“Glad to finally have the veepstakes drama behind us and start beating on Trump instead of each other,” one relieved top Democratic donor texted me after the Biden campaign’s announcement this afternoon.
Read: Kamala Harris’s very open secret
Unlike news out of the Trump White House and the Trump 2020 campaign, very little of Biden’s running-mate selection process leaked to the press, despite the efforts of reporters and activists with grievances, both sincere and performative. An unmistakable aspect of Biden’s campaign, and one he will likely carry with him to the White House is his small, stable circle of aides who have been with him for years and are intensely loyal to him. He is able to talk out his thoughts with them—he likes to talk out his thoughts a lot, and at length—while feeling secure that they won’t turn on him. That won’t be so easy to keep up if he is president, and is forced to expand his top staff from the same “graybeards,” as younger aides sometimes refer to Biden’s confidants.
Throughout the vetting process, Biden considered running mates who had supported his campaign early on—such as Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms—and those who had tried to connect with him on a personal level, including Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Representative Karen Bass of California, according to people who’ve spoken with him along the way. Harris and Biden have been friendly for years, and Harris was close with Biden’s late son, Beau.
Because the pandemic has limited in-person campaigning, Harris’s most important job will be debating Vice President Mike Pence this fall. Harris gained national popularity after her intense questioning of various Trump nominees, including Brett Kavanaugh and Jeff Sessions, during their Senate confirmation hearings. Observers believe she will be an intense opponent for the more subdued Pence.
She’s also likely to bring big money to Biden’s campaign. “She has a proven track record as an incredibly strong fundraiser,” says Andrew Weinstein, a Florida-based member of Biden’s national finance committee. “Her announcement will certainly make a big splash with a lot of Democratic donors.”
By picking Harris over Susan Rice—whose time as United Nations ambassador and national security adviser to Barack Obama gave her a breadth of foreign-policy experience—Biden is hinting that he would want to take the lead as president in reaching out to heads of government around the world, which aides and advisers say will be a major focus if he beats Trump. Reentering the Iran deal and the Paris Agreement would be early goals, as would reestablishing America’s role as an internationalist force and a moral leader. Biden has bragged on the trail about knowing almost every foreign leader.
Having spent four years as a senator, Harris would enter the administration with relationships on Capitol Hill. But if Biden had been looking for someone to take the lead as a congressional negotiator, he might have gone with Bass, the Congressional Black Caucus chair and a close ally of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Another central part of Biden’s campaign pitch is his long relationships with Democratic and Republican lawmakers alike. Picking Harris suggests that he’s looking to retain the primary role in congressional relations, too.