Can the Democratic Party Hold Together?August 17, 2020
The Democratic Party’s all-virtual national convention that begins Monday will be scripted as a show of unity. But the divisions between the party’s jostling and impatient factions remain quite real.
One way to view contemporary Democrats is like a dysfunctional family that will all be together this week for a wedding. The family photograph might look quite festive, but there are darker currents running beneath the image—frequently irritable ideological and demographic splits that have been on public display over the past two election cycles.
Party traditionalists have pushed a moderate message as a way to flip swing seats, win the White House and perhaps take back the Senate. The left, excited by Bernie Sanders’ socialist vision and the breadth of civil rights protests, has been going after fellow Democrats with increasingly successful primary challenges.
Is this a party that can hold together? To explore the current state and longer-term prospects for Democratic unity, POLITICO invited four people, each a prominent voice for important elements of the Democrats’ coalition, to hash out just what the party’s voters want now, what they expect from Joe Biden and whether the group can find ways to pull in the same direction.
In one sense, everyone was on their best behavior. For all the rancor between center-left and left-left during the nominating contest, it is plain that the party is unified in the near-term—all sides embracing the imperative of defeating President Donald Trump, and agreeing that Biden is a satisfactory enough vehicle to do so.
But it also became clear over the conversation that the snarling during the Democratic presidential primary was not a misunderstanding, nor a figment of social media imagination. The competing sides understand each other quite well. If Biden wins the presidency, he’s going to be under formidable cross-pressures. And if he loses, the recriminations about why will be toxic. Some of the dividing lines are about ideology, and some about the practical politics of engaging voters to create a durable majority.
JAMAAL BOWMAN, who became a new hero on the left by unseating veteran Rep. Eliot Engel of New York in a June primary, said he represents Democrats who see “an opportunity for us to be bold” on universal public health care and the “Green New Deal,” and who thinks Democrats undershot in their ambitions during the Obama years.
REP. CONOR LAMB flipped a historically Republican district in Pennsylvania in 2018, part of a wave that year that helped restore Democratic control of the House. He said the way to win challenging swing districts like his is for Democratic candidates to present themselves as “problem-solvers or engineers,” and that his voters still want reassurance “that I am not a socialist.”
FAIZ SHAKIR, former 2020 presidential campaign manager for Bernie Sanders, sees the role of party progressives as “to challenge [Biden] to go as broad as we can possibly do.”
NEERA TANDEN, the influential president of the Center for American Progress who represents the progressive center as it has steadily evolved, and tilted leftward, since the Clinton and Obama administrations, thinks a new wave of educated, suburban women voters is poised to change the party.
An edited transcript of our discussion, which took place over Zoom last week, is below. As it happens, the news of Biden’s choice of Sen. Kamala Harris as his running mate came just as our time was coming to a close. See the bottom of the transcript to watch Democrats reckoning with the announcement in real-time.
JOHN HARRIS: If we look at the nature of the Democratic coalition in 2020, how is it different than, say, 2008, when Barack Obama was running to be president? What’s it got more of? What’s it got less of? And what do those changes really mean?
NEERA TANDEN: Well, as you know, in 2008, then-Senator Obama was able to create a very large coalition in the election against [John] McCain. In the Trump administration, the base of the [Democratic] Party has been people of color, particularly African Americans, and younger people, who came out for Barack Obama. But I think in the Trump administration, you’ve seen a surge of white, college-educated voters, particularly women, who’ve moved dramatically against the president. And they are a large-scale, impactful voice in politics writ large.
CONOR LAMB: I wasn’t in office in 2008, but I’ve met a lot of people in the last two years around Western Pennsylvania who talk about their own evolution in voting. And I notice it especially with union men. There are a lot of them who will tell you that they voted for Obama the first time, some of them the second time, and then maybe voted for President Trump. And people have different reasons for why that was. It might have to do with the industry that they worked in or just their general feelings over time.
