By Tony Gutiérrez
Former vice president Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic Party nominee for president, has selected Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), who has a history of showing hostility to the Catholic Church, to be his running mate. She had previously been one of Biden’s challengers for the presidential nomination before dropping out of the race and endorsing him.
Harris is the first Black woman and the first person of Indian descent to be selected as a running mate for a major party’s ticket. Harris’ mother was born in India, and her father was born in Jamaica. Harris is a staunch supporter of legal protection for abortion and has pushed Biden on that issue in recent months.
The choice was announced just shortly after 1:15 p.m. AZT on Tuesday, August 11.
“I have the great honor to announce that I’ve picked Kamala Harris — a fearless fighter for the little guy and one of the country’s finest public servants — as my running mate,” tweeted Biden on Tuesday.
Biden said that while serving as California’s attorney general, Harris worked with his late son, Beau.
“I watched as they took on the big banks, lifted up working people and protected women and kids from abuse. I was proud then, and I’m proud now to have her as my partner in this campaign,” he said.
While in the Senate, Harris has served as a member of the Judiciary Committee, responsible for vetting candidates for federal judgeships. In 2018, Harris raised questions about the suitability of a candidate based on his membership of the Knights of Columbus.
In December 2018, Harris joined Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) in scrutinizing the candidacy of Brian C. Buescher, an Omaha-based lawyer nominated by President Trump to sit on the United States District Court for the District of Nebraska.
The senators asked if belonging to the Catholic charitable organization could prevent judges from hearing cases “fairly and impartially.”
In her questions to Buescher, Harris described the Knights as “an all-male society” and asked if Buescher was aware that the Knights of Columbus “opposed a woman’s right to choose” and were against “marriage equality” when he joined.
Carl Anderson, supreme knight for the Knights of Columbus, addressed the issue in a Jan. 1, 2019 letter to membership.
“Such attacks on the basis of our Catholic faith are hardly new. The Knights of Columbus was formed amid a period of anti-Catholic bigotry. We stood against that then, and we do so now. We have spoken out against persecution around the world for nearly a century. At the same time, here at home we stood against the Ku Klux Klan, including its attempts to ban Catholic education, and we published books on the black and Jewish contributions to American history decades before the Civil Rights movement,” Anderson wrote.
“From our very beginning, the Knights of Columbus has been an organization adhering to the teachings of the Catholic Church. As with the Church, our primary motivation in everything is Christ’s great commandment, that we love God completely and our neighbor as ourselves,” he added. “Simply put, our positions are now, and have always been, Catholic positions.”
Catholic journalist John Allen, editor of Crux, wrote in an editorial at the time that the senators’ real target was not the Knights, but the teachings of the Church itself.
“Presumably, however, they felt it would be poor form to say they wanted Buescher blackballed because he’s Catholic, so they picked a softer target,” he wrote. “For integrity’s sake, it’s important to be clear whom their argument is with — and it’s not the Knights of Columbus or anyone else. It’s with the Catholic Church and the man in white.
Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), another contender for the Democratic presidential nomination, criticized Harris at the time for applying a “religious test” in direct violation of Article 6 of the U.S. Constitution.
“While I absolutely believe in the separation of church and state as a necessity to the health of our nation, no American should be asked to renounce his or her faith or membership in a faith-based, service organization in order to hold public office,” Gabbard said in an op-ed, also for “The Hill” at the time. “The party that worked so hard to convince people that Catholics and Knights of Columbus like Al Smith and John F. Kennedy could be both good Catholics and good public servants shows an alarming disregard of its own history in making such attacks today.”
As California attorney general, she drew criticism from the state Catholic conference by sponsoring a bill compelling pro-life pregnancy centers to advertise “free or low-cost” abortion services to their clients. That law was overturned by the Supreme Court in 2018.
During the contentious primary race, Harris made headlines for her numerous attacks on the former vice president during the debates. Harris was especially critical of Biden’s long-time support for the Hyde Amendment, which prevents the use of federal funds for abortions.
Biden supported the Hyde Amendment, both with his votes and publicly in writing and speeches, for over four decades. He reversed his position in June 2019, just one day after reaffirming his support for the policy. Harris was quick to point this out during the debate.
“Only since you’ve been running for president this time, [have you] said that you in some way would take that back or you didn’t agree with that decision you made over many, many years and this directly impacted so many women in our country,” said Harris.
Harris noted Biden’s previous reservations about unlimited legal protection to abortion, reservations which he abandoned during the Democratic primary process. Harris asked him during the primary “Do you now say that you have evolved, and you regret that?”
Parts of this article were taken from reporting by Catholic News Agency.