Now comes the parlor game of figuring out who that black woman should be.
Biden knows how important it is to have an empowered governing partner who commands respect inside and outside the White House. That’s who he was as vice president to former president Barack Obama, and Biden is right to want the same for himself.
Before I list some popular choices, let me obliterate an argument that has cropped up in response to my first post. When folks say that whomever Biden selects should be the most qualified or that “identity politics only gets you so far,” they should be aware of how that hits the African American ear. Since Jim Crow, such sentiments have been used to question our abilities and snuff out our ambitions. No matter how brilliant we are, we are never brilliant enough in a world that still believes someone not straight or white or male (usually all three) is inherently unqualified for any role, let alone being a heartbeat away from the presidency.
The four black women most often mentioned as a possible Biden running mate defy that racist notion. They are worthy of the speculation.
Stacey Abrams was the Democratic leader of the Georgia House of Representatives for six years before she resigned her seat to run for governor in the 2018 election. Abrams won the Democratic nomination with 76.5 percent of the vote. Had Abrams prevailed in the general election, she would have been the first African American female governor in the United States.
Abrams lost the race to Republican Brian Kemp by just 55,000 votes. He was the Georgia secretary of state, where he oversaw elections in Georgia for eight years. In that time, according to New York magazine, Kemp went about “purging 1.4 million voters from the rolls, placing thousands of registrations on hold, and overseeing the closure or relocation of nearly half of the state’s precincts and polling sites.”
Abrams was born in Wisconsin and raised in Gulfport, Miss. Her mother was a college librarian. Her father worked in a shipyard. When Abrams was in high school, the family moved to Atlanta, where both of her parents became Methodist ministers. Abrams would get her bachelor’s degree from Spelman College, a masters in public administration from the University of Texas at Austin and a law degree from Yale. Abrams now runs Fair Fight, an organization she started after the governor’s race to focus on suppression in 20 states.
Why folks are talking about her
Abrams’s name has been on the lips of Democrats since she almost won Georgia in 2018. She nailed one of the toughest assignments in politics when she delivered the Democratic response to Trump’s 2019 State of the Union address. And Abrams has been the boldest of all the potential picks in her pursuit of the vice-presidential nod. When I interviewed her at the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum last December, I asked her if she would want to do it. “I’m a black woman who’s in a conversation about possibly being second in command to the leader of the free world, and I will not diminish my ambition or the ambition of any other women of color by saying that’s not something I’d be willing to do,” Abrams said to thunderous applause. She has repeated some form of that answer at every opportunity ever since.
Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.) has been in Congress since 2017. The Jacksonville native, whose district includes Orlando, had a front-row seat to impeachment as a member of the House Intelligence Committee, the House Judiciary Committee and as one of the seven impeachment managers arguing the case against Trump before the Senate.
Investigating the president was no stretch for Demings. She spent 27 years in the Orlando Police Department, becoming the city’s first female police chief. But she wasn’t the first African American. That distinction belongs to her husband Jerry L. Demings, who is now the mayor of Orange County, Fla., the first African American elected to that post. The Demingses are a Harley-Davidson-riding power couple in Florida’s all-important I-4 corridor whose individual achievements are the embodiment of the American dream.
Why folks are talking about her
The visual of a black female former police chief helping to make the case for the rule of law against the president had many in the Democratic Party in full swoon. During an interview in March, I asked Demings if she’d be interested in being vice president. She leaned into her blue-collar roots.
“I grew up the daughter of a maid and a janitor. I grew up poor, black and female in the South, someone who was told a lot of times that I wasn’t the right color or gender. But my mother pushed me and said, ‘No, you can make it. If you work hard and play by the rules, you can be anything you wanna be and do anything you wanna do,’” Demings said. “So the fact that my name is being called in such a special way for such an important position during such a critical time, it’s such an honor.”
Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) came to Washington in 2017 after serving six years as the attorney general for California and two full terms as district attorney of San Francisco. Harris joined the race for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination in January 2019 but ended her campaign in December.
Harris is the daughter of immigrants. Her late mother was a breast cancer researcher from India. Her father is an emeritus professor of economics at Stanford University from Jamaica. They divorced when Harris was 7 years old. Harris graduated from Howard University, where her identity as an African American woman was cemented. She returned to California to get her law degree at the University of California at Hastings.
