On Thursday, the Wall Street Journal’s Laura Meckler and Colleen McCain Nelson broke the news that Hillary Clinton is vetting Elizabeth Warren for the vice presidency — but not vetting Bernie Sanders. In the process, they provided a shortlist of candidates that Clinton is considering:
Beyond the Massachusetts senator, other prospective candidates include Labor Secretary Tom Perez; Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro; Sens. Tim Kaine of Virginia, Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Cory Booker of New Jersey; Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, and Reps. Xavier Becerra of California and Tim Ryan of Ohio, several Democrats said.
Now, this isn’t necessarily an exhaustive list, and Meckler and Nelson note that the vetting is still in early stages, using publicly available information rather than asking candidates to submit tax returns and the like.
Nonetheless, this list is the best information we've gotten about who Clinton is considering, and it includes some names that haven’t popped up in prior media speculation. All of these candidates have obvious strengths that have put them on this list, but of course, they each have their weaknesses as well. Here’s a rundown:
1) Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)
The case for picking her: Vox’s Andrew Prokop ably summarized the pros and cons of picking Warren here, but suffice it to say she’s one of the most famous and popular Democratic politicians in the country, with a huge social media following and passionate fans among the Democratic base.
She’s proven to be an excellent anti–Donald Trump attack dog already this cycle, and her anti–Wall Street credentials and populist approach to economic issues would help shore up Sanders supporters who might be skeptical of Clinton’s ties to the financial sector. She would attract considerable media coverage, preventing Trump from dominating the news cycle, and her reputation for fighting against corruption and corporate influence helps rebut Trump’s "Crooked Hillary" attack line.
Watch: Elizabeth Warren goes on attack against Donald Trump
Picking Warren would be massively important as a step for women’s political representation. Some have speculated that Clinton could easily appoint an all-woman Cabinet — Secretary of State Wendy Sherman (or Susan Rice or Samantha Power), Secretary of Treasury Lael Brainard, Secretary of Defense Michèle Flournoy, etc. — and having a female running mate would be a great start.
Finally, Warren’s research as a law professor gave her considerable insight into the working of the administrative state, especially as it relates to the economic conditions of middle-class families. That could translate into a skill at exploiting the federal bureaucracy for progressive ends, a skill that is more useful when in the executive branch than the Senate.
The case against picking her: Let’s start with the fact that Warren has accused Clinton of flip-flopping on bankruptcy legislation due to donations and pressure from the financial industry:
Warren was not planning on becoming a politician at this point, which helps explain her candor, but all the same it would be jarring for Clinton to pick someone who's accused her of being bought and paid for — and it's not a stretch to imagine Clinton would find it hard to work with someone who at least once thought so little of her.
Even if Clinton doesn’t find that disqualifying, Warren's independent profile suggests she might try to maintain an individual identity and avoid hewing too closely to Clinton’s message. That could prove aggravating to the would-be president, especially if Warren uses her command of the press to try to push the administration leftward.
An all-woman ticket would be a statement, but it also might be too much for the American people to handle, and the 2008 race suggested that Clinton is pretty small-c conservative about that kind of thing. Her VP shortlist then was then-Gov. Ted Strickland (D-OH), then-Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN), former Gov. Tom Vilsack (D-IA), and Joe Biden: all boring, safe white dudes.
Clinton could also be wary of pissing off financial sector donors, and it bears mentioning that rich people all over America hate Elizabeth Warren and regard her as a dangerous economically illiterate charlatan. "The prospect of a Warren vice presidency could well drive the 1 percent straight into Trump’s arms, help the billionaire solve his fundraising problems, and make for a closer race in the end," Prokop notes.
Last but not least, Massachusetts has a Republican governor, meaning that electing Warren would give Republicans an extra Senate seat for at least a little bit. There'd be a special election shortly thereafter, thanks to a 2004 change in the law meant to limit then-Gov. Mitt Romney’s ability to replace John Kerry should he have won the presidency, but Democrats should not be overly confident about their ability to win Senate special elections in the state after what happened in 2010.
2) Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA)
The case for picking him: Kaine is just about the safest pick Clinton could make. He’s a popular former governor turned current senator in a crucial swing state that has a close-to-the-Clintons Democratic governor ready to replace him should he and Clinton get elected. He has a national profile from his time leading the Democratic National Committee, where he provoked relatively few complaints, especially compared with his embattled successor Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
He speaks fluent Spanish from his time as a missionary in Honduras in the 1980s. He was the second runner-up to Biden in President Obama’s VP selection process in 2008, so he's been through extensive vetting before. And his handling of the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007, while he was governor, won widespread plaudits and gives him some authority in speaking on gun violence.
The case against picking him: Kaine is as boring as he is safe. He still has relatively low national name recognition, and picking him won't excite anyone in the Democratic base, or really any swing voters, given that they’re unlikely to be paying close enough attention to politics to know who he is.
He also has the misfortune of having been a pre-Obama Democratic governor in a purple state, with a not-so-liberal record to show for it. During his Senate campaign, he bragged about cutting the budget by more than $5 billion and eliminating the Virginia estate tax — not things the Democratic base will generally consider worth celebrating.
But the biggest problem for Clinton would likely be Kaine’s record on abortion, which is, from a pro-choice vantage point, close to abysmal. While Kaine has become more vocally pro-choice as a senator, he identified as personally pro-life while running for governor in 2005.
"I have a faith-based opposition to abortion," he wrote on his campaign site. "As governor, I will work in good faith to reduce abortions by enforcing the current Virginia restrictions on abortion and passing an enforceable ban on partial birth abortion that protects the life and health of the mother; fighting teen pregnancy through abstinence-focused education; ensuring women’s access to health care (including legal contraception) and economic opportunity; and promoting adoption as an alternative for women facing unwanted pregnancies."
Virginia's restrictions at that point, which Kaine wanted to uphold, included a 24-hour waiting period for abortions and a parental notification requirement, along with restrictions on Medicaid funding. What’s more, Kaine's actions as governor continually aggravated pro-choice groups, including approving funding for "crisis pregnancy centers" that try to steer women away from abortion and signing into law a bill creating "Choose Life" license plates.
In a year where Clinton is conspicuously dropping the "rare" from "safe, legal, and rare" and calling for restoring federal funding for abortion, picking Kaine would result in a very mixed message about the ticket’s commitment to reproductive rights.
3) Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH)
The case for picking him: Brown is a popular Democratic senator from Ohio. That alone, with the potential (albeit small) for him to help ensure that state stays in the Democratic column, is a strong case for his selection.
But Brown could also help Clinton shore up left-leaning Bernie Sanders supporters and perhaps win some white working-class voters away from Trump. Brown, despite endorsing Clinton and not identifying as a "democratic socialist" or anything like it, agrees with Sanders on basically everything related to economic policy and is an unapologetic populist on issues like trade. He wrote an entire book, Myths of Free Trade, explaining his opposition to trade liberalization, and has been perhaps the leading Democratic opponent of TPP in the Senate, alongside Sanders.
"What’s very clear is that Sherrod Brown knows which side of the struggle he is on," Sanders told Chris Hayes back in 2005. They’re apparently on the outs since Brown endorsed Clinton, with Sanders threatening to try to kill Brown’s VP chances, but it’s not clear Sanders supporters would really mind.
Finally, this isn't really an electoral consideration, but if you talk to low-income advocates on the Hill, they’ll tell you that Brown, along with Cory Booker, is perhaps the most active senator when it comes to strengthening refundable tax credits like the earned income tax credit and the child tax credit, as well as other safety net programs like food stamps. The American poor really have few advocates in Congress, and Brown is one of them.
The case against picking him: If the Clinton-Brown ticket were to win, Republicans would be handed a Senate seat in a state where Democrats often struggle with statewide races. Gov. John Kasich (R-OH) would get to pick Brown’s replacement, who'd serve until the normal end of Brown's term in 2018, a midterm year when Democrats would be at a disadvantage.
Brown himself also has plenty of weaknesses. He's a lifelong politician in the truest sense, having been elected to the Ohio House of Representatives in 1974 at age 22, and has served in some form of elected office ever since, save a brief two-year period between service as Ohio's secretary of state and his election to the US House.
