Long before Joe Biden named Kamala Harris as his running mate, and even before they faced off as rival Democratic presidential candidates, the two had bonded over their mutual love for Biden’s son Beau – and grief over his death.
Harris’s friendship with Biden’s late son, who died in 2015 at the age of 46 from brain cancer, was something that Biden said he “thought a lot about” as he made the decision to name her as his running mate. “There is no one’s opinion I valued more than Beau’s and I’m proud to have Kamala standing with me on this campaign,” Biden wrote in a campaign email.
Harris and Beau Biden both served as attorney generals – she of California, he of Delaware – and began working closely together while negotiating with banks during the foreclosure crisis in 2011 and 2012.
In her memoir, Harris called him an “incredible friend and colleague” who became a close collaborator. “There were periods, when I was taking heat, that Beau and I talked every day, sometimes multiple times a day,” she wrote. “We had each other’s backs.”
After Beau’s death, Harris said at the 2016 California Democratic convention that the Biden family “truly represents our nation’s highest ideals, a powerful belief in the nobility of public service”. Joe Biden, she said, “has given so much to our country and on top of everything he has accomplished, he gave to us my dear friend Beau.”
The elder Biden endorsed Harris’s Senate campaign that year, and she endorsed him for president this year after dropping out of the race. In both cases, they mentioned Beau Biden as a reason they trusted and respected each other.
In the lead-up to Tuesday’s announcement naming Harris as his running mate, Biden, the former vice-president under Obama, often said he was looking to re-create the sort of relationship that he and Obama shared. Biden wanted a vice president “who is simpatico with where I want to take the country. We can disagree on tactic but not on strategy,” he told MSNBC.
In the lead-up to Tuesday’s announcement naming Harris as his running mate, Biden, as the former vice president under Obama, often said he was looking to recreate the sort of relationship that he and Obama shared. Biden wanted a vice president “who is simpatico with where I want to take the country. We can disagree on tactic but not on strategy,” he told MSNBC.
Harris fits that description in that her moderate ideology aligns with Biden’s. But whereas the Obama-Biden relationship started off pragmatically – advisers to the former president have said he chose Biden, despite misgivings, to assuage voters nervous about electing a young, Black candidate – before eventually growing into a friendship, Harris and Biden have had a head start in developing that simpatico relationship.
As rival candidates for president, the pair did clash during the primaries – most memorably during a Democratic debate when Harris brought up Biden’s opposition in the 1970s to mandated bussing to promote school desegregation.
“There was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bussed to school every day. And that little girl was me,” Harris said. She also called out his past collaboration with segregationist senators, for which Biden has apologized. Even then, Harris prefaced her criticism: “I do not believe you are a racist, and I agree with you when you commit yourself to the importance of finding common ground,” she said, despite false claims from the Trump campaign that she called Biden a racist.
Still, Biden and Harris hit a rough patch after the debate. In an interview with CNN, Biden said he was hurt by the attack – which was ultimately blunted when Harris was questioned about her own stance on mandated bussing as a solution to continuing school segregation. Ultimately, her view on modern day bussing – that it should be considered, but not required – ended up echoing Biden’s stance in the 70s.
“I wasn’t prepared for the person coming after me the way she came after me. She knew Beau, she knows me,” Biden said afterwards. During a fundraising event, Dr Jill Biden, his wife, called that exchange a “punch to the gut”.
But later, Joe Biden said that he and Harris had smoothed things over. “I don’t hold grudges,” Biden said. “I’ve made it really clear that I don’t hold grudges. I think it was a debate, it was as simple as that.”