President Donald Trump on Tuesday insisted he was surprised that presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden chose Sen. Kamala Harris of California as his running mate, in part because she was “very nasty” to Biden as they initially vied in their party’s primary race.
“I was more surprised than anyone else because she did so poorly in the primaries,” Trump said at a White House press briefing shortly after the Biden campaign revealed Harris’ selection.
“Plus, she was very, very nasty … She was probably nastier than even Pocahontas to Joe Biden,” the president added, resurrecting his insulting nickname for Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, another of this cycle’s Democratic White House candidates.
He also said Harris “was very disrespectful” to Biden, adding, “It’s hard to pick somebody that’s that disrespectful.”
Despite Trump’s expression of surprise, political analysts of all stripes ― including those in the president’s camp ― for months had pegged Harris as the odds-on favourite to emerge as Biden’s running mate.
Trump also accused Harris of being “extraordinarily nasty” to Brett Kavanaugh during the 2018 Senate Judiciary hearings on his nomination to the Supreme Court. Harris and other committee Democrats hammered Kavanaugh over accusations that he sexually assaulted an acquaintance, Christine Ford, when they were in high school. Kavanaugh vehemently denied the allegations, and the issue became a cause celebre among some Republican lawmakers.
“I’ve been watching her for a long time. She was extraordinarily nasty to [Kavanaugh],” Trump said of Harris. “She was nasty to a level that was just a horrible thing ... the way she treated now-Justice Kavanaugh. I won’t forget that soon.”
Trump often uses the word “nasty” to describe women with whom he disagrees and as a way to demean them. He has used the same insult to attack his 2016 Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), PBS reporter Yamiche Alcindor and San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz.
In May 2019, Trump described Harris as “nasty” when asked about how she questioned Attorney General William Barr during a Judiciary Committee hearing.
On Tuesday, Trump also tweeted a short video by his campaign attacking the newly minted Democratic ticket. In line with Trump’s tradition of using derisive ― some have said nasty ― nicknames for his opponents, the video refers to “Slow Joe” and “Phony Kamala.”
Earlier Tuesday, immediately after Biden announced his running mate, Trump’s campaign had released a statement using the “phony” label for Harris. The campaign highlighted pointed remarks she directed at Biden on racial issues at the first Democratic primary debate in June 2019.
Harris stressed that while she not insinuating that Biden was racist, she expressed concern with his opposition during his early years as a senator in the 1970s to federal initiatives to desegregate public schools by busing students to heavily white school districts. She also criticised him for praising the “civility” of his interactions with segregationist senators when he was a young lawmaker.
“I do not believe you are a racist,” Harris said to Biden. “And I agree with you when you commit yourself to the importance of finding common ground. But it was hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senators who built their reputations and career on the segregation of race in this country.”
That moment turned out to be the high point of Harris’ presidential bid. After failing to gain traction in polls, she dropped out of the race in December.
Earlier Tuesday, Trump’s campaign incorrectly claimed that Harris called Biden “racist” and accused her of “abandoning her own morals” by becoming Biden’s running mate.
The campaign also attempted to use Harris to show that Biden was not a “moderate” Democratic candidate.
“She is proof that Joe Biden is an empty shell being filled with the extreme agenda of the radicals on the left,” senior Trump campaign adviser Katrina Pierson said in a statement.
Harris said she was honoured to run with Biden, saying in a statement posted on Twitter that he “can unify the American people because he’s spent his life fighting for us.”
Harris is the first Black woman and first Asian American woman to run as vice president for a major political party.