Kamala Harris, the California senator Joe Biden selected as his running mate, accepted the vice-presidential nomination on Wednesday, introducing herself to the nation as a historic choice for a major party ticket and urging a change in the nation’s leadership.
“We are a nation that is grieving — grieving the loss of life, the loss of jobs, the loss of opportunities, the loss of normalcy, and yes, the loss of certainty,” she said. “We must elect a president who will bring something different and something better and do the important work. We must elect Joe Biden.”
She opened and closed the third night of the Democrat’s virtual convention. She urged the party to defy what she called a Republican effort to suppress their votes.
“We need to ask ourselves, why don’t they want us to vote?” Harris asked in introductory remarks.
“Why is there so much of an effort to silence our vote?” she said. “And the answer is, because when we vote, things change. When we vote, things get better. When we vote, we address the need for all people to be treated with dignity and respect in our country.”
Her acceptance speech capped a two-hour program focused on Democratic priorities including combating gun violence and climate change. She introduced the nation to the first Black and Indian-American woman to join a major party ticket, saying she and her sisters had been raised to be proud Black women while also learning to respect their Indian heritage. She contrasted Biden — a president who turns challenges into purpose, she said — with the incumbent, Trump.
“Right now, we have a president who turns our tragedies into political weapons,” she said.
Harris shared the spotlight with the Democratic Party’s foremost orator, former President Barack Obama, who delivered his own speech from Philadelphia before she concluded the program.
Trump, he said, has shown no interest in putting in the work. No interest in finding common ground, no interest in using the awesome power of the office for anyone but himself and his friends, no interest in treating the presidency as anything but one more reality show that he can use to get attention and praise.
Donald Trump hasn’t grown into the job, Obama said.
“Tonight, I am asking you to believe in Joe and Kamala’s ability to lead this country out of dark times and build it back better,” he said.
Trump responded to excerpts of Obama’s remarks at a White House news conference earlier, saying that if his predecessor and Biden had done a good job in office, he wouldn’t have won his first term.
“President Obama did not do a good job,” Trump said. “The reason I’m here is because of President Obama and Joe Biden.”
The Biden team hopes Harris’s historic nomination will help nail down votes from African Americans, young voters and women, delivering the former vice president a winning margin too large for Trump to plausibly challenge. For Harris personally, the nomination thrusts her into the role of the party’s standard-bearer after a disappointing 2020 presidential campaign that fizzled before the first primary votes were ever cast.
In addition to keynote speeches from Harris and Obama, the line-up Wednesday includes speeches from 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and liberal champion Elizabeth Warren, who was on Biden’s short list as a potential running mate. The program also put a spotlight on former Arizona Representative Gabrielle Giffords, a survivor of a mass shooting whose astronaut husband is now a rising Democratic star, leaving Obama as one of only two men speaking.
The program opened with a focus on gun violence, featuring a mother whose 13-year-old son was a shooting victim.
“We are at a crossroads. We can let the shooting continue, or we can act,” Giffords said. “We can protect our families, our future. We can vote. We can be on the right side of history.”
Warren’s remarks followed a series of vignettes about small businesses and an Iowa farmer suffering in the coronavirus pandemic. The farmer, Dan Ryner, criticised Trump’s so-called phase-one trade deal with China, saying it advantaged China and hadn’t benefited him.
“Since Covid-19 came, we’ve taken one gut punch after another,” Warren said, speaking from an early childhood education centre in Springfield, Massachusetts.
“We can build a thriving economy by investing in families and fixing what’s broken,” she said. “Joe’s plan to build back better includes making the wealthy pay their fair share, holding corporations accountable, repairing racial inequities and fighting corruption in Washington.”
Clinton, who won the popular vote in 2016 but lost in key states that gave Trump an Electoral College victory, delivered her remarks dressed in a white suit, an homage to the women’s suffrage movement, which marked its centennial this week.
“I wish Donald Trump knew how to be a president, because America needs a president right now,” she said. “If Trump is re-elected, things will get even worse.”
She encouraged Americans to vote early and vote like our lives and livelihoods are on the line, because they are.
“For four years, people have said to me, I didn’t realize how dangerous he was. I wish I could go back and do it over. Or worst, I should have voted,” Clinton said. “Look, this can’t be another woulda coulda shoulda election.”
She warned: “Don’t forget, Joe and Kamala can win by three million votes and still lose. Take it from me.”
Pelosi spoke after a video played outlining her career and rise to become Madame Speaker, touting the Democratic women in the House. She accused Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Trump of standing in the way of progress on health care and combating coronavirus.
“Instead of crushing the virus, they’re trying to crush the Affordable Care Act and its protections for pre-existing conditions,” Pelosi said in live remarks. “So here is our answer: we will see them in November.”
Harris, who waged an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination last year, is expected to recount her upbringing as the daughter of divorced immigrant parents during the 1960s civil rights movement. She became a prosecutor and California’s attorney general before her election to the Senate in 2014.
“What she really hopes tonight is that people will see themselves in her speech,” Biden communications director Kate Bedingfield told reporters in a conference call on Wednesday.
Harris will be introduced by three women close to her: her sister, Maya Harris, her niece, Meena Harris, and her stepdaughter, Ella Emhoff.
The theme of Wednesday’s program is a more perfect union, and the party plans segments highlighting gun violence and climate change, immigration reform, women’s rights, domestic violence and economic equality.
Harris speech, though, may also draw on her prosecutorial experience, offering a political indictment of Trump’s presidency. The case against Donald Trump and Mike Pence is open and shut, she said last week after Biden announced her as his running mate.
Biden is scheduled to appear in a pre-taped segment with union workers, similar to his appearances in the previous two nights of the convention, but is not expected to otherwise be seen during the program on Wednesday — barring a surprise, Bedingfield said.