Read

A choice that worked like a charm

Hansa Makhijani Jain | Updated on January 20, 2021

Views on vital matters: Kamala also ensured Biden knew that in case differences arose on issues of race and criminal justice, which she was passionate about, Biden’s views would be prioritised   -  REUTERS/ KEVIN LAMARQUE

‘You ready to go to work?’ Joe Biden had asked Kamala Harris before naming her as his running mate. ‘Oh my God. I’m so ready to go to work,’ she’d replied. As the new US vice president takes oath today, a look at the incredible journey of a woman of Indian and Jamaican origins to the second highest office in the United States

* On 11 August 2020, a Tuesday, fellow presidential candidate Joseph Biden connected with Kamala on a Zoom call to ask her if she was interested in being his running mate

* His late son, Beau, who had passed away due to brain cancer in 2015, had also had a high opinion of Kamala, which majorly influenced Biden’s choice

* Biden is the oldest man ever to be elected President of the United States. Kamala, on the other hand, is nearly two decades younger and can offer a fresh, younger perspective on things

* Within a few hours of her name being announced, Biden’s campaign raised over $10 million

***

Kamala might have let go of her campaign, but she had held on steadfastly to her dream — and now it seemed that the universe was aligning to make it come true. On 11 August 2020, a Tuesday, fellow presidential candidate Joseph Biden connected with Kamala on a Zoom call to ask her if she was interested in being his running mate. ‘You ready to go to work?’ he asked breezily. ‘Oh my God. I’m so ready to go to work,’ she answered. To Kamala and her team Biden’s offer came as a surprise considering their last encounter at the debate on 27 June 2019. Joe Biden’s wife, Dr Jill Biden, had especially not taken it well and had called the attack on her husband on the issue of race ‘a punch to the gut’.

Kamala Harris: The American Story that Began on India’s Shores/ Hansa Makhijani Jain/ Hachette India / Non-fiction/ ₹299

 

Not that Kamala had not been aware that she was on the list of potentials. When word had got out that Biden had decided to select a woman as his running mate and he announced the same on 15 March 2020 while making his way to accepting his Democratic nomination, Kamala had realized there was damage control to be done with regard to the way the debate between Biden and her had unfolded. So, on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert in June, Harris offered a rather nervous explanation on why she had challenged Biden over race. ‘It was a debate. The whole reason — literally, it was a debate. It was called a debate.’ When Colbert asked her about her reaction to being a likely choice for Biden’s running mate, she said, ‘I’d be honoured, if asked, and I’m honoured to be a part of the conversation. Honestly, let me just tell you something. I will do everything in my power, wherever I am, to help Joe Biden win.’ While she did not campaign or lobby around for the position, Kamala knew that she was in the running. Kamala also ensured Biden knew that in case differences arose on issues of race and criminal justice, which she was passionate about, Biden’s views would be prioritized. Among the black women being considered by Biden’s team, Kamala had the advantage of being the only one with the experience of winning major statewide contests and running in a national campaign.

Biden had always admired her insightful and fearless approach to all political matters. His late son, Beau, who had passed away due to brain cancer in 2015, had also had a high opinion of Kamala, which majorly influenced Biden’s choice. Beau was impressed with her body of work, particularly that as a state attorney general she had challenged the banks in 2011 and 2012 to help victims of foreclosure. ‘There is no one’s opinion I valued more than Beau’s and I’m proud to have Kamala standing with me on this campaign,’ Biden said after the selection.

The timing of the Black Lives Matter movement may also have been a key factor for Biden to consider taking on the half-Indian, half-Jamaican Kamala for a running mate — it was time for some diversity to be represented in the White House. The Black Lives Matter movement had started as a protest against police atrocities on black citizens across the United States. On 25 May 2020, Minneapolis resident George Floyd died pinned under the knee of a police officer for eight minutes and forty-six seconds, begging to be allowed to breathe. The police had recklessly disregarded his pleas. His offence was buying a pack of cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill. Just two months earlier, police in Louisville, Kentucky, had mistakenly shot and killed Breonna Taylor, an innocent 26-year-old emergency room technician, while she was in her bed. The police claimed they thought they were raiding the home of drug dealers. Breonna Taylor’s senseless killing was still fresh in the nation’s memory when the George Floyd incident occurred, fuelling the campaign further. After Breonna Taylor’s death, Kamala had taken to Twitter to demand the arrest of the police officers involved; after the George Floyd incident too she had not wasted any time. In an op-ed for Cosmopolitan, she wrote, ‘Let’s speak the truth: People are protesting because Black people have been treated as less than human in America. Because our country has never fully addressed the systemic racism that has plagued [us] since its earliest days. It is the duty of every American to fix. No longer can [we] wait on the sidelines, hoping for incremental change. In times like this, silence is complicity.’ Five days later, she put on a mask and marched straight to the White House to join the protests there.

In many ways, Kamala is a sound choice for a running mate. She complements Joe Biden in a unique way. Biden is the oldest man ever to be elected President of the United States. Kamala, on the other hand, is nearly two decades younger and can offer a fresh, younger perspective on things. Apart from the generational balance, she also brings an ideological and racial stability to the Democratic ticket. Her close contacts with women in the Democratic Party, people of colour and Hollywood celebrities also comes as an added advantage for the former vice president as it can help her to raise funds. Democratic donor Katie McGrath, co-chief executive of production company Bad Robot and wife of celebrated director J.J. Abrams, told the Wall Street Journal, ‘When you think about balancing a ticket, she brings a lot of the qualities that I think are important in 2020.’ The Hollywood power couple have been her long-time supporters. Upon her selection as Biden’s running mate, Kamala hosted over two dozen virtual fundraisers, with and without donors from the entertainment industry.

In an opinion piece published on CNN.com, Sarah Elizabeth Cupp, CNN’s political commentator and the host of SE Cupp: Unfiltered, suggested that Biden had to pair with Kamala in order to defeat Donald Trump. The viability of the choice was very high as all the other prospective candidates came with ‘major baggage or alienating qualities’. She also highlighted the authenticity factor. ‘With Harris, Biden has put his money where his mouth is. It’s one thing to say you care about ending racism, it’s another to put a woman on the ticket who will make it her priority. If he truly empowers her to do just that, to have a voice on those issues that even overpowers and outshines his own, it could go a long way toward reassuring many Americans on the left and the right, young and old, White and Black, that an older White guy is truly interested in helping to usher in a new era of racial justice.’

According to a report on BBC.com, Gil Duran, a communications director for Kamala in 2013, who has criticized her run for the presidential nomination, commented, ‘It is a big reversal of fortune for Kamala Harris. Many people didn’t think she had the discipline and focus to ascend to a position in the White House so quickly... Although people knew she had ambition and star potential. It was always clear that she had the raw talent.’ After considering twenty candidates for the job, and eventually narrowing the list down to eleven, Biden was convinced that Kamala was the one. The vetting committee said in a statement published in CBS News on 12 August 2020 that Kamala Harris ‘would be the best governing partner to help him lead our country out of the chaos created by Donald Trump’. Within a few hours of her name being announced, Biden’s campaign raised over $10 million. His decision had worked like a charm.

Excerpted with permission from ‘Kamala Harris: The American Story that Began on India's Shores’ by Hansa Makhijani Jain, published by Hachette India

Published on January 20, 2021

Follow us on Telegram, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Linkedin. You can also download our Android App or IOS App.

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor