ROBERT COSTA: The ticket is in.
FORMER VICE PRESIDENT JOSEPH BIDEN: (From video.) Your next vice president of the United States, Kamala Harris.
MR. COSTA: The California senator makes history and takes on the White House.
SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA): (From video.) The case against Donald Trump and Mike Pence is open and shut. It’s because of Trump’s failure that an American dies of COVID-19 every 80 seconds.
MR. COSTA: And the president snaps back with attacks on her and the Postal Service.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: (From video.) Mail-in voting, it’s going to be the greatest fraud in the history of elections.
MR. COSTA: Next.
ANNOUNCER: This is Washington Week. Once again, from Washington, moderator Robert Costa.
MR. COSTA: Good evening. Joe Biden’s search for a running mate ended this week with a history-making pick, Senator Kamala Harris of California. The choice, it captured this moment in the Democratic Party, just days before the convention, Biden Democrats uniting with a younger, more diverse generation – the first Black woman and Asian American on a major party ticket. It also captured this moment in America: A quiet room in Delaware with no cheering crowd, socially distant. The pair’s message was somber, but forceful.
FORMER VICE PRESIDENT JOSEPH BIDEN: (From video.) We’re at one of those inflection points – you’ve heard me say that before – in our history, a life-changing election for this nation, and the choice – the choice we make this November is going to decide the future of America for a very, very long time.
MR. COSTA: Senator Harris, a former prosecutor, took direct aim at President Trump.
SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA): (From video.) This is what happens when we elect a guy who just isn’t up for the job: Our country ends up in tatters. He inherited the longest economic expansion in history. And then, like everything else he inherited, he ran it straight into the ground.
MR. COSTA: Sharp attacks.
To discuss this turning point and the political war ahead, let’s welcome four of Washington’s best reporters: Yamiche Alcindor, White House correspondent for the PBS NewsHour; Mary Jordan, national political correspondent for The Washington Post, and author of Trump On Trial and The Art of Her Deal: The Untold Story of Melania Trump; Jonathan Martin, national political correspondent for The New York Times; and Ayesha Rascoe, White House reporter for National Public Radio.
Yamiche, let’s start with you. You’ve covered the Democratic Party for years. I have good memories of our time together on that Bernie beat back in 2016. Yamiche, is the Bernie Sanders wing going to rally around this ticket, or do they still have concerns about Senator Harris and her record as a prosecutor?
I can’t – I can’t hear Yamiche. We’re having audio problems with Yamiche. We’ll try to get her back.
Jonathan, let’s go to you.
JONATHAN MARTIN: Yes, sir.
MR. COSTA: Thanks for playing along with COVID-19 here. (Laughter.) Jonathan, I loved your story in the times about this big decision. It was a huge tick-tock, deep dive. How did Biden ultimately land on Harris and not, say, Dr. Rice?
MR. MARTIN: Well, I think when they came down to it Senator Harris made the most sense politically. It was sort of the obvious pick in the end because she had the fewest downsides of all the candidates and had the most upsides. She had run statewide before. She had run for president. She had been vetted because of those campaigns. She has served in the Senate, had a relationship with donors, with party leaders. And somebody who, frankly, was not going to create, at least in the short term, a sort of spate of negative stories. And, Bob, their wisdom, at least for now, has been rewarded. The first 48 hours of this rollout have been largely positive for the Biden campaign, so it has paid off.
Look, she was not a done deal. I mean, they really considered this at some length, and we reported today in the Times that Biden came down to four finalists: The governor of Michigan, Senator Warren, Susan Rice, and of course Kamala Harris. And he got to Harris, but it was not without a lot of thought and a lot of vetting. But I think if you ask Democrats today, looking at the last couple of days, pretty happy with the pick. Pretty happy with the pick.
MR. COSTA: So that was – that was the list, the shortlist of four. I’m glad to hear that, Jonathan; I hadn’t heard that list of four before. But it did end up being Senator Harris, Ayesha. And what is the power of that politically/culturally of having her on this ticket in this year?
