Kamala Harris is stuck | Asharq AL-awsat

Just months after being sworn in as president in 1953, Dwight D. Eisenhower gave an unusual task to his vice president, Richard Nixon.

Years earlier, when Eisenhower was Supreme Allied Commander during World War II, he was upset by Vice President Harry Truman’s lack of preparation for the sudden death of President Franklin Roosevelt. Now president at 62, a former four-pack-a-day smoker with what would become a serious heart condition, Eisenhower understood the importance of training a vice president for the presidency; Nixon had only six years of experience as a congressman and senator from California before becoming Eisenhower’s running mate.

The President was not very fond of Nixon, whom he barely knew, but he gave him plenty to do, including sending the Vice President and his wife, Pat, on what would become a 68-day trip through the Asia and the Middle East. In the fall of 1953, the Nixons traveled to Japan, Korea, the Philippines, Thailand, India, Pakistan, Iran and Libya – the first of many opportunities for the vice president to make connections personal with foreign leaders.

It was a thorough training in diplomacy and political acumen that served Nixon well. And the reviews were good; an enthusiastic story in Life magazine declared that Nixon had established himself as “a mover and agitator in national and world affairs”.

Vice President Kamala Harris, who served as a first-time senator in California before entering the White House, hasn’t had the kind of immersive experiences or sustained, high-level assignments that would deepen and expand her expertise of how Americans might see and appreciate. In the modern era, of course, a 68-day trip for a vice president would be laughable. But over the past 18 months, her on-the-job training in governance has largely involved intractable issues such as migration and voting rights, where she has shown no demonstrable growth in leadership and of random trips abroad, such as the troubled foray into Central America. a year ago and the most successful delegation to meet the new President of the United Arab Emirates, leading a team that included Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.

While other presidents have formed substantial partnerships in office with their vice presidents and made efforts to deepen their experience, President Biden and Ms. Harris have been either unable to do so or uninterested in bringing about a similar transformation. From the outside, there is little evidence that the Biden White House feels much of the urgency General Eisenhower felt to improve the role and readiness of the person who could inherit the presidency at any time.

Mr Biden’s announcement last week that he has tested positive for coronavirus underscores the clear and present need for the 79-year-old leader, his aides and Ms Harris to find ways for her to become a true partner. of government rather than just politics. partner who helped him get elected. It’s not just about being fair to Ms. Harris or elevating her like other vice presidents have been; Americans deserve to know and see that they have a vice president whom the White House and administration officials trust to take over, should anything happen to the president.

Instead, we mostly saw the opposite. She’s bothered by Mr. Biden’s unpopularity, sure, but neither has she become the successful public face on a major issue. Recently, she energetically embarked on a “How Dare They” tour, as a Politico headline described her travels attacking Republicans over abortion rights after the Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade – but this work only underscores the narrowness of his political role. It’s meant to stoke the Democratic base, a core job of vice presidents. It’s not something that shows she’s capable of assuming the presidency or gives Americans reason to view her as a viable leader for a country in desperate need of leadership.

The often fragile history of relations between presidents and vice presidents – whether Roosevelt and Henry Wallace or, more recently, George HW Bush and Dan Quayle – is instructive not only in models of successful governance, but also in the crucial importance of having a competent and well-prepared team No. 2.

That Ms. Harris has been stuck in a political role is troubling to anyone concerned with the stability and continuity of the executive. No US president has celebrated his 80th birthday while in office, as Mr Biden is expected to do on November 20. He is thankfully showing ‘very mild symptoms’ of Covid, according to his publicist, but it’s still hard to ignore the actuarial reality and the simple fact that he looks frailer than a 60-year-old man or woman (or , moreover, its 57-year-old vice-president).

Of the 15 vice presidents who became presidents, eight took office after the death of a president. (Four of those eight were later self-elected.) This gives the vice presidency a restrained weight, even when the presidential candidate and his running mate are images of middle-aged vitality, like Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale in 1976 or Bill Clinton and Al Gore in 1992.

