What Biden’s top VP contenders did before getting into politics

On Thursday, Joe Biden’s campaign announced the co-chairs of their vice presidential selection committee featuring figures like former U.S. Senator Chris Dodd and Rep. Lisa Blunt of Delaware.

Nearly all of the candidates former Vice President Joe Biden is apparently considering have law degrees and a number of them have represented corporations during their time in the private sector. Biden got his own law degree from Syracuse University in the late 1960s and briefly practiced law at a firm in Wilmington, Del.

“Selecting a vice presidential candidate is one of the most important decisions in a presidential campaign and no one knows this more than Joe Biden,” said Jen O’Malley Dillon, his campaign manager, in announcing the co-chairs.

Former Vice President Joe Biden has been limited to television appearance from his rec room during the pandemic but has been kicking off a search for a Vice President while observing social distancing. (CBS via Getty Images)

Possible contenders – from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Rutgers School of Law) to Sen. Amy Klobuchar (University of Chicago Law School) – have seen the business world from the inside and have talked a bit publicly about the lessons they took from that experience.

Biden has said he will pick a woman to run with him and he could decide by July.

Here are the candidates being mentioned on different lists and their backgrounds in the private sector.

Biden’s former primary opponents

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) is seen as one of the leading contenders. Before getting into politics, she practiced law for almost 14 years and rose to become a partner at two firms in Minnesota. In her memoir, she discussed planning a law career from age 14 and said her time in the private sector “showed me how commerce and the business world work.” 

Senator Amy Klobuchar suspended her campaign and immediately endorsed Biden at the beginning of March. (Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)

She began her career representing companies like General Mills (GIS) and First Bank (now U.S. Bank (USB)), but gravitated toward telecommunications law. There, she represented a number of companies but appears to have focused most of her energy on MCI Communications.

MCI was at one point the second-largest long-distance provider in the United States and an early internet company. It helped lead to the breakup of AT&T and was eventually acquired by WorldCom in 1998. Klobuchar describes her work with the company as helping them fight for lower prices against entrenched telephone monopolies.

“Sometimes I wish more elected officials – and people in government generally – had an appreciation for the fast pace of the business world,” Klobuchar wrote.

Senator Elizabeth Warren announced that she was dropping out of the presidential race on March 5. (Scott Eisen/Getty Images)

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is another VP contender. Her path to politics was as a law professor for more than 30 years where she gained national attention for her work on bankruptcy. 

In her memoir, Warren lays out how she became one of the most outspoken critics of big banks. She describes one meeting with Citibank (C) where she says a top executive told her he wanted to continue lending to people in financial trouble who would likely go bankrupt because “they are the ones who provide most of our profits.”

At the same tine, she also did some work representing big corporations. The New York Times, in a deep examination of that stretch of her career, noted that she took on clients from Travelers (TRV) to Dow Chemical.

“I was one of the country’s leading experts in bankruptcy,” is how Warren has described her work representing companies, saying she took the work “because I thought there was an important bankruptcy principle at stake.” Her campaign also set up a page outlining her previous work and how much she was paid for it.

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) is another Biden rival-turned-ally who is now at the top of many VP lists. Harris earned her law degree from the University of California, Hastings. She was admitted to the California bar in 1990 and, unlike many of her current competitors for the vice-presidential slot, she didn’t have a stop-over in the private sector before entering public service.

Harris, who worked as the San Francisco District Attorney and California Attorney General before being elected to the Senate, went into public service from the beginning. As she put it to The New York Times in 2016, she wanted to be “at the table where the decisions are made.”

Other contenders

Gretchen Whitmer was elected governor of Michigan in 2018. (REUTERS/Jeff Kowalsky)

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has appeared recently on Joe Biden’s podcast and her vice presidential stock seems to rise with every disparaging comment from President Trump. 

She was in the Michigan House of Representatives by age 30 and is another lawyer on Biden’s list. She had two stints at the law firm Dickinson Wright. 

She worked as a litigator at the firm which represents many corporate clients. When Whitmer rejoined the firm in 2015, its CEO said she would “help our clients navigate the hurdles that often arise when working with the government.”

Former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams worked as a lawyer at a firm called Eversheds-Sutherland in Atlanta. According to a biography, her work there was focused “on tax-exempt organizations, healthcare and public finance.”

“My mix of private sector, public sector and nonprofit leadership prepares me to be able and capable of serving in that role,” she said during a recent Yahoo Finance interview about her qualifications for VP. 

In the interview, she focused more on her time in government as a qualification. “I was a bureaucrat before I ran for office,” she said. “I had to think about how do you take the laws passed by well-intentioned legislators and turn it into the active work of running a government.”

Lesser-known names

Many of the other names that often show up on different media lists have backgrounds in law.

Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, who went to Gonzaga University School of Law, worked for a few years in the early 1990s as an associate attorney for civil litigation at a small firm called Raleigh, Hunt & McGarry. She ultimately rose to become Attorney General of Nevada and then the first Latina ever elected to the United States Senate.

Kamala Harris, left, and Catherine Cortez Masto both are now Senators and possible Vice-Presidential contenders. They also overlapped as State Attorney Generals for California and Nevada, respectively. They are shown here in 2011. (Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Other names that have been floated as possible VP candidates include Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Sen. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico, and former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, all have law degrees.

A few names on the list who aren’t attached to a law degree. Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois has a degree in International Affairs and a background in the military. Likewise former Obama National Security advisor Susan Rice is a former Rhodes scholar more associated with foreign policy. 

Rep. Val Demings of Florida, who gained national attention as one of the House impeachment managers, rose up through the police department in Orlando.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire is one of the only former business owners mentioned as a contender. She co-founded and ran a jewelry store in Maine in the 1970s.

Ben Werschkul is a producer for Yahoo Finance in Washington, DC.

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