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Biden formally introduces Harris as the Democratic ticket goes after Trump

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and vice-presidential candidate Kamala D. Harris take the stage Wednesday at a campaign event in Wilmington, Del., their first joint appearance since Biden named Harris as his running mate.
Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and vice-presidential candidate Kamala D. Harris take the stage Wednesday at a campaign event in Wilmington, Del., their first joint appearance since Biden named Harris as his running mate. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

WILMINGTON, Del. — Joe Biden and Kamala D. Harris opened a new front in the presidential campaign on Wednesday, forcefully prosecuting their case against President Trump and attempting to showcase a much different vision for the country as the Democratic ticket appeared together for the first time.

In what were perhaps the most crisp and focused speeches either has given during the presidential campaign, the new running mates defined how they will pursue the general election: with a sharp focus on what they cast as Trump’s inadequacies, an embrace of the power of women, a call to action on climate change and a defense of the protesters who have filled America’s streets in recent months.

While Biden briefly fended off some of Trump’s recent attacks — “Whining is what Donald Trump does best — better than any president in American history” — the senator from California homed in on Trump’s competence. She said he had mishandled the coronavirus pandemic, with the result being illness, death and unemployment. She urged the nation to seize on optimism, to celebrate the immigrant experience and to simply move on from the last four years.

Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) spoke for the first time as presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s running mate on Aug. 12. (Video: The Washington Post)

“America is crying out for leadership, yet we have a president who cares more about himself than the people who elected him, a president who is making every challenge we face even more difficult to solve,” Harris said, ticking off tectonic shifts in the country, including racial unrest, the shattered economy and the pandemic.

Less than two hours after the Democratic event ended, Trump ridiculed Harris’s unsuccessful presidential campaign and mocked her early departure.

“She left angry, she left mad,” Trump said from the White House briefing room, mischaracterizing the end of her campaign. “There was nobody more insulting to Biden than she was. She said horrible things about him. . . . Now all of the sudden she’s running to be vice president saying how wonderful he is.”

In a vivid reminder of how the pandemic has upended the campaign, Biden’s introduction of Harris as his running mate after Tuesday’s announcement did not come before throngs of cheering supporters, arms raised above their heads, as has been the case for generations of presidential tickets. Instead, they walked together into a nearly empty high school gymnasium a few miles from Biden’s home. The speeches were greeted with deafening silences, where normally there would have been raucous cheers.

President Trump on Aug. 12 said he was surprised that Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden selected Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) as his running mate. (Video: The Washington Post)

At the conclusion of the remarks, the candidates walked to the front of the stage, several body lengths apart. Their spouses — former second lady Jill Biden and lawyer Douglas Emhoff — took off their masks to greet the candidates with kisses.

Biden’s announcement reached for history, putting the first Black woman and the first Asian American woman on a ­major-party ticket at a moment when the country is facing a racial reckoning. That sentiment was overt in their remarks.

“This morning, all across this nation, little girls woke up, especially little Black and Brown girls who so often may feel overlooked and undervalued in our society,” Biden said. “But today, maybe, just maybe, they’re seeing themselves for the first time in a new way.”

At another point he alluded to Harris’s background — a mother from India, a father from Jamaica — as one that reflects the country’s diversity.

“Her story is America’s story,” Biden said. “Different from mine in many particulars, but also not so different in many of the essentials.”

Wednesday’s appearance shifted the campaign fully into general-election mode. Throughout his campaign, Biden has talked about the “Obama-Biden administration,” but on Wednesday afternoon he began promoting the “Biden-Harris administration.” He said that he asked Harris to be the last person in the room advising him, just as he had requested to be the last one to speak to Obama before major decisions.

The two candidates are separated by 22 years, come from different coasts of the country, hold different ethnic backgrounds, and clashed bitterly during the presidential primaries over matters of race and mandatory busing.

But on Wednesday the merged partnership sought to project a warm relationship, one in which Biden said he considered Harris and her entire family “honorary Bidens.”

One centerpiece during the event was the affection both shared for Beau Biden, the oldest son of the former vice president who died in 2015 of brain cancer at the age of 46. Harris was attorney general of California while Beau Biden held the same post in Delaware, and they grew close. It was through that relationship that Joe Biden first got to know Harris, and one that he pointed toward as a reason he picked her.

