The criticisms of the California senator’s ambition have come in the closing weeks of Biden’s vice president search — and have provoked complaints of sexism and racial bias.
“There will be a resistance to your ambition, there will be people who say to you, ‘you are out of your lane,'” Harris said during a livestream conversation for the Black Women Lead 2020 conference. “They are burdened by only having the capacity to see what has always been instead of what can be. But don’t you let that burden you.”
Asked how she navigates being a black woman in the predominately white male world of politics, Harris said people have questioned her presence and qualifications for her entire career.
Harris, who has long been seen as a favorite to be Biden’s running mate, was only the second Black woman to ever be elected to the Senate, and would be the country’s first Black and Asian vice-presidential candidate.
These are the first remarks Harris has given on the topic of ambition since a barrage of media outlets have quoted Biden allies attacking Harris’ motives and signaling a move to block the former presidential candidate’s chance of becoming Biden’s vice president.
The grudges from some within Biden world mostly stem from Harris’ infamous attack on Biden in a 2019 Democratic primary debate over busing. Florida donor John Morgan told CNBC that Harris “would be running for president the day of the inauguration,” while others generally said she is “too ambitious.” Politico reported that former Sen. Chris Dodd, a member of Biden’s VP vetting team, complained to a donor that Harris showed “no remorse” when asked about her clash with Biden on the debate stage.
The 55-year-old California Democrat is one of the women considered the most serious contenders to become the former vice president’s running mate, alongside California Rep. Karen Bass and former national security adviser Susan Rice. Members of Congress, top Democratic donors, Biden allies and others close to the vice presidential vetting process have told CNN that Bass, the 66-year-old chair of the Congressional Black Caucus who some have called “the anti-Kamala Harris,” has gained real traction in the late stage of the search.
On Friday, Bass addressed those comparisons between herself and Harris, questioning why the same wasn’t being done for the white potential VP candidates.
“Why are you comparing me with her? Why don’t you compare Whitmer with Warren?” she said on the radio show The Breakfast Club. Bass said she’s spoken to Harris since the comparisons were published.
During her Friday comments, Harris told the Black Women Lead conference viewers to embrace their “black girl magic,” and not allow anyone tell them what they can and cannot do, using a popular refrain from her own 2020 presidential run: That she “eats ‘no’ for breakfast.” She told the young women she wants them to be ambitious and have goals of their own.
“You know how many times I’ve been told it can’t be done? Nobody like you has done it before. They’re not ready for you. And I could not listen,” she said.
The attacks on Harris and the apparent pitting of the two Black female politicians against each other prompted Biden campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon to weigh in.
“Ambitious women make history, change the world, and win,” Dillon wrote on Twitter.
And Biden himself stood ready to shoot down the criticisms against Harris, as he was photographed this week with a note card listing these bullet points under Harris’ name: “Do not hold grudges.” “Campaigned with me & Jill.” “Talented.” “Great help to campaign.” “Great respect for her.”
Minyon Moore, a Democratic operative who has been part of a public campaign to persuade Biden to pick a Black woman has his running mate, said being a Black female politician has never been easy, but she admires how Harris stays focused on her job.
“We know sexism is alive and well. And we know being Black and facing racism is alive and well. She can’t change any two of those facts,” said Moore, who was the first Black woman political affairs director under former President Bill Clinton. “But what she can continue to do is show that she is a person of substance, a person that has paved the way for many young DA’s to come behind her.”
Biden has told reporters earlier this week that he would choose a running mate in the first week of August, and two aides told CNN that the timing of an announcement was more likely to be pushed back until the week of August 10. But Biden’s advisers gave him a deadline of next week to make up his mind, a person familiar with the process said.