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Sanders defends Harris as vice presidential pick

But some progressives — particularly those who supported Sanders in the 2016 and 2020 Democratic primaries — disagreed with the decision to pick Harris, some citing her prosecutorial past as an issue, saying it doesn’t meet the moment with Black Lives Matter protests in full swing.

Sanders‘ former national press secretary, Brianna Joy Gray, took to Twitter to call out the decision, stating: “The contempt for the base is, wow.“

When asked about the differing reactions within his own base, Sanders said, “The overwhelming majority of progressives understand that it is absolutely imperative that Donald Trump be defeated.”

“A lot of my supporters are not enthusiastic about Joe Biden. You know why? I ran against Joe Biden,” Sanders said.

“But I think there is overwhelming understanding that Donald Trump must be defeated, Biden must be elected. And that the day after he’s elected we’re going to do everything we can to create a government that works for all of us and not the 1 percent and wealthy campaign contributors.”

Sanders will speak Monday night in support of the Biden ticket at the Democratic National Convention.

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Harris pays early dividends for Biden campaign

“I think she brings with her the energy of every Black woman in the country,” said former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois, the first Black woman elected to the chamber, and only one besides Harris.

When Biden spoke on a campus here earlier this summer, the parking lot was near-empty, and the only activity was a few reporters waiting to have their temperature taken. But a day after Harris was announced, the same high school parking lot was jammed with cars. Supporters with custom signs and Biden and Harris t-shirts ringed the sidewalk with iPhone cameras to catch their first glances of the tandem that will take on Donald Trump.

In interviews, more than a dozen people close to the Biden and Harris operations, as well as elected officials and campaign aides sketched out how the ticket is coming together and how it will be deployed in the final 79-day sprint to the election. Much of the early focus has been on preparing and integrating the candidates and reintroducing Harris at events alongside Biden.

In the days after this week’s convention, the two are expected to sit down for their first extended TV interview together. People close to the campaign said they are planning for Harris to keep to a similar travel scheduled as Biden, though it hinges on whether the coronavirus abates.

The campaign is confident she can help with a number of constituencies, including African Americans, suburban women and, given her history in California, Latinos in states like Arizona, Florida and Texas.

The first signs of what they’ve gained came in Harris’ debut speech as Biden’s running mate on Wednesday. Demonstrating the range that made her an early contender for the nomination, she weaved together a methodical prosecution of the Trump administration with a personal tribute to Biden’s late son Beau. The Biden campaign announced raising nearly $50 million in the two days after she joined the ticket, a stunning sum after he spent months narrowing Trump’s cash advance. Snap polls now show Democrats more likely to cast their ballots for the ticket.

“I tried to image some of the other vice-presidential candidates who haven’t done much campaigning pulling it off, and it would have been tough,” said Rose Kapolczynski, a longtime Democratic strategist in California, noting the difficulty of connecting with a TV audience without the benefit of applause lines and the energy of a rally crowd.

Harris in the speech assailed Trump for squandering the economy that Biden helped revive with Barack Obama. But, Kapolczynski added, just as dramatic was the contrast between Harris and Biden, both visually and in tone.

“He’s a 70-something white male establishment figure and that is comforting to many moderate Democrats. Now, he has a ticket that looks like America and looks to the future,” she said. “It’s an invitation to younger and other occasional voters to get out and vote this time. Kamala Harris looks like change.”

While Harris has been an early boon to Biden, some are already focusing on how the benefits go the other way, too. Harris see-sawed on issues and stumbled in the primary before dropping out in December. Several people close to the campaign said after watching her last week that they now believe Harris, whose strong outings as a candidate last year were overshadowed by consistent miscues and a crowded field of challengers, will bring more to the table than they previously imagined. They also expect Biden’s infrastructure and apparatus, which has largely kept to a disciplined message and avoided embarrassing leaks, to keep her focused and encourage her full potential as a campaigner.

Harris’ selection followed months of intense work to burnish her reputation with the public and the Biden camp after her candidacy also exposed her shortcomings as a manager. With her eye on the vice presidency, Harris brought in new advisers and cut ties with aides who had clashed with each other — and also managed to enrage some on Biden’s team during their bruising primary. Once the interview process began, Harris closed ranks behind a small group of aides while consulting with others on a need-to-know basis.

Harris is now surrounded by a new staff handpicked by Biden’s campaign, though aides said it was assembled before they were sure he’d pick Harris. Karine Jean-Pierre, a Biden senior adviser, is Harris’ new chief of staff and Sheila Nix is a senior adviser to Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff. Liz Allen is the communications director.

As is customary, she is expected to bring only a handful of her staffers to the campaign. Rohini Kosoglu, Harris’ former chief of staff on the campaign and in the Senate, will advise her in a senior role, a person familiar with the move said. Sabrina Singh, a newer addition to Harris’ staff who spent time on the campaigns of Cory Booker and Mike Bloomberg, will work in communications under Allen.

A day after the rollout speech, Harris joined Biden for a briefing on health and the coronavirus. Florida Rep. Donna Shalala said the new ticket provided an early example for how they could continue to complement one another to drive “a very simple message.”

