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Interview with CBS' LaCrai Mitchell re: VP Biden's running mate selection

This is the transcript for a phone interview conducted on April 20, 2020. The transcript has been abridged for succinctness.

LaCrai Mitchell (LM): Lauren, you've been in this world now for a few years in a different positions... What are qualities our presumptive nominee Vice President Biden should be considering for his running mate?

Lauren Harper (LH): Obviously since Vice President Biden stated that he was going to select a woman as his vice president -- which I was very excited about for many reasons -- I was really hoping it would be a black woman, not just because I’m a black woman and I know the value of black women but because black women really have a good sense of the pulse of their communities across the country. So whether it’s a mayor he chooses, someone already in Congress or someone really in touch in advocacy and from a policy standpoint for certain issues in her community — I’d be really excited to see a black woman in that role particularly because they are so in touch and because they’ve been such a loyal base for the Democratic Party for decades. I think it would be really honorable to highlight that by selecting a black woman as a Vice President.

And thinking through what that person would be kind of a testament to is the future of politics and the future of the Democratic Party. I think that the Democratic Party seems to have bit of an identity crisis, and they’re not really sure who they are. So finding someone who can really find a greater sense of identity and purpose for the Democratic Party would be really great. Someone who can understand the wide spectrum that exists within the Democratic Party, whether it's farther left with Sen. Sanders' folks or maybe even more moderate with what some people say Vice President Biden is. Trying to understand the different sides of what people are believing as part of this base and, like I said, the future of the Democratic Party as it's no secret that VP Biden is up there in age so wanting to select a Vice President who ideally would be able to run on her own when his term is over in four years. And I think setting someone up in that role would obviously be huge, and a black woman to do it would be something we would all dream of.

LM: So it sounds like you would like to see a black woman, but it's not as important as finding someone who can hit on some of those other things like helping the Democratic Party figure out its identity? Or is it equally important?

LH: I think it's both. Part of me, yes, wants a black woman but part of me also is like -- the Democratic Party doesn't know who they are. Are black women the best representation of the Party? I think so, but obviously I have my own personal biases, so I don't know if that's necessarily accurate.

LM: Are there any disqualifiers for you for his vice presidential pick?

LH: That's a good question. When I think about candidates, I think a lot about the candidate themselves. I think policy obviously is very important, but we have to remember we are all people, and we are all people who work within their own personal experiences and intentions. I hate to do the “Build-A-Bear” approach in creating a Vice President, but someone who is not an opportunist and just there for the opportunity is important. The person who is selected as VP Biden’s running mate is going to have to recognize she is in a very important position as potentially the next presidential nominee for the Democratic Party, so I want that person to not just be there because they could be the next President. That's not the reason to serve. The Office of the President and Vice President are still government offices and public service positions, and people who are not public servants at heart are disqualified in my book. If you are not serving based on the representation of who you are serving, in the best interest of those people -- the constituents who put you in office and the people who don't necessarily have the opportunity to vote because of voter disenfranchisement -- [that's problematic]. They need to be representing the people of the United States and not just their own personal interests.

LM: Do you think that it should be a requirement of sorts that this person is a person of color?

LH: I really do feel like it should be, particularly because of the revival and surge Vice President Biden had in his campaign in South Carolina. Without the black voters in South Carolina, Vice President Biden -- I don't think -- would be where he is right now. And that should hold some weight, especially with Whip Clyburn's endorsement... But again, thinking about the future of the Democratic Party, I would hope the Democratic Party would support a black woman on the Vice Presidential ballot and on the Presidential ballot in four years when we're ready for that. But I think our country -- Democrat and Republican aside -- is facing a big issue of being more misogynistic than we'd like to admit. God bless Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and the other ladies who ran for President because they were facing an uphill battle just running as women.

LM: And speaking to that a little bit, you've been a state director so you know how much thought goes into which part of the Democratic electorate a candidate can appeal to most. I feel like it can be argued -- for all the different reasons -- Biden did well with black voters... so I wonder for people who might say, "He doesn't need help with black voters. He needs help with Iowa and New Hampshire." Would then the argument be that it's important for him to have a VP candidate who can help him do that? And if that is the case, is that a black woman?

LH: I think that's the thought process that a lot of people might be on right now. So here's what I think I'm coming to personally with the Democratic Party: we don't know who we are so we try to appeal to literally everybody and their mom in a way that is all over the place -- kind of like a jack of all trades but a master of none. What the Republican Party has come to do very well is appeal to a very specific voter base, and I'm not saying that that's right, but that's keeping them winning for some reason. So to be honest, at this point, we need to as a party have our own decision on what we want to do and not be so fearful of the backlash that may come with the decision that we make based on what we believe is right. So if Vice President Biden picks a black woman and white voters -- whoever in Iowa -- doesn't like that he picked a black woman -- well, hotdog. Let's just go with it. And if you don't want to be a part of that movement then I don't know what else we could do at this point to appeal to everybody. It seems like we're trying to do that, and it doesn't work that well.

If VP Biden decides, "I'm picking this black woman as my running mate," you're either on the team or [on the bandwagon] or you're just not. I think that might have to be the approach that he takes.

LM: I hear you. I think at some point, you have to make a decision and live or die by the sword. You make the best decision possible given the information in that moment, and you just have to ride the wave... So is there anything I didn't ask that you think is important to keep in mind in a story that's looking at black women -- particularly those who are in the political field in activism -- see the role of the vice presidency and why or why not do they feel the person should be a woman of color or a black woman? Or someone good on policy? Or maybe it shouldn't be either or?

LH: Well I think your questions were spot-on, but I'll just add that I think that when it comes to black women, who -- like I said -- are so in touch with their communities, are so compassionate and can really live from a place of understanding in a lot of capacities... When you say, "Do you get this or that?" I feel like you get AND when you pick a black woman. You get all of that compassion, all of the understanding, all of the policy, all of the wisdom and know-how because black women are very highly educated as a demographic. There are a lot of black women in positions of administration, even here in places like Columbia. With most of our city officials and elected officials [at different levels], there are a lot of black women in a lot of those positions. So you're not trying to decide between two different things when you pick a wonderful, qualified black woman; you're getting ALL of those things, you're getting the whole package. And I do think that black women are the whole package, and it's time for our country to recognize and acknowledge that.


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