ATLANTA – Vice presidential searches make for perhaps the most popular of Washington parlor games: veepstakes.
The 2020 version now rests with Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. If he defeats President Donald Trump, his pick would become the first woman to hold U.S. national elected office.
He'll get plenty of late advice from his closest confidants, politicos like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn, and family members including his wife, Jill Biden, and sister, Valerie Owens Biden.
But behind them is the actual vetting team. That group spent three months working behind the scenes to frame Biden's options. They identified possible candidates, interviewed them, quizzed friends and critics, scoured contenders' personal financial records and years of public statements and talked to Democratic power players and activists about their preferences. Then they distilled it into vetting materials Biden is now using as he nears his choice.
Who's setting the stage for Biden's decision:
LISA BLUNT ROCHESTER: The Delaware congresswoman connects the vetting team to Biden's home state. Blunt Rochester, 58, is in her second House term, but she has a long government resume in Wilmington and Washington. She came up through Delaware Sen. Tom Carper’s ranks and gives the Congressional Black Caucus a voice on the search committee. The caucus is a strong source of Biden’s support and a bridge to the Black community that has pushed the former vice president to select a Black woman as his running mate. Though many women of color have surfaced as potential running mates, Blunt Rochester’s name thus far has not. (There is a precedent for top vetters ending up on the ticket: Dick Cheney led George W. Bush's vice-presidential search in 2000.)
CHRIS DODD: The former Connecticut senator has gotten the most attention of Biden’s vetters, and not necessarily for the right reasons.
Dodd, 76, was elected in 1980, eight years after Biden’s election in 1972. Like Biden, he was among the veteran senators who sought the presidency in 2008, only to watch the junior senator from Illinois, Barack Obama, win the nomination. Obama tapped Biden as his running mate. Dodd returned to the Senate for two more years before a stint running the Motion Picture Association of America, a plum post as Hollywood’s top lobbyist.
Biden's long history and deep friendship with Dodd made him an obvious option for the vetting committee. But it also elevated another older white man from the Democratic establishment to lead a search designed to reach beyond that bubble. That criticism intensified recently when Politico reported that Dodd had shared concerns with a Democratic donor about California Sen. Kamala Harris’s potential loyalty — or lack thereof — to Biden.
Some Democratic Party figures decried that assessment, arguing that it subjected Harris and her ambition to skepticism rarely applied to men in politics.
ERIC GARCETTI: The 49-year-old Los Angeles mayor flirted with his own White House bid before Biden brought him on as a campaign co-chairman. Adding him to the vetting committee gave Biden an avenue to the U.S. mayoral network, an increasingly important component of Democratic Party infrastructure.
Garcetti’s influence on the search has been clear as two Californians – Harris and Rep. Karen Bass – emerged as potential favorites. One of his fellow mayors, Keisha Lance Bottoms of Atlanta, also has gotten a serious look, reflecting Garcetti’s argument that big-city mayors’ executive experience should be viewed as commensurate with governors.
If Harris becomes vice president, Garcetti would be among the favorites to succeed her in the Senate.
CYNTHIA HOGAN: The Ohio native connects the committee to Biden’s circle of longtime aides and advisers, with more recent ties to corporate America. Hogan served as Biden’s lead counsel when he was vice president and for years before that in the Senate. After leaving the Obama White House, Hogan served in executive positions for the National Football League and for Apple. She left the tech giant shortly after being named to Biden’s search committee.
BOB BAUER and DANA REMUS: The leading lawyers for the vetting process cement Biden’s effort to the legal world of Barack Obama. Remus is general counsel to Biden’s campaign, but before that she was general counsel for Obama’s foundation and his personal, post-presidency office. Bauer was Obama’s White House counsel from January 2010 through June 2011 after having served his 2008 campaign as general counsel, playing a key role in the vice-presidential search that yielded Biden. Extending the ties, Bauer is married to Anita Dunn, Biden’s senior adviser who was one of Obama’s White House communications directors. Remus is married to Brett Holmgren, a special assistant and national security aide in the Obama White House. Obama officiated their wedding in 2018.