That day, it was “everybody’s got to wear a mask. Nothing complicated about it,” Shalala said. “Then they went on the attack, calling out Trump for the lack of leadership.”

Another challenge last week arrived when Trump refused to repudiate a groundless theory that Harris is ineligible for the vice presidency. Though her parents weren’t U.S. citizens at the time of her birth, Harris was born in Oakland, Calif., making her a citizen under the Constitution.

Biden’s team responded with a statement calling Trump grotesque, accusing him of trying to fan racism with a ploy that comes from a place of weakness. Since then, the campaign has adopted a strategy of letting it go, though some aides have individually continued to point to it being rooted in racism. The calculation is that voters who would be persuaded by the attack are unlikely to come into the Biden-Harris fold.

“They’re desperate, I think that’s how we feel about it,” said one adviser, adding the Biden campaign would continue to monitor whether the claims gain traction and act accordingly.

Harris and Emhoff flew back to Washington Saturday evening after spending four days with the Bidens in Wilmington. Biden at one point called Emhoff’s children as well as his mother. “There was definitely a deepening of the relationship,” an adviser said of the Bidens and Harris and Emhoff, who has developed a following of his own on social media. Biden and Harris also spent some time one-on-one.

After the convention, campaign events are expected to remain largely virtual. The Biden campaign is looking for more creative ways for the two of them to interact with the public and reporters. They see her connection not only to communities of color, but are encouraged by polling they say demonstrates her appeal among suburban women. And they are looking to build virtual events to expand on that strength.

Harris’ first big test as Biden’s running mate will come when she delivers her convention speech Wednesday. The text was described as a collaboration between Biden and Harris aides, and the senator herself. Some Harris advisers and close allies are urging her to add more depth to the retelling of her own story, with some noting that she needs to move beyond the limited personal anecdotes she’s comfortably retold for many years.

Others suggested she ground her biography in the moment. Harris’ parents, immigrants from Jamaica and India, were active in the civil rights movement. Her late mother was a cancer research scientist. Shalala said the best way to showcase Harris is to allow “her personality, her charisma, her attractiveness as a candidate” to shine.

“They need to allow the senator to be the senator,” she said. “They don’t need to mold her in a way where she looks like Biden. But she does need to look like a partner.”

Harris’ precise role in the campaign is still being defined, though officials and aides to the senator noted that she’s spent months as a top Biden surrogate and fundraiser and is already familiar with several of his policies. One obvious approach for her, given her legal experience and history of interrogating Republican witnesses in the Senate, is to go on the attack.

“As a campaigner, I think she can prosecute the heck out of the Trump administration in terms of the many ways they have taken this country backwards,” said Rep. Barbara Lee, the first of several Congressional Black Caucus members to endorse Harris last year.

But some allies and strategists, mindful of the critiques that followed Harris’ debates, said they were worried about typecasting her and driving down her own popularity in the process.

Tracy Sefl, a former Hillary Clinton adviser, said the Biden campaign would be wise to deploy Harris virtually to host smaller, more intimate conversations — a format she said would help Harris stand out and forge a more intimate connection with voters.

“Tens of thousands joined a Zoom with President Obama and George Clooney, trading jokes about their barking dogs while also making the case for Joe Biden. I’d welcome much more of this, but now with Kamala,” Sefl said. “Hearing from her and seeing her in action, close-up will play to her many advantages. … It may seem counterintuitive, but the virtual format adds intimacy and when done well, can truly create a sense of community.”

While Harris polled far behind Biden with Black voters (she dropped out before voting started), Moseley Braun stressed her appeal among Black women and cited her ties to Black sororities. Harris, a Howard graduate, was a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha, which Moseley Braun predicted would bring out hundreds of thousands of people alone to vote for Harris and Biden.

“There are a lot of people putting a lot of hope that she represents hope and represents progress for our country,” Moseley Braun said.

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What a Joe Biden presidency could look like

Joe Biden could not only be the most progressive president; he could also become the most effective.

That is because he has a vast pool of talented Democrat mayors, senators and prominent figures to choose from when he puts together his administration, especially his cabinet.

For instance, breaking precedent he could name his wife Jill Biden as his White House interpreter to explain what he is talking about when Kamala Harris is busy running the country or out of town. Only the other day Jill had to clarify that her husband was really a moderate and not a progressive, as he said he was.

“Joe Biden is a moderate and that is what he’s always been,” she said.

To which, President Trump responded, “Joe Biden is whatever they want him to be.”

A President Biden right out of the box could name Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, 39, his chief of staff. Frey, a former community organizer, like the sainted Barack Obama, is noted for ordering cops to abandon a police station so that “peaceful demonstrators” could loot, gut and burn it down in the wake of the George Floyd killing.

That incident, which occurred May 28, will most likely become a national holiday under Biden. That is because it legitimized attacks on police stations in other Democrat-run cities like Portland and Seattle.

It showed  that it was time to handcuff cops, not the criminals.

It also boosted the morale of the hate-America anarchists of antifa, which has become the militant arm of the Democratic Party.