AYESHA RASCOE: Well, a big thing for them is that when you talk about having the first Black woman on the – on a major ticket like this, the first Asian American on a ticket like this, so you have that symbolism there. And in many ways, she was – she kind of makes up for some of the disappointment that some people in the Democratic Party had when Joe Biden was picked, because they felt like we had such – or, they felt like they had such a diverse field of people to choose from and then they ended up with an older white man. And so here you have someone who is relatively young, as you said, and someone who represents more of the future of the party, whereas clearly Joe Biden represents kind of, you know, the older guard. And so I think that’s what you get, and you get the historic moment from this. This is what they’ve had over the past few days, is this historic moment that people will look back on.
MR. COSTA: And the people who are looking back on this and straight at this, it’s the Trump White House, Mary. And I was reading your new book, paging through it, about the first lady, and you report about Vice President Pence and how he was picked in 2016. You’ve heard it; there’s been some talk this week among some Republicans about whether he should be replaced on the ticket because of this pick. What is his standing in the president’s inner circle?
MARY JORDAN: Well, you can imagine, because Trump is such a showman, that he doesn’t like, you know, the historic first and the hoopla that’s come along with Kamala. Now, if he had picked, for instance, as people – the chatter this week was, what – wow, if he had Nikki Haley, for instance, you know, this would inject some new enthusiasm. But we’re not really hearing that because he would have another problem if he was seen as dumping Pence: You know, the more conservatives, the loyalists, the Evangelical crowd wouldn’t like it very much.
And you know, Trump has seen a loyal soldier in Pence. He’s out in Iowa in the last hours, you know, stumping for him. So it would be a huge surprise, I think, if he, in the end, you know, just dumped Pence – though you know he’s looking to do something to get a little more energy because right now Trump and Pence, compared to the Democratic ticket, you know, it doesn’t have kind of the freshness of having this new face of Kamala Harris.
MR. COSTA: Yamiche, I think you’re back with us, hopefully. Hopefully, we can hear you this time. Yamiche, to that point –
YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Hopefully. (Laughs.)
MR. COSTA: Hopefully. I’m glad you’re back, Yamiche. I mean, this show would not be the same without Yamiche at the table. You’re one of my favorites, Yamiche. You’re the best.
Yamiche, Mary just mentioned the word “energy.” You heard it. So when it comes to energy you wonder, does the whole Democratic Party, as I was asking you earlier, get galvanized by this pick, including the Bernie Sanders wing?
MS. ALCINDOR: Yeah, so I think there are still concerns about Senator Harris, especially her time as a prosecutor, her stance on things like marijuana convictions, whether or not she was a progressive prosecutor. She wasn’t really known to be that – in that vein. That being said, the choice here is pretty stark at this point. If you’re a Democrat who believes that President Trump is someone who has really divided the country and has enacted policies that you see as racist, that you see as problematic, then Senator Harris might be problematic, but I would think it’s someone that they will still be getting behind.
The other thing I should note is that I think one of the most interesting things that happened this week was that I felt like there was more energy after Senator Harris was picked as vice president as when she launched her actual presidential campaign. I think I hear more people talking about how excited they are that she’s the first Black woman vice presidential nominee than I heard when they were talking about her being a Black woman being president. I’m not sure how you reconcile those two things, but I think there is a lot of energy and you can see that in the fundraising numbers that the Biden campaign put out. They said that they’re having some of their best fundraising days yet. So I think the fact that she’s a history-making candidate, while also being someone who’s somewhat of a moderate Democrat, that those two things are working in her favor.
MR. COSTA: But, Yamiche, I just want to follow up with you real quick on this. So a lot of Democrats are celebrating the pick, but you see from President Trump a continuation of this birther conspiracy, which is false, this racist idea that she is not qualified to be vice president. He’s raised it himself this week. She was born in Oakland, California. She is qualified to be vice president or president. But is she ready, is the Biden campaign ready for the war that’s to come in the next 80 days?
MS. ALCINDOR: Well, I should say first, as you noted, birtherism and questioning whether or not she’s eligible to be vice president is just simply racist. There’s no coincidence that this is a question that we ask of a Black woman and that we asked of a Black man, but not of someone whose parents were immigrants and who have immigrant ancestry, including Donald Trump, whose family was from Europe before they moved to the United States. So I think that needs to be said on its face.
I think when it comes to whether or not she’s ready for this fight, I’ve sat down with Senator Harris a number of times, and one of the things that she told me was that she grew up with a mom – a cancer researcher mom who would, when she came home from school and had a mishap, she would tell her mom: You know, here’s what happened to me. And her mom wouldn’t just coddle her and hold her. She would say: Well, what did you do? What power did you use to make sure that you defended yourself?
So she is someone who has really been vetted, who has been really up against a lot of different difficulties in her life. And as a result, I think she’s someone who is ready to prosecute the case against Donald Trump, which is why I think Joe Biden came to her and wanted to pick her. She’s someone who’s feisty. She made her name and her bones, I think – (inaudible) – Senate Judiciary hearings. And of course, the president is using those same things that make her stand out as a star on the Democratic side to attack her, saying that she’s mean and nasty and really being very personal with her. But I think, having talked to her myself, she’s ready for this fight.
MR. COSTA: Hey, Jonathan, when you talk to Biden campaign people, how are they going to play their message here? Are they going to talk about her being a prosecutor as the president makes appeals to the suburbs and White voters?
MR. MARTIN: Yeah, yes, yes, yes. Look, everybody sort of saw this coming last year, that the knock on her with the left that she was a prosecutor would, of course, be viewed as an asset in a general election. There’s a long history in this country of female politicians rising to prominence after starting their careers as prosecutors. I can name you a bunch: Claire McCaskill, Janet Napolitano, Jennifer Granholm. Women in Democratic politics often do well when they start their careers as prosecutors and I think that Kamala Harris is in that line.
I think the good news for Democrats, to be totally candid, is that the COVID era and the COVID campaign, Bob, is going to limit the nature of this campaign. It’s going to be a less spontaneous campaign. It’s going to be a more scripted campaign because there’s just not going to be a lot of events. And that’s good news for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, who are both much better when they are reading from teleprompters than they are going off script, when they can often be their own worst enemy. Having covered both of them, they can be very compelling – they can be very compelling figures but they can also get themselves in trouble quite a bit when they are facing questions that they don’t have an answer for at the ready.
MR. COSTA: Mary, get in here. I know you want to jump in.
MS. JORDAN: You know, well, there’s a lot of talk lately about suburban women or, as Donald Trump said, the suburban housewives, and that was so crucial in 2016, and I think that was the big surprise that Donald Trump had done so well with that crowd. Well, by calling Kamala Harris, you know, the meanest and, you know, the most disrespectful and nasty, this is not a great way to kind of win over these voters, and we’re seeing, you know, a drop in support in numerous polls lately among women, who will be key. So it will be a battleground about the suburbs, the war on suburbs as Donald Trump has said, and he’s said all kinds of things like this.
I spent a lot of time in 2016 and 2017 in Trump country, and what they don’t like – they said, you know, I think he’s going to be good on the economy, I think he’ll be strong on the military, but I don’t like the ugliness, and that is what the people who voted for him said. And now when they see it’s only gotten much uglier, I really can understand why so many polls lately are coming up with – in key places, Ohio, Pennsylvania – that these suburban areas that were crucial in 2016, especially for women, are not jumping up and down for Donald Trump this time.
MR. COSTA: Ayesha, open up your notebook on this.
MS. RASCOE: Yeah, I think that’s one of the crucial things here. And one of the questions that I think that backers of President Trump – or one of the concerns that they have is that he is being so nasty, and that he’s going straight to the racial stereotypes, you know, calling her an angry woman. I mean, that’s a trope for Black women, that they’re angry, and that’s immediately where he goes. He immediately goes to questioning her Americanness. And you know, NPR/Marist has a poll out today that President Trump is having trouble with White voters in general; they had him and Biden at – both at 48 percent. Now, no Democrat running for president has gotten 48 percent of the White vote since Jimmy Carter. But if President Trump is having – is running neck and neck with Joe Biden with White voters, that’s a problem.
MR. COSTA: Hey, Yamiche, let’s turn to this week’s other battleground that’s related to all of this. Stimulus talks, you’ve heard, have stalled because the president refuses to back a deal that includes billions in emergency funding for the Postal Service.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: (From video.) So they want $3.5 billion for universal mail-in voting. And the bill’s not going to happen because we can’t give them the kind of ridiculous things that they want.
