Joe Biden’s VP Pick 2.0 — Should It Be Kamala or Liz?

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Well, so much for the fancy, schmancy Political Science Degree (with Honors, BTW) from a City University in the Bronx.

A little more than two months ago, after Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren had officially endorsed Joe Biden as the 2020 Democratic Presidential nominee, it was time to play “Pick the Veep.” I wanted to be ahead of the prediction curve before it became the drinking game it’s been since May. If I had downed a shot of Bulleit Bourbon every time a pundit speculated on Biden’s choice, or a cable news anchor asked someone on the long short list if they’d accept, I’d be a pandemic alcoholic by now.

So, to quote The Godfather after he brought Santino to the undertaker, I decided to use all my powers and all my skills as an amateur poly-sci “expert” to announce who should be Uncle Joe’s Number Two. And as I posted in my very first Medium “story,” I settled on Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar.

It was a pure head-over-heart choice, unlike how I decided on whom to support for the Presidency. During the campaign, I wore my affection for Warren on my left-wing sleeve, even though the tiny political sage on my right shoulder was whispering, “Biden . . . Biden . . . Biden.” When tiny sage turned out to be prophetic, there was clearly no room for emotion in my subsequent VP analysis. And once Biden announced in his mid-March debate with Sanders that his VP would definitely be a woman, that eliminated Julian Castro and all the “Killer Bs” — Bernie, Buttigieg, Booker, and Beto. Which still left at least 10 women on everyone’s “short” list. I ultimately pared that down to five before making what I felt was a brilliantly nerdy and cool-headed case for Klobuchar:

“I’m not concerned about a Biden/Klobuchar ticket being too ‘centrist’. By appealing to moderate Democrats, Independents, and ‘Never Trump’ Republicans, while running on a more Progressive political platform, the Democrats can have their electoral cake and eat it, too. It’s a ticket that can still energize the turnout of African-Americans and women even if there isn’t an African-American woman on the ticket.”

Then the murder of George Floyd happened.

Klobuchar had already spent much of the 2019 campaign season and the Democratic debates fending off criticism of what many Progressives, especially Blacks, saw as her “problematic” record as a Minneapolis State Prosecutor. When Floyd’s death last month was at the hands (and the knees) of police in her state and led to weeks of passionate nationwide demonstrations and rallies, the Minnesota Senator eventually saw the “Black Lives Matter” writing on the wall. On June 18 she removed herself from VP consideration and recommended that Biden’s choice be “a woman of color.”

Even with Klobuchar off the list, there are now at least 12 women in the VP name-hopper. The original nine: California Senator Kamala Harris, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, former Georgia Governor Candidate Stacey Abrams, Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin; Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth; New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham; Florida Congresswoman Val Demings; and Nevada Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (also chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee). In a recent report from CNN (as well as other news outlets), three more women — all African-American — are being vetted, including Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Former Obama National Security Adviser Susan Rice, and California Rep. Karen Bass (who was recommended by Speaker Nancy Pelosi).

Not only is every one of these women enough of a leader and an intellect to be President (especially considering the Troll who’s held the office the past four years), but any of them would totally clean Mike Pence’s dim-witted clock in a VP debate (if Covid-19 hasn’t put him in an ICU by then). The 11 women who don’t make the cut will have still provided the future Biden Administration with an amazing group of potential cabinet secretaries.

But according to CNN’s report, the four “leading prospects” are Harris, Demings, Bottoms, and Warren. It’s surprising that Stacey Abrams is missing from that final four, but frankly I’d rather see that champion of voting rights on the front lines during the election. Besides, while Stacey has welcomed the notion of being Biden’s VP, she clearly has her sights set on becoming the Governor of Georgia in 2022, the position that massive voter suppression stole from her in 2018.

If we take Joe Biden at his word — and goodness knows we desperately need a President whose word we can trust — he’s often told the media that he prefers a VP who’s been tested on the national stage (not just in media interviews) and who will be simpatico as a governing partner the way he was with Barack Obama. That doesn’t necessarily mean a Pence-like sycophant who will echo his every thought. In fact, if there’s one thing the more instinctually center-left Biden needs is someone with serious Progressive policy chops and that’s why Warren is definitely in play. It’s also why the most updated “VP Rankings” by “Sabato’s Crystal Ball” at the UVA Center for Politics placing Warren sixth behind contenders like Duckworth, Grisham, and Bottoms was just a tad ludicrous.

