Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic Party nominee for president, has selected Sen. Kamala Harris, D-California, as his running mate. It’s just the third time in the nation’s history that a woman is a candidate to be our next vice president.
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin was the most recent. Her biggest challenge was overcoming the public perception that she lacked the experience to be a heartbeat away from the presidency. That’s no less relevant today. Whereas McCain would have been 72 on inauguration day, Biden will be 78 if he wins.
An equally important question, I wrote back then, was if John McCain won, who would serve on his cabinet.
Imagining a Biden administration matters for a reason I didn’t need to consider 12 years ago. Like McCain, Biden understands he’d be ultimately responsible for decisions during a crisis and on important policy issues. And unlike President Donald Trump, he knows a competent, well-functioning administration requires members who aren’t afraid to disagree with him.
Harris brings an impressive resume to his team. People may not like her political views, but there’s no good argument that she’s not qualified to step into the presidency.
The Juris Doctorate Harris earned followed undergraduate degrees in political science and economics. She climbed up the legal profession ladder from county deputy district attorney to twice being elected the Attorney General of California. Since 2015 she’s been in the U.S. Senate with committee assignments in the Judiciary, Intelligence, Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.
Harris will also understand it’s her job to publicly support decisions Biden makes. But in private, he will expect, and she will deliver, intelligent challenges when she disagrees with him.
Biden will demand the same from members of his cabinet.
On the day before Trump was sworn into office three plus years ago, he bragged that his cabinet nominees had “by far, the highest IQ of any cabinet ever.”
Let’s look at a few of that original cast.
Rex Tillerson was his Secretary of State. Trump called the former CEO of ExxonMobil “a world-class player.” But after 14 months, Trump fired him. And more than once since then, he’s called Tillerson “dumb as a rock.”
Trump said Attorney General Jeff Sessions was “a world-class legal mind” who was “greatly admired by legal scholars and virtually everyone who knows him.” But he was quickly unadmired by Trump for recusing himself from the Russian probe. After repeatedly expressing disappointment that Sessions wouldn’t initiate criminal investigations of Hillary Clinton, James Comey and others, Trump fired him after the midterm elections. And now claims Sessions was “a disaster who has let us all down.”
“I see my generals … are going to keep us so safe,” Trump said on Inauguration Day.
One of them was James Mattis. When he nominated him for Secretary of Defense, he said Mattis was “a man of honor … devotion and … total action.” Now he’s glad Mattis is gone. “I didn’t like his ‘leadership’ style or much else about him, and many others agree,” he said. And calls him “the world’s most overrated general.”
Another one of his generals was John Kelly, who was “an extremely talented man” when Trump selected him to be Secretary of Homeland Security. So talented that five months later Trump appointed him White house Chief of Staff, where he served for 18 months. “When I terminated him,” Trump later explained, “I couldn’t do fast enough” because Kelly “was way over his head.”
In June, Mick Mulvaney, Kelly’s acting successor, explained what went wrong. Trump didn’t “have experience at running government,” Mulvaney said, “and didn’t know how to put together a team that could work well with him.”
Biden knows how. He served two terms as vice president. With 26 years in the U.S. Senate, he knows how Congress works too.
Picking Harris was the first step in creating an effective team. Next is filling his cabinet with intelligent, well-informed, and experienced individuals. But neither matters if the president doesn’t respect them unless they agree with him.
If the coronavirus pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that it we need a team of leaders in the White House. Not a president who doesn’t need one because he believes “nobody knows more” than him regarding the military, taxes, trade, negotiations, banking, and health care and more.