But there was definitely a common thread of change, where people were expressing how upset and disappointed they were with the usual cast of characters in Washington. And both Obama and Trump—obviously, in their own ways—promised to disrupt that. And I think one thing you see the Democratic Party returning to, at least in the House, is a lot more young challengers from very different backgrounds, whether it’s the military or teachers or scientists. Even if our ideas are different among each other, we all pretty much agree that business as usual has not been that great. And, so, I think in some ways we’re inviting a lot of these voters back in.
HOLLY OTTERBEIN: I’m curious what Faiz or maybe Jamaal has to say about that, too. Are progressives now a part of the coalition in a way that they were not in 2008, or is it the same? Or less so?
JAMAAL BOWMAN: In 2008, Barack Obama pulled me into the entire political conversation differently than anyone prior to him. As a Black man in America, to see a Black man running for president—and, as he gained momentum throughout his campaign, to really see he had a chance to win—that was very different. Obama had me listening differently and paying attention differently. And if it wasn’t for that, as well as Senator [Bernie] Sanders in 2016 and the Squad winning in 2018, I would not have run for office in 2020, and I wouldn’t have made myself a part of the conversation in terms of our electoral politics.
FAIZ SHAKIR: As much as there’s an important political conversation here, I think that there’s an important conversation about ideology and policies and the direction of the party that has occurred over the past few years. When Senator Sanders started running in ’15 and ’16, he was talking about, in many ways, the silent pain and suffering of many people in the working class who weren’t being spoken to. So, you have ideas bandied about—more progressive taxation on billionaires, of course, but also benefits like “Medicare for All,” universality approaches of canceling all student debt, free tuition at public colleges and universities for everybody—but interjecting those ideas as saying to people who are truly suffering out there that, “I hear you and I see you, and we have to do something radically different to address your particular pain because the status quo is letting you down.”
The collision course with reality is that basically you have Trump come into office and you have farcical elements of inequality. It has brought what I believe was a silent pain and suffering, a suggestion or hints of that corruption, and literally hit you right in the head with it. And I think in some ways it’s defining a Democratic Party that is going to have to say, “I have a specific plan for you.” Yes, there’s a constituency coalition-building that needs to occur to win elections. But more importantly, it’s driving [Democrats] to say, “I have a specific solution that you can find credible.” That, to me, is going to be the definition of this party over the next five, 10 years.
OTTERBEIN: What does it mean that there are so many more suburban voters that are now part of the Democratic Party? Many of them are well-off, well-educated. Does it change who the Democratic Party is? Is it still FDR’s party?
TANDEN: I don’t think these voters are necessarily supermoderate, OK? If you actually look at these voters, they’re for higher taxes on rich people, even though they’re wealthier. This group of voters has moved dramatically on race in the Trump era from where they were five, six, seven years ago to today. My honest view is Trump has made them understand racism is much more ubiquitous than perhaps they thought. And that’s on them. I mean, racism has been ubiquitous, but now they are seeing it more. So, there are issues on which they are a moderating force, but it doesn’t mean they’re necessarily moderate.
HARRIS: I’d be surprised if there was a big difference among this group with diagnosing the country’s problems. But I suspect when you start talking about remedies, there’s a fairly sharp divergence, both on basic questions of ideology—what the right policy is—and also stylistic questions, like what’s the right way to actually build a majority behind these ideas. If there really is an ideological divide in the party, what is it over? What’s the irreducible element?
LAMB: First of all, I think it’s a good thing that there’s this range of ideas, rather than one sort of central checklist. Some people I’ve heard wish almost we were more like the Republicans, where there was a set plan and agenda and we all knew what we’re doing. But I just think that’s unrealistic, given that our whole aspiration is to represent the breadth of America, and we’re really going for that big prize of being able to bring people together and get things done that stick.
So, I guess my answer to your question is that the divide may be between those who think of themselves in terms of an ideology and a more formal set of policies that they elevate above everything else, and others who think of themselves more like problem-solvers or engineers or architects or pragmatists or whatever type of word you want to use. [People who] are conscious of the fact that there’s going to be obstacles and needs to adjust along the way, and that much of the history of this country is incremental, to use a word that may cause a conniption among some of our other panelists here.
