Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, is under consideration by Joe Biden’s campaign as a potential running mate amid pressure on him to put an African American woman on the ticket, according to people briefed on the process.
Bass, a former speaker of the California Assembly who has served in Congress since 2011, is the lead architect of a sweeping House Democratic police overhaul bill. She has emerged as one of the most prominent African American women in politics in the wake of several high-profile killings of unarmed black people that sparked nationwide protests.
Asked on MSNBC on Tuesday about the vetting and her interest in the job, Bass said such questions should be directed to the Biden campaign and that she was focused on the police restructuring bill she is spearheading.
Some of Bass’s congressional colleagues and close allies of Biden praised her on Tuesday.
“I think she’s a great chairwoman of the CBC. I think that she was a great speaker of the House in California and I consider her a close friend,” said Rep. Cedric L. Richmond (D-La.), a national co-chair of the Biden campaign. Richmond said he had preferences for a running mate but would share them only with Biden.
Biden earlier this year promised that his running mate would be a woman. He has come under increasing pressure from party leaders and activists in recent weeks to choose a black woman as the country confronts systemic racism and police violence.
People with knowledge of the situation have described a fluid running mate selection process in recent weeks. At least several Democrats who have spoken with Biden said that he has not indicated any favored choices to them.
One person with knowledge of the system the Biden campaign is following said vetting was expected to continue for at least the next couple of weeks, before more in-depth interviews by Biden and his staff are arranged and conducted at some point after the July 4 holiday.
The people spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe a sensitive and private deliberations.
Among the candidates who have progressed to the point of more comprehensive vetting or have the potential to do so are Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.), former national security adviser Susan E. Rice and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, all of whom are black. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who is white, and New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who is Latino, are also in that group.
Unlike Harris, a former prosecutor, and Demings, a former police chief, Bass does not have a background in law enforcement. Politicians with law enforcement résumés have come under more skepticism lately from party activists who want to change the way the system has dealt with deadly police violence.
Bottoms has also had to deal with police turmoil as mayor of Atlanta. The deadly police shooting of Rayshard Brooks in her city has stoked national controversy and led to the departure of the city’s police chief.
This week, Bottoms was named as the chair of the Democratic platform drafting committee. The 15-member panel is in charge of drafting the party platform ahead of the Democratic National Convention, which is scheduled for August.
Other possible running mates who have been mentioned by Biden allies in touch with the campaign include Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.). And Biden said back in March that Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer also was a possibility. The campaign has conducted different stages of vetting, ranging from preliminary assessments to more detailed looks.
The process has played out in remarkably public fashion, resembling a mini-campaign at times, with significant political shifts and public exits. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), once seen as a front-runner by Biden allies, removed herself from the running last week amid intense criticism of her record as a prosecutor. Klobuchar said then that Biden should choose a woman of color as his running mate.
Age is another factor some Democrats are watching. At 66, Bass is older than at least several other black women under consideration. Biden is 77 and would be the oldest president ever at his swearing-in.
Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) called Bass “extraordinary” and said she has the “universal respect of progressives.” Khanna has voiced support for Warren to be the running mate, but also believes that Bass deserves consideration.
Biden has said he hopes to name his vice-presidential pick around Aug. 1, although some Democrats have privately wondered whether the process may drag on beyond that time. The Democratic National Convention, where delegates will affirm the presidential and vice presidential nominations, had been set for July but was delayed until Aug. 17 over concerns about the spread of the novel coronavirus.