At Essence, Black Democrats Support Biden, Cheer Kamala Harris

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — As President Joe Biden tries to revive During his contentious re-election campaign, Vice President Kamala Harris led a line of Black Democrats who warned Saturday that the threat of another Donald Trump presidency remains the top consideration for November.

Yet, in the twenty-plus minutes he was on stage at the Essence Festival of Culture, Harris did not acknowledge Biden’s statements. dismal debate performance or calls on the 81-year-old president to abandon his re-election bid. In fact, she barely mentioned it Biden not at all – a stark contrast to the members of the Congressional Black Caucus who vigorously and repeatedly defended the president by name.

“This is probably the most important election of our lifetime,” Harris said, before joking about Trump’s musings about being a dictator, pushing the Supreme Court to the right and promising retribution on political enemies. “In 122 days, we all have the power to decide what kind of country we want to live in.”

Harris’ appearance at the nation’s largest annual celebration of Black culture underscores how difficult it is for the White House and the campaign to navigate questions about the president’s fitness to serve. The dynamic is especially fraught for Harris, the first Black woman and person of South Asian descent to be elected vice president, and for the Black Democrats who were instrumental in electing Biden and her in 2020.

On the one hand, Harris fills the traditional role of loyal lieutenant, a task she performed enthusiastically — and on the spot — in television appearances immediately following Biden’s lackluster debate. Should Biden ultimately decide to step aside as the presumptive nominee, she would be among the favorites, if not the favorite, to carry the Democratic flag against Trump.

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Black leaders and voters who gathered in New Orleans on Saturday, meanwhile, walked a fine line between supporting Biden and insisting that if he does end his campaign, the party should promote the groundbreaking vice president rather than consider governors like Gavin Newsom of California or Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, both of whom are white.

“The purpose of a vice president is to be a No. 2, to step in,” said Glynda Carr, who leads the political activist organization Higher Heights, which works to get more black women elected. “If this was an all-white male slate, would we be talking about other people with less experience, less qualifications?”

Antjuan Seawright, a Black Democratic consultant close to Rep. Jim Clyburn, a Biden ally, put it more bluntly. “Joe Biden is not going anywhere,” he said. But if he did, “anyone but Kamala would be a malpractice — and it would tear the party apart.”

Seawright argued that the pressure for Biden to step aside has so far come exclusively from white Democrats, at least publicly. He said that division largely has to do with Black voters’ trust in Biden and their recognition of his record. But he also said it’s about what’s good for the party as a whole, including Black politicians. Risking a contested convention, even one that nominates Harris, could result in widespread losses and in turn make it less likely than ever that House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries will become speaker or that Harris or another Black woman will serve in the Oval Office.

Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and her colleagues agreed with some of these sentiments.

“People say Joe Biden is too old. In fact, I’m older than Biden!” the 85-year-old congresswoman said. “There will be no other Democratic nominee, and we need to know that.”

Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio) emphasized the power Harris already has.

“We have a Black vice president of the United States of America, a sister who is here with us today,” she said. “So let’s not twist this. I know who I’m voting for. I’m with the Biden-Harris team because we’re still going to have a sister in the White House who’s fighting for us and making a difference.”

Waters said Biden’s support for black communities and the contrast with Trump should be enough. She called the former president “a worthless, lying, despicable human being” with a white nationalist agenda. “Who the hell do you think he’s going to go after?” Waters asked, pointing to Trump’s support of groups like the Proud Boys. “You know he means it.”

In more than a dozen interviews with Essence attendees, opinions varied about Biden’s strength as a candidate and his ability to serve another four years. But consensus emerged on several points: Only Biden can determine his fate; if he withdraws, he must support Harris; and defeating Trump is the top priority.

“I’m with him, absolutely,” said Erica Peterson of New Orleans. “He’s delivered, and one debate isn’t going to change my opinion. … And if it’s not Joe Biden, I’m with her.”

Star Robert, a 37-year-old nurse in New York City, said that if there is a shift, Biden and Democrats cannot credibly choose anyone other than Harris, since the president, party and voters have already chosen her as the second in line. Still, she was skeptical of Harris’ prospects.

“I’m not sure she’s done enough to gain the trust of enough voters,” Robert said. “I don’t know if that’s entirely her fault, I just haven’t seen enough of her, we haven’t. I don’t know what her angle is.”

Regardless, Robert added: “I’m not sure the country is ready for another black president, and if we were ready for a woman, Hillary Clinton would have beaten the clown (Trump) when he first ran.”

Harris, in turn, responded to that kind of skepticism while carefully avoiding direct campaign drama.

“Ambition is a good thing. We don’t have to walk quietly,” she said of her role as a woman of color in powerful circles. “People in your life will tell you it’s not your time. It’s not your turn. Nobody has done that before. … I like to say I eat ‘no’ for breakfast.”

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