Democratic Party anarchists, who campaigned against providing police departments with military gear, could, under a Biden presidency, move to turn that gear over to antifa.

That way, in the interest of fairness and social justice, antifa would be as well armed as the cops they are attacking. Jill Biden could hold a White House press briefing on the matter along with Harris and Supreme Court Justice Michelle Obama.

Massachusetts should do well in a Biden administration. He most likely will appoint Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the former Cherokee, as secretary of the treasury so she can destroy capitalism, even though it made her rich.

Biden then could persuade RINO Gov. Charlie Baker to appoint Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, who has no place to go, to replace Warren in the U.S. Senate. Walsh made his bones when he accused Trump of inciting violence in Portland where the mob attacked the federal courthouse.

Biden could return his old friend John Kerry to his post as secretary of state since we haven’t lost a war since he left. Nor have we given away billions more in cash to Kerry’s buddies, the mullahs in Iran. The mullahs must miss him.

Al Sharpton, who knows a lot about taxes — or not paying them — could head up the Internal Revenue Service.

A key Biden decision will be his pick to replace Attorney General William Barr. Right now, the contest is between New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

Biden’s first thought might be to name de Blasio as ambassador to Afghanistan as a reward for turning New York City into a war zone. However, de Blasio’s critics claimed that Lightfoot was the better appointee, given all that she has done to make Chicago the murder capital of the world.

After changing the name to the Department of Homeland Insecurity, two top progressives emerge as front-runners for the important secretary’s job.

However, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler seems likely to nose out Seattle Mayor Jen  Durkin because of his outstanding work sustaining the riots in his city for over 75 consecutive nights. Durkin could be his deputy.

Since open borders is a basic plank in the Democratic Party platform, the pair would be expected to go to the southern border to welcome waves of undocumented anarchists, communists, terrorists, nihilists, looters and new Democrats into the country.

 

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Trump the distracter brings his act to the DNC

While such counterprogramming is nothing new for Democrats and Republicans during the weeks of their respective conventions, Trump has taken the scheme to a new level during his presidency.

During the Democratic primary debates earlier this year, the president frequently scheduled simultaneous rallies and speeches that threw red meat lines to his base — and to CNN roundtables. Last year, Trump scheduled a North Carolina rally for the same day as Robert Mueller was set to testify on Capitol Hill — although the former special counsel later pushed back his appearance. For each of the last three years, the president has bucked tradition and skipped the White House Correspondents Dinner to hold rallies in competitive states instead. And during the 2016 campaign, the president skipped the GOP debate ahead of the Iowa caucuses to hold his own campaign event.

“In the old days, you laid low during your opponent’s convention,” said Chris Ruddy, CEO of the conservative Newsmax media outlet and a Trump friend. “But in these new ‘Trump days’ you don’t let anything pass before striking back in a timely manner.”

The primetime network slots during presidential nominating conventions are generally a ratings boon.

In 2016, Trump and Clinton, respectively drew 34.9 and 33.7 million viewers across all stations during their speeches, according to Nielsen tracking. But this year, with the usual convention floor drama being replaced by virtual speeches due to the coronavirus, it’s unclear how much attention the events will garner.

Democrats are leaning on a lineup of marquee party names, such as Barack and Michelle Obama, Bill and Hillary Clinton and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), as well as the star power of Hollywood celebrities like Jennifer Hudson and John Legend. Still Trump’s campaign hopes he will make a splash in spots critical to the 2020 political map by using the power of the presidency and the pomp and circumstance of traveling via Air Force One.

“Trump will get to talk about his record in places where they haven’t seen Biden for a very long time,” said a Trump campaign official, referencing Biden’s decision to limit travel, in accordance with pandemic guidelines. The Scranton stop, the official said, was orchestrated to “focus on how Joe Biden has been bad on the economy, jobs and how he left the people of his hometown behind.”

The campaign is also making an aggressive play in the DNC host state of Wisconsin, which Trump captured in 2016 but is considered a swing state this year. Trump family members like son Eric Trump and Vice President Mike Pence are planning stops there next week. The campaign rapid response team plans to treat the Democrats’ convention like a debate night, and the Trump campaign and Republican National Committee’s joint field operation has planned events across key states, according to an RNC official.

“While Joe Biden spends his time hiding from voters and the media, President Trump will actually be seeing people face-to-face, including in Wisconsin,” said Tim Murtaugh, communications director for the Trump campaign. “We’ve got the best counterprogramming weapon there is — the president of the United States.”

Such confident assessments are not universally shared, even by those in Trump’s own party.

“[Counterprogramming the conventions] is ultimately an outreach to moderates and independents,” said Anthony Scaramucci, Trump’s former communications director turned critic, who referenced Obama’s appearance on Fox News’ “The O’Reilly Factor” during the 2008 RNC. “But reaching those people is something they’re not capable of doing.”

And the Biden campaign dismissed the stops as fleeting made-for-TV appearances, not reflective of any actual connection to an area.

“While these fly-in, fly-out airport sideshows might protect Trump from seeing the damage that he has done to communities throughout the country, they will only underscore why we have to win this battle for the soul of our nation,” said Andrew Bates, a Biden campaign spokesperson.

