However, any vice president now has to be assessed in terms of not only readiness to step into the job should something happen to Biden, but also readiness to step into a job in the midst of a global pandemic and recession. This is no time for newcomers, for those without financial acumen or those who have not been involved in the latest rescue and recovery operation as well as the recovery from the financial crash. The vice president will need to know how government works and have the ability to pick up the phone and get through to mayors, governors, business leaders and financial institutions. The person will need the ability to express empathy as well as a comfort level with the nitty-gritty details of an unprecedented disaster with many moving parts.
How do the three former Biden rivals match up? All three were in office during the difficult recovery period after the financial crash. Warren was the power behind setting up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, while Harris led states’ efforts to recoup money from those responsible for the risky mortgage lending practices. They not only gained critical experience in financial recovery efforts but also oversaw or helped set up a large department with many employees (Warren more than a thousand; Harris several thousand).
Klobuchar clearly leads in terms of the number of bills passed, number of bipartisan deals made and familiarity with the health-care system, especially battles with Big Pharma. If one considers domestic crises as essentially exercises in mobilizing the federal government and working seamlessly with Congress, she rates high on the list.
Any of the three would be a strong choice with regard to ability to govern, although ironically the most risky pick would not be the African American but the progressive Massachusetts senator who risks turning off moderate voters and disaffected Republicans.
Aside from those three, the coronavirus epidemic should also boost the profiles of governors who are states’ chief executives — essentially finance, health and safety, and economic recovery czars. In the absence of presidential leadership (or worse, presidential incompetence and disinformation), they are in the pressure cooker and in the public eye, literally making life-and-death decisions every day. In that regard, I would keep an eye on Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Her state is currently fifth on the list of states with the most coronavirus cases and, sadly, will likely pass Washington as the virus peaks in Michigan. I would also keep an eye on New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who also has experience in Congress and as secretary of health for her state.
In short, the coronavirus should hammer home the need for a No. 2 who not only can step in at a moment’s notice but also someone who is unquestionably tested and proficient in crisis management. The five contenders noted above all, from our vantage point, pass the test. In normal times, perhaps others from Congress or lower state offices might be considered, but now they might not make the grade. Biden should be thinking about which person he trusts at the lectern and in the Oval Office to comfort a rattled nation, to focus government efforts swiftly and effectively, and to tell the American people the unvarnished truth.