TANDEN: I think it is a profoundly new moment. The public is more open to action by the government to solve problems than it has been in 30 years. I think this may be a moment in which we are repudiating this sort of laissez-faire, anti-government ideology of [Ronald] Reagan that was established in the ’80s and that, to some degree, we’ve all been dealing with ever since.
The pandemic itself is a unique event in that it really drives home how connected our fate is. Joe Biden has a jobs agenda which is different and is a more expansive investment jobs than any Democrat in 30 years — and yet people basically accept that plan as a reasonable plan. And, so, I think that the underlying currents may have changed with the pandemic.
HARRIS: Some of this conversation makes it sound awfully easy. But there are some real points which are pretty close to red lines, right—do you support the Green New Deal, and do you support Medicare for All?
BOWMAN: For me, yes and yes. And I think even before we get to a policy and name it, we have to be very clear that economic inequality and racial injustice were alive and well in America prior to the pandemic. And the pandemic just revealed what we already knew about racial disparities in wealth inequality. Big money in politics is a big problem. It’s very easy for us to bail out Wall Street and the wealthy and large corporations, and allow them to get away without paying federal taxes—these are major problems that persist in our country and persist within the Democratic Party.
So, yes, I personally support Medicare for All and the Green New Deal and housing as a human right and fully funding our public schools and a federal jobs guarantee and really pushing the party to work for working-class people and the working poor more than we’ve worked for corporations. And I think when you see victories like mine in this district, victories like Cori Bush in St. Louis, it shows that working-class people connect more authentically with other working-class people, and they’re ready for [candidates] that they can relate to, to go to Washington and fight for the things that they need. So, when we talk about the divide between the more conservative or moderates and the progressives, it might be rooted in how the party engages with corporate interests and big money in politics overall.
HARRIS: Neera, the shouting during the primary campaign was not a misunderstanding. It was about something. We saw you in the campaign on social media and elsewhere getting so frustrated with some voices further to your left. And we saw some of those voices get very frustrated and pointed with you. With a couple of months gone by, what was that all about?
TANDEN: There are ideological differences. But I actually think the basic question of the primary and the one I, like many Democrats, was focused on is: Who can win the general election? That, I think, was much more at play in this primary than any primary I have ever been part of.
HARRIS: You felt the left was insufficient for taking on Trump?
TANDEN: No, no. The left had an argument, which is that Bernie or Warren would be the best candidate to attract a majority of voters. Senator Sanders made a series of fantastic, well-debated arguments about who would make the best candidate, right? And he talked about defeating Donald Trump a lot. He had more message discipline than most candidates did. That’s what was fascinating about this primary more than in the primaries I’ve been part of—oh, eight or so previous primaries: how scared people have been of a Trump reelection and how it has made them very strategic voters.
My view of the primary, which I maintain now, is also that an underappreciated part of the Democratic coalition—an underappreciated part in the primary by the media—has been the new blood of women in the primary. Many of them responded to the 2016 election and immediately motivated themselves during the Women’s March and then activated in politics in 2018. They are urban and suburban. They are college educated, not all college educated, but college educated. There has been a significant shift of voters in the suburbs towards Democrats, and there was a large turnout of suburban voters in the primary. And it’s one of the reasons why Joe Biden is doing so well against Donald Trump right now.
SHAKIR: I think the last bastion for progressives along the lines of Jamaal Bowman, Cori Bush and [Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez]—one of the things that we’re going to have to do over the next few years—is convince others in our party that the ideas that we’re proffering are also good for general election politics. Obviously, Bernie was presenting the opportunity, Elizabeth Warren to a degree. We’re also trying to proffer these ideas on a big national stage and say, “Hey, let’s see how these would do against Donald Trump.” We didn’t get that opportunity. But I think increasingly we’re going to hopefully get that opportunity to demonstrate that these bolder approaches that take a degree of confrontation and struggle with those who have power are actually good for politics within the Democratic Party.
TANDEN: We have had multiple experiences with electoral politics, not just the  Democratic primary. We’ve had 2018. We’ve had 2019. I do think this is the central question, which is how to win swing elections, how to win statewide elections, how to win. I think it’s a fantastic thing that you have very progressive candidates winning in progressive areas. And then the question is, what is the right answer for the swing elections? And that’s left up to the voters.
