‘It’s More Than a Seat at the Table’

‘It’s More Than a Seat at the Table’

Hi. Welcome to On Politics, your guide to the day in national politics. I’m Jenny Medina, filling in for your usual host, Lisa Lerer, who is on quarantine-cation.

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Senator Kamala Harris used to call it the “donkey in the room” — the (occasionally whispered) notion that she could not be the Democratic presidential nominee because it was inconceivable that she, a black woman, could win over a majority of voters. By the final weeks of her campaign, the riff was a well-established part of her stump speech.

And with good reason. Throughout the Democratic primary race, the prevailing conventional wisdom among many voters went something like this: “Electability” meant choosing a white male candidate. Now, that idea has been flipped — if not on its head, at least on its side. Some prominent Democrats are convinced that Joe Biden must choose as his running mate not only a woman, as he has already committed, but also a woman of color.

“It’s more than a seat at the table,” she said, referring to an often-cited adage from Shirley Chisholm, the first African-American woman to serve in Congress — “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”

Mr. Biden’s pick will be more than symbolic, Ms. Allison said: The women under consideration for the ticket have dealt with some of the most pressing policy priorities for much of their career. Mr. Biden has said he is looking for a governing partner, and if he does not run for a second term, the woman chosen may be a presidential front-runner in 2024.

“We’re saying you cannot win without us and we need to lead, in the broadest, fullest sense,” Ms. Allison added.

The very idea of electability during the primary race, she said, was “fueled by old, faulty assumptions.”

In fact, the number of women of color in Congress has increased markedly since 2015, reaching 9 percent of all members. There have been similar gains in state legislatures, according to a 2019 report from the Reflective Democracy Campaign, a research and analysis project funded by the Women Donors Network, which organizes liberal female donors.

There is a growing focus on women of color as an essential base of support for Democratic victories — a “new American majority,” an idea explored in “And She Could Be Next,” a documentary released this week.

While some champion the idea that a black woman would be a sort of unifying healer amid a national uproar over racism, polls suggest that voters are skeptical of that view, and most say that race should not be a factor in Mr. Biden’s choice.


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