Elections

Amy Klobuchar Takes a Big Hit

Democratic 2020 presidential candidate Senator Amy Klobuchar speaks during campaign event in New Hampshire, February 9, 2020. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)
The former prosecutor faces scrutiny over decisions not to prosecute police officers in Minneapolis.

As Minneapolis burned this week, so too did Amy Klobuchar’s prospects of becoming Joe Biden’s running mate.

Just six weeks ago, Klobuchar looked like the frontrunner in the 2020 Democratic veepstakes, but the Minnesota senator happens to be the former top prosecutor in Hennepin County, home to Minneapolis, and she is facing an increasing amount of scrutiny over her record of not prosecuting several police officers facing allegations of excessive force.

“Amy Klobuchar didn’t prosecute officer at center of George Floyd’s death after previous conduct complaints,” reads the headline at The Week. The police officer seen kneeling on Floyd’s neck was involved in the killing of another suspect who allegedly pulled a gun. The final decision not to prosecute was made after Klobuchar left the job, but as the Washington Post reported in March, Klobuchar “declined to bring charges in more than two dozen cases in which people were killed in encounters with police.”

Assume for the sake of argument that the facts in each case vindicate Klobuchar’s decision not to prosecute. Can Biden really pick her if she’s seen as turning a blind eye to police brutality, even if that view is unfair?

David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report goes so far as to say that “Amy Klobuchar is off the list now” to be Biden’s running mate. It’s not clear her odds are nil, but they have taken a huge hit.

Who benefits? Kamala Harris is the odds-on favorite on the betting and prediction websites, but the firestorm in Minnesota threatens to engulf her VP prospects as well.

Recall that in the Democratic campaign one of the most effective attacks against her came when Joe Biden and Hawaii congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard attacked Harris’s own record as a prosecutor. “Biden alluded to a crime lab scandal that involved her office and resulted in more than 1,000 drug cases being dismissed. Gabbard claimed Harris ‘blocked evidence that would have freed an innocent man from death row until she was forced to do so,’” the Sacramento Bee reported after the debate. “Both of these statements are accurate.” Harris’s other famous moment in the 2020 debates came when she effectively attacked Biden as racist for opposing forced-busing policies in the 1970s. Harris embraced new mandatory-busing policies before backtracking.

To make matters worse, Harris is not only vulnerable to attacks from the left on criminal justice — her right flank would be exposed as well in a general election. As San Francisco district attorney, Harris declined to seek the death penalty for a man who had murdered a police officer with an AK-47 in 2004. At the officer’s funeral, Democratic senator Dianne Feinstein called on Harris to seek the death penalty and received a standing ovation from police officers in attendance. Last year, the officer’s widow told CNN in a tearful on-camera interview that Harris “never called me” before announcing her decision. “I felt like she had just taken something from us. She had just taken justice from us.”

While Harris would be caught in the middle of a “Black Lives Matter” and “Blue Lives Matter” culture war, she is still the only African-American woman serving as governor or senator in the entire country. So she shouldn’t be written off.

Who else might Biden select besides Harris if he decides he needs to pick an African-American running mate? Cory Booker is a man, so he’s off the list because of Biden’s pledge to pick a woman. Stacey Abrams is making a full-court press for the job in the media, but it is still extremely difficult to see how Biden would select someone in the middle of a historic economic and health crisis who has never served in an office higher than that of state legislator. Florida representative Val Demings is getting a fresh look as a former police officer, but an obscure member of Congress is only a little better than a former state legislator in a time of crisis to reassure suburban voters who flipped to the Democrats in 2018.

In the race to be Biden’s VP, Susan Rice, the former national-security adviser to Barack Obama, probably benefits the most from the chaos in Minnesota. She has a stronger résumé to match the moment, and she reinforces Biden’s campaign theme of an Obama-era restoration, even if she has her own vulnerabilities from Russiagate to Benghazi and more.

The decision to move the Democratic convention to August gives Biden an extra month to make his decision, but this week has done a lot to make that decision much more difficult.

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