Kamala Harris is constant on-camera presence for Biden
When President Biden has delivered remarks or held photo ops during the first two weeks of his administration, Vice President Harris has been a consistent presence, always in the room if not right by his side.
The White House has painted a deliberate picture of a president and vice president in lockstep together.
When Biden has signed executive orders, spoken about the coronavirus pandemic or met with GOP senators on a relief package, Harris has been in the picture.
“Biden has said all along he wanted a partner in governing,” said one source close to Harris. “He knows firsthand how valuable that supporting role can be and how critical it is for the VP to be in the room, and being a key part of this administration is exactly what she signed up for. She’s not one to embrace a ceremonial role with a few pet issues.”
When White House aides speak about Biden and Harris, they will often throw in words about Harris being “a governing partner” and how both the president and vice president want to do the work “together.”
“The White House is clearly communicating the president values the VP and she is more of a deputy president than a leader with a discrete portfolio,” said Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons.
The choreography is also important because of the unique nature of Biden’s presidency.
The 78-year-old president is a white man born during FDR’s presidency who defeated a slew of progressive candidates to win the Democratic nomination. Harris, who dropped out of the primary before the Iowa caucuses, balances Biden, sending the signal that his administration is also about the present and future.
And the future could come soon for Harris. She is the natural heir apparent for Biden, who may not run for another term in 2024.
One source noted that there has been a concerted effort to play up Harris’s role in the administration.
The administration frequently blasts out releases about the “Biden-Harris agenda,” something that would have been unthinkable during the Trump-Pence years and that wasn’t as prevalent even during the Obama-Biden years. From 2009 to 2016 it was the Obama presidency more than it was the Obama-Biden presidency, which only became a common phrase during the 2020 cycle.
Since taking office two weeks ago, Harris has joined Biden more than half a dozen times, including for remarks he’s delivered on health care, COVID-19 and racial equality. In addition to receiving the presidential daily briefing together, they have also carried on the tradition of having a weekly lunch together, something Biden and Obama did during that administration.
On Tuesday, Harris joined Biden in the Oval Office as he signed executive orders on immigration. A day earlier, they sat together in the same room, a fire crackling behind them, when they met with Republican senators to discuss a coronavirus relief package.
Simmons noted that Harris’s presence is much different from earlier administrations.
“The odds are Kamala Harris is going to lead this party one day,” he said. “Every Democratic VP who’s run for president since Humphrey has won the nomination.”
“It’s in all of our interest that she is ready for that role,” he said of the Democratic Party.
Katherine Jellison, a professor of history at Ohio University and a scholar of women’s studies, said it also signals “how much President Biden recognizes the key role Black women played in getting him to the White House.”
“He promised that women of color would always have a seat at the table, and the vice president’s presence demonstrates that ongoing commitment,” Jellison said. “I think that whenever appropriate, Vice President Harris will be alongside the president or serving as his surrogate.”
It’s unclear what Harris’s portfolio will include in the months ahead. A White House official did not want to speculate about how her role will continue to evolve.
But those close to Harris say the vice president could focus her efforts on criminal justice reforms, immigration, health care and jobs. Others say Harris will likely have her hands full on issues related to the pandemic.
Separate from the president, Harris has done television interviews in local markets to push for the coronavirus relief package in recent days, including one in West Virginia that rankled Sen. Joe Manchin, the conservative Democrat who represents the state.
Manchin saw the interview as an effort to pressure him to back Biden’s coronavirus package, and he took exception to the fact that he was not given a heads-up about it.
“In West Virginia, 1 in 7 families is describing their household as being hungry, 1 in 6 can’t pay their rent and 1 in 4 small businesses are closing permanently or have already closed,” Harris said during the interview.
A seemingly frustrated Manchin appeared blindsided.
“We’re going to try to find a bipartisan pathway forward, but we need to work together,” he said. “That’s not a way of working together.”
The vice president has also been signaling that she could serve as the administration’s voice in speaking directly to minority communities about getting the COVID-19 vaccination.
In a video released on Twitter last week, after receiving her second vaccine shot, Harris vouched for the vaccination process, saying, “It was painless, it was simple, it takes seconds and it will safe your life. And it’ll save your family’s life.”
A source close to Harris said the video is an example of how the vice president will continue to play a major role in pandemic efforts.
“We’ll be feeling the effects of the pandemic for a really long time, and she’s someone who can take that on and do it well,” said one former Harris aide.
The former aide added that Biden knew what he was looking for when he selected her.
“The president remembers exactly what it’s like to be vice president and he wants her to be a partner,” the aide said.
Brett Samuels contributed to this report.
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