By Susan Crabtree – RCP
Sen. Kamala Harris tends to go to extremes when describing the choice for voters in the 2020 election.
During a virtual forum Monday to promote Joe Biden’s campaign — an online gathering that also served as Harris’ latest veepstakes audition — she implored his supporters to “do everything we can to elect” the former vice president because the November election is “literally going to be about our health and whether we live or die.”
In a normal election year, such apocalyptic language would prompt collective eye-rolls. But roughly two months into a pandemic that has upended the world, snuffing out precious lives and livelihoods in its path, it comes off as rehearsed gloom and doom from Democrats eager to use the crisis to oust Donald Trump from office.
The problem, at least in terms of optics for Harris, is that less than a year ago the freshman California senator was making similarly unrestrained attacks against the candidate she now heralds as the nation’s savior. In fact, the only time her presidential campaign had even a short-term surge was when she upbraided Biden during the first primary debate over his decades-ago fight against busing to desegregate schools and his fond recollection of being able to work with segregationist senators in his first years in office.
As the only black woman on the stage, Harris said it was “hurtful” to hear him speak positively of those times in the 1970s. She described a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools and who was bused to school every day.
“And that little girl was me,” Harris said to dramatic effect.
Although she noted that she didn’t believe Biden is a racist, Harris used his comments as an example of why the Democratic Party still has a lot of reckoning to do when it comes to racial equality.
Fast-forward to Monday’s virtual forum on the “coronavirus’ disproportionate impact on communities of color” and it was as if last year’s confrontation had never occurred.
Harris heralded her former rival as the great equalizer when it comes to racial aspects of the pandemic — a champion of economic security, access to health care, food assistance and small business loans for black companies and churches — without a trace of the pain she had previously expressed about Biden’s past.
She praised him for producing a detailed plan for expanding the nation’s testing capabilities, including in areas where racial disparities could lead to undercounting, ensuring that recovery funds and small business loans are doled out equitably across the country, as well as expanding unemployment insurance and food assistance benefits.
“What Joe Biden is saying [is] there should be free testing and treatment for everyone, regardless of race. He is saying there should be an equitable allocation of recovery funds,” she said. “Joe always talks plain talk, he speaks straight — and what he’s saying is he wants to make sure every community gets enough so that it ends up being equal.”
Rep. Marcia Fudge, an Ohio Democrat and past chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, quickly backed her up. “If we do not elect Joe Biden, we will not recover in my lifetime,” the 68-year-old lawmaker warned.
Political expediency during the general election is often the miracle cure for old primary wounds, perceived or real. In 2007, Biden’s cringeworthy comments about then-presidential candidate Barack Obama as “the first mainstream African American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy” evaporated into thin air when Obama tapped him as a running mate.
But those remarks, however awkward and inappropriate, were made in the classic bumbling, back-handed way that Democrats have come to expect during Biden’s long tenure on the political scene.
In contrast, Harris had engaged in a humiliating, full-frontal assault last year. Biden was clearly taken aback, telling the audience that her depiction mischaracterized his position. The moment went viral and led to a short-term boost in the polls for Harris.
Despite that short-term gain, the dramatic confrontation immediately triggered questions about whether she had sidelined herself from ever joining Biden on the Democratic ticket should the early front-runner secure the nomination. Harris aides have openly said they’re not sure the moment was worth it, especially when their boss wasn’t able to fully explain the differences she had with Biden on busing.
In an interview with CNN later that summer, Biden referred to Harris’ friendship with his late son, Beau, to explain why he was upset by the attack and didn’t see it coming.
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From Jun 28, 2019