WASHINGTON — Kamala Harris was frustrated. The text of a speech she had
been given to deliver in Chicago to the nation’s biggest teachers’ union
was just another dreary, scripted talk that said little of any
As Air Force Two made its way to the Midwest over the summer, the vice president told her staff she wanted to say something more significant,
more direct. She brandished a Rolling Stone magazine article about the
backlash against Florida school officials after new legislation barring
the discussion of gender identity in the classroom.
The teachers she was about to address were on the front lines of the
nation’s culture wars, Harris told her staff. They were the same ones on
the front lines of school shootings. Just blandly ticking through federal funding for education would not be enough. The plane was just an hour out
from Chicago, but she said they needed to start over.
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By the time she landed, she had a more spirited version of the speech in
hand, accusing “extremist so-called leaders” in the Republican Party of
taking away rights and freedoms.
Harris’ small airborne rebellion that day encapsulated the trap that she
finds herself in. She has made history as the first woman, the first
African American and the first Asian American ever to serve as vice
president, but she has still struggled to define her role much beyond that legacy.
Her staff notes that she has made strides, emerging as a strong voice in
the administration on abortion rights. She has positioned herself as a
more visible advocate for the administration, giving a speech last week at
the funeral for Tyre Nichols, the 29-year-old who was beaten by Memphis
police officers. And her critics and detractors alike acknowledge that the
vice presidency is intended to be a supporting role, and many of her predecessors have labored to make themselves relevant, as well.
But the painful reality for Harris is that in private conversations over
the past few months, dozens of Democrats in the White House, on Capitol
Hill and around the nation — including some who helped put her on the
party’s 2020 ticket — said she had not risen to the challenge of proving herself as a future leader of the party, much less the country. Even some Democrats whom her own advisers referred reporters to for supportive
quotes confided privately that they had lost hope in her.
Through much of the fall, a quiet panic set in among key Democrats about
what would happen if President Joe Biden opted not to run for a second
term. Most Democrats interviewed, who insisted on anonymity to avoid
alienating the White House, said flatly that they did not think Harris
could win the presidency in 2024. Some said the party’s biggest challenge
would be finding a way to sideline her without inflaming key Democratic constituencies that would take offense.
Now with Biden appearing all but certain to run again, the concern over
Harris has shifted to whether she will be a political liability for the
ticket. Given that Biden at 80 is the oldest president in American
history, Republicans would most likely make Harris, who is 58, a prime
attack line, arguing that a vote for Biden may in fact be a vote to put
her in the Oval Office.
“That will be in my opinion one of the most hard-hitting arguments against Biden,” said John Morgan, a prominent fundraiser for Democrats, including Biden, and a former Florida finance chair for President Bill Clinton. “It doesn’t take a genius to say, ‘Look, with his age, we have to really think about this.’”
So far, he said, she has not distinguished herself.
“I can’t think of one thing she’s done except stay out of the way and
stand beside him at certain ceremonies,” he said.
Some 39% of Americans approve of Harris’ job performance, according to a
recent aggregate of surveys compiled by the polling site FiveThirtyEight.
This puts her below Biden’s approval rating, which has hovered around 42%
for the past month.
Harris’ allies said she was trapped in a damned-if-she-does, damned-if- she-doesn’t conundrum — she is expected to not do anything to overshadow
Biden while navigating intractable issues he has assigned her such as
voting rights and illegal immigration. And some see a double standard
applied to a prominent woman of color.
“That’s what being a first is all about,” said Rep. James E. Clyburn, D-
S.C., one of the nation’s most prominent Black lawmakers, who has been an outspoken supporter. “She’s got to work every day to make sure she’s not
While Biden was quoted in a new book by Chris Whipple, “The Fight of His
Life,” calling Harris a “work in progress,” the White House defended her
when asked for comment, forwarding a statement from Ron Klain, the
president’s departing chief of staff who has been her most important
Klain, who served as chief of staff to two vice presidents, said that
those who hold that post often “take grief” but go on “to prove skeptics wrong.” He cited Harris’ outspoken support for abortion rights and her international trips. “She has done all that operating under high
expectations,” he added, noting her status as various firsts. “She carries these expectations not as a burden but with grace and an understanding of
how much her history-making role inspires others.”
Harris has a fresh opportunity to find her footing with the arrival of the
new Congress. Because the Senate was split evenly for the past two years, Harris has cast 26 tiebreaking votes in her role as president of the
Senate, more than any vice president since John C. Calhoun, who left
office in 1832. Tethered to Washington, she could never be more than 24
hours away from the Capitol when the Senate was in session in case her
vote was needed.
With Democrats now holding a 51-49 edge, at least in cases when Sen.
Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, the rogue Democrat-turned-independent, votes
with them, Harris has a little more breathing space. She has told her
staff that she wants to make at least three out-of-town trips a week in
the coming year.
No one feels the frustration of being underestimated more acutely than
Harris, but she makes a point of not exhibiting it publicly. In an
interview with The New York Times while she was in Japan last fall, she
tried to explain her own political identity.
