The Democratic running mates sat down with PEOPLE for this week's issue to talk about what drew them together, how they'll work behind closed doors and more

By Adam Carlson
August 18, 2020 07:43 PM
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Kamala Harris remembers sitting in her Washington, D.C., home last week and holding her breath as she started the Zoom that wrote her into a new chapter in the history of this country.

Soon the top-secret content of that Aug. 11 video call between the California senator, 55, and former Vice President Joe Biden was made public: Harris — “so damn smart,” in Biden’s words — had become the first Black woman and first person of Asian descent to join a major party’s presidential ticket.

“I was absolutely, and remain, so excited about our partnership,” she tells PEOPLE, “and all the potential of our country that has yet to be achieved.”

In the thick of the final months of the presidential campaign — Biden, 77, will accept the Democratic nomination on Thursday — him picking Harris drew the usual scrutiny. The left faulted her as soft on police misconduct and overzealous on suspects; conservatives called her “radical.” She was perhaps the toughest on the former vice president when she ran against him in the Democratic primary last year, including challenging his record on busing in the ‘70s.

But Biden, whose late son Beau first introduced him to Harris when she was California's attorney general, brushed it all off.

“It’s really, really, really important to have someone [like Harris on the ticket] with this intellectual capacity, educational background, backbone and stature,” he says. “It's going to change a lot.”

• For more from Joe Biden and Kamala Harris' first joint interview, pick up this week's issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.

From left: former Vice President Joe Biden and California Sen. Kamala Harris photographed for PEOPLE on Aug. 15 outside Wilmington, Delaware.
Gioncarlo Valentine
Brandy on the cover of PEOPLE

Harris knows well that breaking barriers can be painful. She, like former President Barack Obama before her, has already faced baseless racist theories about her eligibility to be in the White House, promoted by President Donald Trump himself. “I expect they will engage in dirty tactics and this is going to be a knockdown drag-out,” Harris told The Grio in response. “And we’re ready.”

Her connection with Biden, both candidates say, is forged in the same focus on family.

"That’s one of the things we have in common," Harris says. "My children don’t call me stepmom, they call me Momala. We’re a very modern family. Their mom is a close friend of mine. ... Joe and I have a similar feeling that really is how we approach leadership: family in every version that it comes."

Last Friday, via Zoom, they spoke with PEOPLE in their first joint interview. (The next day they gathered for a socially distanced photo shoot with their spouses, Dr. Jill Biden, a community college professor, and attorney Doug Emhoff.)

Below are edited excerpts from that conversation. Pick up this week's issue of PEOPLE for more from the interview.

Sen. Harris, what was it like to get the job offer?

Harris: I was in the room on the Zoom and Doug was in the other room, just waiting. The intercom system in my family growing up is the same one we use now, which is to shout loudly from one room to the other. [laughs] The vice president had his cell phone because Jill was at an event. Then they asked for Doug, and I shouted, “Dougie, come!”

Biden: We started with Jill and Doug. We share the same basic values set: It all starts with family.

Harris: The next day Doug and I came [to Delaware] to visit with the vice president and Jill at their home, and we just hung out with homemade chocolate chip cookies. I saw some family pictures. Joe called my in-laws and we surprised them. Then Joe said, “Tell me how the kids are doing?” This is the thing — among the many things I love about Joe Biden — he said, “Let’s call them.” So he called, separately, [Harris' stepchildren] Ella and Cole to welcome them into the family.

From left: Sen. Kamala Harris and former Vice President Joe Biden photographed for PEOPLE on Aug. 15 outside Wilmington, Delaware.
Gioncarlo Valentine

The two of you went head to head in the primary race. You’ve talked about not holding grudges ...

Biden: Well, we go back a long way. She was friends with my Beau, my son. The first time I was aware of who she was, I got a phone call from Beau saying, “I want you to nominate Kamala Harris for the United States Senate. She’s a friend of mine.”

Harris: That is how I got to really know Joe as a person, hearing about him through his son. But I also want to add this: Joe Biden had the audacity to say he was going to have a woman as his vice president. He didn’t apologize for it. In a country where we still have so much to do to fight toward our ideals, he just fast-forwarded the whole thing.

Biden: The government should look like the country. There’s a new law of physics in politics: Any country that does not engage more than half their population in sharing the full responsibilities of governance and power is absolutely going to lose.

Sen. Harris, are you going to be the kind of VP to tell him when he’s wrong?

Biden: Yes, she is.

Harris: We already have that understanding. I’m going to be the last one in the room — and there to give him honest feedback. Being vice president to Joe Biden to me means supporting his agenda and supporting him in every way.

How do you stay in touch during a pandemic that makes physical campaigning difficult? Calls? Texts?

Biden: All the above, plus our staffs. She’s stolen some of mine already, but you got to give them back when we get elected.

Harris: Well, they’re going to be ours!

Sen. Kamala Harris hugs former Vice President Joe Biden while campaigning for him at an event in March.
JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP/Getty

Biden: The easy part of this is like my relationship with Barack — we trusted each other. Think about what happened when those folks came out in Charlottesville, carrying those torches. Close your eyes and remember what you saw, chanting the same anti-Semitic bile that was chanted in the streets of Germany in the ’30s, accompanied by the Ku Klux Klan. And a young woman gets killed protesting against them and the president of the United States says, “There are very fine people on both sides.” That phrase was heard 'round the world. This is going to change.

Harris: That’s right.

Biden: This is who we are [gestures to Harris next to him]. This is America.