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Joe Biden can only pick one running mate. Here’s where other contenders could end up in his administration

Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks July 28 at a campaign event in Wilmington, Del.
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden is close to naming a running mate.
(Andrew Harnik / Associated Press)

All but one of the women Joe Biden might pick as his running mate will end up disappointed, but already a new guessing game has started: What other roles could they fill in his administration?

Most of the women are Democratic Party stars with expertise in public policy, making them contenders for jobs in Biden’s administration should the former vice president unseat President Trump. They are U.S. senators and House members. They include former prosecutors, an ex-police chief and a foreign policy expert. Some are on the front lines of responding to the coronavirus pandemic and the protests against police brutality and racial discrimination.

“They all bring unique strengths,” said Kelly Dittmar, the research director at Rutgers University’s Center for American Women and Politics.

Biden’s pledge to pick a woman as his running mate means America will have its first female vice president if he wins. The vetting is a grueling ordeal, with Biden advisors sifting through exhaustive dossiers on everything in the women’s backgrounds. Will any of those who endured it be willing to accept another job later as consolation?

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Sen. Kamala Harris of California
Sen. Kamala Harris of California could be a top contender for U.S. attorney general in a Biden administration.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Kamala Harris: Top cop or Supreme Court justice?

The U.S. senator from California, the daughter of immigrants from Jamaica and India, has been floated as a Supreme Court nominee to fulfill another Biden promise: that he would put a Black woman on the high court.

Harris would also be a prime candidate for U.S. attorney general. A career prosecutor who was California’s attorney general and San Francisco’s district attorney before her 2016 election to the Senate, Harris often used to describe herself as the state’s “top cop.”

She quickly made her name in Washington by grilling Trump nominees and officials from her seat on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Her pointed interrogation of Jeff Sessions when he was attorney general left him so flustered that he told her it “makes me nervous” to be rushed into responding.

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When Harris was a Biden rival in the presidential primaries, her work as a prosecutor was a source of trouble, raising doubts among some Democrats about her record on racial disparities in the justice system. But many believe it clearly qualifies her to run the Justice Department.

“Harris could be an amazing attorney general,” said Neera Tanden, the president of the Center for American Progress and a former advisor to Hillary Clinton.

But would Harris, 55, want to leave the Senate? In 2014, when she was reported to be a possible successor to President Obama’s outgoing attorney general, Harris declined to be considered.

Kamala Harris’ work as a prosecutor during California’s lock-'em-up era has made it harder for her to sell her presidential candidacy to wary voters.

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Elizabeth Warren: Economic populist in Treasury?

The Massachusetts senator who ran against Biden in the primary with the promise of “big structural change” is mentioned often as Treasury secretary. A former Harvard Law School professor and expert on personal bankruptcies, Warren was the architect of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau set up after the 2008 economic crash.

Her populist economic agenda has alarmed many of the corporate leaders and Wall Street bankers who are accustomed to having one of their own in charge of the Treasury Department.

During her presidential campaign, Warren, 71, had vowed to shake up American capitalism in part by taxing big corporations and the rich to fund healthcare, education and housing for the poor and middle class. As Treasury secretary, Warren would be one of the most powerful figures guiding the nation’s economy and financial markets.

Tanden, who thinks Warren could also be attorney general, suggested that those who might object need to accept that some of the reforms championed by the senator are inevitable in an era of wealth concentration that rivals the Gilded Age.

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Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren at a 2019 campaign event.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren could be a leading candidate for Treasury secretary or attorney general if Democrat Joe Biden unseats President Trump.
(Matthew Putney / Associated Press)

“Unless we have a really concerted effort to deal with the deep inequalities of this country, the business community is going to face a lot more disruption than they’re facing now,” Tanden said.

One complication: the Republican governor of Massachusetts would name Warren’s replacement, likely depriving Democrats of a crucial seat in what could remain a closely divided Senate.

Susan Rice: Diplomat in chief or Putin tormentor?

Nobody on Biden’s running mate list matches the foreign policy credentials of Rice. She was national security advisor in Obama’s second term and U.N. ambassador in his first. She’s talked about as a leading candidate for secretary of State.

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Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a friend of Biden’s, said Rice, 55, could also be Defense secretary or ambassador to Russia, where she could antagonize President Vladimir Putin after his years of chumminess with President Trump.