What’s more, his populism might go a bit far for Clinton. She’s backed off of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, but she and her economic team are still firm believers in the value of trade liberalization, and Brown really, really isn’t. It’s hard to imagine Clinton wouldn’t try to put together some sort of trade deal once in office, and it’s hard to imagine Brown wouldn't make a stink if she did so. He could also make it hard for her to appoint advisers she likes; she’s still close to Larry Summers, whose bid to become Fed chair Brown helped kill.
4) Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro
The case for picking him: Castro is everything Clinton is not. She’s white; he’s Mexican-American, an ideal person to counter Trump’s racist fearmongering about immigration and calls to build a wall. She’d be the second-oldest president to ever be inaugurated; he's a mere 41. She’s a Northerner, her time in Arkansas aside; he’s from Texas, which, if Trump really flames out and Latino turnout rises dramatically, could be in play this year.
Plus, for someone whose highest elected office was mayor of San Antonio, Castro has had a surprisingly big national profile, and speculation that he might be on a future Democratic ticket has swirled for years.
He’s also got nowhere else to go but national. Texas isn’t quite blue enough to elect a Democrat governor or senator, and Castro's twin brother, Joaquín Castro, has already won a House seat in the district he’d have run in. That helps explain why Obama picked him for HUD in the first place: to give him the kind of role that would prepare him for national politics.
The case against picking him: Even with the Cabinet position, Castro simply is not qualified to be one heartbeat away from the presidency. Mayor of San Antonio is just not a very powerful position. The city runs on a council-manager system, where the appointed city manager actually wields executive power while the mayor serves as a glorified council member and has a kind of bully pulpit.
And the city itself is limited in its powers relative to Bexar County. When Castro was mayor, it was a part-time job paying $3,000 a year plus $20 a council session. It’s fine to have a part-time job, but it doesn’t really prepare you for the presidency.
Nor has Castro really proven himself at HUD. For one thing, despite the name, HUD doesn't really control federal housing policy, which mostly happens through the tax code. Under him, HUD has issued a couple of worthy new policies, including new fair housing rules and a ban on smoking in public housing, but it’s not clear how much Castro was behind them or whether another secretary would have done exactly the same. He has at the same time taken considerable flak from progressive groups for selling bad mortgages HUD acquired to Wall Street.
Overall, picking Castro would look like Clinton selecting a Dan Quayle–like lightweight, who lacks the requisite policy knowledge and experience to assume the presidency should something happen to her.
5) Labor Secretary Tom Perez
The case for picking him: Perez, the son of Dominican immigrants, would be a powerful anti-Trump surrogate and could potentially boost Latino turnout. But unlike Castro, he's distinguished himself in the Obama administration — first as assistant attorney general for civil rights, where he revived a division of the Department of Justice that was turned into a politicized cesspool under President Bush and made it an effective voice for voting rights and against police racism; and as secretary of labor, where he's cracked down on corrupt financial advisers and used regulatory maneuvers to get overtime payments for millions of workers.
Perez has a big fan base among civil rights and progressive groups, and his reputation as the leftmost Cabinet member in the Obama administration might serve as some consolation to Bernie supporters, particularly given his role in the overtime decision.
The case against picking him: Perez isn't really a politician; the highest elected office he held was a single term on the Montgomery County Council in Maryland; his attempt to run for attorney general in Maryland in 2006 fell short because he didn't meet legal eligibility requirements.
Going from that to a national ticket would be quite a leap, and would require a degree of campaigning prowess that it’s not clear Perez possesses. If you listen to his interview on The Ezra Klein Show, it's clear that he’s a thoughtful, smart guy, but he also doesn’t sound like a natural campaigner.
He’d also probably have to resign from his current post to join the ticket; it's not clear how much more he could do in the final six months of Obama’s presidency, but it might make a difference on the margins.
6) Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ)
The case for picking him: Booker is one of the best-known Democratic senators not named Warren, as evidenced by the fact that he comes in second (albeit a distant one) to Warren in Bloomberg's recent poll asking Clinton supporters whom they'd like to see as her running mate. He’s incredibly media-savvy (it doesn't hurt that Newark is in the New York City media market), with a documentary and a documentary TV series, both quite positive, under his belt. He’s famously adept at social media (see: the time he shoveled a Twitter follower’s driveway). That kind of national profile and ability to garner earned media is no small asset in a running mate.