Trump, ever the showman, has spent years distracting and diverting people’s attention. Sometimes it plays to the president’s advantage, other times it generates backlash, negative headlines and eyerolls from his own party and aides. But it always accomplishes one thing: placing the spotlight back on Trump.

Trump can even counterprogram his own programming.

For example, in 2017, the White House rolled out “Infrastructure Week,” intended to highlight proposals to update the country’s infrastructure while simultaneously distracting from former FBI Director James Comey’s potentially damning Senate testimony.

But the president quickly sucked up the oxygen, accusing Comey of lying under oath, going after London Mayor Sadiq Khan after a terrorist attack in the city and reigniting controversies over his travel ban targeting Muslim-majority countries. Soon “Infrastructure Week” became a punchline for Trump aides and journalists alike for moments when the president blows up attempts to divert attention from unsavory headlines.

Still, Trump’s allies are convinced the coming week will play well for Trump.

“Going to states like Wisconsin while Biden stays in Delaware is a tremendous advantage to the president,” said Sam Nunberg, a former Trump adviser. “Because even if it doesn’t drown out national media it will get massive amounts of local, earned media in those targeted states.”

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Common, Billie Eilish, John Legend among Dem convention musical acts

Convention program executive Stephanie Cutter said in a statement that the planned musical acts “will help us tell the story of where we are as a country today under Donald Trump’s failed leadership, and the promise of what we can and should be with Joe Biden as president.”

Cutter added that the artists “are committed to engaging with, registering and mobilizing voters to get us over the finish line in November.”

The news of the convention’s musical lineup comes after organizers on Tuesday revealed a list of prominent politicians and public figures who will deliver remarks during the event’s two hours of nightly programming from Aug. 17-20.

The Obamas and Clintons are expected to speak, as are leading voices of the party’s left wing, including Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

California Sen. Kamala Harris — who presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden named as his running mate this week — will likely headline next Wednesday night, with Biden delivering the keynote address on Thursday.

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‘The President Was Not Encouraging’: What Obama Really Thought About Biden

Obama and Clinton both viewed themselves as pioneers who worked their way through America’s elite colleges. Obama went to Columbia University and Harvard Law School, where he headed the law review; Clinton went from Wellesley to Yale Law School. They shared a work style as well, always sure to do their homework and arrive at a meeting prepared to get to the crux of an issue. “They do the reading,” said one former Clinton aide. “In Situation Room meetings, she had the thickest binder and had read it three times.”

Biden’s own academic career was unimpressive—he repeated the third grade, earned all Cs and Ds in his first three semesters at the University of Delaware except for As in P.E., a B in “Great English Writers” and an F in ROTC, and graduated 76th in his Syracuse Law School class of 85. He’s the first Democratic nominee since Walter Mondale in 1984 not to have an Ivy League degree. He was not a binder person, Clinton and Obama aides said.

Biden admitted as much in his 2007 memoir Promises to Keep, writing “It’s important to read reports and listen to the experts; more important is being able to read people in power.”

Biden’s tendency to blurt out whatever was on his mind rankled Obama, who wasn’t afraid to needle him for it. In his first press conference in 2009, the young president quipped “I don’t remember exactly what Joe was referring to—not surprisingly,” when asked about Biden’s assessment that there was a 30 percent chance they could get the economic stimulus package wrong.

The gaffes were only one side of the story, though. Obama warmed both to Biden’s effusive personality and his skill in implementing the administration’s $787 billion economic stimulus package, which the president had delegated to him.

Aides recall that Obama and Biden took almost polar-opposite approaches to policymaking, Obama always seeking data for the most logical or efficient outcome, while Biden told stories about how a bill would affect the working-class guy in Scranton, Pennsylvania, where he was born. When a deal was finally made, Obama would bemoan the compromises, while Biden would celebrate the points of agreement.

“Biden doesn’t come from the wonky angle of leadership,” said a senior Obama administration official. “It’s different than the last two Democratic presidents. Biden is from a different style. It’s an older style, of Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson of ‘Let’s meet, let’s negotiate, let’s talk, let’s have a deal.’”

Republicans who negotiated with the administration often came away finding Obama condescending and relying on Biden to understand their concerns.

“Negotiating with President Obama was all about the fact that he felt that he knew the world better than you,” said Eric Cantor, the Republican House majority leader from 2011 to 2014. “And he felt that he thought about it so much, that he figured it all out, and no matter what conclusion you had come to with the same set of facts, his way was right.” Biden, he said, understood that “you’re gonna have to agree to disagree about some things.”

A former Republican leadership aide described Obama’s style as “mansplaining, basically.” The person added that Biden “may not be sitting down talking about Thucydides but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a high level of political intelligence.”

Valerie Jarrett, Obama’s close adviser and family friend, bristled at any suggestion that Obama’s negotiating style was responsible for tensions with members of Congress: “Obama was younger than many of them. He was the first Black president. He wasn’t a part of that club,” Jarrett said.
 

