Joe Biden narrows his list of vice presidents, with Karen Bass emerging as one of several key contenders

In more than two dozen interviews with CNN in recent days, members of Congress, top Democratic donors, Biden’s allies and others close to the vice presidential investigation process said that California Rep. Karen Bass, president of the Black Caucus of Congress, 66 years old. , has gained real traction in the last stage of the search. Amid last-minute lobbying and speculation about Biden’s landmark decision, California Sen. Kamala Harris and Susan Rice, former Barack Obama’s former national security adviser, are believed to be among the most serious contenders.

The search continues under extreme secrecy, even with many campaign advisers in the dark about the background investigation process. Several additional women have also undergone extensive review by Biden’s team, including Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Florida Rep. Val Demings, and Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth. Others, such as Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, have also received various levels of scrutiny from the investigative team.

Biden’s team has not yet told any of the women they have seriously considered for the vice presidential role that they are officially out of the running, people familiar with the process said, and a source said 11 women are still being formally considered.

Bass’s new rise as a top contender has been fueled by intensive lobbying on his behalf by some of his colleagues in the House, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, influential California Democrats and major donors. . They have reached out to members of Biden’s inner circle in recent weeks, presenting a passionate case of why the congresswoman should not be overlooked in the search process. Her sponsors have described her as a member of the House who is universally appreciated and respected, a team player with experience working with Republicans and leading a state legislature, an African American woman with a compelling biography based on humble beginnings, and, in particular, a safe political option who would not shake the boat.

“I think Karen hasn’t been counted from day one,” said Steve Westly, the former California state controller and Biden fundraiser, who said he is happy to see Bass and Harris on Biden’s list.

“Everyone likes Karen Bass. People scratch their heads and say: who is this woman?” he said. “When you’ve been president of the legislature of a state that is twice the population of New York and the fifth largest economy in the world, you know how to manage the media, you understand the economy. I think it is stronger than people think. “

Another unmistakable dynamic that has emerged in recent days: an intensive effort by some of Biden’s allies to torpedo Harris’s chances of being elected.

Despite the fact that Biden has publicly praised Harris in recent months, some of his supporters, both privately and publicly, have continued to raise questions through the press, sometimes using sexist language, about whether Harris would be a Reliable team, often bringing Harris’s famous attack on Biden in a Democratic primary debate on the bus issue.

A Democratic aide with knowledge of the search process offered this compelling observation: “Biden’s allies are laying the groundwork for the vice president to have a reason not to choose her.”

In multiple media reports, Biden’s allies have attacked Harris’s motives. Florida donor John Morgan lamented that Harris “would run for president on the day of the inauguration. Loyalty and friendship should mean something to me,” Chris Dodd, a member of the Biden vice presidents research team, He complained to a donor that Harris showed “no regrets” when asked about his famous confrontation with Biden on the stage of the debate.

Former Pennsylvania governor and Biden supporter Ed Rendell, who said he currently does not have a favorite in the search for a running mate, said in an interview that Bass is viewed as a “very safe option” in a way that Harris it just isn’t.

“Kamala can annoy some people incorrectly. Karen Bass is not likely to do that,” Rendell said. “Rule number one for choosing the VP? Do no harm.”

Biden clearly came prepared to defend Harris at a press conference Tuesday in Wilmington, Delaware, with a photograph of a note card that lists these points as Harris: “Don’t hold a grudge.” “Campaign with me and Jill”. “Talented.” “Great help for the campaign.” “Great respect for her.”

Recent attacks on Harris have sparked cries of sexism.

“It is not about complaining that we are not being treated fairly, although I would say that these women are not,” said Karen Finney, one of the main aides to the Hillary Clinton campaign in 2016. “We know he is an old man. trope to say that you cannot trust an ambitious woman. “

Harris herself told women in a broadcast of the Black Girls Lead 2020 conference on Friday: “There will be resistance to your ambition, there will be people who will tell you ‘you’re out of your lane,'” addressing attacks on their trust and ambition. . for the first time this week

“They are burdened by just having the ability to see what has always been rather than what can be. But don’t let that overwhelm you,” he said, adding that he has experienced it his entire career.

Biden’s campaign has largely refused to participate publicly in the criticism directed at Harris until this week, when campaign director Jen O’Malley Dillon responded to a report she considered Harris to be too ambitious.

“Ambitious women make history, change the world, and win,” Dillon wrote on Twitter. “Our campaign is full of ambitious women who are betting on Joe Biden. He will make this decision, and this is clear: whoever chooses from the highly qualified options to help him win and unite the country, she will also be one.” “

One of the reasons Harris has been under fire is that she has long been viewed as the favorite to be Biden’s running mate. Her supporters say she has already been vetted on the national stage as a presidential candidate and is unlikely to surprise the campaign with last-minute unknowns. While her 2020 campaign ended long before Iowa’s election committees, Harris’ supporters argue that she gained loyal supporters while running for the White House, and that she would make history as the country’s first black and Asian vice presidential candidate.

Meanwhile, Rice’s emergence as a serious contender has surprised some in the Biden world, given her limited campaign experience. But his close allies point to his government credentials from his time in the executive branch and his deep experience in foreign policy in a time of global turmoil. They also say that Biden’s working relationship with Rice should not be underestimated for years, particularly given how he has emphasized wanting a partner who is “nice to me.”

“If there was ever a time to choose someone inexperienced in the campaign, this would be the year,” a member of the Obama administration cabinet, who knows Rice well, told CNN. “Susan would be the best government partner.”

As the months of intensive investigation are drawing to a close, the final decision rests with Biden and his wife, Jill, who has become one of his closest advisers in the process. He has conducted virtual campaign events with almost all potential candidates, but has not participated in any of the interviews conducted by the search committee, according to people with knowledge of the process. Biden’s campaign also began to form the team to handle the future vice presidential selection, a source close to the campaign said, but did not detail who will be involved.

When Biden told reporters earlier this week that he would choose a running mate in the first week of August, two aides told CNN that the timing of an announcement was more likely to be delayed 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.

Biden enters the final stretch of deliberations as the country faces a severe public health crisis and an economic recession. President Donald Trump’s approval rating has been seriously affected by his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, a reality that close allies say he should offer Biden the space to choose a running mate without weighing as much as he could anywhere else. political and political electoral cycle. electoral advantages that a specific running mate could offer.

“They don’t need to swing around the fences; they don’t need it to be a distraction. They don’t need to go with someone who has not been tried or someone who is flashy or random,” said a follower of Biden. touch with your inner circle, he said.

“If you’ve decided, you haven’t told anyone,” an old friend of Biden’s told CNN. “But knowing him, he won’t make a final decision until the last moment.”

This story has been updated with comments Kamala Harris made on Friday.

CNN’s Arlette Saenz and Annie Grayer contributed to this report.