Vice President Harris takes the stage at Essence Festival, only mentions Biden once

Black voters weigh-in on her ability to lead the Democratic ticket.

July 6, 2024, 9:55 PM

As mounting calls for President Joe Biden to step down permeate through the Democratic party, Vice President Kamala Harris visited New Orleans to speak to a largely Black audience about the stakes of the 2024 election.

While speaking at the Essence Festival, Harris mostly ignored the criticisms the president has faced over the past week since his highly criticized debate performance and interview with ABC News' George Stephanopoulos.

President Joe Biden speaks with George Stephanopoulos on July 5, 2024, in an ABC News exclusive.
ABC News

Harris did little to bolster or defend the president, she in fact only mentioned Biden one time while referencing debt relief and instead, opted to attack former President Donald Trump over his 34 convictions.

"The United States Supreme Court essentially told this individual, who has been convicted of 34 felonies, that he will be immune from essentially the activity he has told us he is prepared to engage in if he gets back into the White House."

Most of the defense for the president came from the panelists who took the stage before Harris, which included Rep. Maxine Waters and former Congressional Black Caucus Chair Rep. Joyce Beatty.

PHOTO: Vice President Harris Speaks At The 30th Essence Festival Of Culture In New Orleans
Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at the Global Black Economic Forum during the 30th annual Essence Festival of Culture at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, on July 6, 2024, in New Orleans. Harris was at the event to participate in a conversation with Essence Magazine President and CEO Caroline A. Wanga.
Michael Democker/Getty Images

Beatty went after those calling for Biden to step down by bringing up when Rep. Mitch McConnell had a series of public episodes last year in which he seemed to "freeze."

"One of the things we're doing is sticking with [Biden] ... conversely when Mitch McConnell froze up nobody asked him to step down. Members and constituents didn't start telling him he was too old."

Don Lemon, Joyce Beatty, Steven Horsford, Maxine Waters and Troy Carter speak onstage during the 2024 ESSENCE Festival Of Culture, on July 6, 2024, in New Orleans.
Marcus Ingram/Getty Images for ESSENCE

However, this comment was made only after Beatty proclaimed, "I am going to continue with the Biden-Harris team because we're going to still have a sister in the White House fighting for us."

Is America ready for a Black woman president?

The Essence Festival is an event billed as the largest Black festival to celebrate Black culture. The Biden campaign has been focusing on Black voters as polls show some support slipping to Trump.

Elaine Brown from California told ABC News that although she has mixed feelings about the president's debate performance, she feels that she is electing more than just one man, "I know as a president he makes several decisions, but he has a whole cabinet that makes other decisions as well," said Brown. "It's a group thing, and it's just not one individual."

Amongst reports that wealthy donors are attempting to push Biden off of the ticket, Mark Gilbert, former ​​U.S. Ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa -- who has thrown several seven-figure fundraisers for the team -- noted that Biden is still coherent enough to lead the ticket.

But Gilbert acknowledged the undeniable truth that Biden isn't getting any younger and if something should happen Harris would "100%" be able to take up the mantle.

The majority of Black voters ABC News spoke with at the festival agreed with Gilbert. Should Biden step down, they are more than ready for Harris to step up. "That's the only thing that gives me comfort in knowing that he has her," said Melina Williams.

But while many acknowledged that while Harris is ready to take the job, America might not be ready to accept a Black woman as president, with a voter noting to ABC News, that if Hilary Clinton couldn't do it, they're not sure how Harris could.

In a potential matchup between Harris and Trump, they were nearly tied with 42% supporting her and 43%, supporting the former president, according to a Ipsos poll released Tuesday, compared to the 43%-49% split between Biden and Trump.

Harris will need to close the gap in the critical battleground states that Biden is neck and neck with Trump in, appealing to groups that the Democrats are struggling to hold on to like the Arab and Muslim community in Michigan - a state Biden only narrowly won in 2020 by some 150,000 votes.

But voters like Chuck Berry and his friend, Shirley Ann who had flown to Louisiana from Columbia, South Carolina, to not only enjoy the festival but to hear Harris, feel that if Americans were able to elect former President Barack Obama they'll be able to do the same for Harris. "I think if we [who] look like her, especially women, rally, we'll get her there. It's a matter of us holding her accountable once she gets there."