Ergo, based on “The Biden Rules,” Demings and Bottoms and even Abrams just don’t make the cut, and almost all the other women, although well-qualified, don’t score on the name recognition or national stage experience factor. One can make the salient argument that the importance of the Veep pick is always overrated; that voters don’t cast a ballot based on the Presidential candidate’s sidekick. In most election cycles, that’s true. But try that argument on the millions of Hillary Clinton supporters still moaning about her selection of Virginia’s non-descript Senator Tim Kaine in 2016. Many people might offer the notion that Biden’s current polling advantages, especially in the battleground states, are so overwhelming that his VP pick wouldn’t necessarily move the needle much further. Well, this isn’t a sporting event that follows the Marquess of Queensberry Rules. Against players like Donald Trump and William Barr, who will shamelessly stop at nothing to win, you run up the score when you have a big lead in the fourth quarter.

Based on all the Biden campaign tea-leaf reading and the many major polls released since March — including a couple taken either before or during the past month of Black Lives Matter protests — the VP pick will come down to Elizabeth Warren or Kamala Harris.

Under the heading of Consolidating-the-Polls-So-You-Don’t-Have-To:
Here are the most enlightening results that support the “Warren or Harris: Case Closed” scenario. On June 18, Monmouth University released a poll of 2,240 early primary or caucus voters (when Klobuchar was still in the race) and when asked about a VP pick, the top two choices were Harris (28%) and Warren (13%). In a CBS News Poll of 2,200 folks taken in early May BGF (Before George Floyd), Warren was the first choice of 36% and Harris the first choice of 19%. Interestingly, when asked who Biden “should consider” as VP, 72% of Blacks had Warren on their list, while 60% picked Harris. Another BGF poll was one of 605 Democrats from Data for Progress released by the Vox website on May 1. When asked who was most ready to be President, it was 42% Warren, 15% Harris. Among Blacks, it was 24% Warren, 22% Harris, 22% Abrams. With women, it was 44% Warren, 15% Harris. In the most recent (June 26) New York Times/Siena College poll (you know, the glorious one that had Biden ahead of Trump by 14 points!), out of 1,340 respondents, 80% of the total and 75% of Blacks said that race shouldn’t be a factor in Biden’s VP selection. Of voters in the six battleground states, 90% said race shouldn’t be a factor, including 91% of Black voters.

Glean from all of that what you will. My takeaway is that no matter who is on Joe Biden’s ticket, all Democrats — Black, Brown, White, or Rainbow-colored — will walk on nails without a mask on to the polls to vote out Donald Trump. That said, as my dear Jewish grandmother might utter, “You know, a Black woman vouldn’t hurt.”

The Case for Kamala:

Two days before Kamala Harris dropped out of the Democratic Presidential race last December 3, I posted an essay on Facebook declaring that if she were a WHITE MAN, she’d probably be the front-runner for the nomination and her only competition would be Elizabeth Warren. And that was in spite of her then obvious flaws as a candidate. Multiple press accounts had described her campaign organization as one in constant disarray. Her position on health care had never been well-articulated. And she couldn’t come up with a savvy argument defending her record as a California prosecutor that would make her more appealing to Black voters. Those issues would still be negatives even if Harris were not a Black woman.

The good news then, and certainly now that she’s under VP consideration, is that Harris is liberal enough to appeal to progressives, but not so far left she would alienate moderates. In fact, it might surprise even the savviest pundits to know that Harris is on par with Elizabeth Warren on the policy-voting scale. According to ProgressivePunch.org, which ranks US Senators based on their votes on “crucial” legislation and overall voting record, Harris ranks 2nd in “crucial votes, lifetime” (A-rating of 97.23), with Warren 5th (A-rating of 96.64). Their ranks are flipped for “overall votes, lifetime.”

