In retrospect, this was a futile search for some kind of downside to a Harris pick which made almost complete sense — in a way basically no other pick did. The idea that Harris (D-Calif.) should for some reason apologize for the attack was also criticized as gendered; male politicians said much worse things about Donald Trump in the 2016 primaries, for example, and this is generally how those debates work.
But that doesn’t mean this isn’t something Biden and Harris won’t have to account for moving forward. Politicians do say lots of things in those debates, but when they attack their opponents in such terms, we should be able to take them at face value. Lindsey O. Graham and Chris Christie’s said all manner of disparaging things about Trump’s character during the 2016 primaries. Their statements remain relevant, even though they turned around and supported him as their party’s nominee. The question is always: Were you being honest about it, or were you lying to further your political career?
As Harris joins the Biden ticket, there are a number of clashes between the two that will warrant explanation. We look at a few of them below:
Busing and segregationists
The Trump campaign’s first comments after Harris’s selection Tuesday claimed Harris had called Biden “racist.” That’s not true. But Harris certainly called Biden’s record on race issues into question — and on multiple fronts.
In a dual attack, Harris went after Biden’s comments about working with segregationist senators and his past opposition to mandatory federal busing to integrate schools.
“It was hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senators who built their reputations and career on the segregation of race in this country,” Harris said in the June 2019 debate. “And it was not only that, but you also worked with them to oppose busing.
“And, you know, 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. And that little girl was me.”
Biden was in fact a leading opponent of federally mandated busing in the Senate in the 1970s and 1980s. He responded to Harris by saying that he supported busing but wanted localities to decide the issue. Harris shot back, “There was a failure of states to integrate public schools in America. … So that’s where the federal government must step in.”
Harris later added that it was “just wrong” that Biden hadn’t apologized. “He has yet to agree that his position on this, which was to work with segregationists and oppose busing, was wrong — period,” she said.
Biden would also soon apologize for his comments reminiscing positively about working with segregationists, though his campaign stopped short of disowning his previous position on busing. And Harris ultimately offered a somewhat muddled version of her own busing policy which actually sounded a lot like Biden’s.
Harris seemed to be attempting to dig into Biden’s support among Black voters, and for a time it appeared to bolster her standing in the polls and dinged his. The question now, as the first Black vice-presidential nominee, is whether she still thinks Biden has these kind of blind spots on issues of race. She didn’t call him racist, but she was clearly pointing to some kind of theme in his track record on such issues that she found offensive.
Another issue on which Harris and Biden clashed during the debates was health care. Harris was a very early supporter of Medicare-for-all, while Biden warned about the cost of such an expansion and urged a more incremental approach that involved shoring up the existing Obamacare law.
As Paige Winfield Cunningham from The Post’s Health 202 aptly summarized:
At an August  debate, a few days after she had released her own Medicare-for-all plan, Harris pounced on the fact that Biden’s plan probably wouldn’t result in every single American enrolling in coverage.“Under our plan, we will ensure that everyone has access to health care,” Harris told Biden. “Your plan, by contrast, leaves out almost 10 million Americans. Understand that the people of America want access to health care and do not want cost to be their barrier to getting it.”Under Biden’s proposal, people could buy a government-sponsored plan if they lack coverage through their workplace or just don’t like it or can’t afford it. It would also cap every American’s health-care premiums at 8.5 percent of their income and effectively lower deductibles and co-payments. Biden recently said he also wants to lower the Medicare enrollment age by five years, to 60.In responding to Harris’s criticisms, Biden focused on how Medicare-for-all would replace employer-sponsored coverage with government plans. Many Democrats have distanced themselves from discussing that outcome in detail, because it doesn’t poll well.“The senator has had several plans so far,” Biden said at the debate. “If you noticed, there is no talk about the fact that … you will lose your employer-based insurance … to be very blunt and to be very straightforward, you can’t beat President Trump with double-talk on this plan.”
Harris will now be in the position of supporting Biden’s health care proposal. She and other 2020 Democrats eventually hued more closely to Biden’s approach as the Democratic primary wore on, and Harris said Medicare-for-all was more of a long-term goal.
But there is still a fundamental difference there that should be addressed. Does Harris still believe that leaving 10 million people uncovered is unacceptable? Does Biden still believe that his running mate is guilty of “double-talk?”
Biden’s female accusers
The former vice president has dealt with a series of accusations involving allegedly inappropriate interactions with women, and at one point Harris said she believed his accusers.
It’s important to note Harris said this early on, when Biden was accused of inappropriate touching and kissing, rather than the more serious and more recent allegations of sexual assault from Tara Reade.
“I believe them, and I respect them being able to tell their story and having the courage to do it,” Harris said in April 2019. At that point, four women had accused Biden of such inappropriate contact, including former Nevada Democratic lieutenant governor candidate Lucy Flores, and Biden was still considering running for president.
Biden denied any knowingly inappropriate actions.
“In my many years on the campaign trail and in public life, I have offered countless handshakes, hugs, expressions of affection, support and comfort,” Biden said in a statement. “And not once — never — did I believe I acted inappropriately. If it is suggested I did so, I will listen respectfully. But it was never my intention.”
Earlier this year, Reade’s allegation surfaced. By this time, Harris was out of the presidential race but thought to be a contender for vice president. She offered different comments this time, saying she could “only speak to the Joe Biden I know.”
“The Joe Biden I know is somebody who really has fought for women and empowerment of women and for women’s equality and rights,” she told the San Francisco Chronicle. She added that Reade “has a right to tell her story. And I believe that, and I believe Joe Biden believes that, too.”
Saying Reade had a right to be heard isn’t the same as saying Harris believed the underlying allegation.
The Democrats have long struggled with the idea of believing women who accuse powerful men of sexual misconduct and squaring that with due process. Harris was also a forceful opponent of then-Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh when he faced his own decades-old allegations, saying she believed Christine Blasey Ford.
Reade’s allegation has faded from the news. But at the very least, Harris has said she believed the women who accused Biden of less-serious misconduct. It’s worth asking her how she feels this reflects upon the man she’s running alongside to be president.