The first trip abroad for a vice president is an acid test, and Harris was under more pressure than most as a potential future party leader and the first woman of color to hold the post. Harris spoke at length about the causes of mass migration such as crime, corruption and climate change, and announced millions of dollars in aid and investment during his trip. She also issued a stern warning to undocumented migrants not to go to the border.
But his political missteps overshadowed the political progress of his trip.
The Vice President has never been particularly adept when faced with questions she doesn’t like or want to answer – as she demonstrated in the 2020 primaries, when she dodged and evaded repeatedly asked questions about his health care plan. In this case, she hijacked a direct question from NBC’s Lester Holt about why she hadn’t visited the border by laughing and stating that she hadn’t been to Europe either, adding that she didn’t understand why Holt was doing it – even though everyone else did.
The exchange with Holt reflected the frustration Harris and his team have felt for weeks as they work to make it clear that Biden has tasked her with managing diplomatic efforts to stem migration from the Northern Triangle, without resolving the issue. problem at the US-Mexico border. While it is true that many other government agencies are responsible for managing the border, this position has been a difficult needle for her, as anyone with experience in the area will tell you that both issues are inextricably linked.
At a press conference in Mexico, Harris clarified his remarks by committing to visit the border, which would have been an easy way to deal with the issue the first time he was asked the question.
Her unstable handling of politics around the issue of immigration has prompted new questions about her political dexterity both as vice president and as a future White House contender, as this week’s trip was his first test at the highest levels of the art of government.
Right-wing media are trying to portray Harris as hopelessly inept when it comes to border issues – and she’s given them an opening by appearing to be trying to distance herself from the issues there. The awkwardness of her response to Holt ended up dominating the storyline of her trip, leading to questions about her preparation and sexist criticism of her willingness to take on these challenges. It has also overshadowed her substantive responses to politics in the Northern Triangle and the intensive and practical efforts she is making to delve into the subject as she attempts to shape strategy for the region.
Texas Senator Ted Cruz and other GOP leaders – many of whom have made high-profile trips to the border without succeeding in resolving the issue – jumped at what they perceived to be a blunder: “Kamala Harris does hasn’t been to Europe, she hasn’t been to Australia but we don’t have an Australian border crisis or a European border crisis, “Cruz tweeted.” We have a southern border crisis. She should come to Texas and see the crisis for herself. #BidenBorderCrisis. “
Minority House Leader Kevin McCarthy, a Republican from California, added on Twitter that “the only thing Vice President Kamala Harris has managed to achieve in the past 3 days was to avoid facing to the worsening of the crisis at the American border “.
It’s clear that some of Harris’s criticisms, especially in the conservative media, are more acute because she is the first black female vice president. For example, Fox News commentator Katie Pavlich claimed on Tuesday that Harris was chosen by Biden “based on gender and skin color rather than actual talent and expertise” – an offensive comment that overlooks the record and accomplishments of the former attorney who served as a California attorney. general and an American senator.
But success in politics depends on the ability to be nimble both at home and on the world stage, understanding how to deflect criticism or unwanted questions in a way that turns them to one’s advantage. Harris has always struggled in this regard – even since his early days in California politics – and she knows it is now under closer scrutiny because Biden has said he is posing as a “figure. transition, ”then called her to be the last person in the room whenever he made big decisions.
Precisely because she is seen as Biden’s potential heir and a possible future Democratic candidate, she will face a relentless, years-long campaign from the right to discredit her. This means that the spotlight will always be on her and that she will need a political operation that is always ready to react. Bad reviews from that maiden trip were reminiscent of some of the missteps of a 2020 White House campaign that failed to deliver on its initial promises and whether it learned from them.
For someone considered potentially the first female president, who is already a heartbeat from the highest office, these questions are especially important. It will take time for Harris to develop political confidence and the ability to erase pesky questions from the press – demonstrated, for example, by Hillary Clinton during her tenure as Secretary of State. Clinton, who was less gifted than Harris at trade policy, nonetheless had the ability of the world’s most accomplished politicians to think several sentences ahead while training with the press or a foreign official – a skill Harris still owes. control.
While it’s not Harris’ fault that immigration is an intractable issue that has defied presidents for decades, the idea that his staff have repeatedly argued that his portfolio extends only to international aspects and diplomatic of the problem is spurious.
It’s easy to see why his collaborators might view border issues as a poisoned political chalice. But presidents, and by extension vice-presidents, do not choose the areas of responsibility that suit them. The White House is grappling with all the problems that no one else can solve.
Yet none of the damage Harris suffered during his trip is irreparable. And if these are blunders on a trip overseas, its vacillations pale in comparison to the behavior of former President Donald Trump, whose trip was a never-ending parade of insults to American friends and affronts to democratic values. Trump, for example, used a summit in Helsinki with Russian President Vladimir Putin to denigrate US intelligence agencies on live television as he stood alongside the former KGB officer who interfered in an American election to help him. And he rubbed shoulders with one of the world’s cruelest dictators, North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.
It is safe to say that Harris would never duplicate this conduct. And while this first trip was tough, she still has plenty of time to prove herself.
CNN’s Stephen Collinson contributed to this report.