But Obama would often convey a weariness with the traditional obligations of political leadership: the glad-handing, the massaging of egos. Sometimes he couldn’t hide his disdain for part of the job he signed up for.

At the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in 2013, in front of a roomful of journalists, Obama joked, “Some folks still don’t think I spend enough time with Congress. ‘Why don’t you get a drink with Mitch McConnell?’ they ask. Really? ‘Why don’t you get a drink with Mitch McConnell?’ I’m sorry, I get frustrated sometimes.”

Biden, former aides say, didn’t get why that was funny. Biden wrote in his 2007 memoir that likely “the single most important piece of advice I got in my career” came from the late Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield (D-Mont.) who told him, “Your job here is to find the good things in your colleagues—the things their state saw—and not focus on the bad.”

Mansfield added: “And, Joe, never attack another man’s motive, because you don’t know his motive.”

Thus, Biden invested time in developing those relationships that Obama never did.

Denis McDonough, Obama’s former chief of staff, said Biden “always wanted to have had two conversations with someone before he would ask that person for something. … Once in a while you’re like, ‘Hey, can we get through those two touches so you can make the ask here,’ but he just wouldn’t do it. That’s the kind of operation he runs.”

Advance staffers recall that Obama’s speeches were arranged to be delivered alone on the stage with voters behind him, while Biden would push to include every local elected official up there with him, knowing they would love the exposure to the vice president—a chit to cash in later.

Psaki, for one, recalled that the president often saw photo lines as obligations while they might be the best part of the vice president’s day.

“His background is much more retail politics kind of person, and the president was very much sort of a wholesale kind of president,” said former Sen. Ted Kaufman, a longtime Biden adviser who is now heading up his presidential transition effort.

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What Harris Got from Biden During Her Job Interview

A few years later Kamala Harris asked him to help her write her memoir, “The Truths We Hold,” which was released early last year before she ran for president. By Loewe’s estimation they spent some 200 hours together.

“Working with someone on a memoir is different,” he said. “You are part staff, part therapist, part friend. You get to ask them questions you would never ask as a staffer. You’re interviewing them and pulling out the best stories.” He once spent a morning with the senator talking about the emotionally grueling ordeal of her mother’s death.

For Loewe, who is still fond of both candidates, their political marriage has been exhilarating. “This is what it must feel like for children of divorce to see their parents get back together,” he said. “There are people who know Harris better than I do and people who know Biden better than I do, but there’s nobody who knows them both as well as I do.”

His unique experience with Biden and Harris makes him a useful expert on one of the central questions raised by Biden’s choice: If they win, what would the Biden-Harris partnership look like in office?

When John Kerry was looking for a running mate in 2004, he told an aide, who later relayed the story to me, that there were three options: “A Mr. August, a Mr. October or a Mr. January.” The August pick would be helpful if the nominee was down in the polls or needed to unite his party going into the convention (think Sarah Palin or George H. W. Bush). The October pick would be helpful in winning the general election (think Lyndon Johnson securing the South for John F. Kennedy). The January pick would be the best person to help govern, especially for an inexperienced president (think Dick Cheney and Joe Biden).

Some candidates straddle the categories, and the ideal running mate would satisfy all three criteria.

So where does Kamala Harris fall on Kerry’s calendar system?

Most plugged-in Democrats I’ve talked to argue that in 2020, with an experienced person at the top of the ticket and the desperate imperative among Democrats to remove Trump from office, the Biden campaign was driven by more short-term considerations, making Harris more of an August-October pick.

“When you pick your vice president you are trying to win an election first and foremost,” said a Biden adviser.

“I think this is what he grappled with,” said a Democrat familiar with the selection process. “Kamala was a no-brainer on the political side. But his process was about figuring out what kind of a partner she would be on the governing side. And can he replicate the closeness he had with Obama in this selection, and will he be able to confide in her and trust her? Will she have my back at all costs.?”

The loyalty question hung over the process. One way that Harris seemed to have answered it was to point to her record as attorney general in California.

“Kamala has always been a better surrogate for others than a bragger on herself,” said a former Harris adviser. “During her California days she deferred to the governor on a number of things at times when she could have undercut him. She was loyal to Jerry Brown.”

Biden’s insistence on loyalty and allergy to presidential ambition became such a driver of the process that some observers saw it as sexist. Did male candidates previously have to prostrate themselves this way? The former Harris adviser said, “Having worked for female candidates, sexism is kind of hard to see and point to, but it’s easy to feel how the sexism works in these campaigns. I’ve not walked in the shoes of an ambitious woman, but I’ve felt as an aide that some of the tropes are gendered at best and sexist at worst. But people did say the same thing” — regarding the perils of ambition and importance of loyalty — “about Al Gore and John Edwards and Sarah Palin.”

But if that’s what Biden wanted from Harris, what did Harris want from Biden?

Biden, who studied the history of the vice presidency before taking the job, was influenced by the advice of Walter Mondale, Jimmy Carter’s No. 2. In what became a famous document among people who study the office, Mondale wrote Carter a long memo in December 1976 arguing that he wanted to be Carter’s confidant — not someone, as was common for previous vice presidents, who took on mundane tasks that the president didn’t want to handle or was sent to funerals abroad. “I believe the most important contribution I can make is to serve as a general adviser to you,” he wrote.