“You got to know what you stand for and, when you know what you stand for,
you know what to fight for,” Harris said.
What that translates to in tangible terms is less clear. After her
disastrous interview with Lester Holt of NBC News in June 2021, in which
she struggled to articulate the administration’s strategy for securing the border, White House officials — including some in her own office — noted
that she all but went into a bunker for about a year, avoiding many
interviews out of what aides said was a fear of making mistakes and disappointing Biden.
Members of Congress, Democratic strategists and other major party figures
all said she had not made herself into a formidable leader. Two Democrats recalled private conversations in which former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton lamented that Harris could not win because she does not
have the political instincts to clear a primary field. Nick Merrill, a spokesperson for Clinton, said she was strongly supportive of Harris and
often spoke with her about shared experiences of being “a woman in power.”
He added: “They have built and maintained a strong bond. Any other characterization is patently false.”
Advisers and allies trace Harris’ challenges to her transition from the lawyerly prosecutor she used to be as district attorney of San Francisco
and attorney general of California into a job where symbolism and politics
Aides have encouraged her to liberate herself from the teleprompter and
show the nation the Harris they say they see when the cameras are off, one
who can cross-examine policymakers on the intricacies of legislative
proposals and connect with younger voters nationwide.
Harris has acknowledged her reservations about leaning into the more
symbolic aspects of her current position.
“My bias has always been to speak factually, to speak accurately, to speak precisely about issues and matters that have potentially great
consequence,” she said in the interview in Japan. “I find it off-putting
to just engage in platitudes. I much prefer to deconstruct an issue and
speak of it in a way that hopefully elevates public discourse and educates
Harris finds herself navigating the unique dynamics of being a woman of
color in a job previously filled only by men. In planning meetings before
she travels abroad, officials from foreign governments have proposed
meetings or public appearances with the first lady of the country Harris
is visiting. Her staff rebuffs those proposals, saying the vice president
is not visiting as a spouse but as the second-ranking official of the
United States, according to current and former White House officials.
There are more mundane hiccups, as well. Jamal Simmons, who recently
stepped down as communications director for the vice president, said he
learned that the desk chairs in her office needed to be changed to suit
Harris — who stands about 5-foot-2 — instead of the “average male height”
of her predecessors. “She forces us to recalibrate our assumptions,”
Harris has, at times, expressed hesitation to become the face of certain issues. When the Biden administration confronted a shortage of baby
formula across the nation last year, Harris declined a request by the West
Wing to highlight efforts to solve the problem by meeting a shipment of
formula at Washington Dulles International Airport, an incident first
reported by The Washington Post and confirmed by one current and two
former administration officials. Instead, Jill Biden, the first lady,
ended up appearing alongside the surgeon general when the shipment arrived
from overseas. (Nearly a month later, Harris did agree to meet one of the shipments.)
Harris disputes the idea that she is concerned about being assigned — or pursuing — certain tasks solely because of her gender or identity.
“I’m fully aware of stereotypes, but I will tell you something: I’ve never
been burdened by a sense of ‘I should not do something that’s important
because I will be pigeonholed,’” Harris said during the interview in
Japan. She said she had pursued the abortion rights issue, for example, “because I feel it is one of the biggest tragedies that has happened at
this level of our government in a very long time.”
Harris often tells senior aides that she feels most comfortable receiving intelligence briefings or addressing law enforcement officials, venues
where she says substance is valued over politics. She has directed staff members to ensure that she is making trips to speak about the
administration’s accomplishments, such as the Inflation Reduction Act, and
not just the multiple crises it faces.
She has also peppered her staff with questions about local abortion access
and how the decision overturning Roe v. Wade could lead to criminalization
of medical officials.
“She has her prosecutor hat on that way,” said Alexis McGill Johnson,
president of Planned Parenthood, who has watched the vice president try to distill complex health care issues in a way that “everyday citizens” can understand.
And months after she revised her Chicago speech aboard Air Force Two,
Harris went through nine drafts before delivering a speech in Tallahassee, Florida, on the 50th anniversary of Roe, in which she asked if Americans
can ever “truly be free” if a woman cannot make decisions about her own
Several attendees said they were encouraged to see a Black woman speaking clearly about how threats to Roe represent a broader threat to civil
It was “very powerful for me to see someone with my likeness in this
position in this day and age,” said Sabrita Thurman, 56, who is Black.
Those close to Harris hope she can move beyond “defensive politics,” said Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian who organized a meeting at her residence about the legacy of the vice presidency and will attend another session with her this week.
“President Biden has to give her more leeway to be herself and not make
her overly cautious that a mistake, a rhetorical mistake, will cost the
party a lot,” Brinkley said. “It’s better to let Kamala be Kamala.”
Well, unfortunately for her, defining her VP would require substance.
Most individuals would define a career, with their accomplishments/achievements. Other than being picked for VP, I’m not sure she’s got a whole lot to work with.
1 day ago
She checked off at least two of the boxes that the left requires for jobs. Substance/experience isn't even in the top 10.