Harris became a much better retail candidate as the Presidential campaign progressed and she honed her message during the debates. She’s an experienced legislator, who dressed down Brett Kavanaugh and William Barr during Congressional hearings. And she possesses a combination of down-to-earth charm and prosecutorial toughness that on a debate stage would fluster Mike Pence into being a word-salad machine. Four years as Vice President would certainly hone her foreign policy chops and make her more familiar to Americans overall. While IMHO, I don’t believe Blacks — other than the far-left African-American media and pundit class — would be enraged if Biden didn’t pick Harris (or any Black woman) as his VP, her selection would no doubt be a jolt of electoral energy. But if she’s not on the ticket, could there be a better choice for Attorney General in a Biden Administration than Kamala Harris? The Harris Justice Department putting Bill Barr in jail? Now that’s an irony that may just be too delicious to pass up.

Why It Should Be Warren

Let me know if you’ve read something like this before: If Elizabeth Warren had been a MAN, she would have been the 2020 Democratic Nominee for President. Yeah, I wrote something similar about Kamala Harris three paragraphs ago.

Although I was never a “Nobody but Warren” person, I was definitely all in for Liz. For this passionate progressive, she checked all the boxes: An extremely intelligent, ultra-liberal, fighter for the middle and working class, who was recruited by President Obama and campaigned for Hillary AND also happened to be A WOMAN. She also wasn’t Bernie Sanders. Then she was charmingly wonky when she rolled out her “I’ve got a plan for that” proposals, downright adorable taking selfies with followers after every campaign speech, and rocking the early Democratic debates.

But I became seriously infatuated with Warren in mid-September 2019 when I stood in a light rain in New York’s Washington Square Park and heard her brilliant speech attacking political and corporate corruption, delivered in the kind of articulate and inspiring way that Bernie could only dream about. I proudly grabbed an “I’m a Warren Democrat” banner and resisted the temptation to take out a Sharpie and draw little hearts on it.

Then in the fall 2019 Democratic debates, the “Medicare-For-All” and “eliminate all student debt” backlash happened. The pundits pounced and Warren scrambled to come up with a more “incremental” universal health-care plan. She felt she needed to proclaim herself a “Capitalist” to differentiate herself from the “Socialist” in her left-wing lane. She looked petty lambasting Mayor Pete for his “Wine-Cave” fundraisers. Her poll numbers started dropping. With banishing Donald Trump from the White House being the number one priority in November, I was not only wavering, I was experiencing Elizabeth Warren Whiplash. Given what we know now, it turned out for the best. All things being equal, Joe Biden was always the Democrats optimum shot at taking down Trump.

So where does that leave Liz? Should she be written off as a VP candidate because she’s a septuagenarian like Joe? Absolutely not. Besides, I’d be willing to bet my Tom Seaver Bobblehead Doll collection that even if he doesn’t announce it, Uncle Joe will leave after one term. In fact, if Warren ends up being the choice, I’m sure that means Biden is out for 2024. The more appropriate question: Is Vice-President really the best role for Elizabeth Warren in the Biden administration? While Kamala Harris as Attorney General is perfect type-casting, Warren is the ultimate politician as character actor — she’s ideal for multiple roles. Treasury Secretary, where she could clean up the mess made by Steve Mnuchin. Commerce Secretary, where her responsibilities could be broadened. Secretary of HHS or HUD, both of which she could rebuild from the ground up and mold to help minority communities. Or how about Liz passing on the VP job in exchange for taking over as Senate Majority Leader? Yes, I’m predicting the Democrats will win the Senate and will detail how and why in an upcoming essay.

Warren or Harris: Isn’t it a great choice to have? Like choosing between two ace pitchers who could both start Game One of the World Series, right? Now that I’ve made you wade through all these words, it would be cruel of me not to announce who I think Biden will pick.

I’ll put it this way: I think Biden SHOULD pick the woman Kate McKinnon impersonates so well on Saturday Night Live. But I think he WILL select the woman whose name is pronounced KA-MA-LA, and perhaps after January 20, 2021, we’ll be watching Maya Rudolph’s impression of our willowy Vice President, martini in hand.

We’re GONNA have a BAD BITCH. I’ll drink to that.

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