Kamala Harris is an important figure in the eyes of history. She checks off several boxes in the “Firsts” category (first black Vice President, first Indian-American Vice President, first female Vice President). She is part of a winning team that replaced one of the most *ahem* colorful presidencies in American history. She comes in on the heels of a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.
But in the five months since she assumed the role of Vice President, Harris has been made extremely visible by the Biden administration, and it is proving to be quite the double-edged sword. So much so that some of her fans on the Democratic side of the aisle fear she's been given a pair of concrete shoes and told to go swimming.
On Tuesday, a guest column went live at the New York Times warning Harris that her job right now is a trap.
Addressing the root causes of migration is one of several jobs President Biden has handed Ms. Harris, who had no deep expertise with Latin America issues or the decades-long quandary of federal immigration reform. He has also asked her to lead the administration's voting-rights efforts, which are in a filibuster limbo. According to The Times, he has her working on combating vaccine hesitancy and fighting for policing reform, too, among other uphill battles.
Ms. Harris, at this point, can't seem to win for trying. She is a historic yet inexperienced vice president who is taking on work that can easily backfire as so many people sit in judgment, with critics sniping (especially right-wing commentators) and allies spinning (like with official statements about “success”).
And all the while, the clock is ticking. Most political observers think that if Mr. Biden decides not to run for re-election in 2024 (when he will be 81), Ms. Harris most definitely will. He had to know that in choosing her as his vice president, he was making her his heir apparent. But based on how things look now, her work as his No. 2 could end up being baggage more than a boon. Mr. Biden and his team aren't giving her chances to get some wins and more experience on her ledger. Rather, it's the hardest of the hard stuff.
Harris came into the job after a presidential campaign that floundered so badly all it took was a crusade by the all-but-forgotten Tulsi Gabbard to put it out of its misery. Harris viciously played identity politics in attacking Biden, but her campaign was driven by social media reaction to issues rather than actual policy, and she wasn't able to keep up.
Despite this, she was tapped to be Biden's running mate in 2020, thanks in large part to her race and gender as well as her history as a prosecutor. The belief among some behind the scenes was that, based on her very public, very direct style of going after witnesses in Senate hearings, that could be used to make the case against Trump while Biden could lay low.
However, Harris has proved every step of the way that she lacks the charisma to ignite the American people to her party's cause, and Biden ultimately had to start campaigning himself.
As the linked column and excerpt above remind us, Harris has been put in charge of some big initiatives. Her job in leading the administration's efforts against the growing wave of illegal immigrants swarming the border has been without actual leadership — even the Times column admits that the administration calling her trip to the border a “success” is a stretch — and she had a frankly embarrassing interview with Lester Holt on the subject, which is why she had to go to the border herself in the first place.
Her push to get vaccines into the arms of the unvaccinated is… largely silent. She's made some stops, but she is not visible. She isn't taking interviews anymore, and she isn't really communicating with the American people on any of the issues she is supposed to be taking leadership on.
The Times column opines that these are all really tough jobs she's been given and that they will hurt her chances to carry on Biden's legacy in either 2024 or 2028. To be fair, yes a lot of these jobs are all piling on at once. But the problem is that the history of the office show past Vice Presidents have had to do a lot of work and have had to bear a lot of heavy responsibilities that they could build their names off of.
Dick Cheney is considered in some circles to be one of the most influential Vice Presidents in history (the partisan divide comes in over whether that was a good or bad thing). He was very involved with military and foreign affairs during the Bush years, being one of the driving forces behind the Iraq War and some of the less than savory issues stemming from it.
Joe Biden, back when he was the Vice President, was a very vocal adviser to the Obama administration, and eventually asked to work on key issues like a troop drawdown in the Middle East and leading a task force on the issue of guns and violent shootings. Most recently, Mike Pence had to oversee the federal government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which encompassed everything from deregulation efforts to prevent supply shortages to pushing companies to develop a working vaccine in record time.
Prior to those Vice Presidents, you had Al Gore leading the charge on information technology expansion, economy and finance policy, and environmental issues. Chances are Gore would also have had more issues to handle if it weren't for the fact that Hillary Clinton's own people were undermining him and going behind his back to Bill for things like the healthcare reform plan and others.
George H.W. Bush was tasked with leading efforts against drug trafficking and for deregulation. Walter Mondale, who came before him, is really considered the first “activist Vice President” who fought to make the job more of an advisory role to the President.
In fact, the only Vice President from Mondale to the present who has done less than Harris would be Dan Quayle, and frankly, it took me a moment to remember that Dan Quayle was a thing that happened in American history.
Maybe that's the legacy for Harris. She's doing better than Dan Quayle!
Here's the thing. Peter Hasson at Fox News is absolutely right when he says this:
In an alternate universe where Kamala Harris is exclusively given simple tasks, you could see pundits complaining that the first female VP isn’t being trusted to solve any real problems https://t.co/eRWxCgbVmt
— Peter J. Hasson (@peterjhasson) June 30, 2021
If we weren't talking about all these tough jobs being piled on Harris right now, we'd be talking about why the Biden administration doesn't trust her with these responsibilities. The problem isn't the job (or jobs) she's being asked to do and how tough they are. The problem is that she's not doing them. Maybe her people thought she could skate by for four to eight years until she could run for President, but she is clearly unprepared every time she makes a public appearance.
That isn't a task delegation problem. That's a job performance problem.