The Morning Dispatch: Previewing Biden's VP Pick

Harris or Duckworth? Demings or Bass? The choice could come this week.

Happy Tuesday! As you embark on your day today, be sure to remember the advice 86-year-old Sen. Chuck Grassley offered up on Twitter yesterday: “use LOVE not anger.”

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • The United States confirmed 47,711 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday, with 6.5 percent of the 731,690 tests reported coming back positive. An additional 547 deaths were attributed to the virus on Monday, bringing the pandemic’s American death toll to 155,388.

  • President Trump told reporters on Monday that his administration would ban social media app TikTok from the United States unless it is sold to an American company by September 15. Trump also said a “very substantial portion” of that eventual sale price will have to go to the Treasury in order for him to approve any deal because his administration is “making it possible for this deal to happen.”

  • Hurricane Isaias made landfall in North Carolina late last night, bringing with it winds up to 85 mph. The hurricane is expected to continue along the Eastern seaboard this week.

  • President Trump ratcheted up his rhetoric in opposition to mail-in voting yesterday, claiming he “has a right” to issue an executive order regarding the practice and pledging to sue to stop Nevada from sending ballots to all the active voters in the state.

Joe Biden’s Binders Full of Women

With the pared-down Democratic National Convention set to kick off in less than two weeks, Joe Biden is poised to make one of his biggest decisions since wrapping up his party’s nomination a few months back: Who will play the Joe Biden role to his Barack Obama?

Biden told reporters last Tuesday he’d announce his vice presidential pick “the first week in August,” meaning it could be coming any day now. Although Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton selected Mike Pence and Tim Kaine in mid- and late July 2016, respectively, that was largely due to the scheduling of the party’s conventions that year. Biden’s timing is not far off the historical pace: Mitt Romney chose Paul Ryan as his running mate on August 10, 2012 (two weeks before the RNC), and Barack Obama named Biden to the ticket on August 23, 2008 (two days before the DNC). John McCain announced Sarah Palin as his pick a week later, on August 29—three days ahead of that year’s RNC. 

Vice presidential picks may not hold the political sway they once did, but that doesn’t mean Biden’s choice is inconsequential. Although more voters in a Monmouth poll report being “somewhat confident” in Biden’s mental and physical stamina than Trump’s, concerns about Biden’s age—and the likelihood he only serves one term as president—persist, albeit among a smaller portion of the electorate. Only 16 percent of respondents in a Politico/Morning Consult poll last month said Biden’s choice of running mate will have a “major impact” on how they vote, while 54 percent said it’d have “no impact.” With more than an eight-point lead in national polling, it’s no surprise that Biden is reportedly following a “do no harm” strategy in making his decision.

With all that in mind, let’s take a closer look at nine of the finalists. (If Biden chooses someone not on this list and we did all this work for nothing, blame Declan.)

Kamala Harris, senator from California

Harris has been a leading contender for months now. She is an outspoken senator with relatively high name ID after her run for president, and has had more than a few notable moments during Senate Judiciary Committee hearings.

But according to Politico, there exists “a contingent of Democrats who are lobbying against Harris for VP — some privately, some openly.” The role of vice president can often be described as a javelin catcher for the president and some are skeptical that Harris can set aside her own presidential ambitions. Many of these critics point to the debate last summer when Harris criticized Biden for bragging about his work with segregationist senators and opposing federally mandated busing during the first Democratic presidential debate. Former Sen. Chris Dodd—one of the four members of Biden’s VP selection committee—recently confronted her about the incident and was shocked by her response: “She laughed and said, ‘that’s politics.’ She had no remorse,” Dodd said.

Harris has also been criticized for her prosecutorial record at a time when the Democratic base is even more highly attuned to criminal justice issues than in past cycles. As Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) pointed out during one of last summer’s more memorable debates: “She put over 1,500 people in jail for marijuana violations and laughed about it when she was asked if she smoked marijuana,” adding that she “blocked evidence that would have freed a man from death row until courts forced her to do so.”

Still, Harris has faced the bright lights of a presidential campaign. She was also close with Biden’s late son, Beau, which may alleviate some doubt over her loyalty to Biden.

