Democrats lobby Biden on VP choice
Rep. Lois Frankel (D-Fla.), co-chairwoman of the Women’s Caucus, is pushing her home-state colleague, Rep. Val Demings, for vice president.
Rep. Wm. Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) wants presumptive Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden to select Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, who Clay believes would help Democrats win the all-important swing state — and the White House.
Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.), a Hispanic Caucus member, said it’s critical that Democrats have a strong woman of color on the ticket, someone like Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas) or Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.).
Once bitterly divided over the crowded, raucous 2020 presidential primary, progressives and centrists, insurgents and establishment Democrats are now unified behind Biden, and they’re cheering his pledge to pick a woman as his running mate this summer.
They just can’t agree on who that woman should be.
While Democratic polls show two former presidential hopefuls — Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Harris — lead the pack to be Biden’s pick, opinions are all over the map on Capitol Hill, especially in the most diverse House Democratic Caucus in history.
Frankel is among a group of lawmakers pushing for Demings, who is African American and became the first female police chief in Orlando in 2007.
She’s honed her foreign-policy chops while serving on the House Homeland Security and Intelligence committees, and stepped out on the national stage in January after Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) tapped her as one of seven House prosecutors in President Trump’s impeachment trial.
“We knew she was ready for prime time when we saw her as an impeachment manager, so she checks off a lot of boxes,” Frankel said, “and for me as a Floridian, it would be great to have somebody from Florida.”
Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) is advocating for his own home-state pick, Sen. Amy Klobuchar. He says the former presidential candidate would be a “powerful” VP pick from America’s heartland.
Minority Whip Dick Durbin, the senior senator from Illinois, has been touting Tammy Duckworth, the state’s junior senator. The decorated, double-amputee Iraq War veteran is expected to interview with Biden’s team in the coming days, Durbin said.
It’s unclear how much sway any of these lawmakers have with Biden, who is expected to make his decision in July. Some like Durbin served in the Senate with the former Foreign Relations Committee chairman for years. Others, including Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.), national co-chairman of Biden’s 2020 campaign, are part of the Biden inner circle and speak to him regularly. But Richmond, a former Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) chairman who secured countless endorsements for Biden, said the two men have not discussed the subject.
“The truth is we haven’t talked about it at all. I’m letting the committee do their interviews and their work,” Richmond told The Hill in a brief interview.
That committee would be Biden’s vice presidential vetting committee, which includes former Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, and Biden’s home-state congresswoman, Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.), another Black Caucus member. Biden has said the panel is looking at “more than a dozen” potential running mates, including Whitmer, Demings, Duckworth and former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams.
“I’ve had a conversation with some folks. … It was just an opening conversation,” Whitmer said Tuesday on NBC’s “Today” show.
For many Hill Democrats, ousting Trump and taking back the White House is the only thing that matters this November. The vice presidential pick, they argue, can help energize the base and propel the party to victory. With that in mind, some lawmakers say Biden — who won the nomination by running in the party’s moderate lane — needs to balance the ticket with a popular progressive like Warren.
“We’ve got to win the election, and there are tens of millions of progressives who are with Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, and we’ve got to make sure those people turn out,” Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), a leading progressive who backed Warren in the primary, told The Hill.
Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), who served as Sanders’s national campaign co-chairman, has also been trying to sell Biden World on the idea of a Biden-Warren ticket. Warren has made economic inequality the centerpiece of her presidential campaign and political career; her voice and ideas would be critical as a future Biden administration responds to the economic crisis spurred by the coronavirus pandemic, Khanna said.
“I think it’s an obvious choice that Sen. Warren would be that partner,” Khanna told reporters recently. “I don’t have the standing to tell them what to do, but I’ve made the case for why I think this would be a strong choice.”
But asked about Warren, Clay, an establishment Democratic lawmaker, replied, “Let’s not get caught up in fantasies. Let’s focus on winning.”
Clay, a CBC member, called Harris of California “a brilliant African American female who has had success running statewide in the most populous state in the country,” but he also is not insisting that Biden choose a black running mate.
“I would be in favor of someone like Gretchen Whitmer, the governor of Michigan, where we have to win Michigan,” Clay told The Hill. “It don’t have to be a black woman. Strategically, we want to win battleground states, so let’s be practical about this.”
Other senior CBC members agree with that sentiment. House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), whose endorsement is credited with propelling Biden to victory in the South Carolina primary and to the Democratic nomination, said it’s “not a must” for Biden to select a black woman.
“I would love it, but I’ve said the criteria all along: It has to be somebody that he meshes with, it has to be somebody he trusts, it has to be somebody who can be president on Day One,” said Richmond, Biden’s national campaign co-chair.
Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Md.), another CBC member who served as lieutenant governor of his state, said Biden’s commitment to appoint an African American woman to the Supreme Court is “quite frankly” a “more important appointment because it’s for a lifetime.”
However, not all Democrats are ready to give Biden a free pass. Espaillat, the first Dominican American member of Congress, said balancing the ticket with a diverse pick would help turn out minority voters in the fall.
“I think it should be a Latino or African American woman,” said Espaillat, rattling off the names of Harris, Cortez Masto, Escobar and New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, his former House colleague.
“Elizabeth Warren, she would be great too,” he said, “but I think a woman of color would be a slam dunk.”