In “The Truths We Hold: An American Journey,” Harris writes that fighting injustice was a major part of her upbringing. Her decision to become a prosecutor took her family by surprise. In an interview with Harris that I did in conjunction with her book tour in Washington in January 2019, she said, “I had to defend my decision like one would a thesis.” She then made her argument before the audience, saying, “What I tried to live in my career as a prosecutor is the understanding that, in that role, you have the power to be the voice of the most vulnerable among us."
Why folks are talking about her
Harris came to Washington with presidential buzz already around her, which only increased as she questioned Trump administration officials. She so flustered then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions at one hearing that he admitted Harris’s questioning “makes me nervous.”
Harris jumped into the race for the presidential nomination before a crowd of more than 20,000 people in her hometown of Oakland last January. (Disclosure: My husband volunteered at that event.) Her debate performances had memorable moments, including when Harris went after Biden over his past stance on busing. The resulting bump in polling Harris received was fleeting. She ended her campaign before a primary vote was cast. But the VP buzz grew louder. When Harris has been asked about being Biden’s running mate, all she will say is she would be honored.
Susan Rice was the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under President Barack Obama in his first term and then served as his national security adviser in his second term.
If you read her memoir, “Tough Love: My story of the things worth fighting for,” you know that Rice was reared in the elite circles of Washington. Her mother was known as the “mother of the Pell Grant.” Her father was a Tuskegee Airman and economist who was appointed by President Jimmy Carter as a governor of the Federal Reserve Board, the second African American to hold such a post.
A graduate of Stanford and a Rhodes Scholar with a master’s and a Ph.D in international relations from Oxford, Rice’s first foray in government was as assistant secretary of state for African affairs in the Clinton administration. She has never run for elective office. Nevertheless, she has been battle-tested in the partisan crucible of Washington and the fever swamps of Fox News. See, Benghazi.
Why folks are talking about her
Rice has been unsparing in her criticism of Trump’s response to the coronavirus and uses language that scratches deep that itch among Democrats to take the fight to the president. “He has demonstrated utter lack of leadership, utter incompetence,” Rice told me last month.
When I asked her what she thought about the Biden running-mate talk, Rice responded via email, “I am honored to be among the highly accomplished women mentioned as possible VP candidates. I have great admiration for Joe Biden. Biden will be an excellent president, and I am committed to doing my utmost to help him win and govern effectively.”
At a virtual fundraiser last month, Biden said, “I view myself as a transition candidate.” If elected, he would be the oldest sitting president in U.S. history and would lead a nation in desperate need of stability and leadership from the White House. Therefore, Biden needs to choose a future vice president who is young enough to embody the transition he envisions while also being a governing partner. That person has been staring us in the face for months now. Her name is Kamala Harris.
Harris has demonstrated broad appeal by winning two local elections and three statewide races in California. So she entered the 2020 presidential campaign somewhat battle-tested. Having run for president herself, Harris knows the rigors of that kind of campaign and has endured the microscopic press scrutiny that comes with it.
Harris would not be rattled by the inevitable bullying by Trump and his campaign. She is neither afraid of a fight nor afraid of him. “I know he has a reason to be afraid of me,” Harris replied when I asked her last November if she thought Trump was afraid of her. Considering he has yet to give Harris a sophomoric nickname, I’m convinced the president is really afraid of her.
Biden will need a fighter. And Harris would be for Biden what he was for Obama: a loyal vice president who fights for his agenda. But as the last person in the room with the president, Harris would not be shy about sharing unvarnished opinions.
Harris’s friendship with Biden’s late son Beau, then the attorney general of Delaware, produced a deep well of mutual respect and admiration that was tested by last June’s debate. But I think they both learned something from that bruising encounter. Biden learned that Harris is a fighter. Harris learned that some punches need not be thrown.
Vice-presidential nominees might not influence the outcome of elections, but what they can do is excite the electorate where votes are needed most to win the electoral college. As I’ve argued, Biden must ensure that African Americans turn out in November if he wants to win. He must ask for their vote in Detroit (Michigan), Milwaukee (Wisconsin), Philadelphia (Pennsylvania), Atlanta (Georgia) and Miami (Florida).
As we learned in 2016, when the black vote is taken for granted or not even requested, black voters don’t show up. The nation cannot afford to have that happen again. Biden must give African Americans a reason to vote. A Biden-Harris ticket is a reason to vote.
Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj. Subscribe to Cape Up, Jonathan Capehart’s weekly podcast
Listen to “Cape Up” interviews with: