ROBERT COSTA: Welcome to the Washington Week Extra. I’m Robert Costa. All eyes are on former VP Joe Biden as he finalizes his search for a running mate. And while the vetting process is private, the search has actually been pretty public this year. The tradition of coy statements from contenders has mostly faded as woman after woman on Vice President Biden’s shortlist gains national attention, and sometimes scrutiny. As Mark Leibovich, our friend, wrote recently for The New York Times, quote: “In this strange lockdown of a veepstakes season, prospective running mates appear more and more willing to” be – “willing to shed their fake reluctance to be on the ticket or not bothering to shroud their ambition in faux nonchalance. You can call this progress,” he writes, “a win for the notion of saying what you want and advocating yourself.”
MICHIGAN GOVERNOR GRETCHEN WHITMER (D): (From video.) I have had a conversation with some folks. It’s not something that I would call a professional, you know, formalized vetting. I am making a little bit of time to stay connected to the campaign.
MARGARET HOOVER: (From video.) Would you say “yes” if he asked you to be his VP?
SUSAN RICE: (From video.) I certainly would say yes.
REPRESENTATIVE VAL DEMINGS (D-FL): (From video.) If asked I would be honored to serve alongside Joe Biden and do everything within my power to get this country back on track.
STACEY ABRAMS: (From video.) My only obligation and my only opportunity is to be as forthright and clear as I can. And that is to say, yes, I am qualified and ready.
RACHEL MADDOW: (From video.) If he asked you to be his running mate, would you say yes?
SENATOR ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA): (From video.) Yes.
SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA): (From video.) I am honored to be part of the discussion. I am fully aware that I’m part of the discussion.
SENATOR AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN): (From video.) I’m just not going to engage in hypotheticals. And I know one thing for sure, Joe Biden was a great vice president. He knows what it takes to be a good vice president.
MR. COSTA: What a reel. You got to love politics. With us tonight to open their notebooks on the VP’s big decision: Stephanie Ruhle, senior business correspondent for NBC News and MSNBC anchor; Dan Balz, chief correspondent for The Washington Post; Ayesha Rascoe, White House reporter for NPR; and Jonathan Swan, national political reporter for Axios.
Dan, you teased us on the broadcast. You said this Biden controversy on Friday, about his remarks to a radio show host, could have an effect on the VP pick. What did you mean, and how so?
DAN BALZ: Well, what I meant was there is a lot of pressure, as we know, for him to pick an African American woman. The African Americans – voters, particularly in South Carolina, made Vice President Biden the Democratic nominee. There is no question about how this campaign unfolded. They came out in force in South Carolina and that turned the race around. And he then consolidated it very quickly. Also, the minority vote in the Democratic Party, and particularly African Americans, and particularly African American women, are essential to his hopes of winning the presidency.
So I think we know at this point there are at least three African American women who are being looked at as possible vice presidential running mates. If he were not to pick an African American, and that is a decision that he’s going to have to make, there will be some disappointment on that, and he’ll have to deal with that. Now, it’s not something that he won’t be able to deal with, but he’ll have to deal with that.
MR. COSTA: Ayesha, what do you make of this moment in the vice presidential search of female leader after female leader who’s on the shortlist being proud to be considered?
AYESHA RASCOE: I mean, it shows the change, right? This is not a time where people feel the need to act like they’re nonchalant about it or they’re not really interested. They want to really go out there and say that they are interested in this job. And I think Stacey Abrams definitely kind of set that tone when she said, yeah, she’s willing – well, first of all, she said she could be president, but she would be willing to be VP. And so I think she kind of set the tone.
And I think right now I have to agree with Dan, when you’re looking at, you know, this decision – and it will be Biden’s decision to make – but I think that what Charlamagne tha God, who was the interviewer who Biden was talking to today, what he was saying was that black voters want to know that there is something – that Biden is listening to them, and that he’s willing to hear them out, and that he’s going to do something different than other candidates. And so that’s why there is this pressure to pick an African American woman as his running mate.
MR. COSTA: Stephanie, as Vice President Biden looks at this list, he could try to appeal more to the African American community by picking an African American woman. He also could go to the left and pick someone like Senator Warren, an economic liberal, a progressive, disliked by Wall Street. How does he weigh those two issues about appealing to some of the base voters in the Democratic Party, but also making sure that Bernie Sanders/Warren wing comes along?
STEPHANIE RUHLE: Well, we should also remember that he should choose the best person. And if he chooses the best person, it shouldn’t matter what her race is. So the best person in his mind might be an African American woman, whether or not that appeals to African American voters. As far as Elizabeth Warren goes, she’s the scariest for Wall Street. Wall Street is desperately scared that she’ll not be his vice president, but she’ll be his treasury secretary. It’s one of the reasons you saw when the PPP small business loan be administered, you saw those big banks take a lot of time and extra caution, even though they were getting huge scrutiny.
And the real reason under the hood is because their fear six months from now is that Elizabeth Warren is the treasury secretary. And she’s going to come back and look at every single thing that was done during this time in oversight, and she’ll be coming for them in the same way that she – what she did after 2008, in the same way that she basically took down Mike Bloomberg. So Elizabeth Warren is somebody that a lot of voters are concerned about on the right and the left.
