Published: 02nd February 2021
Indian American Maju Varghese, the COO of Biden's Presidential campaign, narrates his journey to the White House
Kerala-origin lawyer Maju Varghese tells us about his work in the recent US election campaign and what the victory means for his community
Every immigrant shares one common goal — the pursuit of a better life, for them and their posterity. They toil and persevere in the hope of living their dreams some day. But for Indian-American Maju Varghese, his success is far beyond what he or his community ever dreamt of. Walking through the gates of the White House every day and working as a close aide to the President of the United States, Maju has inspired a whole general of immigrants in the US to never give up on their dreams. In an interesting conversation, Maju who is the Chief Operating Officer of Joe Biden's Presidential campaign and the Executive Director of Biden's inaugural committee, tells us what it was like working behind the scenes of this historic election and all about his journey to the White House.
1. When and how were you approached by the Biden-Harris campaign to be its senior advisor?
Former colleagues and friends from the Obama administration asked me to join the Biden campaign as COO and Senior Advisor in the summer of 2019. I officially joined the campaign in September 2019.
2. Tell us a bit about the campaign trail. How many days did it take? What did your role involve?
Through the primaries and the general election, I oversaw the operations of the campaign including travel, the campaign offices across the country, personnel, compliance and vetting. The role became more complex as we worked through the challenges of running a campaign during the pandemic.
3. What ideologies/policies assured you that you were campaigning for the right person?
I was always confident that President Biden's experience, coupled with his empathy, was exactly what the country needed. His approach to the pandemic and rebuilding the economy made him the right candidate at the right time for the country.
4. Tell us a little bit about your previous work experience with the Obama administration.
I was fortunate enough to work with an incredible team in the Obama White House. I spent the first few years working in the office of Scheduling and Advance, coordinating events for the President across the United States and around the world. After that, I was the Director of Management Administration where I oversaw White House operations, personnel and other activities on the White House complex. I served in that role until the last day of the administration in 2017.
5. How different was this election, considering all the racial tension, the pandemic and the political division?
The election was certainly different from anything I had ever experienced. All elections are influenced by outside events but this campaign, occurring in the middle of a pandemic and a national conversation about racial justice, was shaped by them. Those issues helped crystalise the choice in this election.
6. How did it feel to win by such a historic margin? What was different or unique about the campaign strategy?
I will always be in awe of the incredible work our organisers did to achieve record turnout in the middle of a pandemic. While we did return to more in-person campaigning in the late Summer and Fall, this campaign relied on organisers reaching voters and engaging volunteers virtually and with limited in-person activity. More Americans voted for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris than any ticket in history and we will all forever be proud of that.
7. How do you feel as an Indian immigrant to be working so close with the POTUS? Did you ever imagine yourself working at the White House?
I am proud of my parents' journey to this country. I was born in the United States shortly after my parents and my sister arrived in New York City. Each day that I walked through the gates of the White House, I took them and what I felt was an entire community with me. I don't think they could have ever imagined the things I would do or the places I would go. I owe it all to my family who started our American journey and all the sacrifices they made to make my story possible.
8. Considering the insecurity that many Indians and other immigrants felt with the Trump administration, do you think that your presence and the presence of other immigrant staff will reassure them?
I hope the presence of immigrants and the children of immigrants signals to all Americans that anything is possible. Ultimately, we are a nation of immigrants and so I think it is only fitting that immigrants and the children of immigrants have a role in shaping our politics and the future of the country.
9. Does your profile put personal challenges on your family or community?
I don't think my profile puts challenges on my family or community. I hope the work I have done and continue to do is a source of pride to the community and that it provides young people in the Indian community with the hope that there is a place for them in American politics.
10. Tell us a little more about your family's journey as immigrants to the US.
I was born in the United States after my parents made their journey here. My mother, a nurse, came over first, leaving my father and sister behind as she got settled here. They both joined her here shortly after and they all began to build a life here. They started their life together in a modest apartment in New York City and I was born shortly thereafter. My father never got to finish college so he worked different jobs to make ends meet, including driving a taxi for years. He later worked as a security guard in a New York hospital until he retired. My sister had a rough start, getting teased at school in her first days in this country. She is now a terrific public school teacher, keeping an eye out for children who may need extra help or support. I had it the easiest because I was born in the United States and had the advantage of enjoying the Indian culture while also having the life of an average American kid, including sports, school and a wide circle of friends. My parents worked hard to send me to college and I was able to work on a presidential campaign in 2000 and build professional relationships and friendships with people I work with to this day. I will be forever grateful for the work my family did to provide me with every opportunity to chase my dreams and reach far beyond anything we could have imagined.
11. What do you have to say about the contribution of Indian immigrants to US politics?
I think the Indian community will continue to get more engaged in the American political process. I think Vice President Harris and her presence as a national leader will have an impact on young Indian-Americans pursuing public service. Public service and politics are not the conventional paths pursued by children in the Indian community but I think over time, that will continue to change. I am proud of those who become doctors and engineers but I think if the Indian-American community wants to shape the future of this country, public service will be an essential component. The perspectives of immigrants and the children of immigrants can only enhance public life and that experience can shape policy that helps to open doors to future generations.