By Ariela Lopez
At the March 15 Democratic presidential primary debate, whose last-minute venue change and scrapped live audience previewed a host of coronavirus-induced changes to everyday life, former Vice President Joe Biden announced that he would choose a woman as his running mate. Now the presumptive Democratic Party nominee, Biden is planning to stick to his word: for the first time in the history of the United States, all of the candidates being vetted for the vice presidency are women.
When Massachusetts senator and former 2020 presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren was asked during an MSNBC interview whether, if offered, she would accept the position of vice president, her answer was an unapologetic “Yes.” Warren, who dropped out of the presidential primary on March 5 following disappointing Super Tuesday results, was a favorite among the more progressive democrats for her hefty Medicare for All plan, ambitious climate strategy and the canceling of student loan debt.
“I do think Biden’s choice of running mate will have an effect on how progressives and other left-wing voters will feel about his campaign,” said Joshua Cobler ’20, a supporter and former volunteer for Sen. Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign.
“Beyond getting rid of Trump, there really is nothing appealing to me about Joe Biden at all,” he added, “but if Warren were his vice president, I would at least have more hope that Biden will follow through on his promise to cancel at least $10,000 per person of federal student loans, which would really help me a lot.”
However, many Democrats believe that it is not necessary for Biden to choose a candidate as progressive as Warren for his running mate. A recent New York Times/Siena College poll shows that voters in battleground states who previously backed Sanders or Warren, the two most progressive candidates, have largely decided to vote for Biden.
“I would like to see Warren as a vice presidential pick, [but] I don’t think she’s likely to be picked at all, and that’s because Biden doesn’t need her,” said a recent Stanford graduate who was granted anonymity due to rules at his job about publicly expressing political support for a candidate. “Democrats are very much lined up behind Biden — it’s not like he’s at risk of a left-wing defection.”
In the wake of the current Black Lives Matter protests, Minnesota senator and former presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar took herself out of the running for Biden’s vice president, and urged him to choose a woman of color, specifically a Black woman, as his running mate. Increasing public support for Biden to choose a woman of color may decrease Warren’s chances of being selected as vice president.
“I agree that Joe Biden would ideally choose a Black woman as his running mate,” said Chloe Stoddard ’21, a supporter of Elizabeth Warren and founder of campus group Cardinal for Warren. “That said, I think it is vital to choose a Black woman who has demonstrated a commitment to the Black Lives Matter movement and has real plans to meet the demands of activists who are calling for Black liberation.”
However, Cobler also noted the importance of choosing a woman based on their dedication to solving problems that affect Black people and other people of color, rather than based on their racial identity.
“Identity just for identity’s sake is meaningless virtue signaling,” he said. “It’s important that we look at what and who they represent.”
Biden’s shortlist of potential running mates does indeed include many women of color, including California senator Kamala Harris, the daughter of Indian and Jamaican immigrants (her father is Donald Harris, emeritus economics professor at Stanford), who dropped out of the 2020 presidential primary in early December. Although Harris is widely considered to be the frontrunner for vice president, many democrats are concerned about her controversial record on criminal justice, particularly amidst growing conversation on the dangers of police violence.
“People are calling to defund the police, not make California’s [self-described] ‘top cop’ the vice president,” Cobler said. “Kamala Harris is responsible for perpetuating the prison industrial complex and the police state that the Black Lives Matter movement is fighting against.”
Although she has never run for elective office, Susan Rice ’86, former National Security Advisor under President Obama, is also being vetted for the vice presidency. Rice, who is African American, has served as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and as the Assistant Secretary of State for African affairs under President Bill Clinton. During her time working under the Obama administration, she reportedly forged a close friendship with then-Vice President Biden.
Two high profile Democrats from Georgia are also in contention for Biden’s bid. While public VP speculation over 2018 gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams has recently died down, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has gained popularity over her battle with Gov. Brian Kemp over mask mandates, though many still worry about her lack of experience in governing at the state or federal level. Biden has emphasized the need for a running mate who is “ready to be president on day one,” an argument that favors candidates with broader political experience, such as Sen. Harris or New Mexico governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, who has received national attention for her diligent response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lujan Grisham’s advantage is her experience on all levels of government. Prior to her tenure as governor, she served as the Secretary of Health in a previous gubernatorial administration, a county commissioner and a member of Congress, where she was appointed leader of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. With the exception of Harris (who served as a district attorney and state attorney general before becoming a senator), she is the only vice presidential candidate who has served in local, state and federal government.
Biden has previously referred to himself as a “transition candidate,” implying that his chosen running mate will likely be positioned as the Democratic frontrunner in the next presidential election. If, as expected, Biden chooses a woman as his vice president, she could easily become the first female president in eight — or even four — years.
“It is frustrating that we have yet to elect our first female president,” Stoddard said. “However, we have never had a female vice president, and the work that [she] will do, not only by holding that position of power, but most importantly through her work to build a United States that is not built upon the marginalization of others, will ultimately change the world.”
Contact Ariela Lopez at arielarlopez ‘at’ gmail.com.