Biden asked Barack Obama for the same thing. “Biden didn’t want turf, he wanted to be a broad-based adviser,” said a former top official in the Obama White House.

“The modern vice presidency was established by Water Mondale, who clearly laid out what he wanted his responsibilities to be,” said Kenneth Baer, a former aide to Gore and then an official in the Obama administration. “And since Mondale, the strongest vice presidents did that — Gore, Cheney, Biden. The question is what has Senator Harris asked for? What does she want to do with her vice presidency?”

The search process that Biden underwent was different from Harris’. Biden, a generation older than Obama, had two things that the first-term senator lacked and needed in his running mate: Washington experience and foreign policy credibility. Biden played coy during the vetting process. In the fall of 2008, shortly after he had been added to the Obama ticket, Biden told me in an interview that when Obama initially called him and asked if he would consider being vetted as his potential running mate, Biden demurred. “I’d have to think about it,” he told Obama.

Biden, then the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, loved being a senator and believed he might be more helpful to Obama — and influential — remaining in that role. Or at least that’s what he told the young senator when he came calling. “It wasn’t self-evident to me that being vice president would be a better job,” Biden told me at the time.

Even after allowing the vetting to go forward, he continued to be a firm negotiator, clearly understanding that he had a great deal more leverage than potential running mates usually have. “I wanted to make sure we understood each other — that, even if I vetted and he wanted me to take the job, I wasn’t committing to do that,” Biden said in the 2008 interview. “When the time was appropriate for him, if I was the guy, I needed to spend at least two or three hours with him to understand what the role would be.”

What came out of that eventual conversation — a secret late-night meeting in a suite at the Graves 601 Hotel in Minneapolis on August 6, 2008 — helped define the Obama-Biden presidency. Biden had been well-briefed on the history of the vice presidency and was familiar with Mondale’s famous advice. He made it clear to Obama that he expected his role in the White House to be Obama’s trusted adviser, and not one who was bogged down with frivolous assignments that kept him away from the Oval Office.

“We would try to avoid travel if Obama was in the White House,” Loewe said. “If Obama was in the Oval so was Biden. If Obama was in the Situation Room so was Biden.”

Biden asked Obama for four big things: that he would always be the last person in the room before a big decision was made; that the two men would have a weekly lunch; that Biden would be included in the morning presidential daily brief from the intelligence community; and that Biden didn’t have to change his personal political brand.

Biden’s 2008 account may be a little self-serving and exaggerated. “Biden felt he had more leverage with Obama than Harris had with Biden today,” the Biden adviser said. “But I don’t think Biden was in a position to completely dictate his job description.”

Still, there seems little doubt that Harris was not in a position to ask for much.

“I would bet my life this was a one-way negotiation because Biden had options and she wanted the job,” the person close to Obama said. “You think she’s gonna turn around and be negotiating with Joe Biden? Good f—ing luck with that! Talk about negotiating from a point of weakness! I highly doubt she showed up with a list of 12 demands she wanted.”

The former top official in the Obama White House agreed that Harris was in a weak position.

“I don’t think she had very much leverage,” he said. “But I think it’s part of the job interview that you are asking for thoughtful things. If you ask for nothing — think about it from any potential employer’s perspective. You want to know what do they want out of the job? That helps you figure out whether they are well-suited for the job. Biden would be interested in, ‘What do you want? How do you expect to play the role of vice president? What’s your vision?’ If the answer is, ‘Whatever you say, sir,’ he’s going to be like, ‘Really? Do I want this person?’”

The Biden adviser added, “She really wanted it and she wanted it because she’s got her eyes on 2024. I’m not sure she was in a position to make many demands on him.”

A person familiar with the process said, “The job was more prized this time around than it normally is because of Biden’s age.”

Despite the lack of leverage, several people close to Biden argued that Harris will benefit from Biden’s high regard of his vice presidency.

“The Obama-Biden relationship weighed heavily on Biden,” said the source familiar with the process. “He had a very idealized view of what this relationship is and could be. The intimacy he had with Obama is so important to him and was guiding him since the beginning.”

Given their obvious differences, it took a long time for Obama and Biden to develop a real relationship, but it eventually blossomed. Biden and Harris will have a similar adjustment period. Loewe’s view is that the two seeming opposites actually have much in common: childhoods governed by parents with value systems that the two still talk about — even revere — as adults; a strong sense of empathy; and lives shaped by losses of close family members.

“You get two people like that together and they become fast friends,” Loewe said. “They are like tuning forks who are going to reverberate on the same frequency.”

He predicted that given Biden’s reverence for the office of the vice presidency and his deep understanding of what makes the job work, Harris will be empowered and influential. “She will be in the Oval all the time, just like he was,” Loewe said. “In the Obama age the relationship was driven by Biden and in the Biden age it will probably also be driven by Biden.”

He might be right.

On Wednesday, the Biden campaign released a short clip of the moment when Biden offered Harris the job.