A penumbra of fragility has clouded the modern presidency. He clung to Roosevelt at the end of his third term, but, because it was wartime, was rarely discussed publicly. It hit Ronald Reagan, 70, who was shot and wounded by a would-be assassin in March 1981, and Eisenhower, in September 1955, when the 64-year-old president suffered a massive heart attack. Mortality was often on Eisenhower’s mind. In 1954, when he was thinking about running for a second term, he mentioned in his diary “the greater probability that a 70-year-old man would collapse under a load than a 50-year-old man”, and above all “the increasing severity and complexity of the problems that rely on the President for a solution.

Ms. Harris is not to blame for her relative lack of national and international experience. She had been in the Senate for less than four years when Mr. Biden chose her, and he did so knowing that she had never held a leadership position. But since he picked her as his running mate in August 2020, we’ve learned that her ties to him and top administration officials are relatively thin. It’s no small feat that she’s only had a handful of private lunches this year with Mr. Biden. And after her first lunch with Mr. Blinken, in February 2021, she apparently expected their lunches to continue, as they had for then-Vice President Biden with Secretary of State Hillary. Clinton. Such interaction was usual; for example, in the late 1950s, Vice President Nixon formed an almost filial relationship with Secretary of State John Foster Dulles. The regular Harris-Blinken luncheons, however, did not take place (although the two met, spoke on the phone, and had what one State Department official called “regular engagements” and regular interactions).

A deeply narrated new book by two Times reporters, Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns, “This Will Not Pass: Trump, Biden, and the Battle for America’s Future,” paints an authoritative portrait of the Biden-Harris relationship – or the lack of a relationship. It describes how Mr. Biden’s advisers were willing to ignore Ms. Harris’ weaknesses in favor of Mr. Biden’s immediate political interests and saw that her main value came from her contribution to winning the 2020 election. a historic choice, becoming the first woman, the first African American and the first South Asian American to serve as Vice President. As for presidential preparation, Mr. Biden has focused more on building a multiracial coalition, to reflect the nation’s diversity in his administration.

Ms Harris was regularly the target of negative stories – about the dismay and departures of staff or her annoyance that White House staffers did not get up when she entered a room or even her discomfort in some media interviews. She has also faced double standards in how she is seen and judged, as many women and people of color are, including when they are first in employment.

But neither is she the first vice president to be shot and frustrated with a job whose constitutional duties include presiding over the Senate and counting electoral votes. Lyndon Johnson, once the powerful and intimidating majority leader in the Senate, felt like an outsider when he was John F. Kennedy’s vice president. Mr. Biden himself, for all his vaunted closeness to President Barack Obama, resisted what he saw as attempts by the White House to control him during his eight years as vice president. But Mr. Johnson and Mr. Biden were Washington veterans; so, incidentally, was Mr. Bush, vice-president of Mr. Reagan. Ms. Harris was new to foreign policy and Washington infighting.

Today, not only is Mr Biden’s age and health a topic of discussion – even more so after his Covid-19 diagnosis – but also whether he will run for a second term. Over the past six months, as Mr. Biden’s approval rating has fallen sharply, dozens of Democratic strategists and officials have expressed doubts about his skills as a leader and his viability as a candidate; some want Mr. Biden to quit, the sooner the better. At a time of inflation not seen in decades, mass shootings and a lingering pandemic, many Democrats view November’s midterm elections with dread.

It’s also bad news for Ms Harris, whose poor performance as a presidential candidate in 2019 caused her to drop out in front of the Iowa caucuses. Mr Biden’s declarations that he will run again only seem to encourage his opponents. Her absence from the executive, as a crisis manager and policy maker, leaves her as a rather weak heiress. Democrats, if not other Americans, would win if she could bring a compelling and varied set of experiences and ideas from her time in the White House to a competitive Democratic presidential primary race, providing stronger choices for voters and significantly adding to the debate.

The 2024 presidential campaign, in any case, is likely to be unusually ugly, contested over familiar contentious issues and with many Republicans ready to repeat, without shame or embarrassment, Donald Trump’s lies about the validity of the election. of 2020, thus calling into question the legitimacy of American democracy. With the government itself beleaguered by a new class of enemies within and with more than two years to go before the next presidential election, Mr. Biden must not only find a way to infuse his party with enthusiasm and a new goal, but also fulfill an urgent mission. obligation – to his party and the nation – to hasten and advance the education and authority of his vice-president.

The New York Times

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