Several people close to the process say the revelation that Dodd had expressed such distaste over Harris’ remarks was the most disruptive period of the search. And the specter that there was hesitancy about Harris — whom her competitors also considered the frontrunner — triggered a furious round of late lobbying and speculation about which direction Biden would ultimately go.
Calls poured into the top members of the vetting committee from outside interests pressing for and against Harris, and making pitches on other candidates. Dodd took hundreds of calls, sometimes working morning until night on the vice presidential search — some of it handling the fallout of media coverage that his wife insisted was not true.
“Anyone who knows my Irish-Catholic husband knows — the word ‘remorse,’ I’ve never heard him say [it],” Jackie Clegg Dodd said in a brief interview on Tuesday. “It’s not part of his vocabulary.”
The four co-chairs of the search committee, which also included Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, conducted multiple Zoom interviews with each of the VP contenders. At times, committee members would split into pairs to follow up with candidates.
Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) had a late surge of support, including from some donors in California, the home state of both Harris and California Rep. Karen Bass. The vetting team at one point flagged a potential issue with Duckworth: she was born in Bangkok. Her father, a U.S. citizen and then a Defense Department employee, was stationed in Thailand. They worried that Republicans would try to use that to stoke doubts about the legitimacy of the VP pick.
Ultimately, though, Duckworth was in it until the end, holding a one-on-one interview with Biden over the weekend. Biden personally called her hours before announcing Harris was his choice.
Bass remained in contention until the final weekend. Campaign allies called Florida Democrats to ask whether concerns about her past ties to socialists and comments about Fidel Castro were limited to Miami’s Republican-leaning electorate, two sources familiar with the discussions said. They were not, Biden team’s was told.
In the course of the search, Biden and Harris spoke more than once. When the debate issue came up, according to one source familiar with the discussion, Biden told her it wasn’t a problem.
“I’m not good at keeping hard feelings,” Biden told her, echoing remarks he has repeatedly made since Harris dropped out of the presidential race in December.
One friend of Biden’s who recently spoke with him privately told POLITICO that the candidate confided he was struggling with the choice at times because he felt pressure from former Obama White House advisers pushing former national security adviser Susan Rice, while Dodd and others talked up Bass.
But, the friend said, Biden had more of a personal rapport with Harris, despite their run-in during the campaign. He remembered her friendship with Beau, and he respected that she ran for president.
In that way, Harris’ debate ambush was an upside for Biden.
“Joe wants someone who has been on the big stage under the bright lights who can gut someone like a fish, and Kamala more than proved she could do that,” the donor said. “Now it’s Pence’s turn and she’s gonna cut him up.”
As the vetting was underway, Biden leaned on South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn, a key ally, whose endorsement was pivotal to Biden’s South Carolina victory.
“Yes, my advice was sought. I talked to him several times leading up to today,” Clyburn said Tuesday. “Over the last four to five days, I think I’ve talked to him more than I’ve talked to him all year.”
Clyburn said the list of 11 contenders had narrowed significantly in recent days.
“I think Susan Rice was in strong consideration. I think Karen Bass was in strong consideration,” he said. “I think in the last two or three days I came to the conclusion that it was Harris, Bass and Rice. No one told me that, this is what I felt.”
Even as she came under attack, Harris and her husband maintained their silence throughout the process, something friends and allies viewed as key to their efforts to build trust with the Bidens.