It’s pretty clear what this is about and it’s not about nominating Karen Bass for vice president. If her “comandante in jefe” nonsense about Castro hadn’t already finished her off, the Venceremos Brigade dirt that Ed wrote about this morning did. (I’m going to make the easy assumption that that was fed to the Atlantic by Kamala Harris and friends.) No doubt she has many supporters on Capitol Hill, especially in the Congressional Black Caucus, which she chairs, but Democrats aren’t about to freight themselves with unneeded Castro baggage at a moment when Florida seems winnable.
As I write this, new dirt is surfacing that she spoke at the opening of a Scientologist church 10 years ago, in case Biden wants that baggage too. Assuming he doesn’t, why are BidenWorld sources chattering to the Times and CNN that Bass is very much an A-list top-tier might-just-get-the-nod candidate for the slot?
It has to be that she’s been ruled out and they’re checking the box of making sure that the CBC believes that their favorite was considered carefully, right up to the last moment before the die was cast. It’s a show of respect to them for their input more so than to Bass, to make them a bit more comfortable with Biden’s actual choice.
And as a matter of pure stagecraft, it can’t hurt to build extra suspense before the big unveiling. Is Karen Bass about to come out of nowhere and land a place on the national ticket? Ah, no. But to the extent that people think she might, it makes the veep countdown more intriguing.
In more than two dozen interviews with CNN in recent days, members of Congress, top Democratic donors, Biden allies and others close to the vice presidential vetting process said California Rep. Karen Bass, the 66-year-old chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, has gained real traction in the late stage of the search…
Bass’ new emergence as one of the top contenders has been propelled by intensive lobbying on her behalf by some of her colleagues in the House including influential California Democrats and top donors. Her star has risen after Speaker Nancy Pelosi recommended weeks ago that Bass should not be overlooked…
“Everybody likes Karen Bass. People are scratching their heads saying, who is this woman?” he said. “When you’ve been speaker of the legislature for a state that’s twice the population of New York and the world’s fifth biggest economy, you know how to manage media, you understand the economy. I think she is stronger than people think.”
The Times is alleging Bass-mentum as well (“Ms. Bass in particular has moved rapidly toward the top of Mr. Biden’s list amid an intensive lobbying drive by her fellow House Democrats”) but the most interesting parts of that article have to do with people trying to dissuade him from choosing Harris. There are a lot of people around Biden who dislike the idea of putting her on the ticket, as various other outlets have reported this week. Same with the NYT:
“There’s going to be an awful lot to do starting on Day 1, so I think it’s important to have somebody who can be focused on that task and not running for president as soon as we finish the inauguration,” said Representative Cedric Richmond of Louisiana, one of Mr. Biden’s campaign chairs…
“The thing I keep thinking about Kamala is her performance in the primary,” said Representative Filemon Vela of Texas, an early supporter of Mr. Biden. Mr. Vela said his top three choices were Ms. Bass, Ms. Rice and Ms. Duckworth — but he said the last two would fare best in his state…
One Democrat close to Mr. Biden’s campaign said its polling indicated that Ms. Harris has little allure with Black voters. More telling, a Biden campaign official reached out to The New York Times, unprompted, to say that some of the former vice president’s own staff members are not supportive of her.
CNN’s story also mentions an “intensive effort by some Biden allies to torpedo Harris’ chances of being chosen” and quotes one aide involved in the process this way: “Biden allies are laying the groundwork for the vice president to have a reason to not choose her.” Hmmmm.
Where I get stuck on the idea of Biden passing over Harris is the fact that he’ll be the oldest president in American history, a man who’ll turn 80 in office, and thus someone with an unusually high chance of not finishing his term. One of Trump’s core attacks on him is that he’s already begun to lose his mental bearings, a view many voters share, which raises a potential 25th Amendment issue down the road. More so for Biden than for practically any other nominee, his VP needs to be someone whom undecideds believe won’t be overmatched by the presidency if it’s suddenly thrust upon them. That’s why Stacey Abrams was never a serious candidate. Voters use experience as a proxy for ability and Abrams has never held federal or statewide office. She’s young too, in her mid-40s. That’s not going to get undecideds to their comfy zone.
So Abrams is out. Bass is out because of her Florida problems. Susan Rice is a Biden favorite and she has some relevant experience as a former ambassador and NSA, but she’s never so much as run for office. And she’s a foreign-policy specialist at a moment when the country’s biggest challenges are domestic. Does she get undecideds to the comfy zone, realistically? Would Democrats or Republicans, who have a long list of grievances with Rice, be more motivated to turn out if she were chosen?
That leaves Harris, Elizabeth Warren, and Tammy Duckworth. The problem with Warren and Duckworth is that, as Biden adds more African-American women to his shortlist — which didn’t include Rice or Bass or Val Demings circa late May, remember — it’ll feel like that much more of a snub if he ends up choosing a woman who’s not African-American. Imagine the optics of passing over Harris and Rice and Bass and Demings and Abrams for snow white Elizabeth Warren. (Sorry, snow white minus 1/1024th). It’s inconceivable.
All of BidenWorld’s concerns about Harris are valid. She would start running for president on day one, no one seems terribly excited about her, she doesn’t have a rep as a policy maven the way Warren does and badly botched her handling of Medicare for All on the trail. But she is in fact a U.S. senator and a former AG of California. She probably gets closer to the comfy zone than anyone else who checks the demographic boxes that Biden needs to check. “I think many Americans just instinctively believe that if you’re going to be a heartbeat away from the presidency, they should have heard about you by now,” said Jim Geraghty today, writing about the odd Bass boomlet. It’d be especially weird for Biden to spring a surprise with the VP pick, he adds, since Sleepy Joe’s whole appeal is that he’s the ultimate known quantity. Trump is the chaos candidate, Biden is the no-sudden-moves candidate. Put all of that together and it points to Harris, however grudgingly on BidenWorld’s part.
…Although I still think there’s a chance of a Demings surprise. She has the same problem as Bass does in having too low a public profile, but she comes with law-enforcement cred as a former police chief that might hold special value to Biden at a moment when Trump’s claiming that Antifa will take over the government if he’s elected. Biden might be willing to make a sudden move if it counters one of Trump’s strongest attack lines against him. Still a long way to go before he makes the pick. I’ll leave you with this, the latest twist in the search:
The document obtained by Insider through a public-records request offers a glimpse into a '11 dispute involving Harris & her top aide, Terri Carbaugh. It has been circulating among media outlets for at least a year, though it appears none mentioned it specifically in reporting.
— Darren Samuelsohn (@dsamuelsohn) July 31, 2020