Biden introduces Harris as 'smart' and 'tough' in their 1st appearance together as Democratic running mates
Former primary rivals unite in bid to oust Trump from office
Presumptive Democratic nominees Joe Biden and Kamala Harris delivered an aggressive one-two attack on the character and performance of U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday, as they made their election case for the first time as running mates.
Biden, a 77-year-old white man, embraced the significance of naming the first woman of colour to a major party's presidential ticket, but he focused on other attributes Harris brings to the ticket.
He hailed the California senator, a 55-year-old former prosecutor who a year ago excoriated Biden on a primary debate stage, as the right woman to help him defeat Trump and then lead a nation facing crises in triplicate: a pandemic, wounded economy and long-simmering reckoning with systemic racism.
Harris, Biden said at a high school gymnasium in his hometown of Wilmington, Del., is "smart. She's tough. She's experienced. She's a proven fighter for the backbone of this country."
"Kamala knows how to govern. She knows how to make the hard calls. She's ready to do this job on Day 1."
WATCH | Biden had a key question for Harris:
Harris, the daughter of immigrants from India and Jamaica, sat a few metres away from Biden, listening with her mask off.
"This morning, all across the nation, little girls woke up — especially little Black and brown girls who so often feel overlooked and undervalued in their communities. But today, today, just maybe, they're seeing themselves for the first time in a new way," Biden said.
WATCH | What Harris brings to the Democratic ticket:
Reflecting the coronavirus pandemic, both candidates came onstage wearing protective masks in the high school gym with relatively few in attendance, not in a hall filled with cheering supporters as would normally be the case. Both spoke without masks but did not physically embrace.
Taking the stage after Biden, Harris said she was "mindful of all the ambitious women before me, whose sacrifice, determination and resilience makes my presence here today even possible." She then launched into an attack on Trump, lambasting him for a lack of leadership on the coronavirus pandemic.
"This is a moment of real consequence for America. Everything we care about — our economy, our health, our children, the kind of country we live in — it's all on the line," she said.
WATCH | Harris attacks Donald Trump:
Trump told reporters later that he didn't watch the full event, but saw moments of it. He went after Harris, saying she was "angry" and "mad" after her poor performance in the primaries. And he suggested her portrayal of his reaction to the pandemic was wrong.
"She's very bad around facts," he said. "She's very weak on facts." And he expressed surprise again that Biden chose her as his running mate.
"I think she's going to be a big failure."
In his own speech, Biden said it was no surprise that Trump went after Harris with insults. "You all knew it was coming," he said. "You could have set your watches to it."
WATCH | Biden goes after Trump's insults:
Harris speaks of Biden's son
Biden and Harris showed clear affection toward one another, with Biden calling her an "honorary Biden" and Harris offering an emotional tribute to his son Beau, with whom she was friends when both served as attorneys general. Biden seemed overcome with emotion as Harris spoke of Beau, who died in 2015, as "the best of us" and a man who modelled himself after his father.
She signaled that she'll offer a vigorous defence of Biden's qualifications on issues of race and civil rights, though she made headlines for assailing him for his past opposition to federally mandated bussing during a primary debate last year.
Noting his own vice-presidency under President Barack Obama, she said Biden "takes his place in the ongoing story of America's march toward equality and justice" as the only person "who's served alongside the first Black president and has chosen the first Black woman as his running mate."
The surreal nature of the scene was not only a woman of color stepping into the role that could carry her to the White House, but doing so in a mostly empty gym. Masked reporters nearly outnumbered campaign aides and the candidates' families members in a grim reminder of a coronavirus pandemic that has killed 165,000 Americans, while yielding Depression-level unemployment and Second World War-level national deficits.
Republican criticism all over the map
White House adviser Kellyanne Conway on Wednesday insisted Harris is "very much part of the radical left" and suggested the senator will have a hard time not outshining Biden, whose age and fitness for office Conway frequently mocks. "He's overshadowed basically by almost everyone he comes in contact with," she said.
Biden's campaign seemed prepared for the counteroffensive, noting that just weeks ago, Trump said Harris would be a "fine choice." And campaign finance records show that Trump contributed as a private citizen to Harris's attorney general campaigns in California. Harris was elected to the Senate in 2016.
LISTEN l Front Burner on the long-awaited selection:
Further muddying the Republican message, Trump allies on Wednesday highlighted progressives' criticism of Harris's record as a prosecutor and California attorney general, essentially criticizing her as part of the Democratic establishment.
Indeed, Harris no longer supports a single-payer health insurance system, aligning instead with Biden's proposal to add a public insurance option to compete alongside private plans. Still, Harris memorably raised her hand during one Democratic primary debate when candidates were asked whether they could back a system that scrapped private health insurance altogether.
She has broadly endorsed the Green New Deal, the progressives' most ambitious set of proposals to combat the climate crisis, but she didn't make that an anchor of her presidential bid. Biden has moved left on his climate proposals during the 2020 campaign but has not fully embraced the Green New Deal.
In Washington, Harris has advocated overhauling the criminal justice system, intensifying her efforts since George Floyd's killing by a white Minneapolis officer in May. And she's called for sweeping domestic programs to benefit the working and middle class. But she has taken heat for some of her aggressive stances as a local prosecutor in the San Francisco area and for not prosecuting bank executives in the wake of the 2008 financial collapse.
That mixed record could have unpredictable effects in a national campaign.
Biden bets that, on balance, Harris has broad appeal that will shore up any weaknesses with Black women, an anchor of the Democratic Party, and other voters of colour, while juicing turnout among white liberals and coaxing support from independents and Republican-leaning white voters who have soured on Trump.