WILMINGTON, Del. — Joe Biden lauded Kamala Harris as the child of “America’s story” who fought for the working class and was ready to take on their opponents in a “life-changing election.” Harris presented Biden as a selfless leader prepared to swiftly banish President Donald Trump come November.
And as the two appeared together Wednesday for the first time as running mates, Biden focused on the instrumental factor that, according to people familiar with conversations during the vetting process, sealed his decision to team up with Harris: a combination of readiness, experience and ability to assume the presidency right away, if needed.
“Kamala knows how to govern. She knows how to make the hard calls,” Biden said, as Harris listened from a seat behind him. “She’s ready to do this job on day one,” he added.
The presumptive Democratic ticket made its debut in the gymnasium at Alexis I. DuPont high school in Biden’s hometown, where the former vice president touted Harris’ history as a senator and attorney general of California and cast her as a foil to Trump. Biden’s focus on Harris’ resume — including enduring a grueling presidential campaign of her own and serving on the Senate intelligence and judiciary committees — reflects the weight he and his campaign put on her background before elevating her on Tuesday, said a person familiar with the committee’s conversations.
Biden, in particular, viewed running for president as a major test of strength and endurance, they said.
Harris, in a polished debut after becoming the first Black woman and first Asian American on a major party presidential ticket, decried the president as a neglectful leader and pushed the Democratic ticket’s policy objectives, from fighting climate change to expanding affordable health care.
“Clearly, one of Kamala’s real highlights in the Senate has been her taking the case to witnesses” in committee hearings, “and she clearly showed that strength in her appearance today,” said Sen. Tim Kaine, the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2016.
Kaine, in an interview with POLITICO about Biden’s pick, compared Harris with former Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, a former prosecutor and governor of California who was the GOP vice presidential nominee in 1948.
“Listen, when you’ve done this line prosecutor job, and then you’ve been an AG, and then you’ve been elected statewide in the largest state in the country, you’ve really demonstrated your chops,” said Kaine, calling Harris “a really good pick.”
“For Joe, as I look at it, she merges those qualities of being a good governing partner and helping you win, but also (she) could be president,” the Virginia senator continued.
As Democrats focus on Harris’ credentials, Republicans are trying to cast her as a liberal lightweight willing to suspend her own questionable convictions to throw in with Biden. But they’ve struggled to maintain consistency in their early offensive. On Wednesday, the Trump campaign distributed talking points painting Harris as a “radical” leftist, clashing with earlier assessments by Trump allies that as a prosecutor Harris was too tough on crime.
“Race and gender have repeatedly been problematic fault lines for the Trump campaign to navigate and it’s even more difficult because Biden chose the Trump campaign’s kryptonite — a black woman,” said Doug Herman, a Democratic strategist who ran a super PAC that backed Harris for Senate in 2016. “Harris’ pick means the chasm Trump has to cross on those issues is wider and more difficult to navigate. His inability to land a clean hit shows the difficulty they will have running against her.”
Though Harris and Biden struck a largely optimistic tone at the event, they framed the upcoming presidential election as a stark fork in the road for the country. Hints of the crises weighing heavily on the nation hung in the room, where no audience was present beyond a handful of journalists spaced out because of the coronavirus pandemic. The candidates entered the gym wearing blue suits and dark facemasks.
“We need more than a victory on Nov. 3,” Harris said. “We need a mandate that proves that the past few years do not represent who we are or who we aspire to be. Joe likes to say that character is on the ballot. And it’s true.”
Biden opened by lauding Harris’ experience and praised her as “smart” and “tough,” citing her fights against large banks and the gun lobby and her support for same-sex marriage.
Biden also said that Harris’ background, as the daughter of immigrants from India and Jamaica, was “America’s story,” and he referenced a familiar scene at Harris campaign events, where children who approached her for pictures were often given words of encouragement and urged to persevere.
“This morning, all across a nation, little girls woke up, especially little Black and brown girls,” Biden said. “Just maybe they’re seeing themselves for the first time in a new way, as the stuff of presidents and vice president.”
Biden contrasted Harris with Trump, who he said whines better than any other president in history. Harris also characterized Trump as a threat that needed to be neutralized in the election, pinning on him the management of the coronavirus pandemic, the ensuing economic crisis and a national reckoning on racism.
“But here's the good news,” she said. “We don’t have to accept the failed government of Donald Trump and Mike Pence. In just 83 days, we have a chance to choose a better future for our country.”
The one-two tandem hits offered a preview of how they might divide their campaign duties in a year where normal travel has been taken off the table, with online events largely taking their place.
Both Harris and Biden acknowledged the crowded Democratic primary, in which they famously clashed on the debate stage. Harris’ close relationship with Biden’s late son, Beau, helped her overcome friction between the campaigns following that bruising broadside she landed in June 2019.
They also touched on the feverish speculation leading up to Biden’s selection of a running mate, with names like Susan Rice, Karen Bass, Gretchen Whitmer and Elizabeth Warren floating for months and finally interviewed as part of a field of 11 contenders in total.
Biden said he wanted Harris to “always tell me the truth, which she will, challenge my assumptions if she disagrees, ask the hard questions.” And, in perhaps the best compliment he could offer for a future governing partner, Biden pledged that she would be the last person in the room that he consults with before making a major decision — something he personally requested of Barack Obama in 2008 before taking the No. 2 job in the last Democratic administration.
Joined at the end by their spouses, they also touched on their fast-growing family ties. Citing Harris’ friendship with Beau, who served as attorney general of Delaware, the former vice president concluded: “Kamala, you’ve been an honorary Biden for quite some time.”