in a fact sheet on his decision. “Kamala doesn’t hesitate to take on powerful people and powerful interests, and that’s exactly the kind of leader Joe wants by his side to rebuild this country and restore the soul of the nation,” the campaign said.
With her history in law enforcement, Harris could help Biden revamp the US criminal justice system, which has been under intense scrutiny since nationwide protests after the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody. Her tough stance for police reform in recent months, including co-authoring a Senate Bill to ban police chokeholds and take other steps, has helped mute criticism from advocates of her own record as a prosecutor.
Biden committed to choosing a woman even before he had won the nomination, making a surprise announcement during the final debate of the primary in mid-March. Harris endorsed Biden on March 8, throwing her support behind his candidacy after sharply criticising him in the Democratic primaries.
Harris and Biden had one of the most memorable debate-stage clashes of the primary when she confronted him over his opposition in the 1970s to a federal mandate for busing to integrate schools, which put him on the same side as segregationist senators. Biden has said he supported desegregating schools, but not the federal mandate.
“That little girl was me,” Harris said in the June debate in Miami, recalling that she and her sister had been bused to a predominantly white school in Northern California, and suggesting that Biden’s position sought to stop that — though the facts were more complicated.
After the debate, it became clear she and Biden agreed on modern desegregation policies.
The Trump campaign alluded to the debate spat when it issued its reaction to the pick.
“Not long ago, Kamala Harris called Joe Biden a racist and asked for an apology she never received. Clearly, Phony Kamala will abandon her own morals, as well as try to bury her record as a prosecutor, in order to appease the anti-police extremists controlling the Democrat Party,” said adviser Katrina Pierson.
And the Trump campaign released a Harris attack ad within minutes of the announcement.
Harris dropped out of the presidential race in December but remains well respected in the party. Her Jamaican and Indian heritage fits well in a party that is becoming more female and less White.
Former National Security Adviser Susan Rice, also considered a front-runner for the job, immediately congratulated Harris, calling her “a tenacious and trailblazing leader who will make a great partner on the campaign trail.” Rice said she would continue to campaign energetically for the ticket.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also praised the choice.
“Joe Biden’s naming of Senator Kamala Harris as the Democratic nominee for vice-president marks an historic and proud milestone for our country,” Pelosi said in a statement. “As the vice president of the United States, Senator Harris will continue her legacy of trailblazing leadership to move our nation forward.”
Harris’s presidential campaign was hamstrung by her struggle to convey clearly what she stood for.
In January 2019, Harris told CNN that she supported eliminating private insurance to achieve Medicare for All. Six months later, she backed away from the Bernie Sanders Bill she had co-sponsored and released her own plan that split the difference between a Government-run insurance plan and the preservation of a private insurance option.
She also weathered controversy over her record as a prosecutor, drawing criticism over her aggressive prosecution of men of colour, some of whom were later exonerated, for serious crimes. Harris responded to that criticism by describing herself as a progressive prosecutor who worked to thread the needle between law-and-order toughness and a protective instinct for those who needed it.