OTTERBEIN: Why do people think that progressives have been unable to really win in those swing seats? There are some exceptions, but the majority of the candidates that flipped seats in 2018, they were moderates.
SHAKIR: It requires that additional level of support that, quite frankly, is hard to provide. [The Sunrise Movement] and Justice Democrats and others are trying to change that. Bernie Sanders often uses the term “establishment,” and people read a lot of different things into it. What I often think it means is essentially the ability to access all manner of resources to preserve and defend your political ideology. And I think that ends up being a lot harder, particularly as you go down ticket. In a lot of these congressional races, state legislative races, D.A. races, a progressive challenger running against someone with more established money or name or resources or institutional support will have a harder challenge, which means that you then have to invest arguably more to get you over the hump.
LAMB: Yeah. It may also have just been that people like moderates and wanted to vote for them.
SHAKIR: Also true, in some cases.
TANDEN: There were definitely progressive candidates who outraised moderate candidates or matched them with fundraising in swing congressional races. But I don’t think that takes away from it. I think primary voters have become much more strategic in the Trump era, because the consequences of the votes are so great.
OTTERBEIN: Congressman Lamb, you’re making an ideological argument, it sounds like, which is interesting. You think that the voters prefer that.
LAMB: I wouldn’t really refer to being a moderate or a centrist or a pragmatist, whatever you want to call it, as necessarily an ideology. I think what I’m talking about is people are a little bit less ideological. And my real takeaway from 2018 was that they like younger people. They like people who were not cynical, who were willing to work hard, who are willing to work together with people on either side of the aisle, even with the president, to get something done.
On the money side, I agree with some of what’s been said, particularly in these races where you have younger progressive challengers taking on older, more entrenched members of Congress. But you have to remember, there’s a very interesting overlap on the issue of campaign finance within our caucus, where you have members of the Squad, people like Katie Porter and then people like me and Max Rose, who really all look at campaign finance in almost the exact same way. And we haven’t been accepting corporate PAC money. So that’s kind of an interesting new development.
HARRIS: Mr. Bowman, I hear you and other progressive candidates say, “Look, we’re tired of incrementalism. We’re tired of always splitting the difference. We’re tired of the Democratic Party being on the defensive. We’ve got to go out with a really bold agenda that we believe in and pass it.” The question I have is about leverage. If President Biden, if he gets elected, says, “Look, no, that’s too much for me. I don’t agree. And I think that maybe we’ll put Congressman Lamb in danger.” Or if Nancy Pelosi says, “You know, Congressman Lamb flipped a seat. What-you-hope-will-be Congressman Bowman—he didn’t flip the seat. He took a seat, but he didn’t add one to my column. So, I say, no. I prefer incrementalism, even if you don’t.” What is your leverage to do anything about that?
BOWMAN: Well, I think there are a lot of Americans who agree that we need a bold agenda. In this moment, the second biggest crisis since the Great Depression, we have to respond with a bold, clear, visionary, innovative agenda. And I would be surprised if President Biden doesn’t take a bold approach, especially if we have control of the Senate and control of the House. I think that’s an opportunity for us to be bold. If we’re not, how is that truly leveraging our power as a party? Some would argue we weren’t bold enough last time we had control of all three branches of government. And I also would argue that throughout American history, the country has only moved forward when we were bold, right?
HARRIS: Faiz, could you tackle that question of leverage? Conservatives in the Republican Party gained leverage because they were not afraid of directly challenging leaders, whether it’s legislative leadership or the president.
SHAKIR: A 78-year-old president coming in with a lifetime of public service gets the capstone of his career to define what he wants to do in a really huge moment. And [Biden has] talked about FDR as somebody who’s a model, to some degree, that he’d like to parallel. I think if he is president of the United States, voters will have put him into the Oval Office because they simply want to turn the page from Trump and trust that Joe Biden, having served as vice president and many other distinguished positions in the past, is capable of running the administration and are going to say to him, “Do what you think is best, Joe Biden. Run the administration for us.”