Tammy Duckworth, senator from Illinois

Tammy Duckworth may just have the most compelling story to tell of any of the women on this list. Born in Thailand to a Thai mother and an American father whose family’s military service dates back to the Revolutionary War, Duckworth joined the Army National Guard in her 20s and went to flight school, deploying to Iraq in 2004. She lost both of her legs after the helicopter she was flying was shot down by Iraqi insurgents. Returning stateside, she was appointed director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs, and, three years later, confirmed as an assistant secretary for public and intergovernmental affairs in the Department of Veterans Affairs. Duckworth was elected to the Senate in 2016 after serving two terms in the House.

Duckworth’s military service and work on veterans issues will undoubtedly appeal to Biden, whose late son Beau also deployed to Iraq as a member of the Army National Guard. Her inclusion on the ticket could also resonate with working moms, an increasingly key Democratic constituency; she became the first senator to give birth in office in 2018, and spearheaded a rule change to allow senators to bring infants onto the Senate floor.

Earlier this summer, Duckworth responded to a question from CNN’s Dana Bash about removing statues of George Washington by saying “we should listen to the argument there.” Her comments put her on the receiving end of a multi-day tirade from Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who questioned her patriotism and labelled her “unimpressive,” a “moron,” and a “fraud.” 

Duckworth didn’t back down, responding to the charges in an op-ed that exemplified why many allies believe she would be a formidable member of the ticket. “I don’t want George Washington’s statue to be pulled down any more than I want the Purple Heart that he established to be ripped off my chest,” she wrote. “Attacks from self-serving, insecure men who can’t tell the difference between true patriotism and hateful nationalism will never diminish my love for this country — or my willingness to sacrifice for it so they don’t have to. These titanium legs don’t buckle.”

Susan Rice, former national security adviser to Barack Obama 

One of the more unusual names on the Biden shortlist is that of Susan Rice, a longtime foreign policy pro who held multiple roles in both the Clinton and Obama White Houses, including serving as ambassador to the United Nations from 2009 to 2013 and as President Obama’s national security adviser from 2013 to 2017. While she’s done foreign policy work for Democratic campaigns dating back to Dukakis in 1988, she’s never run for office herself, having spent the interregnum of the Bush years in the think tank world, mostly at the Brookings Institution.

A potential Rice pick would make a lot of thematic sense for Biden, as it would lend strength to a pair of narratives at the core of his campaign: The Biden presidency seen as a third Obama term and the Biden presidency as the triumphant return of the boring old D.C. establishment after the upheaval of the Trump years.

One thing that could give Biden pause is Rice’s proximity to one Obama controversy he’d probably just as soon leave in the past: the attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi in 2012. In the days following that attack, Rice was one of the officials who incorrectly told the public on several occasions that it had been the result of a spontaneous demonstration in response to an anti-Muslim YouTube video, driving Republican frustrations that the Obama White House was whitewashing the attack. In fact, the attack was committed by al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists who’d taken advantage of American wishful thinking to conduct a well-planned assault—fact that was immediately clear to national security officials, including many in the Obama administration. That was a long time ago, but Biden might just as soon want to avoid the headache.

Karen Bass, representative from California

Despite her late entry to the Democratic veepstakes, Karen Bass has risen to the top of the pack. Though she is not well-known on the national stage, Bass served as speaker of the California State Assembly before her election to the House of Representatives in 2011. She now chairs the Congressional Black Caucus.

Like Biden, Bass has pushed back against the “defund the police” movement, denouncing it as “probably one of the worst slogans ever.” Bass played a leading role in drafting the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which passed through the House back in June. The bill would ban no-knock warrants and eliminate qualified immunity—two centerpieces of the police reform movement. 

It is clear that Bass has not spent her career with one eye on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, making her an attractive partner for a president looking for a loyal No. 2. But that also means her record hasn’t faced the kind of close scrutiny that other, taller blades of grass have. Bass has had to walk back past praise of Scientology and former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro in recent days, after the press and political opponents began digging into her record.

Gretchen Whitmer, governor of Michigan

If we’d written this list five months ago, we might have put first-term Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer right at the top of the heap. Formerly a relatively unknown commodity, Whitmer was catapulted to the national stage in the early days of the COVID crisis as Detroit became one of the nation’s biggest hotspots outside New York.

