Joe Biden’s long search for a partner to complete the Democratic presidential ticket has finally concluded, settling on the candidate long considered the presumptive favorite by Washington observers, Senator Kamala Harris of California. Although the two clashed early in the nomination process, she adds youth, diversity, and a pragmatic orientation to the Biden-led ticket.
AN EVET-DRIVEN WINNOWING PROCESS
To a considerable degree, domestic events of recent months forced Biden’s hand. Ideologically moderate in a party that has found itself migrating to the Left on issues of race and gender, he felt considerable pressure to nominate a woman as his running mate. According to one Pew poll, roughly 50 percent of white Democrats reported being “bothered” that Joe Biden is “an older white man,” as were some 41 percent of Democrats overall. Biden responded to the pressure in the party by pledging to select a woman as his running mate.
The upsurge in racial tension following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police added a new layer of complication for Biden’s thinking. It effectively forced Senator Amy Klobuchar to remove herself from consideration, as she had previously served as District Attorney for Minneapolis and declined to prosecute numerous police officers for excessive use of force. As she bowed out, Klobuchar urged Biden to select a nonwhite running mate: “I think this is a moment to put a woman of color on that ticket,” she said.
These calls began to echo more widely within Democratic circles, until it was all but foregone that only an African American woman would be acceptable to the party’s activist base. One open letter to Biden warnedin stark terms that "failing to select a Black woman in 2020 means you will lose the election." It was signed by more than 200 African American leaders, celebrities, academics, and political activists.
HARRIS’S ISSUE PROFILE
Since arriving in the Senate in 2017, Harris has carved out a profile of staunch opposition to President Trump on most policy fronts, while remaining firmly fixed on the center-left. This holds particularly true in foreign policy. During her presidential campaign, Harris emphasized opposition to President Trump’s withdrawal from international agreements, such as the Paris Accord and the JCPOA, and asserted she would “revitalize” U.S. alliances around the world.
At least rhetorically, Harris argued in favor of pressuring China on its human rights record, telling the Council on Foreign Relations in the summer of 2019 that “China’s abysmal human rights record must feature prominently in our policy toward the country. We can’t ignore China’s mass detention of more than a million Uighur Muslims in ‘reeducation camps’ in the Xinjiang region, or its widespread abuse of surveillance for political and religious repression.”
On Iran, where perhaps the differences between the Trump administration and its Democratic rivals are most consequential in terms of foreign policy, Harris maintains that the U.S. should re-enter the JCPOA on revised terms: “We need to get back into the Iran nuclear deal. I would strengthen it. I would include ballistic missile testing. I think that we can strengthen what we do in terms of monitoring and verification. But there's no question that a lot of negotiation with a great deal of depth took place over a long period of time to reach that agreement, and it was an agreement that was being complied with by all parties.”
With regard to Israel and its neighbors, Harris stands squarely within the decades-old Democratic consensus in favor of a firm U.S.-Israel alliance coupled with a commitment to broker an agreement with the Palestinians. “I would start by reaffirming the U.S. commitment to Israel’s security and prosperity,” she said, “while simultaneously working to rebuild the broken relationship between the United States and the Palestinians.”
In sum, by picking Harris, Biden sent a strong signal that he intends to navigate a path of continuity and pragmatism in governance. While some contend that Washington is trapped in an escalatory cycle of endless polarization, the Biden-Harris record belies such linear projections, heralding a future Democratic party more characterized by continuity and pragmatism than rupture and retrenchment.