And, in that way, I think they can give him a fair amount of latitude, to be honest with you. And it is our role, I believe, as progressives, to challenge him to go as broad as we can possibly do. I got that Vice President Biden, hopefully President Biden, will not be pushing Medicare for All upon entry into the Oval Office. However, he’s talked about a public option, and we have been pushing on that. If you’ve got a public option, what about the people who’ve lost health care? Can you get automatic enrollment for everybody who’s lost health care in this country? Get them all into the pool. Can we provide that?
If he wants to come into the Oval Office and say, “I’m going to be a bold president leaving a legacy in the Democratic Party that’s akin to FDR,” I don’t think there’s any constraints on him. Honestly, there’s no constraints.
TANDEN: I think Faiz is right that he has a lot of latitude. But I think we should recognize that [Biden] is telling us what it is by the economic program he’s put forward, which actually has universal childcare as a mainstay, or near-universal childcare. He’s committed to spend $2 trillion in the next four years on a on a green platform of basically creating jobs to address our climate challenge.
So, I kind of reject this incrementalism because I think this is a false choice. I think the party is not engaged in incremental solutions, for the most part. And I think that there will be a creative tension about whether [Biden’s agenda is] bold enough for some folks or it seems too bold to many other folks. That is what he is going to have to decide. I actually think most people who run for president use their platform as a candidate as what they do when they get into office. And I expect that Joe Biden will do that. And I think that there will be areas to definitely push him beyond that because he needs the congressional coalition behind him.
LAMB: I think that we all have to keep in mind that, even as attitudes change among our party bases and the people who are really active and visible during primaries, there’s one thing that I just kind of want to plant a seed of doubt about here. I’m not trying to make a point about where we need to go or favor one policy over the other. But I don’t think that trust in the overall government response to some of these problems is necessarily growing at the moment.
Having lived through the first five months of this pandemic, people are not really distinguishing between Republican President Trump [and] Democratic Governor Wolf here in Pennsylvania. They’re not giving that much credit to the PPP program and how it saved so many businesses for so long. They’re focused on the problems with it. There’s just been a drumbeat of negative news stories and the persistence of this pandemic—I see it posing a very difficult obstacle for us going forward when we try to make the case that we’ve got to sort of spend more and more, intervene more and more aggressively, as much as we might like to.
SHAKIR: But Congressman Lamb, let me just offer: I am not pleased with the performance of our government. We have President Trump, who doesn’t know jack shit about the coronavirus, who’s our leader, and trying to manufacture myths about it. But does that mean that me as a voter here or Jamaal Bowman, that we wouldn’t want an active, competent, functional government to support us in our time of need?
LAMB: Yeah, and that’s going to be the real question. And I think a lot of that is going to be the art of public persuasion by Vice President Biden if he gets elected. But we really have to make the case. I guess that’s what I’m trying to say, is we can’t skip that.
I know this guy I’ll never forget in my district. I went to this dairy, and the guy took me all around and everything’s rusting. It has not been good times for this dairy, but through grit and hard work, he’s kept it going—superproud, complaining about taxes and all these things. And then he showed me this device that he had built that took cow manure and sprayed it back out over the fields. I asked him where he got it, and it came from the Soil Conservation Service from the Department of Agriculture. And I was like, “So, we did one good thing, right?” And he goes, “Yeah. Leave it to the government. All you guys can do is teach me how to throw shit a little bit better.” That’s always stuck with me. That guy’s still there. He’s not feeling any better about things today.
HARRIS: I got my start covering national politics with Bill Clinton. And Bill Clinton believed: Look, people can be open to a progressive agenda, but first, they need reassurance. It was kind of a defensive brand of politics that I think a lot of progressives over the years have grown very impatient with. But, in your district, are there still things on which Democrats need to be progressive?
LAMB: Yeah, I think absolutely on economic issues, for sure, particularly as they relate to unions, wages, paychecks, pensions.
HARRIS: They want reassurance about what? That you’re not what?