“You ready to go to work?” Biden asks her in the video chat.

“Oh my God, Harris responds. “I am so ready to go to work.”

“First of all, is the answer yes?” he playfully demands.

“The answer is absolutely yes, Joe,” Harris says, stammering a little. “And I am ready to work. I am ready to do this with you, for you. I’m just — I’m deeply honored and I’m very excited.”

If the two running mates had a two- to three-hour conversation to hash out the details of the relationship — as Biden insisted on with Obama before he would take the job — it doesn’t seem to have happened in this call.

What actually seems to have happened is something more unusual. Biden himself publicly defined Harris’ role in the most generous way he could.

“When I agreed to serve as President Obama’s running mate, he asked me a number of questions, as I’ve asked Kamala,” Biden said while introducing her at their first joint event, in Delaware on Wednesday, “But the most important was he asked me what I wanted. … I told him I wanted to be the last person in the room before he made important decisions. That’s what I asked Kamala, I asked Kamala to be the last voice in the room, to always tell me the truth, which she will, challenge my assumptions if she disagrees, ask the hard questions because that’s the way we make the best decisions for the American people.”

Biden’s obsession with the strong advisory role of the vice president can be overblown. “I don’t buy this ‘last person in the room’ thing,” said the Democrat familiar with the selection process. “If it’s a decision about Syria, he might be talking to Susan Rice. Or if it’s something about Ohio, he needs the governor of the state. It’s a metaphor — this ‘last person’ business is more conceptual than a reality.”

But Biden’s public comments suggest that he truly believes he is a transitional leader of the Democratic Party. He was not just picking a running mate, but, given his age, someone who is very likely to follow him as president or become the party’s frontrunner for the nomination in 2024 if, as is likely, he doesn’t to run for reelection.

“It shows he takes very seriously that this is the only other constitutional officer in the building, so that she can give him unvarnished advice,” Baer said. “And if he wants to properly prepare this person to be ready for the job on a moment’s notice, they need to be read in on everything.”

In other words, Harris got everything she could have wanted without ever having to ask.

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The boys and girls on the Zoom


In the mythology of political journalism, covering a presidential campaign is supposed to be a window into the soul of America.

In the reality of the 2020 campaign, Alexandra Jaffe of the Associated Press has a window into the courtyard of her building off H Street NE in Washington, D.C. That’s the view from her junior one-bedroom apartment, not too far from Capitol Hill.

In 2016, Jaffe, then with NBC, spent the cycle as what campaign reporters call an “embed.” She spent much of her time on the Trump campaign plane—up and down, over and over—and when she wasn’t there she was on the road trying to educate herself, and her audience, on the politics of Ohio.

In 2020, she ruefully acknowledges, “Gosh, I basically cover the campaign from my couch.”

It is an odd turn of events in the media business. Four years ago, after most journalists were caught surprised by Donald Trump’s victory, there was an almost universal critique about how the profession needed to do better next time. Reporters needed to get off Twitter, get off cable and get off their asses. Entire tomes were written on the subject.

Start filling up notebooks, the argument went, with quotes from aldermen and barbers, from mayors and cab drivers, and families at the food court. That is how journalists liberate themselves from conventional wisdom and the distorting effects of their cultural bubbles and learn what’s really happening in the country.

Instead, due to the coronavirus pandemic, journalists are spending more time on their asses than ever—phone in one hand, and television remote in the other. The presidential campaign has gone remote in multiple senses of the word—the most dramatic shift in the rhythms and day-to-day logistics of newsgathering that political journalism has seen in decades. In 1973, writer Timothy Crouse coined a term with a classic media book, The Boys on the Bus. Over the years, the craft lost its historic chauvinism and women boarded the bus. This year—and perhaps into the future—the bus is canceled. A latter-day Crouse might write The Boys and Girls on Zoom.

“I am so chomping at the bit to go and engage with my fellow man,” said Kadia Goba, who recently started covering the Trump reelect for BuzzFeed.

How will America’s cascading waves of 2020 tumult—mass death, economic catastrophe, the largest racial justice protest movement in history—affect engagement with the election, voter priorities and turnout? With few clear precedents, it’s a moment that requires new journalistic innovation and more humility than usual, reporters say.

Cameron Joseph, a political reporter for Vice News, said one can’t even know for sure what is being lost during the process. A lot of good reporting comes from the kind of serendipity that happens just by showing up.

Shortly before the coronavirus shutdown, during the runup to the Nevada caucuses, Joseph showed up at a Las Vegas strip mall to cover a Pete Buttigieg event. But the most valuable insight came when he happened on an unadvertised Bernie Sanders training site. For Joseph, the conversations illuminated the degree of mistrust among Sanders partisans toward the state party apparatus. “That was something that the Bernie campaign officially didn’t really want to talk about, but engaging in these precinct captain trainings, those questions kept coming up,” Joseph said.

Jaffe, meanwhile, talks of her 2020 campaign experience in a way that evokes the Jimmy Stewart character in Hitchcock’s “Rear Window.” Professionally chained to home, she says, “If I look right I can see other people’s apartments.”

