Call it the Gretchen Whitmer reaction. Joe Biden’s outreach to the governor of Michigan as a veepstakes contender surprised observers, as Biden had made a somewhat specific commitment to choose a “woman of color,” as Biden put it. Michelle Lujan Grisham could qualify as a Hispanic, Tammy Duckworth as an Asian-American, but Elizabeth Warren’s an obvious no-go, and not just on that basis. Even in Michigan, black Democrats blasted Biden’s last-minute look at Whitmer, saying “he better pick a black woman”:
But after news broke over the weekend that Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a white woman, had flown to meet with Biden to discuss the vice presidency, frustration and disappointment boiled over among Black female Democrats — including some in her own state.
“He better pick a black woman. If he picks Gretchen, he’ll lose Michigan,” said Virgie Rollins, chair of the Democratic National Committee Black Caucus, who hosted Biden at her home before his Michigan primary win this spring.
“There are a lot of Black people mad at her [Whitmer] in this state,” Rollins told POLITICO, citing her record on Flint’s lead water crisis and education policy, particularly in Detroit.
It’s not just Michigan, either. The Washington Post reported last night that a petition signed by 100 prominent black men, mainly celebrities and Democratic/progressive activists, has made that demand explicit. Enough of the dodging and the euphemistic use of “woman of color,” they declare — pick a black woman, or else:
More than 100 prominent Black men released a strongly worded open letter Monday, warning Biden that not picking a Black woman would cost him the election. The signatories of the letter included rapper Sean “Diddy” Combs, radio show host Lenard McKelvey (a.k.a. Charlamagne tha God), actor Cedric Kyles (a.k.a. Cedric the Entertainer), commentator Van Jones, Bishop William J. Barber and civil rights attorney Ben Crump, among others.
“For too long Black women have been asked to do everything from rally the troops to risk their lives for the Democratic Party with no acknowledgment, no respect, no visibility, and certainly not enough support,” the letter stated. “Failing to select a Black woman in 2020 means you will lose the election. We don’t want to choose between the lesser of two evils and we don’t want to vote the devil we know versus the devil we don’t because we are tired of voting for devils — period.”
The letter followed a similar public statement from more than 700 “Concerned Black Women Leaders” on Friday, who challenged the “relentless attacks on Black women and our leadership abilities” that have accompanied the running mate search.
“There is a feeling of urgency and history — and Black women are tired of being considered the help,” said Karen Finney, a Democratic strategist who signed that letter and led the writing of a third open letter to Biden earlier this year urging him to pick a Black woman. “In politics, we have carried so many on our backs across the finish line, and in this moment in our history, we believe that it is time for a Black woman.”
Thus are the wages of raising expectations. Biden’s problem is that he essentially has two options if he wants to comply with this demand. Karen Bass and Val Demings are out, for different reasons but one in common — picking a House member makes no political sense at all. They don’t have a large enough constituency; Bass comes from ultra-safe California, while Demings wouldn’t help carry Florida. Bass’ baggage from Cuba and Scientology would almost certainly cost Biden Florida in November, for that matter, and Demings’ history as a police chief could cost Biden significant progressive support.
That leaves Biden with Kamala Harris and Susan Rice. Harris has her own issues as a prosecutor and attorney general with progressives, plus she proved herself less than stellar as a candidate in a national campaign. Harris practically had the field and the environment set for her, and ended up getting clobbered — twice! — by Tulsi Gabbard. Rice, on the other hand, has never run for office at all, and her track record on the talk-show circuit might be a bigger headache for Biden. Democrats have no other black women with a high enough national profile and experience to compete at this level, except perhaps for retired Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, who at 72 is probably a bit too old for the job — although she might otherwise be the best choice in a suddenly narrowing field.
The sudden pressure at the end might end up robbing Biden of some boost from this choice, too. If Biden gets seen as having to be bullied into picking Harris or Rice, just how virtuous will it seem? That may not matter much after such a pick and the downpour of plaudits for its historic nature, but it won’t allow Biden for the kind of glow he might have otherwise expected. That’s his own fault, however; playing footsie with Whitmer at the last minute was a dumb decision, and the reaction it provoked should have been easily foreseen.
So when will we know? CBS News says the decision is “imminent”:
The former vice president and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee has interviewed top finalists to fill the role he once held and an announcement of his choice is still expected this week, according to multiple people familiar with the search.
Joe Biden has interviewed his top choices either in person or remotely. Last week, for example, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer flew to Delaware to meet with him in person. Other meetings have been held either by telephone or video conferencing, said the people familiar with the process who were granted anonymity to speak frankly.
It’s not just “imminent,” it’s overdue. Team Biden made it known that the pick would be announced last week, only to let that date slide into this week. That’s not a sign of confidence either, and this reaction should have been foreseen, too.