As former Vice President Joe Biden considers one of the most consequential decisions of his White House bid – whom he’ll choose as running mate – the wave of unrest sweeping across America’s cities the past week is impacting his decision-making as it elevates the combustible issue of racial injustice.
The volume’s been turned up on the already-existing calls for Biden to name a black woman as the Democratic Party’s vice presidential nominee. While this would be a history-making move and one that could excite parts of the base, the pressure to do so mounted when George Floyd, a black man, died in police custody after a white Minneapolis officer but his knee to his neck for more than eight minutes.
This in turn has sparked protests and then riots across the country. Biden has appealed for calm as leaders from across the political spectrum urge demonstrators not to harm their own communities. But Biden has also sought to show common cause with those seeking racial justice, and has received plenty of advice in his running mate search over the past week.
Among those weighing in on the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee's choice was the Rev. Shanika Perry, the youth pastor at the Bethel AME Church in Biden’s hometown of Wilmington, Del.
Speaking with the former vice president as he met Monday with a small group of mostly African-American community leaders assembled at her church, she told Biden that “representation matters” and offered advice for picking a running mate: “Let me go on record and say, we want a black woman. We have qualified black women who are able, who are capable of helping you lead this country.”
Biden – who spoke after he listened and took notes during his session with community leaders – emphasized “I promise you there are multiple African American candidates being considered as well as Latinos, as well as white, Caucasian.”
It’s the second time since Floyd’s death grabbed national attention that Biden’s highlighted that “multiple black women [are] being considered” for vice president.
The black candidates thought be in serious contention are Sen. Kamala Harris of California, who last year ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic presidential nomination, Rep. Val Demings of Florida, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, and voting rights activist and 2018 Georgia Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams.
Two of the contenders – Harris and Demings – have law and order backgrounds, which sometimes can be an impediment in a party that has long fought to remedy racial inequities in the criminal justice system.
Harris faced incoming fire from progressives last year during her run for the Democratic presidential nomination over her prosecutorial record as San Francisco district attorney and California attorney general.
Harris joined the protest outside the White House this weekend, tweeting "People are in pain. We must listen.”
Demings – who spent nearly three decades in law enforcement as she rose through the ranks to become Orlando, Fla.’s first female police chief – has also faced questions of the department’s use of force during her tenure as chief. She grabbed attention last week for penning an opinion piece in the Washington Post titled: “As a former woman in blue, let me begin with my brothers and sisters in blue: What in the hell are you doing?”
Meanwhile, Bottoms was in the national spotlight, and won Biden’s praise, for denouncing unwieldy protests that erupted in Georgia’s capital city on Friday night.
“You’ve been incredible. I’ve watched you like millions and millions of Americans have on television of late,” Biden said Monday during a virtual discussion with Bottoms and three other mayors coping with the protests. “Your passion, your composure, your balance has been really incredible.”
Mo Elleithee, the founding executive director of Georgetown University's Institute of Politics and Public Service and a Fox News contributor, highlighted that Bottoms, Demings, and Harris “have all proven their ability to bring a community perspective to these very challenging issues and at a time when our country needs healing and reconciliation, they would all provide important voices. They’re not the only ones who can do it – but I think they do provide sort of a unique perspective to the ticket and one that times may be calling for.”
The week-long protests are threatening to derail the chances of another vice presidential contender with a rich prosecutorial background – Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who’s white.
In the wake of Floyd’s death, some African-American activists are amplifying their efforts to persuade Biden not to name Klobuchar as his running mate because they say she wouldn’t excite black voters. Their criticism centered on Klobuchar’s prosecutorial record – which was at times a sore spot during her primary run for the Democratic presidential nomination.
The senator is defending her previous record as a former tough-on-crime prosecutor in the Minnesota county where Floyd died – as she pushed back against claims she went easy on officers involved in police shootings of suspects.
“We did not blow off these cases. We brought them to a grand jury, presented the evidence or potential criminal prosecution, and the grand jury would come back with a decision. That is how we handled the cases,” Klobuchar emphasized in an interview with MSNBC.
South Carolina Democrat and House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn – a top Biden adviser who helped guide the former vice president to a massive landslide victory in his home state’s primary, boosting Biden toward clinching the nomination – told Politico that “the timing of this is horrible for her.”
“When you have things pop up like this it can be catastrophic to some. What is happening in Minneapolis — the timing of that is beyond anyone's control — the timing is just there. In this business, some things we control and a lot of things we can’t control,” he added.
Klobuchar has brushed aside questions of whether she could drop out of contention, but the impact on the running mate process appears to be real and a concern for Klobuchar.
“I don’t think a presidential candidate should select a running mate based on a singular moment in time or current events,” Elleithee noted.
But the senior spokesman for Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign who later served as communications director for the Democratic National Committee added that “it is clear that race and justice are challenges that have been with us for a long time and aren’t going away anytime soon. I think Biden’s wise to consider some very strong African-American candidates who have a record of walking the line between civil justice and criminal justice.”
Fox News' Allie Raffa and Madeleine Rivera contributed to this report.