The bizarreness of 2020 campaign coverage has been an enduring reality, of course, since March. Biden’s lockdown of the nomination was basically simultaneous with the country’s coronavirus shutdown. But this August puts the surreal nature of a virtual campaign on especially vivid display.

There was only a small pool of reporters in attendance as Joe Biden made his first appearance with Sen. Kamala Harris since tapping her as running mate. At the moment when he turned the podium over to her, when the mind is naturally conditioned to expect applause, there was only silence.

“There actually were people waiting outside just to see the SUVs drive by,” says POLITICO’s Chris Cadelago, who was in the high school gymnasium where Harris made her debut. “But it has no feeling of a campaign to it with voters missing from the scene. It’s basically a speech.”

The last time either party really had much spontaneous drama at their quadrennial conventions was 1980, and in the years since one of their essential purposes have been as de facto journalist conventions—a chance for thousands of reporters and editors to socialize with each other and sources. The cancellation of in-person conventions this year raises sharp questions of what genuine value they really hold. Some reporters were doubtless relieved to hang out at home rather than attend what they feared would be awkward, news-free events marked by masks and social distancing with no compensating parties or expense-account dinners.


***

It’s not just the campaign color and serendipitous insights about the electorate we might all be missing this year—it’s also the rare, direct access to the men and women vying to run the country, and the observations and opportunities for accountability that come with it.

Progressives who think contemporary American history took a dramatic wrong turn when George W. Bush eked out his astonishingly narrow victory over Al Gore—and Bush, not Gore, led the country in the wake of 9/11—may still recall the narrative wars of the 2000 campaign.

An experienced but deeply skeptical group of embedded reporters on Gore’s campaign plane often threw him on the defensive with damaging storylines. The Democrat’s penchant for casual political boasting about his achievements was sometimes portrayed, implausibly, as though he were a serial fabricator. Meanwhile, the embedded reporters on Bush’s plane less frequently knocked him off-stride, and often seemed charmed by his towel-snapping rapport with the media. Little in the Bush coverage anticipated the deeply ideological nature of his presidency or the zeal with which he would later march to war in Iraq.

For the first time in generations, this dynamic—reporters and candidate teams, living side by side for months on end, and reporters often following the winning candidate to a high-profile White House beat—simply doesn’t exist.

Chris Lehane, a senior Gore aide in 2000, said “as with any” of the pandemic-related changes in American life, “there are both positive and negative” implications.

On behalf of the public, he said, “Reporters in the bubble achieve unique insights into the character, background, persona and even decision-making abilities of the candidate.” The downside “can be a groupthink that takes hold among those same reporters.”

Without in-person access to candidates, staff, or voters, Lehane said, ambitious reporters will need to make their mark in 2020 by “really offering original insight from a different perspective with a different voice.”

Several reporters said that is precisely what they are trying to do.

For The Washington Post’s Dave Weigel, the erasure of wasted hours in airports or convention security lines has opened up more space to cover voting rights and how results will be certified.

David Chalian, CNN’s political director, said he’s directing major reportorial resources to the process of voting—“one of the big stories in this election.” The crises roiling the country, he added, have a kind of clarifying effect on journalism: “Given the time that we’re living in right now, it has kept our focus really clearly on the kinds of things that are impacting Americans.”

For Ken Thomas, who covers the Biden campaign for The Wall Street Journal, this summer has taken him back 16 years—to reporting on the brutal 2004 hurricane season in Florida.

“It was just this crazy summer where you were constantly working the phones from your desk, trying to find people who were able to talk about what they witnessed,” Thomas remembered. Unable to witness the storms firsthand, he had to rely on sources for basic descriptions of their environment. “It’s not unlike now. … You’re limited in where you can go, and you have to just rely on your basic blocking and tackling—using your phone, being creative.”

That creativity takes different forms. Musadiq Bidar, who expected to embed with Vice President Mike Pence for CBS, is instead watching livestreams from his home in the Bay Area—and tapping into sources like CBS polling data to reach voters across the country.

“It’s more challenging to capture what voters are feeling, what they’re sensing, if you’re not there in person,” he said. But “it doesn’t help to labor on that if you’re not looking for solutions.”

Experienced campaign reporters say—however enterprising journalists are in finding workarounds—there is no denying the limitations.

It’s hard to examine a campaign’s ground game when you’re not on the ground. And establishing a rapport with top campaign staffers gets dicier when they can screen your calls, ignore your texts—and avoid seeing you at the back of a rally or at the hotel bar.

“You’re not looking people in the eye, so it can be a bit more of a manufactured, contrived conversation,” said POLITICO’s Alex Isenstadt, who’s had to make do without buttonholing attendees at inside-baseball events like donor conferences and Republican National Committee meetings. “The answers that you can get out of people frankly in those kinds of environments can be much more unvarnished.”

The strange circumstances of the 2020 campaign, said Brianne Pfannenstiel, chief politics reporter for the Des Moines Register, require a measure of humility: “We have to be aware that we’re deeply limited at the moment, and we can’t pretend to know more than we do.”