Life on the Vice-Presidential Short List


There will be blood tests. Interrogations about junior high. An analysis of tax returns.

It is an experience Joseph R. Biden Jr. knows all too well from his time on the vice-presidential short list 12 years ago.

Much about Mr. Biden’s own search for a running mate has been nontraditional. He has publicly mused about his criteria. He is not considering men. Above all, his choice could be the most important in years: At 77, Mr. Biden has said he views himself as a “transition candidate.” Left unsaid: His vice president could very well end up being the president next.

Yet as much as Mr. Biden’s process is unique, its contours are familiar. Late last month, he told a local television station that his campaign had begun “doing the background checks” — the latest sign that he is moving toward a short list of candidates.

If history is a guide, Mr. Biden’s top contenders should expect to submit themselves to a process that veterans liken to a series of graphic medical procedures. Extraneous? Maybe. But, well, sometimes that’s the vice presidency, too.

Julián Castro, whom Mrs. Clinton vetted extensively in 2016, said her campaign had given him a survey seeking answers to more than 120 questions about his personal, political and financial history.

At one point during the interview to go over the responses, one of the questioners spotted Mr. Castro’s cellphone. What would the questioner find, he asked, if he were to take Mr. Castro’s phone and go through it right now? (No, Mr. Castro did not provide the answer to The New York Times.)

“You recognize the gravity of this process,” he said. “But it still has this spy thriller, cloak-and-dagger aspect to it all.”

With the global pandemic sidelining much of Mr. Biden’s in-person presidential campaign, his veepstakes has become a welcome throwback to normal post-primary political activity.

Already, one of Mr. Biden’s top contenders, Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, has formally withdrawn from contention. In an interview with MSNBC last month, she referred to the calls for racial justice that have swept the country since the death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police, saying she believed “that this is a moment to put a woman of color on that ticket.”

Faux modesty is also part of the game: Everyone whose name is on a list almost always declares themselves honored just to be thought of at all. When Senator Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada said in May she was withdrawing from consideration, she said that it was “an honor to be considered” but that she wanted to keep her focus on her home state.

A brief survey of short-listed names over the years reveals some perennial participants. Mr. Pawlenty, for instance, was vetted by both Mr. McCain and Mitt Romney. Mr. Bayh was seriously considered by Al Gore and Mr. Obama.

Sydney Ember

2020-07-04 05:00:16

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