LAMB: That I’m not a socialist, I guess. So, something like drug prices, right? You already see Big Pharma running these ads against Trump calling him a practitioner of socialized medicine. We took the vote twice in the House to let Medicare bargain for the price of prescription drugs in this past Congress. Never been done before. There could be a wave of attack ads from Big Pharma at any time saying we’re gonna deprive people of the essential medicines, the experimental treatments their kids need, they won’t be able to do Covid vaccines, all that nonsense. But I think people get it that you use the bargaining power to bring their bills down. I just think it’s something people understand and have some direct experience with. And Western Pennsylvania has this history of labor activism to kind of match up with some of the more socially conservative tendencies that makes those good issues for us.
OTTERBEIN: I’d be curious to hear from Faiz or Mr. Bowman on what they think of that idea—that Representative Lamb feels as though he needs to make it clear that he is not a socialist on some of these issues, to put it bluntly.
BOWMAN: The term “socialism” has been sort of bastardized in our political landscape and in our conversations. Throughout my campaign, I didn’t refer to myself as a socialist. That wasn’t a rallying cry or something that I put out there. And, quite frankly, I didn’t refer to myself as a progressive or someone from the left or—I didn’t adhere to any of these labels. I just tried to be a person who connected with people in a very authentic, real way. When you’re fighting for working people, when you’re fighting for the working poor, when you’re focused on economic inequality, when you focus on jobs and housing and all the issues that matter to people in this district, all of a sudden, they put you in this box with this bad word.
And the bottom line is what we’re doing now, whether that’s capitalism or whatever you want to call it, isn’t working for tens of millions of Americans. It was more the media that brought up the socialism thing. But the people in this district really appreciated the fact that I was just connecting with as people first and foremost, labels aside.
SHAKIR: I do think that the label stands in people’s minds. And that there is the role of media. Because I think there’s a conditioning that occurs with a lot of voters, that they have been told and they have experienced for many, many, many years that politics is done a certain way. Like, if you’re going to win a general election, we put up these certain types of people with these certain types of plans, and those are deemed the “electable” side. And then those other ones over there—they’re the ones who are agitators, they’re the challengers, they’re the pains in the ass, right? They’re not electable.
At the Bernie Sanders campaign, we had to deal with that conditioning challenge a lot, despite the fact that you look at every head-to-head poll of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump or Joe Biden and Donald Trump, and we’re performing literally level with him, maybe a point right behind, but right in the thick of it. And we would make this argument that, well, we have put up people like Al Gore, like Secretary Clinton or John Kerry, talented people who’ve been in politics, were credible cases and have lost to Republican agitators, quite frankly.
TANDEN: If Vice President Biden becomes president, I think he has a kind of once-in-a-generation moment to prove that government can work, because we are not going to get through this pandemic at all unless our government is competent. Like, we are dealing with a governance problem with this pandemic. It is not just a science problem.
It’s not just that on issue after issue, people are much more open to a role for government. It’s much more, I think, that in this moment we are profoundly flailing, in a way that Americans haven’t flailed in my lifetime in the face of a pandemic, because we have incompetent government. And it’s up to Democrats to prove that they can handle this better. I’m not saying people are all going to become like Big Government liberals in America. I’m just saying this is a moment where they are seeing how their government impacts them in a way that they have perhaps never seen in their lives.
OTTERBEIN: How has Black Lives Matter changed the party? How is it going to change the party? And then, Jamaal Bowman and Cori Bush both were not endorsed by the Congressional Black Caucus. Their opponents were. The Congressional Black Caucus has often been a pretty moderate group. I’m wondering if you think that the Black insurgents that have won primaries—does that change the Congressional Black Caucus at all next year?
BOWMAN: I am not going to respond first as the Black guy. I’m going to let the other people respond first, and then I’ll respond. (Laughter.)
LAMB: All right, no problem. (Laughter.) Talking about Black Lives Matter, it’s a little hard to say exactly how that will affect the party policywise going forward. I think it may depend on the persistence of that movement. I will say that I was someone that experienced, in my own district, protests and peaceful organized gatherings of all types in places that I just never would have expected, and that became kind of a common story around the country. And, so, it clearly has had an effect on people’s thinking and consciousness so far.
