Politics

Is the White House deliberately sidelining Kamala Harris?

Joe Biden has publicly defended his relationship with Kamala Harris in an apparent bid to quell rumours of a split between the US president and his right-hand woman.

US media is portraying Harris as a vice president “struggling to make her mark”, said The Guardian. But White House spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters on Sunday that Harris was “not only a vital partner” but also “a bold leader who has taken on key, important challenges facing the country”.

Yet her “track record on delivering on the administration’s global priorities” since entering the White House “has been mixed”, said The New York Times (NYT). Amid falling approval ratings, Harris is battling to “cement” her profile both at home and abroad as a VP “who has demonstrated aspirations for higher office”.

‘Trash portfolio’

According to The Times, allies of Harris are increasingly concerned that she is “being sidelined by Biden, amid signs that rivals are preparing to fight her for the Democratic nomination rather than allow a coronation”.

Anger in the Harris camp is said to have mounted after a recent USA Today poll of 1,000 voters put her approval rating at 28% – making her the least popular VP in modern history, a record previously held by George W. Bush’s deputy Dick Cheney.

Insiders claim that “tensions have been growing between her team and Biden’s as Harris keeps stumbling”, said The Times.

The two leaders hugged in front of photographers during a White House signing ceremony for the $1.2trn bipartisan infrastructure package on Monday.

But she had not joined “the president’s inner circle for an intense day of phone calls around Democrats in Congress to ensure the passage” of the bill, the paper reported.

Her inner circle have “fumed that she’s not being adequately prepared or positioned”, according to CNN. The VP is said to have told “several confidants she feels constrained in what she’s able to do politically”.

“Defenders and people who care for Harris are getting frantic,” said the broadcaster. Some have argued that as both the first woman and the first woman of colour to hold the office, she is facing “outsized scrutiny and no forgiveness for even small errors”.

The recent White House declaration of support for Harris came as “the strains between the two camps” became “impossible to ignore”, said The Times. “There is even speculation that Biden could seek to offload Harris, perhaps when the next vacancy arises for a seat on the Supreme Court,” the paper added.

A “tightly choreographed” trip by the VP to Paris last week, following a “recent diplomatic rift” between the US and France, “kept her largely free of controversy and allowed her to establish a greater presence”, the NYT said. 

But she still faces “significant headwinds at home”, where “allies of the administration treaded gingerly when asked how Harris’ performance abroad could change her own political fortunes”.

Amid claims that Harris has been set up to fail by the Biden administration, CNN pundit Bakari Sellers argued last month that her duties were “trash . . . a portfolio that’s not meant for [her] to succeed”.

The embattled politician has been put in charge of stemming illegal migration through her country’s porous southern border. She has also been tasked with tackling Republican-led efforts to introduce voter registration, a measure that Democrats describe as voter suppression. 

The first is an issue that has dogged White House administrations for decades, while the 50-50 split between Democrats and Republicans in the Senate makes the second task near impossible. 

White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain this week moved to defend her record, In a statement to CNN. The VP and her team “are off to the fastest and strongest start of any vice president I have seen”, said Klain, a known “Harris defender in the West Wing” who meets with her weekly.

But such public outpourings of support have done little to lessen “concerns over Harris’ leadership and political future”, said USA Today.

Heir to the throne

As “chatter grows” in Washington about who might succeed Biden if he rules out running for re-election in 2024, “Harris isn’t scaring off anyone” considering a crack at becoming the Democrat’s candidate, said Politico.

While she grapples “with a portfolio of seemingly intractable issues and responsibilities that have drawn her away from the national spotlight”, other Beltway Democrats “have raised their own national profiles”.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg is “implementing much of the popular bipartisan infrastructure deal”, the news site continued. And Senator Corey Booker “is keeping in touch with allies” in the “critical primary state” of New Hampshire.

Such efforts add “a new level of electoral uncertainty that the Democratic Party, and Harris in particular, face as they remain dependent on Biden’s success and unclear about his future”.

According to CNN,  “key West Wing aides” fed up with “entrenched dysfunction and lack of focus” have “largely thrown up their hands” at Harris and her staff, “deciding there simply isn’t time to deal with them”.

And “though Harris has told confidants that she has been enjoying a good working dynamic directly with Biden”, said the broadcaster, “those who work for them describe their relationship in terms of settling into an exhausted stalemate”.

Biden, who turns 79 this week, “maintains that he will run for a second term”, The Times said. But “privately almost no one seems to believe him”.

And that makes it all the more “urgent for Harris to turn around her ratings as she could face a field of challengers in a Democratic primary, either in 2024 or 2028”, the paper concluded.

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