MR. COSTA: The president keeps claiming, without proof, that voting by mail would lead to fraud, but chaos, it’s on the horizon right now. The Postal Service has sent letters to 46 states warning that completed ballots may not be delivered on time, and NBC reported earlier Friday that the Postal Service is planning to remove up to 671 high-volume mail processing machines across the country. So, Yamiche, what are you hearing on this front?
MS. ALCINDOR: Well, the president really has dug in here –
MR. COSTA: Can we hear Yamiche? I don’t think – Yamiche, I apologize. We can’t hear you. We’ll get you back.
Jonathan, when you look at the mail-in voting issue, how does this play? Are we going to look – are we looking at an election that could stretch on for months in the courts?
MR. MARTIN: I don’t know about months, Bob, but I certainly think that this election is bound to go – if it’s not decisive on election night, bound to go for a few days after that because of not just the sort of mail-in ballots that we’re going to have in the COVID era, but just because more folks are voting early, are voting by mail, even putting COVID aside, so I think that is certainly a possibility.
But look, if you listen to the president’s comments on mail-in voting they’re kind of all over the lot. Obviously, he is hyping the issue up, but at the same time he says yesterday and today the he’d be willing to sign a COVID package that includes more money for the Postal Service if that is sent to him. So like a lot of things, it’s not clear where he’s actually coming down.
A real fast point. This is very important. Three of the Republican senators who are facing the most competitive races this fall – Dan Sullivan in Alaska, Steve Daines in Montana, and Susan Collins in Maine – are three of the biggest advocates for the Postal Service in the GOP caucus. I can assure you that Mitch McConnell is quite aware of their concerns about the Postal Service because they’re all from large, rural states. And so I believe that ultimately there’s going to be something done financially for the Postal Service, if not because of the public pressure at least in part because of the political pressure that McConnell is facing given those three senators, who are up this fall in tough races and whose majority could hang in the balance there.
MR. COSTA: But Mary, is that right, in the sense that the Republicans so far have been pretty quiet? Jonathan’s spot on; of course Republicans are anxious in some of these Senate races. But you don’t hear a lot of opposition at this moment to the president.
MS. JORDAN: This issue is hot and it’s only going to get hotter because the postal system is an absolute wreck, and we have one state who is saying that they’re going to count mail-in ballots up to three days after the election; another state saying, wait a minute, actually we’ll count for up to a week. We’re having – you know, people will remember that the – you know, the top officials of the Postal Service are all Trump appointees. That’s just the way it is.
He has politicized the Postal Service. And that led, of course, to President Obama today – who’s been pretty forceful about this – and he said: We have now an administration more interested in suppressing the vote than the virus. I think people know it’s a mess. It can be hacked. There’s a problem with the machines. It’s kind of a sign of broken infrastructure. But wow, I mean, here we are celebrating next week the hundredth anniversary of when women got the right to vote, and we’re talking about the fact that the United States of America can’t ensure a secure vote.
Trump, the leader of the country, should say: We’re going to have a bipartisan commission to say we’re going to have a safe election, a fair election. Instead, it’s just confusion. It’s, like, hey we’re not going to – you know, we’re not going to give you the money you need. Well, what about all the Social Security checks and other things that come in the mail that people need? You know, it’s more sowing kind of confusion and people are not even going to know what to trust. Am I allowed to mail it in? Am I allowed to drop it off?
MR. COSTA: Exactly right.
MS. JORDAN: You know, think of the havoc that Russia could wreak on this. It is really going to be, I think, one of the biggest and most important issues going forward.
MR. COSTA: Ayesha, I’m glad Mary brought up the – Jonathan, you want to jump in?
MR. MARTIN: Yeah, just real fast. Speaking to Chris Coons, the senator from Delaware, earlier tonight, he told me that he had a conference call today with some voters in his state, in Delaware, that the first and last comment on the conference call were this: Maybe we’re going to have to vote in person now. So that’s fascinating to me that this far out from the election all these questions about the Postal Service could lead people, Democrats especially, to move from mail-in voting to voting in person because they want to ensure that their vote is counted, starting to hear the first rumblings of that tonight.
