vision 2020

Biden’s Vice-President Shortlist Is Shrinking Before Our Eyes

Joe may have to move up his selection timetable if prospects keep falling by the wayside. Photo: Sean Rayford/Getty Images

Joe Biden has let it be known that he’s in no rush to choose a running mate, despite the endless veep speculation swirling around him. This week he publicly said he hoped to announce his decision by August 1. That’s less than three weeks before the opening date of the Democratic National Convention on August 17 (which will likely be virtual), indicating a fairly conventional timetable.

And so, as my colleague Gabriel Debenedetti recently explained, Biden has been willing to hold what amounts to an “open audition” for the vice-president gig, not doing much to help people guess which way he is leaning:

Ever since the formal process actually began last month, Biden himself has been uncharacteristically tight-lipped about his preferences, and absent in-person campaign events to showcase his chemistry with the contenders, that’s left even some of the people closest to him parsing his every statement about possible choices.

Yes, word will eventually leak out about who is and is not formally being vetted, but it’s early enough in the process for Biden to change his mind a time or two.

His freedom of action, however, is being circumscribed by events beyond his control. One prominent prospect, Nevada senator Catherine Cortez Masto, has taken herself out of the running. Another, New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, may have damaged her suitability significantly by a jewelry purchase that arguably violated her own stay-at-home order. Cortez Masto and Grisham were the two most frequently mentioned Latinas under discussion as potential Biden running mates.

Now the sudden upsurge of protests over police killings, sparked by George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, is threatening to knock Amy Klobuchar out of contention, as the New York Times reports:

Senator Amy Klobuchar swept into office in 2007 as a former tough prosecutor, boasting of how she had reduced crime in the biggest county in Minnesota. But as protests over George Floyd’s death in police custody bring chaos and violence to Minneapolis, her seven-year record as prosecutor there is facing renewed scrutiny as she prepares to be vetted as a leading vice-presidential contender.

With a police force in Minneapolis that has long faced accusations of racism and complaints of abuse, Ms. Klobuchar declined to bring charges against multiple police officers who were involved in shootings during her seven-year tenure. 

This fresh airing of an old controversy adds to earlier concerns about Klobuchar’s successful murder prosecution of a black teenager as Hennepin County District Attorney in 2002. The choice of Klobuchar was already going to be controversial among African-Americans who want Biden to choose a black running-mate and progressives who are looking for a gesture in their direction. The new focus on racial justice in Minneapolis might sound a death knell for her veep prospects.

Indeed, there is some talk already that current racial tensions over police shootings and the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on African-Americans and Latinos could ratchet up the pressure on Biden to choose a woman of color for vice-president. Complicating the calculus is the fact that two of the most prominent African-American names in the hopper, Kamala Harris and Val Demings (who penned an op-ed condemning the police misconduct in Minneapolis), both have law enforcement backgrounds. Harris’s shaky record on criminal-justice issues as a prosecutor and attorney general in California became an area of scrutiny during her presidential campaign, and such concerns won’t go away in the current climate.

You could look at these developments and conclude that real life is helping Biden whittle down his veep list. But it might be happening a bit too fast.

Biden’s Veep Shortlist Is Shrinking Before Our Eyes