“She would drive Putin crazy,” Rendell said. “Crazy. That’s what I would do if I were Joe — just drive Putin absolutely crazy.”

Tammy Duckworth: Decorated vet running the V.A.?

The U.S. senator from Illinois vaulted into the top tier of Biden’s running mate contenders largely through her compelling personal biography.

Duckworth, 52, grew up in Southeast Asia and Hawaii. She speaks Thai and Indonesian. When she was an Army helicopter pilot during the Iraq war she lost both legs in combat. She went on to lead the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs before serving in Obama’s administration as assistant secretary of Veterans Affairs.

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Not surprisingly, many see the Purple Heart recipient as a good fit to take over the long-troubled Veterans Affairs Department.

“It would be kind of a tremendous role to have a disabled vet as the head of the V.A.,” said Will Marshall, president of the Progressive Policy Institute.

Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth is an Army combat veteran who could be up for the job of Veterans Affairs secretary.
(J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)

After four years in the House and four in the Senate, he said, Duckworth would also be well positioned for other senior posts, including Health and Human Services secretary.

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Val Demings: Back to law enforcement?

Florida Rep. Demings, a former Orlando police chief with nearly three decades on the force, could be tapped for a top law enforcement post. Some landing spots for Demings: Perhaps the FBI, if the current director, Christopher A. Wray, leaves before his term ends in 2027, or the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Or the sprawling Homeland Security Department.

“Somebody’s got to deal with that whole agency, which is a whole debacle, so having a woman who was police chief might be a perfect fit,” Tanden said, alluding to the department’s role in Trump’s attacks on immigration and his violent crackdown on protests against racial injustice.

Demings, 63, was first elected to the House in 2016.

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Bass catapulted to Biden’s short list thanks to her pragmatism and unassuming style, which have impressed progressives, moderates, even Republicans.

Karen Bass: U.N. ambassador?

Bass, 66, a former California Assembly speaker, has represented South L.A. and part of the Westside in Congress for nearly a decade. Her extensive work on issues such as African affairs, child welfare, healthcare and police accountability makes her a plausible appointee as U.N. ambassador or secretary of Education or Health and Human Services.

“She’s just very competent, very pragmatic and very accomplished,” said Marshall, who has served with Bass on the board of the National Endowment for Democracy.

Rep. Karen Bass of Los Angeles is a former California Assembly speaker.
(Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press)
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Gretchen Whitmer: Fighting the pandemic from D.C.?

Michigan Gov. Whitmer issued one of America’s strictest lockdown orders early in the pandemic when COVID-19 paralyzed Detroit. She was criticized by Trump, who pressured governors to reopen their economies, but Whitmer declined to engage. Her popularity rose and the outbreak eased.

Whitmer’s executive experience makes her a natural contender for domestic affairs Cabinet posts, including Commerce and Health and Human Services, Tanden said.

“She’s been incredibly competent on the virus,” she said.

Rendell, however, sees Whitmer, 48, as more likely to seek reelection in 2022 and rise later to a national post if Biden doesn’t put her on the ticket.

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Keisha Lance Bottoms: Homeland Security chief?

Twin crises have put Atlanta’s mayor in the national spotlight this year as she led her city through a coronavirus outbreak and major protests after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

A lawyer and former judge, Bottoms, 50, accused Trump of violating her mandatory mask-wearing order on a recent visit to Atlanta.

Marshall said he could see Bottoms heading Health and Human Services, Labor, Transportation or Housing and Urban Development.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has led her city amid a COVID-19 outbreak and protests against racial bias in policing.
(Associated Press)
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But he thinks Homeland Security would be the best fit.

“One could make a really powerful case for a mayor who understands federal and local law enforcement,” he said.

Stacey Abrams: Continuing fight for voting rights?

After Abrams lost her race for Georgia governor in 2018, she became one of the country’s leading voting rights advocates.

Democrats alleged that her Republican rival Brian Kemp used his post as secretary of state to keep turnout from Black voters low. Abrams, 46, a lawyer and former state lawmaker, went on to form Fair Fight, an Atlanta voting rights group.

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That work has put her in the conversation for attorney general, where she would be in charge of revitalizing the Justice Department’s civil rights division.

“She’s done a tremendous amount on voting rights,” Tanden said. “I would think of that as kind of optimal” for attorney general.


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