Karen Bass Emerges as Serious Contender for Joe Biden’s VP, Draws Scrutiny

Joe Biden’s search for a Vice Presidential nominee to complete the Democratic ticket has continued longer than expected. Amid dissatisfaction with the leading contenders, Biden’s camp has begun to look further afield for potential candidates. This has opened an opportunity for the President’s reelection campaign to portray Biden as a Trojan horse for more extreme elements within his party. The response Biden needs to blunt the force of this strategy — selecting a Vice President from his party’s centrist wing — appears to be too costly for him politically.

 

WITH UNCERTIANTY OVER HARRIS, SCRUTINY TURNS TO BASS

 

Although most Washington insiders have long considered California Senator Kamala Harris a favorite for the nomination — her youth, biracial heritage, and aggressiveness as a debater all strengthen areas where the ticket has lagged — strong reservations to bringing Harris onto the ticket have emerged within Biden’s camp. The attack she launched on Biden over his opposition to federally mandated busing programs in the 1970s and his cordial relationship with segregationist Senators was widely seen as an insinuation of racial animus. It left a deep strain of anger among Biden and his associates.

 

Biden’s wife, Jill, speaking at a fundraiser in Glencoe, Illinois, described the attack in vivid language, and invoked the memory of their late son to convey the intensity of the family’s anguish. “Our son, Beau, spoke so highly of her [Senator Harris],” the former second lady said, “and, you know, and how great she was. And not that she isn’t, I’m not saying that. But it was just like a punch to the gut. It was a little unexpected.”

 

More than a dozen Biden backers and several of his largest donors began lobbying against Harris in recent weeks. As one Chicago-based donor put it, “I think a good number of people closest to Joe are pushing against Kamala, including me. I don’t like her, and I don’t like the way she campaigned. She seems not loyal at all and very opportunistic.”

 

Nevertheless, the renewed salience of racial politics has strengthened the pull on Biden to select an African-American running mate. Reports in recent days indicate that Representative Karen Bass, like Harris an African American woman hailing from California, has emerged as a potential contender. In the words of one fundraiser, "Everybody likes Karen Bass… When you've been speaker of the legislature for a state that's twice the population of New York and the world's fifth biggest economy, you know how to manage media, you understand the economy. I think she is stronger than people think."

 

TRUMP CAMPAIGN HONES MESSAGE

With increased prominence comes intensified scrutiny. Representative Bass has been forced to disavow numerous comments from earlier in her career that would place her too far to the Left to be an asset for the general election. In particular, Bass’s youthful flirtation with the Venceremos Brigade, a leftwing group which funded her travel to, and brief residence in, Castro’s Cuba, has raised eyebrows among Florida’s Democratic delegation. 

 

Bass herself has moved quickly to address the issue, keenly aware that any association with Castro would do serious damage to Democratic hopes of carrying Florida in the fall. In an MSNBC interview, she clarified that she has “talked to my colleagues in the House about that, and it’s certainly something that I would not say again. I have always supported the Cuban people, and the relationship that Barack Obama and Biden had in their administration in terms of opening up relations.” In another interview, she said, “I’m not a socialist. I’m not a communist. I’ve belonged to one party my entire life and that’s the Democratic Party and I’m a Christian.”

 

Sensing opportunity, Trump’s campaign operatives have attempted to use Bass’s past flirtations with the far Left to portray Biden as a radical in own right. This week, President Trump’s campaign manager Bill Stepien said, “He is [an] empty vessel of the radical Left — it’s how he won the nomination in the first place, and it’s extremely concerning that he is a pawn of the radical fringe of his party, of the AOC wing of the party,” referring to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York. “I think we’re about to see the same when he chooses his Vice Presidential nominee.”