MR. COSTA: Ayesha why is the White House and the president backing away at this moment from a deal? We’ve heard the argument the president’s made about the Postal Service, but at this point they’re not really engaging with congressional leaders to try to finalize a deal. Is this a standoff that could last for weeks? And what’s the consequence for Americans out there who may be counting on aid or more federal payments?
MS. RASCOE: Well, you have Congress out for a few weeks, so it looks like you could have that. And it seems like part of what the issue is right now is that you have another person at the table. You have chief of staff – President Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, at the table, and he is not as – not as inclined to reach a deal as Steven – Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who had been representing the administration. So what you’re seeing is, you know, Meadows kind of bringing his Freedom Caucus days to the White House and kind of more – or I don’t want to say obstructing, but more putting up barriers to a deal because – or taking a harder stance than Mnuchin, who Democrats have said that they have a(n) easier time working with. So this is – so that’s what you’re seeing right now and I think that’s what you’re seeing, is that kind of hardball happening right now, and it’s really kind of a gamble, well, for all – for Republicans and Democrats because people are out there hurting and they’re saying that they need help now, and Congress is not acting.
MR. COSTA: And we have the conventions next week. I mean, the Democrats start their virtual convention. It’s a historic convention for many reasons. It’s all virtual because of the pandemic. Mary, what are you looking at as this all begins?
MS. JORDAN: I mean, who needs the conventions more? Trump, according to all the polls. He needs a blast, you know. Joe Biden just got one from his choice for VP, which would be historic. And so he has the most to lose and the most to win. And so I think that you’re going to see some powerful speeches next week. The Democratic lineup is strong. And you can bet that Trump the showman is going to be thinking about what he’s going to do because energy is what he needs, and he’s the one who needs this bounce.
MR. COSTA: And he’s going to deliver his speech from the White House. He’s said he’s going to talk from the White House during the convention week for the GOP.
MS. JORDAN: And maybe there will be flyovers; he loves flyovers. (Laughs.) We’ll see, but he’s got to have some razzle dazzle because he needs the bounce.
MR. COSTA: Jonathan, what do you think?
MR. MARTIN: Yeah, look, obviously, when you’re trailing in the polls the onus is on you to deliver, and I think for Biden it’s more meet expectations, portray yourself as a – as a solid, stable alternative to the president, for Kamala Harris make a good first impression for a lot of voters who are going to be seeing her for the first time. And I think Mary’s right, I think the following week there is more pressure on President Trump – how do you revive your campaign, how do you make a fresh case to voters, and most importantly how do you convince them that Biden is not a safe and stable alternative and that they’d be better off sticking with four more years of you than going back to the Democrats. I think that is the case that he has not yet made, Bob, is why they should not pick Biden. They’ve had four or five different messages on that. They got to figure out one strong case as to why voters should not be for Joe Biden. I haven’t heard it yet.
MR. COSTA: Jonathan, real quick, you’ve been covering this Democratic race for over a year. What’s the one speech you’re looking at next week?
MR. MARTIN: Oh, well, I think it’s Joe Biden and, you know, what is his case for why he’s going to be able to get this country out of a ditch. I mean, this is an historic moment in American life, a combination of a devastating economic recession, an ongoing global health scare –
MR. COSTA: We’ve got to leave it there.
MR. MARTIN: And so I think that is it, is why can Joe Biden at almost 78 years old help get this country back on track.
MR. COSTA: Jonathan, thank you very much for that. And I apologize to Yamiche, our friend; we lost her connection. COVID-19, we’re all doing our best here. So I want to thank Yamiche Alcindor, Mary Jordan, Jonathan Martin, and Ayesha Rascoe. I only wish I could see you all at the conventions next week. They’re usually like reunions for us.
And thank you all for joining us and holding strong with us. We will keep taking you as close to the news as we can, and we’ll go deep on that convention next week. But for now, check out my conversation with Mary on our Washington Week bookshelf, one on one about her two new books. It’ll be on our social media and website.
I’m Robert Costa. Good night from Washington.