Harris boosts Biden to her sorority sisters, tapping network of Black women

Vice President Harris, at a pivotal moment in President Biden’s fight to save his candidacy, urged an influential group of Black women Tuesday to mobilize behind the Biden-Harris ticket but did not mention the uproar that has engulfed the president since his stumbling debate performance two weeks ago.

“We know when we organize, mountains move,” Harris exhorted fellow members of the historically Black sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha gathered in Dallas. “When we mobilize, nations change. And when we vote, we make history.”

She added, “Our nation is counting on the leaders in this room to guide us forward.”

The 19,000 Black women in the audience, who frequently cheered Harris’s words, represented a central pillar of Biden’s political coalition, one he must retain to have any hope of reelection. In 2020, exit polls showed 90 percent of Black women voted for Biden, by far the highest of any one group of voters, although recent polls suggest a drop-off in his support among voters of color.

The group would also be critical to Harris’s prospects should she mount a future presidential run — or should she replace Biden on the 2024 Democratic ticket, as some in the party want.

“For 116 years, the members of our sorority have been on the front lines of the fight to realize the promise of America,” Harris said, sporting a pink suit in a tribute to the sorority’s pink-and-green colors. “This year, let us continue that work.”

In the days since Biden stumbled over his words and often struggled to complete his sentences during his June 27 debate against presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump, a growing number of Democratic leaders have suggested the president should seriously consider whether to keep running for reelection — or end his candidacy and make way for another Democrat to become the nominee.

Biden has forcefully rejected that message, leaving Harris in a sensitive spot as she undertakes a campaign swing this week to address core Democratic groups: Her chief mission is to bolster Biden, but it is hardly lost on her audience that she is also displaying her own political skills should she find herself heading the ticket.

Speaking before the nation’s oldest Black sorority, Harris did not mention Biden’s ongoing struggles back in Washington, focusing her remarks instead on the administration’s achievements and the stakes of the fight against Trump.

Harris, who graduated in 1986 from Howard University, has long leveraged her status as a member of AKA. She has participated in several events since taking office with the Divine Nine, the group of historically Black sororities and fraternities.

Later this month, she will meet in Indianapolis with members of Zeta Phi Beta, another historically Black sorority with a record of focusing on social justice.

In her remarks, Harris leaned into her familiarity with the audience, calling them her “sorors,” or sisters. She thanked them for helping elect Biden as president and her as the first woman vice president. And she gave a shout-out to fellow AKA, Shalanda Young, who serves as Biden’s budget director.

Harris checked off work the administration has done to tackle health-care costs, lower maternal mortality rates, reduce student loan debt and remove medical debt from credit reports. And she focused on abortion rights, citing it as one of the freedoms currently under attack in the United States.

“All of us here are clear that while we have come a mighty long way, we have more work to do. Across our nation, we are witnessing a full-on assault on hard-fought, hard-won freedoms and rights,” she said, listing attacks on voting, LGBTQ+ and abortion rights.

The trip was part of what the White House has billed as a “Summer of Engagement” for the vice president. While Biden is back in Washington this week hosting the NATO summit, Harris has been on the road serving as a top cheerleader for Biden and his administration.

On Tuesday, she offered a strong defense of Biden, calling him a “fighter” at a campaign event in Las Vegas focused on Asian American, Hawaiian Native and Pacific Islander voters. On Thursday, Harris heads to Greensboro, N.C., her sixth trip to a state that Democrats are attempting to flip blue this election.

She spent last Saturday at the Essence Festival in New Orleans, speaking to a crowd of mostly Black women in a moderated conversation that focused heavily on the stakes of the election.

The choice of audiences is no accident. In 2020, Black voters’ embrace of Biden catapulted him to the Democratic nomination and then the presidency, and ensuring those voters are still enthusiastically behind him in 2024 is a top task for his campaign.

Harris is central to that effort and has regularly been deployed an ambassador to energize key portions of the Democratic electorate, including Black, Latino, AAPI and younger voters.

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