Her early and aggressive actions to lock down her state and sound the warning trumpet about the dire threat posed by the virus sent her approval ratings through the roof and played well among Democrats nationally. Ironically, President Trump gave the governor a sizable signal boost as well by establishing her as a foil to himself in March. After she suggested the federal government was blocking her requests for emergency supplies, he called her “half Whitmer” in angry tweets and publicly told Vice President Mike Pence not to work with her.

Whitmer has plenty of domestic critics, many of whom grew increasingly aggravated as the lockdowns wore on through April and May and her barrage of micro-managerial anti-virus orders continued. But she still boasts a solid 64 percent approval rating in a must-win state for Joe Biden, which can cover a multitude of sins.

Val Demings, representative from Florida

Val Demings, a second-term Democratic congresswoman from Florida’s 10th Congressional District, is also a top contender. She’s said as much, telling a radio host she’s “on the short list” in late May. There are many reasons to take her candidacy for the position seriously: She’s from a swing district in a swing state, she’s apparently well-liked in Washington (by Republicans as well as Democrats), gained notoriety as an impeachment manager during the Senate trial earlier this year, and she served in the Orlando Police Department for 27 years—the last four as chief of police overseeing a 40 percent decrease in violent crime—making her a potentially effective antidote to the Trump campaign’s efforts to paint Biden as anti-law enforcement.

But that last qualification also presents a challenge to Demings’ candidacy: The congresswoman’s tenure as police chief has received scrutiny from the far left of the Democratic party. The extent to which Biden listens to the grassroots activists in the Democratic coalition will probably determine Demings’ viability; but over the course of the campaign, Biden has shown himself willing to ignore pressure from the activist left, perhaps opening the door for Demings.

Elizabeth Warren, senator from Massachusetts

Elizabeth Warren, erstwhile presidential candidate and senior senator from Massachusetts, is still making the rounds as a pick that would potentially shore up Biden’s enthusiasm gap with the progressive wing of his party. It’s difficult to discern, however, exactly how much of the chatter is coming from the Biden team and how much of it is due to a certain segment of the media’s affection for the 71-year-old former Harvard Law professor. 

The gap between Warren’s overwhelmingly favorable coverage and her appeal to actual voters was made apparent after her disappointing performance with voters during the primary. She eventually dropped out after Super Tuesday, failing to win a single primary—even the one in her home state of Massachusetts. 

Since then, however, reports are that Biden has repeatedly turned to the wonkish Warren for policy advice since the onset of the pandemic. In recent months, phone calls between the two were “still being organized primarily as policy discussions, but they sometimes veered into personal territory, as when Biden rang after Warren’s elder brother died of COVID-19 in Oklahoma.” 

Still, there are reasons to be skeptical that she’ll get the nod. Warren was known for having a combative relationship with the Obama White House, which is something Biden is unlikely to have forgotten as he looks for his own Biden-esque partner. But, even if she gets passed over for the No. 2 spot, Warren may still be able to exert outsize influence on the campaign in her continuing policy discussions with the candidate or perhaps even to head up his transition team.

Keisha Lance Bottoms, mayor of Atlanta

Keisha Lance Bottoms, mayor of Atlanta and former prosecutor and magistrate judge, ascended to the national spotlight after feuds with Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp. The two have faced off on how to respond to spikes in violence in the Georgia capital amid Black Lives Matter protests and over their disparate visions for Georgia’s reopening during COVID-19. Kemp even filed a lawsuit against Bottoms after he claimed she violated his executive order by issuing a city-wide mask mandate.

Bottoms endorsed Joe Biden for Democratic nominee back in June 2019, and has been campaigning for him ever since. Her early loyalty, combined with her popularity in Georgia, earned her a spot on Biden’s VP short list. Biden is down only 1.6 points in the state according to the RealClearPolitics average, and the hope would be that adding Bottoms to his ticket could catalyze black voters and flip Georgia blue.

