Who Is Karen Bass? 5 Facts You Should Know.
Here's what you need to know about one of Biden's potential VP picks.
Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s deadline to select his running mate is near, and sources continue to narrow his shortlist, with one candidate—California Representative Karen Bass—emerging to the top of the list despite her lack of national recognition.
Head of the Congressional Black Caucus, Bass is a woman of color who has intense House support to be Biden’s vice president.
Just after George Floyd was killed, Bass visited his grave in Houston, where she discovered his birth year—1973—the same year that she initiated police reform talks in Los Angeles. Floyd’s death prompted Congress to develop a police-reform bill, a piece of legislation that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) put Bass in charge of writing.
“During this precarious, pivotal moment in America’s history, our nation and the Congress are fortunate to be led by [Bass],” Pelosi said in an emailed statement to The Atlantic. Bass “has earned the esteem of all who know her for the grace, grit and gentility she brings to her work to make real the promise of a more just, equal and fair America.” Democratic Representatives Emanuel Cleaver (Missouri) and Ilhan Omar (Minnesota) echoed Pelosi’s remarks, saying she’s “the right person” and “a mentor.”
The bill—which hasn’t lost a single Democratic vote—calls to ban choke holds, regulate body cameras and improve police accountability, aimed to tame the response to racial turmoil that’s erupted since Floyd’s killing.
Biden-Sanders economy task force
Named head of Biden campaign’s Biden-Sanders economy unity task force in May, Bass has worked with seven other colleagues to build an agenda focused on issues relating to climate change, police and justice reform, economy, education, heath care and immigration.
Her position in the task force has enabled her to rally support from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders-leaning colleagues as Bass hasn’t received any vocal disapproval from Sanders’ progressive and more liberal supporters.
“I commend Joe Biden for working together with my campaign to assemble a group of leading thinkers and activists who can and will unify our party in a transformational and progressive direction,” Sanders said in a statement.
Congressional Black Caucus
Head of the Congressional Black Caucus, Bass has established strong relationships with most black Members of Congress, including Democratic Representatives Jim Clyburn (South Carolina), Cedric Richmond (Louisiana) and Lisa Blunt Rochester (Delaware). Clyburn said, “three big things” helping Bass’ case for the vice presidency are her “legislative acumen,” her knowledge on foreign affairs and “the biggest thing of all” is that she has no intention of “one-upping [Biden]” because she has no desire to top the Democratic ticket for president.
Perhaps one of the biggest arguments against Bass’ candidacy is her generous statement in 2016 about Fidel Castro’s death, referring to him as “comandante en jefe” (commander in chief), which could potentially make Biden lose all of Florida if Bass is chosen as VP.
Florida Democrats—who live in a state that has a large Cuban population—have publicly disdained Bass, as the comment is offensive and reveals some support for the dictator. Since receiving that backlash, the potential VP said she didn’t realize the sensitivity behind the statement.
“I spoke to my colleagues from the Florida area, and they certainly shared with me the difficulty of how I referenced Castro,” Bass said. “And so I will definitely keep that in mind in the future.”
Bass has experienced recent scrutiny for a video that The Daily Caller first reported Friday, as the California Democrat spoke at a Church of Scientology event ten years ago, a religious movement that’s often viewed as a cult and has faced recent accusations relating to abuse and human trafficking.
“The Church of Scientology, I know, has made a difference, because your creed is a universal creed and one that speaks to all people everywhere,” Bass said in front of an audience of about 6,000 attendees. “That is why the words are exciting of your Founder L. Ron Hubbard, in the creed of the Church of Scientology: That all people of whatever race, color or creed are created with equal rights.”
Bass—a Baptist church worshipper—took to Twitter to respond to the uncovering of her speech, noting that she “found an area of agreement in their beliefs—where all people, of whatever race, color or creed are created with equal rights, which is what my remarks were about.”
She continued to say that the church’s beliefs are “very different than my own.”
Rachel Bucchino is a reporter at the National Interest. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report and The Hill.