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Clyburn: Biden should follow 'his head and his heart' on VP pick
01:09 - Source: CNN

Editor’s Note: CNN host Van Jones is the CEO of the REFORM Alliance, a criminal justice organization. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN.

CNN  — 

Black women have been betting on the Democratic Party since the civil rights era. It is time for the Democratic Party to bet on them.

That’s why this month Joe Biden must select a Black woman as his running mate.

Just consider that 98% of Black women voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, according to Pew Research Center. They voted Democratic in similar numbers in a down-ticket race the next year.

Black women also do the hard work of organizing, registering voters and turning them out to vote. Without Black women, few of Democrats’ electoral or policy victories of the past 50 years would have been possible – and we would live in a far more unequal and less prosperous country.

Even now, many Black women are on the front lines, fighting to solve the nation’s problems – often with too few resources or too little respect. In many of America’s hospitals, the essential workers saving lives in nursing uniforms disproportionately are Black women.

Black women are also leading the charge to jail the police officers who shot and killed Breonna Taylor in her own home in March – rendering her, sadly, as yet another icon of systemic injustice. In fact, the biggest political movement of our time, Black Lives Matter, was co-founded by three African American women: Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tameti.

Fortunately for Biden and the rest of us, American politics boasts an array of Black female superstars, any of whom would be a great partner in his quest to win the election, and govern and reunite the nation. Strong progressives might dream of elevating living legends such as US Reps. Barbara Lee and Maxine Waters of California. But even a pragmatic moderate like Biden can pick from at least six Black women, all of whom would make outstanding candidates and vice presidents.

So let’s take a closer look at this best option:

Sen. Kamala Harris appears to be the front-runner – and for very good reasons.

Strengths: She is tough, smart and experienced – having already served ably in local, state and federal office. As District Attorney of San Francisco, she launched “Back on Track,” a re-entry program that deferred jail sentences for young people and offered other services in its place. As Attorney General of California, she launched tough investigations into two police departments over allegations of excessive force. And, as a US Senator, she has been a strong advocate in Senate hearings about issues relevant to the American people.

Harris has been tried and tested on the national stage during her own presidential run. And, as a US senator from the wealthy state of California, she could help the Biden campaign raise money in Hollywood and Silicon Valley. (By the way: No man was ever ruled out as vice president simply because he was ambitious, so let’s dispense with that nonsense criticism.)

Weaknesses: Biden might worry that her law enforcement background would be a turn-off for younger voters, who already associate him with the now-hated 1994 crime bill. He might also wonder whether they have good governing chemistry, since they clashed in the first Democratic primary debate last year.

Rep. Karen Bass of California is a highly accomplished, universally respected and deeply dedicated legislator at the state and national level.

Strengths: She would be a vice president who could get big things done for the administration. She is a quiet, determined and effective leader who has shown an ability to work across the aisle. When she was California Assembly speaker in 2008, she successfully worked with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and GOP lawmakers to address a budget shortfall of more than $40 billion. In 2015, she worked with former US House Speaker Paul Ryan and former US Rep. Ed Royce of California – both Republicans – to pass the African Growth and Opportunity Act. And today, she is organizing Congress around the Pandemic Protection Act (HR 6848). She also leads the Congressional Black Caucus, while maintaining constructive ties with Republican lawmakers.

I also personally know her character and integrity as an unshakable advocate for poor people of all colors. She built one of the most effective community-based organizations in the country, the Community Coalition, which has won many battles on behalf of poor and working people in Los Angeles.

Weaknesses: Bass is not as well known as Harris. As a result, she might be forced to spend precious time explaining aspects of her ultra-liberal past as a community organizer and activist – a process that has already started.

Former national security adviser Susan Rice easily meets the main criteria for any vice president: She is ready right now to be president of the United States.

Strengths: Rice has all the national security and White House experience you could look for in any candidate. There are few concerns about her ability to be commander in chief. She already gets along with Biden from her days in the Barack Obama White House, so the two would not need to form a relationship first before campaigning or governing together.

Weaknesses: The pandemic and economic disaster are the main priorities for voters – not foreign policy, where Rice shines. Not to mention, she is still best known (unfairly, in my view) in connection with the Benghazi disaster.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms is one of the country’s most authentic and relatable political leaders.

Strengths: Bottoms is leading Atlanta while knee-deep in the top issues on voters’ minds: the pandemic and racial injustice. She tested positive with an asymptomatic Covid-19 case just a few weeks ago and has been leading the charge for mandatory masks, despite Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s lawsuit challenging her decision. And Bottoms drew acclaim with her response both to Atlanta’s protests and the shooting death of Rayshard Brooks at the hands of an Atlanta police officer in June.

She wins the authenticity Olympics at a time when authenticity matters in politics. It will not hurt that she supported Biden before it was cool.

Weaknesses: Biden will have to ask whether it is too big a jump to go from mayor to vice president. And he should give a fair hearing to local Atlanta critics who want more from Bottoms in her current role on everything from police reform to gentrification.

Former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams is the great hope of the Democratic Party – especially in a region where progressives have struggled to make progress.

Strengths: Abrams is a natural leader who has thrived in the harshest environments – successfully facing, for example, the rigors of Yale Law School and the challenges of the Deep South. She has served as minority leader of the Georgia General Assembly, and her 2018 campaign for governor shot her to national prominence. Abrams lost by a hair’s breadth, in a controversial election marred by claims of voter suppression. But she rose from defeat to become a passionate champion of voting rights, a thorny problem on everyone’s mind in 2020.

Weaknesses: If Abrams had managed to win that 2018 gubernatorial contest, she might be the presidential nominee herself right now. She would certainly be more of a shoo-in for vice president. But while others on this list have gotten to show their governing chops, Abrams has not had that opportunity. Biden will have to decide whether going from minority leader in the Georgia Assembly to potential vice president of the United States is too big of a leap.

Rep. Val Demings of Florida is a respected congresswoman from Trump’s new home state.

Strengths: Demings caught national attention while prosecuting the case against President Donald Trump as one of the House impeachment managers. She is from swing-state Florida, was the first female police chief of Orlando before serving in Congress and is credited with reducing the violent crime rate in the city by 40% during her tenure.

Weaknesses: Demings is still relatively unknown nationally. Her police background might have been more compelling to Biden before the wave of protests that reshaped the nation’s political landscape, but now could be seen as a potential liability with progressive voters.

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    With this many powerhouse potential picks, it would be a serious slight to the most loyal bloc of Democratic voters for Biden to select anyone else. If Biden does become president, it will be in part because Black women did the work and turned out in record numbers – despite Trump’s aggressive efforts to appeal to and peel off African Americans. (Only in liberal bubbles do people assume Republicans can never win Black votes.)

    The people who suffer disproportionately from police brutality, Covid-19 and economic hardship – like Black women – need to be closest to the decisions for Americans to make it out of this mess. In other words, not only does the Democratic Party owe Black women for past support, the party needs them to solve the problems in the future.

    Luckily, there is no shortage of strong and qualified candidates. Biden just needs to examine the options, weigh the strengths and weaknesses and pick the best Black woman for the job.

    This piece has been updated to restore some sentences that were accidentally omitted.