Kamala Harris and a high-risk, high-reward presidential resume

Hi. welcome to On politics, your summary of the week in national politics. I am Lisa Lerer, Your host.

Is Kamala Harris Pulling The Shortest Straws In The White House?

This week, President Biden announced that Ms Harris would lead the administration’s efforts to protect voting rights, a task he immediately said “would take a lot of work.”

And on Sunday, Ms Harris leaves on her first overseas trip, visiting Mexico and Guatemala as part of her mandate to tackle the root causes of migration from Central America that are contributing to a wave of people. trying to cross the southern border of the United States. .

The central political question Ms. Harris faces has never been whether she would stand for re-election. It’s when and how.

Yet for a historic politician with big ambitions, Ms Harris adopted an early agenda that has left some Democrats worried about the future of a politician who is already positioning himself as a pending presidential candidate.

Immigration and voting rights are both politically heavy problems with no easy solutions. The Democrats’ broad election legislation faltered in the Senate, with moderate party lawmakers like West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin III voicing concerns about the bill.

And despite her team’s best efforts, Ms Harris has become the face of the administration – sometimes literally – for the influx of migrants, including tens of thousands of unaccompanied children, at the southern border.

Allies say Ms. Harris’ portfolio extends beyond these two high-profile issues. She is also responsible for expanding broadband Internet access, fighting vaccine reluctance, defending the infrastructure plan, helping women re-enter the workforce, highlighting the rate. black maternal mortality and helping small businesses, among others.

Allies cite the challenges Mr Biden faced during his first term as vice president – including leading the White House’s efforts to withdraw troops from Iraq and overseeing the implementation of the draft. Stimulus Law – and argue that voters reward politicians for tackling difficult issues, even if they remain unresolved.

And many argue that there are no easy problems in a country still struggling with a devastating pandemic, continuing economic uncertainty, and a racial calculus that divides.

“These are long-term systemic issues,” said Donna Brazile, a former Democratic Party chairperson who speaks with Harris and her team. “It’s defined by what I call really big problems and problems that require a different kind of leadership to be solved.”

Of course, the “real big issues” also carry a much greater risk of political missteps and political failures, especially for a politician who is more polarizing than the president she serves, polls show.

Even before becoming the first black female vice president, Ms Harris became one of the primary targets of Republicans, who found it easier to piss off their base with racist and sexist attacks on her than with convictions from Mr. Biden. In the conservative media, she is relentlessly defined as an untrustworthy radical, with an unpronounceable name and an anti-American agenda.

The fake cartoon can have an impact on his image: Follow-up polls find Ms Harris’ hover approval rating a few percentage points lower than Mr. Biden, with more voters expressing negative views on his performance.

Ms Harris’ aides quietly attributed some of the blame for the politically damaging situation to Mr Biden, who announced his new diplomatic mission by telling reporters ahead of a March meeting on immigration at the White House that the deputy President “would lead our efforts with Mexico and the Northern Triangle, and countries that can help, need help stemming the movement of so many, stemming migration to our southern border.”

Ms Harris’ staff spent weeks explaining that their job was not to reform the country’s immigration system, but a narrowly focused foreign policy mission. This distinction is difficult to make, given the interconnected nature of global migration.

And that seems to have been lost on Republicans, who see the border situation as one of their most powerful lines of attack against a relatively popular administration. They spent weeks falsely calling him Mr. Biden “Border czar”, posting #BidenBorderCrisis videos and calling on the vice president to visit the southern border, which she will fly over this weekend on her way to meetings in Central America.

But there are indications behind the scenes that Ms. Harris has been pushing for leadership roles on these charged political issues.

After the election, some allies of Ms Harris urged her to deal with immigration, according to people who spoke with her team, even though the issue has long been so intractable that the last president to pass legislation important in this regard was Ronald Reagan. And the Vice President personally asked Mr. Biden if she could lead the administration’s fight against the new Republicans voting restrictions, a continuation of her past work as a California senator and attorney general on an issue. which, according to her, threatens the foundations of American democracy. .

Yet in the Senate, Ms. Harris was not known for her close connections with moderates like Mr. Manchin. It is unclear whether she will be able to negotiate the type of compromises within her party that will be required to pass a voting rights bill. And given the lack of support from Republicans, it is likely that little will happen on the bill unless Democrats agree to abolish the filibuster, which several moderates oppose.

Beyond legislation, its influence is limited. In the states, Republicans have made passing laws restricting voting a litmus test for their party. While the Justice Department can take legal action against the voter suppression measures, Ms Harris cannot be seen as pressuring the agency to do so. Filling judicial vacancies with pro-voting judges could help stop some of the state’s laws, but that’s a role for Congress and Mr. Biden.

Yet there may be a political advantage for Ms. Harris in taking the voting rights. Vote rights defenders have expressed frustration to what they see as the administration’s lukewarm approach to countering voter suppression and the prospect that it could hamper Democrats’ ability to win elections in 2022 and beyond.

Ms Harris can travel the country rallying her party base, especially voters of color who are the backbone of Democratic politics. Allies say his role will extend far beyond legislative wrangling in the Senate to include meetings with activists, state officials and business – building relationships with the types of Democrats who can help strengthen a presidential candidacy.

“From her perspective, what I would say she’s thinking is, ‘Look, if we don’t fix this our democracy is gone,'” said Leah Daughtry, a veteran of the Democratic campaigns. “She will use the power of the White House intimidation chair to get people to engage and get involved.”

But some suggest Ms Harris’s portfolio may have more to do with office politics than those of the presidential variety. While Mr Biden feels comfortable with Ms Harris, say Democrats familiar with the workings of the White House, some members of his team remain skeptical of his loyalty after the primary race that divided. His agenda, they argue, may simply be the White House’s version of the after-party cleanup: what better way to prove loyalty than by taking on some of the more thankless jobs?

“There is always a long-term vision when you are vice president and think about the future,” Ms. Brazile said. “But it’s too early. Joe Biden has said he will show up in 2024 and that she is a true team player. “

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