July 13, 2024

Kamala Harris fiercely defends Biden as her allies stand ready to back her should he step aside

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While some Democrats have floated names like Gretchen Whitmer and Gavin Newsom, Harris supporters say she shouldn’t be passed over should Biden step aside.

WASHINGTON — In the week since President Joe Biden’s dismal debate performance, Vice President Kamala Harris has emerged, publicly and privately, as one of his fiercest defenders — and as the person with the most intense support to succeed him on the ticket if he were to step down.

NBC News spoke with seven sources who have stressed that while Harris is focused on building up confidence in Biden, her loyal allies are making it clear that should the chance emerge for her to step into the lead role, she would have broad support across the party. Those allies, who include a number of Black Democrats, have vocally said any attempt to push her aside this year would be met with forceful, vocal pushback.

“I think she’s done very well on her feet,” said the Rev. Al Sharpton, who added that while he continues to support Biden as the party’s nominee, Harris should not be passed over should Biden drop out. “She’s always been good. I think she’s just better. And I think that she’s better than any of the names that have been floated out there.”

Sharpton, a civil rights activist and an MSNBC host, added there is “no doubt” in his mind that the motivation of anyone trying to cast aside Harris, the first woman, Black person and person of South Asian descent to serve as vice president, is “racist and misogynist.”

“If anyone tried it, they better know I’m on the tracks to block the train from going ahead,” Sharpton said of any effort to make someone other than Harris the top of the ticket. “When people voted for Biden to be the nominee, they were voting for the Biden-Harris ticket. How are you going to now come and separate that ticket and throw it open? There is no legitimate excuse. The calculation is ‘We can do this because she’s a woman and because she’s Black.’ Well, Blacks and women should not tolerate that calculation.”

Minutes after the debate, Harris was already on television delivering a forceful defense of Biden. Three sources familiar with the series of interviews said Harris received no official talking points from the campaign and had very little time to prepare.

Her snap reaction gave Democrats a blueprint for defending Biden that has been repeated over and over again since she uttered these words on CNN: “I’m not going to spend all night with you talking about the last 90 minutes when I’ve been watching the last 3½ years of performance.”

Democrats have also followed her lead after she pointedly attacked former President Donald Trump for pushing “lies” and creating “damage across the country” and made it clear she was laser-focused on beating Trump in November. 

The impact of Harris’ ability to quickly push back against questions about Biden’s energy and capability for a second term has helped quiet some of the criticism that has dogged her for years, including questions about her effectiveness in the administration and her ability to win the presidency. The Biden campaign has circulated her interviews as talking points to defend the president, and some Democrats have quietly pointed to her performance as evidence that she should not be cast aside as the party’s candidate if Biden got out of the race. 

Meanwhile, Harris, herself, has been receiving phone calls from, and making phone calls to, dozens of party leaders, civil rights activists and donors to reassure them about the way forward with Biden as the nominee and to help unify the party, according to four sources who spoke directly with Harris in the past week. During those calls, Harris has reiterated that she remains loyal to Biden and that Biden has weathered tough storms in the past, including when his path in the 2020 primaries was uncertain.

A person familiar with Harris’ thinking said the message has been: “We are ready for this fight. Let’s stay positive. Head down. And let’s execute, because we have a lot of work to do.”

On Wednesday, Biden and Harris joined an all-staff call with their campaign team and delivered similar messages.

“We will not back down,” Harris said. “We will follow our president’s lead. We will fight, and we will win. … Joe Biden has devoted his life to fighting for the people of our country. In this moment, I know all of us are ready to fight for him.” 

Leah D. Daughtry, a Democratic political strategist with close ties to Harris’ office, echoed that sentiment and said Democrats need to focus on beating Trump.

“President Biden had a bad night,” Daughtry said. “I think to ignore the body of his work over these last 3½ years and what he has actually delivered in the course of his presidency is really quite unforgiving and quite stunning, in my opinion.”

Inside Harris’ office, she and her senior leadership have also consistently made it clear that staffers should remain focused on supporting Biden as the top of the ticket and on not engaging in talk of replacing him, said two sources granted anonymity to speak freely about the conversations.

Donna Brazile, a veteran Democratic political strategist and former chair of the Democratic National Committee, said talk of replacing Biden on the ticket is “an attack on the democratic process” and “utter nonsense.”

“How can we say we are the party to preserve and strengthen democracy and then overturn the will of the American people?” Brazile said. “That’s why none of us who are delegates are even having this conversation.”

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