Now, much to Bass’s—and pretty much everyone else’s—surprise, Biden’s team is taking her seriously as a potential vice-presidential running mate. One theory is that she’s being vetted to help Biden win favor with the Congressional Black Caucus, which she chairs. Another is that Biden is trying to use the process to elevate as many black women as he can. Yet another is that he’s looking to distract people from speculating about some of the more likely choices. But inside the Biden campaign is another consideration: Over the next month, he’s effectively going to decide whether there will be a competitive Democratic primary in 2024 (or maybe 2028, if he wins and tries to serve until he’s 86 years old). He’s the leader of the party now. Will he decide its future by anointing a successor, or pick someone, like Bass, who’s less likely to run for president?
Biden has wanted to be president for almost 40 years. Now that the White House finally seems within reach, he does not want to be outshone, according to people who know him. He wants to win, but he wants the win to be about him, not his running mate.
Read: What Americans don’t know about Joe Biden
I asked Bass whether she’d see the vice presidency as the culmination of her career or a stepping-stone to the presidency. She started with a long answer about wanting to focus on the work in front of her, and mentor the younger political generation, which has inspired her. “The vice president has considered himself like a transitional leader. That’s how I view it, because I envision a next stage of my life, whenever that comes,” she said.
I stopped her: If there were an open race for the presidency in 2024 or 2028 and she was Vice President Bass, would she run?
“I cannot envision that. That’s the best I can say. I mean, I’m 66. I can’t see that,” she said.
“Joe Biden is going to be 78,” I pointed out.
She paused. “Well. I don’t know how much time I have.”
When Barack Obama picked Biden as his running mate in 2008, Biden was also 66. Obama told Biden to think of the job like “the capstone of your career,” and the assumption that Biden wouldn’t be angling to run for president himself was part of the rationale for putting him on the ticket.
Bass came up as a community organizer in Los Angeles and worked as a physician assistant in emergency rooms during the AIDS crisis. She was at the infamous intersection of Florence and Normandie as the sun set in 1992 during the LA riots, and almost got hit by bricks. For the past month, she’s been shepherding a policing-reform bill through the House without losing a single progressive or moderate vote.
She “was not high on the list that the team had initially proposed,” a donor who’s spoken with Biden about the deliberations told me. But she seems to have moved up as the vetting committee has looked at her record and considered her upsides against the little obvious baggage she’d have. In this case, being largely unknown nationally means that she wouldn’t start out as polarizing. “He wants what he did for Obama,” the donor told me. “He sees that as what that job is: You speak truth to power; you step out there on the edge when it’s an existential issue. He sees her and her record as proven and time-tested—though she’s not known among large voter blocs, and not lifted up with a strong media presence.”