Howard's pick offers Mr Biden the opportunity to shore up support in the Democratic Party's most loyal constituency, which he needs to win re-election next year. While opinion polls show continued strong support for Mr Biden among black voters, political analysts and party strategists have expressed concern about an enthusiasm gap that could complicate the prospects for a presidency, which requires a high turnout from his base.
Mr. Biden has been hindered on goals such as cracking down on police brutality and strengthening the vote. He did sign an executive order on federal law enforcement last year, though key parts of the order have yet to be implemented. Many supporters say he failed to deliver on his promises to make systemic changes to the criminal justice system.
But he chose Kamala Harris (a Howard graduate) as the first black vice president; appointed the first black woman to the Supreme Court, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson; and has placed more black women on the federal bench than every other president combined. Unemployment among black Americans fell to a record low of 4.7 percent in April, and the gap between white and black unemployment rates shrank to the smallest level ever measured.
Interestingly for his audience Saturday, Mr. Biden has developed a program to write off $400 billion in student loans over the coming decades, writing off up to $20,000 each for those who qualify. But the Supreme Court appears ready to overturn it.
Mr. Biden won 92 percent of black voters in 2020, but only 58 percent said they approved of her appearance on latest Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll. May survey by the Economist and YouGov gave his approval among black adults by 71 percent, but only 46 percent wanted him to run again.
Mr. Biden found a friendly but not overly excited crowd on Saturday. Graduate seniors and their families filled much of Capital One Arena, home of the Washington Capitals and Wizards, and greeted them warmly, although a dozen stood up in protest, some holding signs about issues such as military research. The ambivalence between students and graduates was seen in the interviews on campus before the ceremony.
“He's a pretty good person,” said Mariah Davis, 19, a mechanical engineering major, said of Mr Biden. “She's just really trying to advocate for a lot of groups of people that are unheard of.”