But Bottoms’ record in Atlanta comes with pitfalls as well. The city experienced its highest number of homicides in a single month since 2003 this June. Over the July 4 weekend, 31 people were shot and five were killed, including an 8-year-old child. And Bottoms has no experience in national politics, making her a risky choice for a campaign that is already in the lead and doesn’t know how she would fare under the hot lights of a presidential campaign.

Michelle Lujan Grisham, governor of New Mexico

Last summer, Michelle Lujan Grisham was one of the most unpopular governors in the country. But a lot has changed in 2020.

Democrats have lauded Gov. Lujan Grisham’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic in her state: New Mexico closed schools on March 16, issued a stay-at-home order on March 23, and was the first state to implement drive-through testing. Much of her swift response can be attributed to her prior experience serving as New Mexico’s secretary of health and as the head of the New Mexico State Agency on Aging. In a country that’s still struggling through a pandemic, a health expert could be a promising pick.

She also has a record of beating Republicans—with really big margins. Lujan Grisham served three terms as a representative for New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District and won her final race by 30 points. In her 2018 gubernatorial race, Lujan Grisham beat her Republican opponent Steve Pearce by a 14-point margin. Having formerly served as chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Lujan Grisham could potentially boost the ticket’s standing with a group of voters Biden has struggled to excite.

Worth Your Time

  • In one of the toughest interviews to date of President Donald Trump, Axios correspondent Jonathan Swan spoke to the president about coronavirus, his re-election, Rep. John Lewis and other topics. Swan was polite but firm throughout, and Trump responded with several eyebrow-raising comments. When Swan asked whether Trump finds Rep. John Lewis “impressive,” the president initially responded, “I don't know ... I don't know John Lewis. He chose not to come to my inauguration.” And the two men clashed over Trump’s claim that the U.S. has outperformed other countries in its response to the coronavirus. The entire interview is well worth the time.

  • We’ve written plenty in recent weeks about Republican infighting in the run-up to the election; how different factions of the party are jockeying for position in the event of a blue wave come November. Politico’s Melanie Zanona did some great reporting on how this fight could play out in the House. “There’s a growing sense that if Trump loses the White House — and the GOP fails to make meaningful gains in the House — the fight for the future of the party will play out in challenges across leadership,” she writes. As one GOP lawmaker told her: “If Trump loses, there’s gonna be a mad scramble if we’re in the minority.”

  • If New York’s primary is any indication, the likelihood we’ll know the outcome of the election with absolute certainty on November 3 is creeping closer to zero. In fact, we might not know that week, or even that month. In his latest New York Times column, Ben Smith examines what this could look like, and how public officials and journalists should present information about the election to the public. “It’s tempting to say responsible voices should keep their mouths shut and switch over for a few days to Floor Is Lava, and give the nice local volunteers time to count the votes,” Smith writes. “That, however, would just cede the conversation to the least responsible, and conspiratorial, voices.”

  • Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, few reporters have been as consistently in the must-read category as The Atlantic’s science reporter Ed Yong. The magazine published his cover story—“How the Pandemic Defeated America”—yesterday, and while it’s not an easy read or a quick one, it does an incredible job explaining how we’ve arrived at our current moment. “COVID‑19 is an assault on America’s body, and a referendum on the ideas that animate its culture,” Yong writes. “Recovery is possible, but it demands radical introspection.”

Toeing the Company Line

  • In a break from today’s partisan political climate, David and Sarah are joined on today’s Advisory Opinions episode by Steve Brusatte, a professor of paleontology and evolution at the University of Edinburgh. Tune in for some fun facts about pinocchio dinosaurs, banana-sized T-rex teeth, and birds (which are dinosaurs, by the way). For all you Jurassic Park fans out there, you won’t want to miss this one (especially since Brusatte is now a science consultant for the series).

Let Us Know

If you’re planning on voting for Donald Trump, is there anybody on this VP shortlist Joe Biden could choose to change your mind? And if you’re already set on voting for Biden, are there any VP finalists that, if selected, could cause Biden to lose your support?

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Sarah Isgur (@whignewtons), Charlotte Lawson (@charlotteUVA), Audrey Fahlberg (@FahlOutBerg), Nate Hochman (@njhochman), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).

Photographs of Tammy Duckworth and Val Demings by Getty Images.