Most of the major news media reported on Friday that Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden is close to selecting a vice presidential running mate and that the focus has narrowed to two candidates, former Ambassador Susan Rice and the rumored front-runner, Rep. Karen Bass (D-Ca).
While most will remember Rice for her service as both National Security Adviser and U.N Ambasador during the (Barack) Obama Administration, others may not know much about Bass, the current Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Bass, 66, was born in Southern California to Wilhelmina and DeWitt Bass, a homemaker and postal carrier, respectively. Having watched the Civil Rights Movement and racial unrest during the Watts Riot of 1965 as a youth, Bass was spurred to social activism as a means to challenge the ill effects of systemic white supremacy.
After graduating high school, Bass studied philosophy at San Diego State University before graduating from the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine Physician’s Asisstant program. Bass also earned a Master’s in Social Work from USC and during the 1980s, as the Crack Cocaine epidemic devastated many areas in Los Angeles, she used her skills as a medical professional and social worker to ameliorate the scourge that the drug trade and wars had within her community by helping to found the non-profit “Community Coalition.”
Bass was elected to the California State Aseembly in 2004 and in 2006, she lost her only child, Emilia Bass-Lechuga Wright, who was killed in a horrific car accident along with her husband, Michael Wright (pictured below). Two years after this tragedy, Bass was elected Speaker of the California State Assembly and upon assuming office, became the first Black woman in American history to hold such position.
With the Great Recession having devastated the American economy starting in 2007, Bass worked across party lines with then Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to implement policies to assist business growth and ease the financial burden of citizens in their state. In 2010, she received the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award for her leadership during this economic crisis. That same year, Bass was elected to Congress and began focusing much of her attention on economic, social, and criminal justice.
In 2018, Rep. Bass reached across party lines in Congress to work with Republicans in developing what would become known as “The First Step Act,” a criminal justice reform Bill that was signed into law by President Donald Trump in December of 2018. Bass was particularly helpful in drafting portions of the Act that helped provide incentives for early release from prison prevent the shackling of pregnant inmates during labor and delivery while incarcerated.
(President Trump after signing the First Step Act)
The following year, Bass strongly criticized Attorney General William Barr’s Justice Department when the conservative Hudson Institute was tapped to host the Act’s “Independent Review Commission,” one that would determine who was eligible for release. Bass pointed out that the Institute had published an article entitled “Why Trump Should Oppose Criminal Justice Reform,” and she later issued a joint press release with Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) blasting Barr’s decision, stating: “We are concerned that the selection of a biased organization lacking requisite expertise may reflect a lack of intent to diligently and effectively implement the bipartisan criminal justice reforms passed last Congress.” (Nota Bene–The Hudson Institute is still the host of the Commission)
While Rep. Bass has clearly enjoyed a remarkable career, she is still obscure when compared to other politicians that have been the focus of the Biden “VeepStakes,” including Amb. Rice, Senators Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren and Tammy Duckworth, or even Trump impeachment manager, Florida Rep. Val Demings, who drew favorable responses for her strong performances during those divisive proceedings.
Bass, arguably, is not as well known as Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer or Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, both of whom have garnered international headlines this past spring and summer due to their handling of the Coronavirus Pandemic and the justice reform movement that emerged following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis this past May.
But more often than not, the VP selection for a major party nominee is rarely the “obvious” choice. In fact, there have been head scratching moments at times due to pairings that made little Electoral College sense (such as Hillary Clinton tapping Tim Kaine in 2016), or that made sense but included figures that could overshadow the less experienced nominee, such as George W. Bush’s pairing with the far more experienced Dick Cheney in 2000, and Obama’s pairing with Joe Biden in 2008.
To the “overshadowing” point, Politico and the NY Times reported that Mr. Biden is looking for a running mate who would be as loyal to him as he was to Mr. Obama in 2008. Which is understandable, but suffice it to say that Biden’s friend, former Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd, stepped in it when suggesting that Sen. Kamala Harris is “too ambitious” to serve as running mate. Meaning, Dodd fears that Harris would be running for president from day one.
But if the truth be told, the simple reality is that Biden would be 82 when his term ends and whether his running mate is Rep. Bass or someone else, the VP will have to be ready from day one should Biden’s health prevent him from finishing a full term. More crucially, as Biden’s decision draws near, the question that begs asking is does Bass help Biden move the needle among white voters in Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and Florida–areas that could prove critical in the final Electoral College tally?
We shall soon see…