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Cabinet roles, Senate seats: What could be next for the women Biden didn't choose

Posted August 15, 2020 8:10 a.m. EDT

— Ten of the women Joe Biden interviewed to be his running mate were not selected this week. But the former vice president is keeping their resumes on file.

Biden chose California Sen. Kamala Harris as his vice presidential pick Tuesday, but he also spent the day calling a number of women to inform them they were not the pick. During those conversations and throughout the vetting process, Biden spoke to the women he considered about other roles they could play if he was elected in November, including, in some cases, potential Cabinet positions, Democrats familiar with the process said.

Biden's vetting process provided a sizable boost to the national profiles of nearly a dozen Democratic women. Top party operatives believe the bench of Democratic women has not only been significantly elevated by the process, but because of the unusually public nature of the search, many Americans have a deeper understanding of the roles women play inside the party.

Some candidates Biden considered are already national figures. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, for example, used her influence to at times steer the Obama administration's economic policy from the Senate.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is a national co-chair of Biden's campaign and met with him in person for a final interview. As the popular, 48-year-old governor of a large swing state, Whitmer is already firmly on the national radar.

And Susan Rice, the veteran diplomat and former Obama national security adviser, was always likely to be a leading contender for a top foreign policy role.

But others have seen their profiles rise as a result of Biden's vetting process.

California Rep. Karen Bass, the chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, emerged as a dark horse contender during Biden's vetting process. If Biden and Harris are elected, the California's governor, Gavin Newsom, would appoint a new senator. Bass could be considered --- though the factional nature of California Democratic politics and the reality that a number of Democrats there have national profiles makes such a selection impossible to predict.

Bass has also seen her stature in the House grow as Biden vetted her and after she shepherded a police reform bill. And with the top three-ranking House Democrats all 80 or older, there could be leadership positions available there.

Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and Florida Rep. Val Demings also emerged as veepstakes contenders and saw themselves booked for national television interviews and touted as future Democratic leaders. In battleground Florida and increasingly competitive Georgia, Demings and Lance Bottoms could become sought-after statewide candidates.

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All of them -- as well as New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams and Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin -- held fundraisers and events as Biden surrogates, earning chits with Biden and his campaign in the process.

"Part of what we wanted to do through this process was to enhance all of these women's careers and lift all their profiles and give them the opportunity to have a national stage for a few months so that they can grow their influence, so that they can make their voices more powerful, and whatever comes next for all of them, they will have felt that this was a good, productive thing to have been a part of," a Biden aide said.

Throughout the vetting processes, a number of high-profile Black women with decades of experience in Democratic politics -- including Donna Brazile, a former interim Democratic National Committee chairwoman, and Leah Daughtry, the chief executive officer of the 2008 and 2016 Democratic conventions -- pushed Biden to pick a Black woman as his running mate.

But, these women said, that push was about more than just putting a Black woman alongside Biden; it was also about elevating the range of women to be considered for future jobs Biden may need to fill, something that the former vice president was receptive to.

"Clearly the vice president has always stated from the beginning that he wanted not just his campaign, but he wanted the ticket and his Cabinet to look like America," Brazile said. He made clear "the fact that women will play key roles in both a Biden candidacy and a Biden presidency."

Brazile, a former interim Democratic National Committee chairwoman, said she and other Black female Democratic leaders have also had conversations with the team Biden appointed in late June to work on his transition into office if he is elected -- a group led by former Delaware Sen. Ted Kaufman, a long-time Biden adviser.

"They have already been vetted," Brazile said of women like Bass, Demings and Lance Bottoms, who had already emerged as one of Biden's most reliable surrogates during the Democratic primary.

The women Biden considered but did not select "didn't get to be on the short list by accident," said Valerie Jarrett, a long-time top aide to Barack Obama who has spoken with women vetted by Biden. Without detailing specific Cabinet positions some of the women could fill, she said, "It would not surprise me to see opportunities available to many of the women who were under consideration."

Biden has said he believes the women who made his short list were all qualified for the vice presidency.

"It's fair to say if he believes they're qualified for that job, they're qualified for other high-level government jobs," a Biden aide said.

Biden has also promised to appoint a Black woman to the Supreme Court.

But, Jarrett said of women vetted by Biden's team: "They may choose to stay where they are."

The scrutiny during the process was at times harsh. Bass's history of remarks about Fidel Castro and Cuba drew criticism, and Duckworth found herself on the opposite side of Biden when she said it was time for a national dialogue about statues of founding fathers who owned slaves.

The negative stories began to worry some Democrats, like Christina Reynolds, a top operative at Emily's List, a Democratic organization aimed at elevating and electing women candidates.

But, Reynolds said, the search -- taken as a whole -- was good for both the women involved and the Democratic electorate.

"What I think was a net positive overall is that Americans got introduced to these women and got to see the depth of the women leaders in this country," Reynolds said. "We get to see Nancy Pelosi, sometimes we get to see a Sen. Warren or a Sen. Harris, but we don't always know how many women there are doing this great work. ... The idea that Americans get to see that a little more is a really great thing."

Reynolds said that benefits extend beyond the possibility of Biden building a Cabinet, too, because millions of Americans "have an understanding" that women are represented throughout the upper echelons of American government.

Few women understand the vetting process -- and what it can lead to -- more than former Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who was among the finalists in then Sen. Barack Obama's search for a Vice President in 2008 and went on to be Obama's secretary of health and human services.

Sebelius broke with many top female politicians in 2008 and backed Obama over Hillary Clinton, a decision that drew considerable scorn at the time but earned her the appreciation of the would-be president. Sebelius said the fact that she was vetted for vice president and had her profile raised during that process was huge asset.

"There is no question that the vetting helped," Sebelius said. "First of all, the vetting you go through as vice president is so much more rigorous than anything I had ever been through even though I had run for office. ... You get your profile a bit elevated, but you also have all of the possible warts in your background, every vote I had taken, all of our financial decisions, what our kids did, all of that had been combed ever."

She added: "You don't go through that process without having your life peeled back and examined. I wouldn't recommend it to everyone, but it certainly saves some steps down the line."

Because of that knowledge, Sebelius said Biden's decision to publicly say he would pick a woman running mate excited her because she knew it would elevate even the women who weren't eventually picked.

"What has happened over the course of the last number of months is a bright light has been shown on a wide array of women leaders doing all kinds of different jobs with all kinds of different backgrounds and talents," she said. "It was just highly instructive and interesting process and will open doors to lots of things."

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