As coronavirus ravages the nation and the 2020 presidential election plods along, Stacey Abrams, a former House minority leader in the Georgia legislature, has found herself in the middle of the news - and not least because she has expressed interest in being the running mate for the presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden.
Abrams has come under attack for being so forthright, including from a Democratic congressman who said it was "offensive" to see a potential running mates "marketing" themselves for the position. Asked whether she thinks a man would be criticized for being open about that ambition, her answer is an unequivocal "no."
"What I've responded to has been the question of whether I believe I should stand for it if I'm invited, and whether I can. And as a woman of color, I think about the women who are looking at me, the young women of color, those who've been told to hide their interest and pretend through coyness that they don't have ambition," Abrams said as part of the TIME100 Talks on Thursday. "My ambition is to serve."
"The question I get is: Would I be willing to help? My answer is absolutely yes, and it's going to be my commitment regardless of the decision of the Biden campaign that I'm going to do everything in my power to make certain he's the next President of the United States."
Abrams, whose private meeting in 2019 with the Biden and recent appearance alongside him in an interview have fueled speculation, has said since at least last August she "would be honored" to be considered as a running mate for the eventual nominee. It's unusual for prospective vice presidential candidates to be so forthright, but she's not alone in being candid about her ambition. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, when asked whether she would accept the role if offered it by MSNBC's Rachel Maddow said simply, "yes."
Abrams' star has been rising within the Democratic party and on the national stage in recent years. After her time in the state legislature, in 2018 she ran a gubernatorial campaign in Georgia and came close to winning a marquee race in a red state with a lot of national attention. She has since turned much of her attention to voting rights.
Abrams, who spoke with TIME in a wide-ranging interview, discussed a series of issues including Ahmaud Arbery, the black man who was fatally shot in Georgia earlier this year while jogging, ballot access in the midst of the pandemic, and the dangers of Georgia's Gov. Brian Kemp proceeding with reopening the state.
Recently, the Georgia Department of Public Health came under fire for a misleading chart that reportedly appeared to show a decline in coronavirus cases in the state's five most-affected counties, when, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the cases had only plateaued. Kemp's office had to issue an apology after they were criticized for manipulating information to justify pursuing an aggressive reopening timeline.
Abrams was critical of Kemp, who she ran against in 2018, and noted the disproportionate toll the novel coronavirus has had on African Americans and low-income workers.
"The part that's the most disturbing is the fact that we have watched in recent days a manipulation of data that pretends that Georgia is doing better than it is," she told TIME. "There has not been enough attention, and there certainly hasn't been enough effort on the part of the governor to protect the state of Georgia, especially those who are the most vulnerable and the least resilient to this disease… I think it's too late now to unring the bell he's rung, but what will have to happen is that we're prepared for the next wave of COVID, which is absolutely going to come."
Abrams also addressed the sexual assault allegation that former staffer Tara Reade made against Biden. Reade says that he attacked her when she was a Senate aide in 1993. Biden has denied the allegation, and no other allegations claiming sexual assault against him have surfaced. Other outlets' investigations into Reade's past have surfaced former acquaintances of Reade's who described her as "manipulative" to Politico, and painted a conflicting picture to CNN. Biden's allies, like Abrams, have stood behind him through the controversy.
"I believe Joe Biden because I know him, and because I, having read and understood the allegations, do not find them to be credible," Abrams said, noting that she believes women deserve to have their stories heard and investigated. "I stand behind my decision, and I stand behind him as someone who is an American, who has a responsibility to determine the kind of leadership I wish to see. I trust Joe Biden as someone who has stood for women and stood with woman, and I believe him on this issue."