And he’d make history as the first black vice president. Like Warren, Castro, Perez, and Becerra, he’d represent an effort by Clinton to say that the era of white male domination of politics is over, and he’d help prevent any drop-off in black turnout due to President Obama no longer being on the ballot.
What’s more, Booker is also by most accounts an effective senator. Like Brown, he’s a vocal advocate for pro-poor policies, including on tax credits, and was involved in the push to make permanent expansions to the EITC and CTC this past winter. Back when he was mayor, he lived on a food stamp budget for a week to demonstrate the inadequacy of current nutrition assistance, and he put out a detailed plan to address child poverty as a candidate.
The case against picking him: Clinton has attempted to make nice with teachers unions alienated by the Obama administration’s support of accountability measures and charter schools, and you know who teachers unions hate more than just about anyone? Cory Booker.
He's an enthusiastic supporter of charters and has said nice things about private school vouchers in the past, and his collaboration with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg on attempting to improve Newark’s schools has gotten rafts of bad press coverage. That's not totally fair — Dale Russakoff, who wrote a critical book on the Zuckerberg donation, nonetheless concedes that the effort led to a doubling of enrollment in charter schools that "dramatically outperform the district schools." But it’s a cause of resentment among the Democratic base.
One other issue that shouldn't be a drawback for Booker but may well be is that he'd be the first unmarried vice president since Alben Barkley in 1949 (a widower who married shortly after taking office), and the first lifelong bachelor since William Rufus DeVane King under Franklin Pierce in 1853. I’d like to believe that America is ready for a vice president who’s actively dating, but the Clinton campaign could be forgiven for being skeptical.
7) Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA)
The case for picking him: Becerra has many of the same pluses as Castro, only he’s actually qualified to become president. They're both Stanford-educated Mexican Americans who would be well-positioned to slam Trump on his racist immigration rhetoric — which has Becerra already done. But Becerra has 24 years in the US House under his belt, including service on the deficit reduction "supercommittee" and as chair of the House Democratic Conference, the fourth-ranking position in the party.
Unlike Castro, he speaks perfect Spanish, and he has a more compelling backstory as the child of first-generation immigrants and the first in his family to go to college. He's been earning his stripes as a Clinton surrogate, campaigning in 10 states and doing numerous TV hits on her behalf during the primary race.
Despite his Clinton loyalty, he has a clear, unblemished progressive record in the House, where he is a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, the economically left-wing group co-founded by Bernie Sanders. He’s the ranking Dem on the Social Security subcommittee and has been consistently opposed to cuts.
And Obama offered him a position as US trade representative back in 2008, suggesting he passed vetting for a Cabinet-level post.
The case against picking him: Becerra turned down the trade representative post, saying he preferred to stay in Congress, but the scrutiny the almost-appointment created revealed some potential pitfalls of putting him in an administration. He has a fairly strong reputation as an opponent of trade deals, which might help Clinton campaign in the Midwest but clashes with her overall inclinations on the issue.
And he's got a couple of skeletons in his closet. He successfully pushed Bill Clinton to commute the sentence of Carlos Vignali, a cocaine trafficker serving a 15-year federal sentence, at the behest of Vignali's father, who donated nearly $14,000 to Becerra.
His disastrous 2001 campaign for mayor of Los Angeles (he ended up getting only 6 percent of the vote) drew criticism when it had a woman pose as LA County Supervisor Gloria Molina and make robocalls attacking Antonio Villaraigosa, a rival of Becerra’s who'd be elected mayor four years later. After the calls prompted an investigation, campaign staffers erased their copy of the message; Molina was furious.
8) Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti
The case for picking him: Well, for one thing, he actually got elected mayor of LA, unlike Becerra. Garcetti, who has served since 2013, is young (45) and a Rhodes scholar, and would be the second Jewish person ever on a national ticket, after Joe Lieberman. He also has Mexican-American ancestry, which would make him the first Latino running mate, just like Castro, Perez, and Becerra; he also speaks passable Spanish.
