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Behind closed doors: How Biden's team weighed the VP candidates

Evan Halper, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

WILMINGTON, Del. -- The vetting Kamala Harris endured to earn her spot on Joe Biden's presidential ticket was like none other in recent history.

It was at once a public audition and highly secretive. It took sharp turns as the nation struggled with a pandemic and erupted in protest following the killing of George Floyd. In the era of Trump, the process even included considering what derogatory nickname the president might give her.

Biden's vetting committee asked Harris for her guess, but sources familiar with the process wouldn't say how close she got to "Phony Kamala" -- the moniker President Donald Trump quickly bestowed.

Harris emerged from a long list of candidates winnowed over dozens of hours of meetings by a small committee of Biden's trusted allies, including Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, former Connecticut Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester of Delaware and former Biden counsel Cynthia C. Hogan.

With the pandemic making travel and in-person meetings unsafe, the group resorted to convening over video links, which stoked concerns about hacks and leaks. According to a senior campaign official, the group resolved not to write anything down. "It was all done orally," the official said.

As the legal team sifted through candidates' records for potential liabilities, the vetting team focused on "getting to know the essence of who they are," the official said. Biden's vetters "understood what kind of people he works well with. They were looking to find out how the people on this list learn, how they think."

 

After the protests broke out nationwide, the mix of candidates changed: Black women gained prominence. Earlier contenders who had made the cut were called back to discuss racial justice.

Harris was always a front-runner. She was ready on Day One, tested in the rigors of a national campaign, a skilled orator. The major hurdle was repairing her relationship with Biden after a bruising primary campaign in which she demanded on the debate stage that he apologize for working years earlier as a senator to limit school integration.

"They had the right heart-to-hearts," the senior official said. "They came back to a place they always had, of affinity for one another, even a love."

Meanwhile, media speculation intensified, some of it wildly off-base. Under the radar, two relatively obscure governors made it farther than was known.

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