Harris on Wednesday recounted how she and Beau used to speak every day, sometimes multiple times.

“I learned quickly that Beau was the kind of guy who inspired people to be a better version of themselves. He really was the best of us,” she said, as Biden, sitting a few feet away, grew emotional. “And when I would ask him, ‘Where’d you get that? Where did this come from?’ He’d always talk about his dad. And I will tell you, the love that they shared was incredible to watch. It was the most beautiful display of the love between a father and a son.”

During the remarks, Harris seemed to allude to some of her past criticisms of the former vice president. She had lanced Biden last year during a debate for his nostalgic talk of working with two segregationist senators and his opposition to mandatory busing. But on Wednesday she said, “The civil rights struggle is nothing new to Joe.”

She also seemed to take aim at criticism from some close to Biden, before her selection, that she was too “ambitious.”

“Joe, I’m so proud to stand with you,” Harris said. “And I do so mindful of all the heroic and ambitious women before me, whose sacrifice, determination and resilience makes my presence here today even possible.”

The two candidates will be at the center of next week’s Democratic convention, which will be largely virtual. As the campaign roars toward Nov. 3, Harris is planning to promote her past work fighting banks, taking on the gun lobby and pushing against special interests. Some allies see her national introduction as an opportunity to introduce her to an American public less familiar with her and her record.

Biden’s advisers see her background and life story as one that will have appeal to suburban women, as well as drive to the polls large numbers of African American voters, two groups they view as crucial to winning in November. She is also seen by the campaign as someone who can help energize younger voters, long one of the weakest parts of Biden’s support.

During her remarks, Harris associated herself with the current movement for racial justice, saying that it reminded her of the protests her mother brought her to as a child.

“A whole new generation of children is growing up hearing the cries for justice and the chance of hope on which I was raised,” Harris said.

Harris is expected to conduct most events virtually, as Biden has, but could also be deployed to some battleground states. While Biden has done a handful of in-person events, there is little expectation that he would increase that pace, given health concerns.

Biden campaign advisers said they did not expect to alter their strategy to keep focused on Trump. They seemed to relish that Trump has yet to find a consistent theme in attacking Harris, with some Trump allies suggesting that she would defund police departments and others saying that she is a too-tough prosecutor. Trump partisans called her the most liberal member of the Senate before, hours later, saying liberals disliked her because she’s not liberal enough.

Though Biden and Harris largely focused on their plans for the country, both wedged in some personal attacks against Trump.

Biden pointed out that the country’s leaders typically come together in moments of great crisis. He noted that rather than meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other leaders to help the country recover from twin health and economic crises, Trump has been spending time golfing. “Donald Trump is on the golf course,” Biden said. “If I told you this three years ago, you’d look at me like I was being crazy.”

Harris seized on parallels she sees between Trump’s presidency and his spotty business record. The president, she said, came into office with a solid economy that she credited to the Obama administration. “And then, like everything else he inherited, he ran it straight into the ground,” she said.

The Biden campaign and a constellation of women’s groups have also been animated in drawing attention to the president’s use of sexist tropes, and several pointed to Trump repeatedly calling Harris “nasty” as a sign of sexism.

“Is anyone surprised Donald Trump has a problem with a strong woman or strong women across the board?” Biden said, warning of more vitriol to come. “Kamala Harris has had your back, and now we have to have her back. She’s going to stand with me in this campaign. And all of us are going to stand up for her.”

The joint appearance of Biden and Harris capped a months-long process in which Biden seriously considered nearly a dozen different potential running mates.

In a video released by Biden’s campaign, he was shown taking off his face mask and joining a video conference with Harris, during which she apologized for having kept him waiting.

“You ready to go to work?” he asked Harris.

A moment passes before Harris responds. “Oh, my God. I am so ready to go to work,” she said.

Biden, though, had a follow-up: “First of all, is the answer yes?”

“The answer is absolutely yes, Joe,” Harris said. “And I am ready to work, I am ready to do this with you, for you. I am just deeply honored and I am very excited.”

On Wednesday morning, she climbed into a silver SUV parked at her condominium complex in Washington, and she and her husband made the drive to Delaware.

Viser reported from Washington.