MR. COSTA: Jonathan, you have such a window not only into the Trump White House but the Trump family. You cover Don Trump, Jr. from time to time. I don’t want to get into the specifics of what he did on Friday, but he took on Senator Harris. He raised racial questions that were offensive. He then deleted a tweet related to that whole thing. How messy, how divided, how rough is it going to be from the Trump side, whomever is picked?
JONATHAN SWAN: Oh, I mean, well, Donald Trump, Jr.’s view is that the Republican Party is soft. And the people that he holds up, and elevates, and champions are the real flamethrowers. People like Rick Grenell, who’s just been – done a short stint acting DNI and, you know, declassified all of the early documents with Michael Flynn. He holds up people like Matt Gaetz, people like Devin Nunes, people who go on Fox and throw some punches. And that’s his attitude. And so I fully expect this campaign is going to become extremely ugly. I think that there’s going to be a real effort to attack Joe Biden for his age, for his – on grounds of, you know, his mental capacity, and things like that. I don’t think there’s any place that they won’t go with respect to Joe Biden or his family. They’re just going to be bare-knuckled about it.
MR. COSTA: Dan, we heard – we saw – we heard from some of the contenders in that reel of clips. Couldn’t Biden go in a different direction, a name we’re not talking about, Janet Napolitano, former member of President Obama’s Cabinet, Secretary Clinton, Michelle Obama? I know some of those sound almost fanciful, but VP searches have turned up surprises before.
MR. BALZ: Yeah. I mean, I think a couple of those probably are fanciful. I don’t think Secretary Clinton is going to end up on the – on the – (laughs) – vice presidential list. But, yes. I mean, there are certainly some names on his list that we’re not talking very much about. And it is possible that that person rises to the top in the end. You know, this is ultimately a very personal decision. Certainly, politics are involved. Certainly, campaign considerations are involved. Constituencies are involved in weighing that.
But ultimately, this is something in which the vice president, the former vice president, will want to be completely comfortable that he wants this person to be around him for the next four years or beyond. And that’s something that doesn’t necessarily emerge early on in the process. It takes the time of the conversations that he’s going to have individually with a handful of people who are really on the shortlist. And it’s at that point that he will begin to have a better understanding of who he really has comfort with, and whether that is the person who also fits all of the other things that he needs.
MR. COSTA: Jonathan, get in here. I saw you jumping to get in.
MR. SWAN: Well, I think one thing we haven’t talked about that it’s just very, very important to stress here, is this is a different selection for vice president than it has been in previous elections. Joe Biden has described himself as a transitional figure. He’s the oldest Democratic nominee that we’ve ever had. He’s somebody who has hinted through those comments that he may serve one term as president. He is anointing the next leader of the Democratic Party in a way that previous presidents have not done.
And so the voters are going to be looking at this position through different lenses, and so is Joe Biden. And that’s why the question of is this person capable of being president, it’s always in your mind with a vice president. But this time it’s really in your mind. And that’s why, you know, someone who we haven’t really mentioned, Amy Klobuchar, people who have real experience in Washington I think should be taken especially seriously when you’re sort of observing this process and thinking about their thought process.
MR. COSTA: Final thoughts. First go to Stephanie, then Ayesha.
MS. RUHLE: Jonathan is absolutely right. Joe Biden is approaching this from the opposite direction of what President Trump did with the I and I alone. We’ve already seen it with the taskforces he’s put in place. His goal here is to create this SWAT team of professionals who can go after it. And he’s going to sort of be the heart and soul, I don’t want to say figurehead. But as Jonathan said, he himself has said: I would be a transition. I’m a bridge to the next generation. So what he is going to be looking for is someone who’s a fighter. Jonathan also mentioned how dirty this is going to get.
Just think of it, one week ago Eric Trump actually said on live television that the coronavirus was really being promoted and pushed by Democrats to keep the president from campaigning and doing rallies. Now, that is absolute nonsense. Do you think countries around the world are spreading COVID so they can help the Democrat running to be the next president of the United States? Eric also made those comments from the comfort of his home where the Fox anchor was also in the comfort of her home. So Joe Biden has got to choose somebody who is ready to go toe-to-toe on this viciousness and call it out. And he’s not necessarily on his game as far as sparring in and out every day.
MR. COSTA: Ayesha?
MS. RASCOE: I think that Biden – that all of those points are correct. But I do think that Biden has to make sure that he is not taking the black vote for granted, and that he has to – because right now it’s not just a choice between black voters voting for Trump or him. It’s a choice between them voting for Biden or staying home. And that could make a real difference. And he needs to do something – whether it’s the VP pick or something else – to make sure that he is getting black voters excited to go out and vote for him.
MR. COSTA: To that point about something else, I had a conversation with Senator Bernie Sanders last week. And he said he’s watching not necessarily the VP pick, but who Biden picks for his Cabinet should he win the White House. He thinks that’s as important. But we’ll leave it there. That’s it for the Extra this week. Thanks very much to our reporters: Stephanie Ruhle, Dan Balz, Ayesha Rascoe, and Jonathan Swan. Really appreciate it.
And you can listen wherever you get your podcasts or watch on our website if you like this Extra. And while you’re there, I’d urge you to sign up for our weekly newsletter where you can catch up on our panelist reporting and read my preview of each week’s show.
I’m Robert Costa. Thanks for joining us. See you next time.