Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden has chosen Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) as his running mate, elevating a former presidential candidate whose most electric campaign performance came when she criticized his record on school integration during a debate.
Harris will be the first Black woman and first Asian American to run for vice president, representing a historic choice at a moment when the country is grappling with its racial past and future. The announcement was made in a text and a tweet from Biden.
“Back when Kamala was Attorney General, she worked closely with Beau,” Biden tweeted, referring to his late son, then the attorney general of Delaware. “I watched as they took on the big banks, lifted up working people, and protected women and kids from abuse. I was proud then, and I’m proud now to have her as my partner in this campaign.”
Harris, 55, is the daughter of Indian and Jamaican immigrants. The first-term senator previously served as San Francisco district attorney and California attorney general.
Her prosecutorial record has drawn attacks from party liberals, who have criticized her past stances as too harsh and contend that her record does not meet a moment when police misconduct has rocketed into the national conversation.
But Harris also has built a reputation in Washington as a sharp questioner in Senate hearings, particularly of Trump administration nominees. She has been a forceful advocate for Black families during the novel coronavirus pandemic, and she helped draft a bill ending qualified immunity for police.
Harris kicked off her presidential campaign little more than two years after joining the Senate, with an electrifying Oakland, Calif., rally that drew more than 22,000 supporters. But she struggled to define herself to voters, shifting from one message to the next. She failed to take off in the polls and dropped out in early December, citing financial problems.
Harris and Biden have known each other for several years, and Harris worked closely with Biden’s late son, Beau, when both served as attorneys general.
That made it all the more shocking to Biden and his team when, at the first Democratic primary debate, Harris went after Biden for his nostalgic talk about working with two segregationist senators.
“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 during the debate. She also took Biden to task for his opposition to mandatory busing.
On the debate stage, she described a little girl who had benefited from her city’s busing program. “And that little girl was me,” she said. Within hours, her campaign was selling shirts emblazoned with the words and a childhood picture of Harris.
Biden’s wife, Jill, has described that moment as being “like a punch to the gut.” But since then, the two have publicly made up, with Harris acting as a surrogate for Biden and appearing with him and his wife in campaign events.
In a June appearance on the “Late Show With Stephen Colbert,” Harris jokingly defended her performance, saying: “It was a debate! The whole reason — literally, it was a debate. It was called a debate.”
“I’d be honored, if asked, and I’m honored to be a part of the conversation,” Harris told Colbert. “Honestly, let me just tell you something: I will do everything in my power, wherever I am, to help Joe Biden win.”
In late July, Biden was photographed with notes he had written to himself about Harris on his personal stationery. Included were: “talented,” “great help to campaign” and “do not hold grudges.”
Biden said on July 28 that he would name his running mate by the end of the first week of August, after extending his initial pledge to name the pick around Aug. 1. Aides then said it had slipped further. For weeks, advisers have been vetting the candidates in interviews and via extended searches into their backgrounds, records and personal experiences.
He had promised months ago to pick a woman, reflecting the dominance of female voters in the party and his effort to make a historic choice. Were he to win, the nominee would become the first female vice president.
The nominee also will come under heightened security because of Biden’s age; he will be 78 at the time of the next inauguration. Either he or his November opponent, President Trump, will be the oldest American president.
The selection process has been a mix of transparency and secrecy. While Biden has held his thoughts closely, with many allies saying he has been deliberately vague about his preferences, the parade of prospective candidates has played out publicly.
Several have broken with past practice and acknowledged an interest in the job; others, such as Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), have taken themselves out of the mix in a similarly public way.
Biden has sought the same kind of “simpatico” relationship with his pick that he shared with former president Barack Obama, in which he served as the last adviser on big administration decisions. He also has put a high premium on loyalty, according to those familiar with the search.
But his choice was also affected by events coursing across the nation.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) once looked like a front-runner, but the killing of George Floyd and other unarmed Black people put a spotlight on her record as a prosecutor, which has drawn criticism from Black activists. Klobuchar eventually removed herself from the running, saying that Biden should pick a woman of color for the ticket.
Biden also faced pressure to delay the pick until closer to the Democratic convention, which begins Aug. 17, to build a sense of momentum for an event that will largely be virtual, lacking the balloon-and-bunting atmosphere of the traditional convention celebrations.
In normal times, the two running mates would barnstorm around the country after the announcement, trying to lift the enthusiasm level of their own partisans and potentially attract new supporters. But Biden has held no large events since March, and has none planned.
The Democratic vice presidential nominee will formally be named at the national party convention, which will be largely virtual. The newly named nominee will debate Vice President Pence on Oct. 7 in Utah. The presidential debates — three are currently scheduled — will begin in September, barring any adjustments to the schedule. Two of them have already changed locations after the original host colleges determined it was unsafe to sponsor the event.