Unlike San Antonio, LA has a strong mayor system, so Garcetti is actually running the show. The city's powers are somewhat limited by the distinction between the city and Los Angeles County, but Garcetti still has some accomplishments to tout.
After initially calling for a $13.25 an hour minimum wage, he ultimately signed a $15 one into law, beating California as a whole to the punch (though he’s said it’s a bad idea nationally and maybe statewide too). He has offered housing to unauthorized minor immigrants in LA as they await court proceedings, a notable win for pro-immigrant activists, and he’s a vocal advocate for making LA more transit-based and less car-dominated.
And despite endorsing Obama early in the 2008 cycle, and despite Bill Clinton’s endorsement of his rival in 2013, Garcetti campaigned diligently for Hillary throughout the primaries, especially in the runup to the vote in California.
The case against picking him: Garcetti is all but anonymous nationally — and unlike, say, Sherrod Brown and Tim Kaine, the place where people have heard of him is going to vote for Democrats no matter what. While he has national roots, he doesn’t have the kind of community standing that, say, Becerra or Perez does. And it's basically unprecedented to elevate a mayor directly to a national ticket, even a mayor of a giant city wielding real power. There just isn't much precedent for picking someone like Garcetti over a senator or governor.
Also, this video exists:
9) Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH)
The case for picking him: Ryan is a young (42) but still well-qualified (14 years in the House) Congress member from northeast Ohio, representing Youngstown and the outskirts of Akron, among the most struggling industrial areas in the state. He’s an outspoken economic populist like Brown, and his bill allowing tariffs against China if it doesn't cease currency manipulation made it through the House back in 2010.
That kind of shtick could help in the Rust Belt and win back some of those drawn to Sanders’s economic platform. Ryan is a staunch labor ally, which could prove helpful given unions’ crucial role in voter turnout operations. And he's hugely charismatic:
He's been widely regarded as a rising star in the party for years, courted for gubernatorial and Senate bids. VP would be a pretty sudden jump up, but the precedent for Congress members from the Midwest named Ryan as national running mates has been set.
The case against picking him: Ryan was probably most famous, until last year, as one of the last outspoken anti-abortion Democrats. He clashed with other pro-lifers over his staunch support for expanded access to contraception as a way to reduce abortions, but he identified as pro-life and voted like a pro-lifer.
In 2003 he got a mere 10 percent rating from NARAL, and in 2006 he got an 80 percent from the National Right to Life Committee. He voted to ban partial-birth abortion, to make it a crime to harm a fetus, and to ban the transport of minors across state lines to get around parental notification requirements.
But he made a dramatic U-turn on the issue last year, saying, "The heavy hand of government must not make this decision for women and families." And it’s true that many Democrats — from Ted Kennedy to Al Gore to Dick Gephardt to Jesse Jackson to Dennis Kucinich — have gone from staunchly anti-abortion to pro-choice when necessary to mount national campaigns, with abortion rights groups not holding their past against them. But Ryan was the standard-bearer of pro-life Democrats for a long time, which is a hard thing to forget.
Ryan also was a protégé of, and staffer for, Rep. Jim Traficant (D-OH), his predecessor in Congress, who left office after being imprisoned for bribery. Traficant is one of the most genuinely bizarre figures to ever engage in American politics.
Outlandishly corrupt and extensively tied to the Mafia, he once represented himself in a RICO trial, claiming he only accepted bribes from the mob because he was trying to do a secret undercover investigation into corruption and simply hadn't informed any law enforcement officials that this was what he was doing. (Read David Grann’s profile of him; it’s just unbelievable stuff.) He was acquitted that time around.
Once in Congress, Traficant used his platform to champion John Demjanjuk, who was convicted in both Israeli and German court of murder due to his role as a concentration camp guard in the Holocaust. He was also fond of Nazi scientist Arthur Randolph, who used slave laborers to build rockets.
All this being said: While Ryan later fell out with Traficant, who ran against Ryan from his own prison cell, the man was Ryan’s mentor all the same, and that is at least a little concerning.