Who Is Kamala Harris? California Senator On Biden's VP List Her allies see the first-term California senator and former prosecutor as bringing needed demographic balance to the Democratic ticket.
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Kamala Harris Is Seen As The Clear Front-Runner To Be Joe Biden's Running Mate

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Kamala Harris Is Seen As The Clear Front-Runner To Be Joe Biden's Running Mate

Kamala Harris Is Seen As The Clear Front-Runner To Be Joe Biden's Running Mate

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Former Vice President Joe Biden says he'll announce his running mate by early August. A lot of Democrats think California Senator Kamala Harris will get the nod. During her own run for president, she faced progressive attacks about her complicated past as a prosecutor, but the senator has played a central role in her party's response to protests against police brutality.

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KAMALA HARRIS: We're here because Black Americans want to stop being killed.

MARTIN: With the increased focus on racial disparities and a push for Biden to pick a Black running mate, Harris seems well positioned. NPR's Scott Detrow reports.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Kamala Harris has long been seen as a possible, maybe even inevitable running mate for Joe Biden. Speculation about that pairing came up so often that when she was running for president last year, Harris once had to shoot it down with sarcasm.

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HARRIS: Sir, if people want to speculate about running mates, I encourage that because I think that Joe Biden would be a great running mate. As vice president, he's proven that he knows how to do the job.

DETROW: The pairing seems likely to so many Democrats because Harris, a 55-year-old Black woman, would bring diversity to a ticket headed by a 77-year-old white man. Harris knows many people who worked in the Obama administration, and most importantly, she developed a close relationship with Biden when she worked alongside his son Beau when they were both attorneys general. Harris dropped out of the presidential campaign in December. She endorsed Biden in March.

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HARRIS: We need a president of the United States who has the courage and the power to see and feel and understand that is a sign of strength and then, through that strength, lift up the people. That is Joe Biden.

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DETROW: Many Democrats see the current focus on policing and racial justice as an even bigger argument for making Harris the vice presidential pick, especially as more and more Democrats urge Biden to pick a woman of color. Allies like Congresswoman Barbara Lee say Harris' long tenure as a prosecutor gives her the credibility to advocate for big changes.

BARBARA LEE: And she's very well qualified because of her background to understand how we have to dismantle many of those systems, but how she can move forward to try to help bring unity and bring safety.

DETROW: It's a big shift from how the primaries played out. Harris had intended to run as she had in California, as someone who spent her time as state attorney general and San Francisco district attorney, fighting tough on crime trends and instead addressing broader systemic problems. But right away, many progressives pushed back. In a new era where major changes to criminal justice are much more popular with voters, critics like Lara Bazelon, a law professor at the University of San Francisco, said Harris hadn't done enough.

LARA BAZELON: At almost every inflection point when there was a progressive alternative or a centrist alternative, she chose the safe centrist alternative.

DETROW: The criticism followed Harris for most of 2019. She ultimately backed away from emphasizing her time as a prosecutor for long stretches. The result? A campaign that many felt never made a clear argument for why voters should back Harris over any of the other two dozen candidates. But back in the Senate, Harris played a lead role when the coronavirus hit. Harris repeatedly highlighted the fact COVID-19 harms African Americans more than any other group and demanded the government collect more data about that fact. She pushed for monthly $2,000 stimulus payments.

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HARRIS: People should be able to count on their government to see them and create a safety net for them so that these families don't fall into poverty or further into poverty during the course of this pandemic.

DETROW: Harris has been even more front and center in the wake of George Floyd's death and the national outcry it sparked. She was one of the first lawmakers on the streets in big protests and helped lead a sweeping Democratic policy response. Harris' recent steps in the Senate have even impressed critics like Bazelon.

BAZELON: Her record has been consistent, and it's been good. And my hope is that she's going to continue in that vein, first of all, because it's the right thing to do but then, second of all, pragmatically, because that's where the country is moving.

DETROW: Bazelon points to a recent appearance Harris made on the TV show "The View," where she simultaneously made her case and swatted aside attempts by a conservative host to pin her down. This Harris - the sharp former prosecutor who can dismantle witnesses during high-profile Senate hearings, not the presidential candidate who couldn't quite make her case in a crowded field - is the one her supporters say would make the perfect running mate for Joe Biden.

Scott Detrow, NPR News, Washington.

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