Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden announced on Tuesday that he has picked Kamala Harris, Democratic Senator from California, as his choice for vice president in the lead-up to the 2020 US presidential election.
This historic decision makes Harris the first Black woman and the first Asian-American woman to run for vice president on a major party’s presidential ticket in the US.
Biden announced his choice on Twitter, stating, “I have the great honor to announce that I’ve picked @KamalaHarris – a fearless fighter for the little guy, and one of the country’s finest public servants – as my running mate.”
“I’m honored to join him as our party’s nominee for Vice President, and do what it takes to make him our Commander-in-Chief.”
Biden’s campaign said that the two could make their first public appearance together on Wednesday in Wilmington, Delaware, where Biden currently resides.
Amid the nationwide protests against systemic racism ignited by the police killing of George Floyd, Biden found himself under increasing public pressure to choose a Black woman as his running mate.
The pressure also underscored the importance of Black voters to Biden’s campaign against President Donald Trump.
In battleground states such as Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, states Trump won in 2016, the turnout of Black voters may be crucial to Biden’s victory this year. Even states such as Florida and Georgia, which usually vote Republican, have over the last few months shown to be competitive in polls.
Niambi Carter, associate professor of political science at Howard University, told Al-Jazeera that Harris was far from merely a “descriptive representative.”
“She is a formidable campaigner. She has won statewide elections multiple times in the state of California, which while very diverse does not have a large Black population. So, you’re looking at someone who knows how to win elections."
However, at a time when systemic racial injustice in law enforcement has triggered a national debate, Harris’s own record as California attorney general and district attorney in San Francisco has attracted much scrutiny.
Not all smooth sailing for Harris
Harris, who has professed to be personally against death penalty, was criticized as attorney general in California when her office denied essential DNA testing to Kevin Cooper, an African American man on death row, to prove his innocence.
Before Harris ended her own presidential campaign for the 2020 elections, she came under fire for her record as prosecutor during a presidential debate in August 2019.
“Now, Senator Harris says she’s proud of her record as a prosecutor and that she’ll be a prosecutor president. But I’m deeply concerned about this record,” said Tulsi Gabbard, the US representative for Hawaii who suspended her 2020 presidential campaign in March this year.
“She blocked evidence that would have freed an innocent man from death row until the courts forced her to do so.
“She kept people in prison beyond their sentences to use them as cheap labor for the state of California, and she fought to keep a cash bail system in place that impacts poor people in the worst kind of way.
“She put over 1,500 people in jail for marijuana violations and then laughed about it when she was asked if she ever smoked marijuana.”
However, Harris has also garnered significant support for her record in the Senate, where she supported an anti-lynching bill and a police reform bill.
After Floyd’s murder in police custody, she co-sponsored Democratic legislation that would have banned chokeholds and no-knock warrants, as well as reforming qualified immunity, which protects police officers from accountability.
“To see a Black woman nominated for the first time reaffirms my faith that in America, there is a place for every person to succeed no matter who they are or where they come from," said Val Demings, a US representative for Florida and a Black woman who was also under consideration to become Biden’s running mate.
Trump campaign responds with attack ad
Thirty minutes after Biden announced his pick for vice president, Trump tweeted a 30-second ad criticizing Harris for her more liberal policies such as her support for Bernie Sanders’ “Medicare for All".
“Voters rejected Harris. They smartly spotted a phony," the narrator in the ad says. “But not Joe Biden, he’s not that smart.”
“Biden calls himself a transition candidate. He is handing over the reins to Kamala while they jointly embrace the radical left. Slow Joe and Phony Kamala.”
If successful in his run for the presidency, Biden, age 77, will become the oldest elected US president. He has on numerous occasions referred to himself as “a transition candidate", with his age leading to much speculation that he will only serve one term if voted into office.
This could mean Harris becomes the potential top Democratic candidate for the 2024 presidential elections.
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