Biden’s Choice of Running Mate is Impacted by the Pandemic

Without the ability to vet candidates in person, he may choose someone he already knows.

With no sports on television, I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time paying attention to free agency in the National Football League, and its upcoming draft of college players. These are really the only things of any consequence that are still generating interesting articles in the sports world. Recently, the league’s general managers petitioned the commissioner to delay the draft because they aren’t able to do their normal due diligence. Specifically, they can’t bring the players in to get medical examinations or psychological evaluations, and they’re also hampered by being locked out of their facilities where they’d normally be holding meetings to set up their draft strategies. The commissioner ignored their requests and the draft is set to go on as scheduled beginning April 23.

At New York magazine, Gabriel Debenedetti has a piece on Joe Biden’s process for selecting a running mate. Unsurprisingly, the COVID-19 crisis has affected him in much the same way as it has affected the NFL’s general managers.

In a world dominated by social-distancing measures, it’s not clear to them how Biden is supposed to get to know his potential running mates, which is usually an important part of the process, and one on which Biden is likely to put an extra emphasis given his tight relationship with Obama, say those close to him. In 2016, Hillary Clinton carved out time from her busy campaign schedule to spend days on the trail with options like Warren, John Hickenlooper, Sherrod Brown, Cory Booker, and Tim Kaine (her eventual pick) even before submitting them for formal vetting or meeting the finalists for interviews at her home. Biden was only able to hold one rally with [Amy] Klobuchar and one joint event with [Kamala] Harris and [Gretchen] Whitmer before the campaign trail shut down earlier this month.

This is impacting the schedule for making a decision. The pandemic is also impacting the primary schedule as future contests are pushed off.  This delays the date on which Biden will mathematically eliminate Bernie Sanders, and the Biden team is mindful that he’ll need the support of some of Sanders’ supporters. He doesn’t want to antagonize them.

Perhaps the biggest question looming over [Elizabeth] Warren’s chances is how much work Biden thinks needs to be done to win over Sanders’s voters, and how useful Warren would be to achieving that goal.

That question is one reason Biden has been careful not to talk too much about this process in public, especially since Sanders could decide to remain in the race into the summer, as more primaries are delayed to June due to the virus. “We don’t want to piss off Bernie, and rushing to talk about this could end up pissing off his supporters, too,” said the congressman. “Don’t discount this concern.”

Biden has already made a public commitment that he will pick a woman as his running mate, and Debenedetti says that former rivals Klobuchar, Harris, and Warren will be on the eventual shortlist once the initial vetting process is complete. Other people mentioned in the article include governors Michelle Lujan Grisham (New Mexico) and Gretchen Whitmer (Michigan), senators Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan (New Hampshire), Tammy Baldwin (Wisconsin), Tammy Duckworth (Illinois), and Catherine Cortez Masto (Nevada), Representative Val Demings (Florida), and Georgia’s House minority leader Stacey Abrams, former acting attorney general Sally Yates, and Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.

Biden obviously knows some of these women better than others. His problem is that it’s not easy to meet with any of them in person. This would be important in any circumstance, but Biden views his tight-knit relationship with Barack Obama as the key to their successful partnership, and he wants to have confidence that anyone he selects will work with him in the same way. How can he get a feel for that if he doesn’t have a chance to get to know the candidates?

He wants to have an ideological kinship with his vice-president, and this is also something he’d want to explore in person. For someone like Elizabeth Warren who basically got her start in politics opposing a bankruptcy bill promoted by Biden, this could require an extensive feeling out process. Can they get comfortable with each other?

For others who might lack obvious credentials for the presidency, Biden will want to get a sense of what they know about the federal government and how it operates. A lot can be done over the phone, but it’s a poor substitute for having someone sit down in your living room.

Fortunately, Biden has more power over the process than an NFL general manager and he won’t be forced to make any decisions before he’s ready. Yet, he’s not in total control of the schedule.

He’s been quarantining himself in Wilmington, Delaware, but should he become infected with the COVID-19 virus, he wants to party to be in a position to go forward, possibly without him. This, too, is having an effect on his decision process:

When the camera is off, though, a handful of high-ranking Democrats who have the former vice-president and his advisers’ ears have begun agitating for him to expedite the running-mate selection process in the interest of presenting a ticket that can provide a clear signal of presidential readiness to contrast with Trump, can seize the spotlight from him, and can even minimize potential chaos before the party’s convention if something does, indeed, happen to Biden.

So, he’s under pressure to act quickly while still mindful that Sanders has not conceded the race. The convention is still 16 weeks away and his advisers Anita Dunn and Bob Bauer have recommended a veep vetting process that lasts at least eight weeks. That process could get truncated and the field of potential running mates could be winnowed. Just as coronavirus disruptions might cause a college football player with health issues to fall in the NFL Draft, they might keep some candidates from getting a full consideration from Biden. And, just as operating with imperfect information might cause an NFL team to make a bad draft decision, operating under these less than ideal conditions might cause Biden to make a less than ideal choice.

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Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at ProgressPond.com