Congresswoman Who Helped Pick Kamala Harris Breaks Down Biden's VP Decision

Aug 12, 2020
Originally published on August 12, 2020 9:28 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now, several women made Joe Biden's shortlist for the vice presidential nomination. In the days before the announcement, some of them spoke with NPR - Karen Bass, Tammy Duckworth, Susan Rice.

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KAREN BASS: I would describe myself as a lifelong activist committed to fighting for social and economic justice my entire life.

TAMMY DUCKWORTH: I want Joe Biden to get elected. I'll play any position on his team.

SUSAN RICE: I think I could bring my experience of almost now 20 years in the senior levels of the executive branch to bear.

INSKEEP: But as we heard, Harris was favored all along and prevailed after vetting by a committee that included Lisa Blunt Rochester, a member of Congress from Delaware who's on the line.

Good morning.

LISA BLUNT ROCHESTER: Good morning, Steve. Good morning.

INSKEEP: What quality did Harris have that others didn't?

BLUNT ROCHESTER: Well, Steve, first of all let me say, this is an incredible day for America, and I am extremely excited. What Sen. Harris brought to the table was both lived and professional experience and was extremely qualified. You know, we thought about the different issues and the criteria that Joe Biden himself was looking for in making this pick. And he was really looking for someone who could start on Day 1 and assume the role of president should she need to. He was looking for someone who was going to really embody those ideals and those principles that he has talked about during this campaign in terms of building the middle class back and restoring the soul of our country and also someone who was simpatico. That was the word he used - someone who was simpatico with him, that can really compliment him and could be like he was for Barack Obama, that last person that he talked to before he walked out the door to make that big decision. And she checked every single box.

INSKEEP: Well, let's grant that she's got a lot of experience. But when you turn to the politics of this, people focus on her identity and the Democratic need for a big vote by people of color. I'm just thinking about one state for an example, the state of Michigan. Trump won in 2016 with a really low vote total. He would have lost in previous years. The problem was, for Democrats, Democratic voters didn't show up, including Black voters, people who'd showed up for Obama years before. Does Kamala Harris change that somehow?

BLUNT ROCHESTER: Well, just from the past 24 hours, we have seen just an increase in engagement and excitement. And that is one of the things that the - Vice President Joe Biden was looking for. It was really two things. You're looking for someone who could help us to win but, more importantly, someone who could govern with him. And so that was the priority. And you're seeing the excitement and the enthusiasm. As I mentioned, it's an incredible day for America to see someone who actually does represent these different facets of who we are as a country. I mean, we are a country of people who came here and were either immigrants - we have people who came here as slaves. She has both of those backgrounds. And we have people who were indigenous to this country. And we really do need to unite, and that's what this ticket does.

INSKEEP: Let me ask you about some of the criticisms that have been made of the choice. Scott Detrow noted that Republicans are already using Harris' words against Biden, against her. Almost 50 years ago, Joe Biden was criticizing school busing to desegregate schools. And in one of the Democratic debates, Sen. Harris herself questioned Biden's views. Let's listen to a little bit of that.

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KAMALA HARRIS: You know, there was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools. And she was bused to school every day. And that little girl was me.

INSKEEP: She's criticizing Biden there. Is it going to be a little harder for her to vouch for him now?

BLUNT ROCHESTER: No, I don't think so because, again, their values and their principles are the same. I think anybody who's watched politics over the last - I don't know - 50, maybe a hundred years, has - this was a primary that they were running in. And you run your race, and you run it to the best of your ability, just like when George Bush and Ronald Reagan went after each other but they united. This is what this ticket is about. It is about the fact that they both know that America is suffering right now, whether it's the ravages of COVID-19 or whether it's the racial justice issues that we're dealing with and that she took a lead in. That's where their focus is. That's where their eyes are on the prize. And unfortunately, I think for, you know, Republicans, for President Trump, that was the best thing they could come up with. And that's old news.

INSKEEP: When you say racial justice issues that she took a lead in, Scott Detrow also noted progressives criticized her because she had been a prosecutor and therefore part of a system that has widely been seen and ever more criticized for being biased against people of color. How does she answer that now?

BLUNT ROCHESTER: Well, I think, you know, again, back to looking at her leadership even nationally - she and Cory Booker introduced a - the Justice in Policing Act with us on the House side. And what she has been able to show is that from the inside, who knows it better? Who can actually, you know, attack it better than somebody who has actually experienced it? And she's already shown that leadership.

INSKEEP: Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester, thanks so much - really appreciate your time.

BLUNT ROCHESTER: Thank you, Steve. And vote. Everybody, vote. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.