Nearly a year after Beau Biden died of brain cancer, Kamala Harris was still grieving. Speaking at the California Democratic Party’s convention in 2016, Harris spoke of Biden’s family as one that “truly represents our nation’s highest ideals, a powerful belief in the nobility of public service.”
She then praised his father, Joe, saying the then-vice president “has given so much to our country and on top of everything he has accomplished, he gave to us my dear friend, Beau.” Joe Biden later took the stage, calling Harris among the “great friends” he and Beau had in California.
Harris and Beau Biden formed a close friendship during their time as state attorneys general — Harris in California and Biden in Delaware. It was that relationship that drew Harris closer to Joe Biden and has come into focus now that they’re both vying for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Most of the two dozen White House hopefuls have pre-existing friendships from their time on Capitol Hill or other Democratic circles. But few are as complex — and potentially awkward — as the tie between Harris and Joe Biden.
They’ve bonded over their deep love and admiration of Beau Biden and a sadness over his loss that lingers four years after his death. But signs of tension that could strain the relationship have already surfaced.
Her campaign, for instance, has resented talk that she would be a perfect running mate for Joe Biden. After a recent New Hampshire town hall, she pointedly joked that Joe Biden would be a great running mate because “as vice president, he’s proven he knows how to do the job.”
Yet while many candidates in the race have derided Joe Biden’s high-dollar fundraisers and past policy stances, Harris has largely refrained.
If they share the stage at one of the upcoming presidential debates, their approach to each other could be further tested. Given their past history, some Democrats doubt Harris and Joe Biden will swing too hard against each other — at least early on.
“In this instance, I have to believe that when you’re talking about someone having lost their child and someone who lost a friend and a colleague, I think that creates respect, not rancor,” said Democratic strategist Karen Finney.
But those who worked closely with Beau Biden and Harris on a number of issues while they served as attorneys general said the two quickly developed a rapport and a level of trust. They came to rely on each other as sounding boards, according to the aides, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to candidly describe their relationship.
During negotiations with banks during the foreclosure crisis, one former Harris aide said she talked or texted with Beau Biden daily — and sometimes more frequently. The aide described a close partnership between not just Beau Biden and Harris themselves, but between the two staffs despite the fact that their offices were located on opposite ends of the country.
For a moment this week, Beau Biden’s memory seemed to suspend the rancor of politics. On Thursday, Harris marked the fourth anniversary of his death by tweeting a photo of herself with Beau Biden, saying “you couldn’t find a person who cared more deeply for his family, the nation he served, and the state of Delaware.”
“Four years after his passing, I still miss him,” she said.
Joe Biden responded on Twitter later in the day, thanking Harris for her “kind remembrance.”
Speaking earlier in the day at Delaware’s Memorial Day service, commemorating those who died in military service, Joe Biden noted the “bittersweet day.”
“You all know the loss of a loved one,” Biden said. “Somehow, the pain fades a little bit, but the moments you remember are bittersweet because those are the days when it comes back, the pride as well as the pain.”