A lot of the ideas that were in the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act that we passed in June are things that had been around for a while. I mean, Hakeem Jeffries had been trying to push the chokehold ban since Eric Garner. Obviously, it hasn’t gone anywhere in the Senate yet. But I think you can measure it maybe in that way—that organization was able to move beyond just the big city, but out into places like mine and really affect the way people were thinking. It took something that had been an idea and made it an active bill. And then the next step is going to be to try to get some of that stuff into law.
BOWMAN: I agree with the congressman. Our district is very segregated across race and class. And there were Black Lives Matter vigils and marches in some of the whitest, wealthiest areas of the district—organized by young people, but everyone was a part of that conversation. So, that’s something that I didn’t see when the movement first exploded. I also don’t hear as much “All lives matter” and “Blue lives matter” pushback overall across the country.
Here, locally the defunding of the police conversation is happening at the city level, and there’s been some movement of resources of there. And at the state level, the repeal of something called 50-A, which now provides a lot more police transparency than before, has happened as well. So, it’s not just protests in the street. It’s policy conversations that are happening as well.
And to the second part of your question—I believe you asked about my election and Cori Bush’s election and its impact on the Congressional Black Caucus. I just think we’re going to share our story and speak our truths and speak to the issues that matter to the people in our districts. What we saw in our campaign from people of color [and] young people is an engagement that had never been seen before in our district, and I think that’s something that the Congressional Black Caucus and the Democrat Party overall has to pay attention to. We have to continue to bring in young people and people of color and speak from their perspective in a way that really meets their needs. And I think that’s going to help continue John Lewis’ legacy and ensure that the Congressional Black Caucus is the conscience of Congress.
[Editor’s note: The Biden campaign announced the VP pick at 4:15 p.m. on Tuesday, about an hour into this conversation.]
HARRIS: We’re seeing reports now that it is Kamala Harris who’s Vice President Biden’s VP pick.
OTTERBEIN: I got a text from Joe Biden’s campaign, so it’s gotta be real.
HARRIS: What does that pick tell us about these themes we’ve been talking about? What does it tell us about the future of the Democratic Party?
TANDEN: First of all, I’m ecstatic. But I think it reflects the broad coalition that is in the Democratic Party. And one thing that’s important about a broad coalition is that the coalition itself changes. Donald Trump tried to basically polarize the George Floyd situation and turn white voters against Black people or protesters or antifa, and it was soundly rejected by a strong majority of Americans, many people in the Democratic coalition. Those new voices within the Democratic coalition have changed their views on race. I think this is a hopeful moment. I think the selection of Kamala Harris is a great statement about the diversity of the broad coalition and how it’s important to bring all of our voices—that includes some moderates, some white voters and people of color—into the party and the ticket.
HARRIS: Faiz, there were some who were final contenders who were more progressive than Senator Harris. What do you make of this?
SHAKIR: She’s progressive. And she’s capable and she’s qualified. And she’s got experience at state-level politics, national politics. She’s acquitted herself well. She probably learned lessons during the [primary] campaign that make her even a stronger candidate in the future. I think that obviously Vice President Biden, having sat as vice president, knows the qualities of what he was looking for and probably saw in her somebody who can be a co-governing partner. He’s also probably looking out for the Democratic Party’s interests over the long haul and was trying to see who reflects some of the fights of the future. And I hope that she’ll be a kind of good pressure within to think bolder, to think differently, to not get too trapped in old norms and conventions.
BOWMAN: I think this speaks to the power of women in the Democratic Party. I don’t think any man was even considered for VP, which is something I support, something I think is incredibly powerful—a woman, a woman of color, someone who has been a senator who’s worked on the same level, has done great work where she’s definitely qualified for the position. Personally, I’m excited.
HARRIS: Congressman, how will this play in your swing district?
LAMB: I think it’s OK. Yeah. One of the things you have to realize out here is Joe Biden’s been around Pennsylvania a really long time. He’s a native of our state. He’s been coming to Pittsburgh forever. Just speaking for my own district, people are going to make this decision about him and his potential to lead us and unite us and the kind of integrity and record that he brings to it. I think the entire final list that he assembled was excellent, and it just speaks to the fact that we have a deep bench. So, I’m really happy that Senator Harris was the one who has emerged. And we just got to go win now. We’ve got our team. We’ve got to go win.