Biden Chooses Kamala Harris as His Running Mate
The first-term senator has little foreign-policy experience, but her background as a prosecutor may earn her an outsized domestic portfolio.
Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Joe Biden selects California Sen. Kamala Harris as his running mate, Aleksandr Lukashenko’s main opposition challenger flees Belarus amid crackdown, and New Zealand imposes a partial lockdown after reporting its first cases of coronavirus in months.
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Biden Picks Harris as VP Nominee
Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden announced on Twitter that he has chosen California Sen. Kamala Harris as his running mate, ending months of speculation and setting the stage for his electoral battle with President Donald Trump in November. In his tweet announcing the decision, Biden called Harris “a fearless fighter for the little guy, and one of the country’s finest public servants.” To explain Biden’s choice and what it could mean for his foreign policy, Foreign Policy’s Kelly Kimball rounded up our top election coverage.
Biden’s campaign said in June that he intended to pick a woman of color as his running mate, partly as a way of appealing to the Democratic Party’s left wing. Pressure to select a Black woman was given added impetus after the police killing of George Floyd in May and the nationwide protests that followed. Reports in recent weeks said the choice had come down to Harris and former National Security Advisor Susan Rice, but Biden’s decision to go with Harris is seen as a reflection of the salience of domestic issues in this election cycle.
Historic choice. The daughter of immigrants from Jamaica and India and a former 2020 presidential candidate herself, Harris will be both the first Black woman and first Asian-American to run on a major party ticket in U.S. history. No woman has ever served as U.S. vice president. She tweeted shortly after the announcement, saying “I’m honored to join [Biden] as our party’s nominee for Vice President, and do what it takes to make him our Commander-in-Chief.”
Keys to the palace. Biden’s choice for running mate garnered intense speculation in part because of the belief that the 77-year old would only seek one term as president. Biden himself reportedly signaled to aides in December that he would only serve a single term, opening the way for his running mate to become the Democratic Party’s nominee in 2024, should Biden win in November. Sources told CNN that Harris was chosen in part because she was considered the best qualified to serve as president on her first day, a nod to the possibility that she could eventually take over for Biden.
A domestic veep. After the announcement, Foreign Policy’s Michael Hirsh wrote that Biden will put his focus on foreign policy, looking to undo the damage Trump has done to international institutions and America’s alliances abroad, meaning he is likely to give Harris an enlarged domestic portfolio. The next administration’s domestic agenda is expected to focus on tackling the controversial issue of police reform and mending race relations; Harris’s background as a Black woman and experience as a prosecutor make her well-placed to handle those tasks.
On foreign policy. Harris has very little foreign-policy experience, but she challenged China on its human rights record and unfair trade practices during her own presidential campaign, and called Russia one of Washington’s top geopolitical challenges, as Foreign Policy’s Colum Lynch and Robbie Gramer write.
What We’re Following Today
Opposition figure flees Belarus. Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko’s main challenger in last weekend’s presidential election, has fled to Lithuania amid widespread crackdowns on anti-government protests and opposition figures. Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Minsk and other cities after an official exit poll declared Lukashenko the winner in a landslide, despite facing his stiffest opposition in his entire 26-year presidency.
Tikhanovskaya rejected the legitimacy of the result, accusing authorities of rigging the election. She demanded that Lukashenko step down. “I consider myself the winner of this election,” she said. But after reaching Lithuania and contacting her campaign, Tikhanovskaya recorded a video urging protests to stop and saying that “the nation has made its choice,” reversing her earlier rejection of the results. The sudden about-face caused many to speculate that Tikhanovskaya had been threatened by individuals loyal to Lukashenko.
Russia’s dubious vaccine claims. On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that Russia has given regulatory approval to the world’s first COVID-19 vaccine after only two months of testing, sparking widespread international skepticism. Developed by Moscow’s Gamaleya Institute, Russia’s health ministry claimed that the vaccine provides COVID-19 immunity for up to two years, and Putin himself said it was successfully administered to one of his daughters. The vaccine, however, has yet to fully complete testing trials, leading health experts to call the certification premature and inappropriate.
Hong Kong’s legislature to stay in power. The Chinese government has decided to extend the term of Hong Kong’s governing Legislative Council, which was due to end in September, for one year, citing concerns over the coronavirus pandemic. The move follows a decision in July by pro-Beijing Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam to postpone local elections originally scheduled for Sep. 6.
Pro-democracy legislators have criticized the decision, claiming that the rationale for the extension is bogus and is simply a pretext to curb growing anti-Beijing sentiment in the country. “Around 4.5 million voters’ rights to vote regularly have been deprived. The legislative council … will no longer be authorised by the people,” they said in a statement.
Keep an Eye On
New Zealand locks down. New Zealand reported four new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, breaking a 102-day streak without a single locally-transmitted case, prompting Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to put the capital of Auckland on lockdown. Residents will be asked to stay home, large gatherings will be banned, non-essential businesses will close, and some social-distancing measures will be reintroduced to the rest of the country. The new measures are due to go into effect today.
The New Zealand government had been widely praised for its quick and effective response to the pandemic, and a recently published report by FP Analytics gave New Zealand the top rating out of all 36 countries it assessed. Tuesday’s quick decision mirrors the response initially taken by the government in March, and officials are optimistic they will see similar results.
Guns are still blazing in South Sudan. South Sudanese security forces launched a deadly operation into the state of Warrap over the weekend in an effort to seize weapons from communities still armed from the country’s recent civil war. The operation left at least 81 people dead and dozens more injured, authorities and civil society organizations said on Tuesday. The dead included 55 security force personnel and 26 civilians in separate attacks.
The government of South Sudan has been struggling to stabilize the country since the end of a vicious civil war in February. President Salva Kiir recently announced a campaign to disarm nonstate actors, but advocacy groups warned that this effort was too “hasty” and risked provoking a strong reaction from armed communities, ultimately rendering the campaign ineffective and counterproductive.
Odds and Ends
Mauritians are building makeshift devices using their hair to help clean up a massive oil spill near the island nation that is threatening one of the world’s most ecologically diverse underwater regions. The MV Wakashio, a Japanese ship, ran aground on a coral reef near Mauritius on July 25, leaking an estimated 1,000 of its 4,000 ton oil cargo into the surrounding waters. French and Japanese authorities rushed to provide assistance, but cleanup efforts were put on hold after heavy winds hit the area.
Residents were quick to respond, building oil containment booms out of hair, sugar cane leaves, and plastic bottles to soak up the oil. Romina Tello of Mauritius Conscious, an eco-tourism company, told reporters that human hair was chosen because it can soak up oil without absorbing water. To that end, activists launched a massive campaign to collect human hair to assist cleanup efforts.
That’s it for today.