Vice President Kamala Harris is undergoing a fresh start in 2022.
Since the new year began, Harris has been front and center, alongside President Biden in delivering speeches on the Jan. 6 anniversary of the Capitol insurrection and on voting rights earlier this week in Atlanta. The vice president is also bringing in new aides, particularly on her communications team, as part of the refresh. On Thursday, she appeared on NBC’s “Today” to talk about key issues, including COVID-19, currently facing the administration.
“The holidays served as an important turn-the-page moment for the administration and I imagine for the vice president’s public profile,” said Democratic strategist Joel Payne. “It feels like they’re taking a refreshed approach to how they are linking her to the daily business of the administration.”
Harris was mired in a rash of negative headlines for much of the last year as several interviews and comments she made misfired. Democrats also questioned if the White House was using her effectively. Some said they thought Harris seemed like a glorified chief of staff and not vice president, while others questioned her prospects as a presidential candidate. Toward the end of the year, she was faced with a string of key departures from her staff.
Harris has also been plagued with low polling numbers. A Gallup survey last month showed the vice president with a 44 percent approval rating, while 54 percent disapproved of her job performance.
But in recent days, some Democrats say they have been satisfied with Harris’s front-and-center presence on major issues. In her speech on the Jan. 6 attacks, Harris vocalized what Democrats were feeling. “We all saw what our nation would look like if the forces who seek to dismantle our democracy are successful … What was at stake then, and now, is the right to have our future decided the way the Constitution prescribes it: by we, the people. All the people.”
Earlier this week, in the speech in Atlanta, she urged Americans “not to succumb to those who dismiss this assault on voting rights as an unfounded threat” and a “partisan game.”
“The assault on our freedom to vote will be felt by every American, in every community, in every political party,” she said. “And if we stand idly by, our entire nation will pay the price for generations to come.”
Strategists say they’ve been encouraged by Harris’s presence on these issues, delivering speeches in big moments together with Biden.
“Maybe they finally realized that she doesn’t have to take such a back-seat role,” said one strategist. “If she’s the future of the party, they need to give her some runway. People need to see her out there. They need to know what she does.”
Democratic strategist Rodell Mollineau agreed, saying that “it’s good to see the vice president out there a little bit more.”
“The White House needs all of the A Team on the field echoing this administration’s message every single day and that includes the VP,” Mollineau said. “There’s too much they want to accomplish to not have the most incredible voices out there.”
“If you have good messengers, use them. And she’s a great messenger,” Mollineau added. “In the end, it’s only going to help the administration win messaging wars.”
Democrats also seemed hopeful that Harris’s new communications team would help the vice president have a more effective role and avoid the missteps and blunders of her first year.
Last week, less than a week into the new year, The Hill reported that Harris hired veteran strategist Jamal Simmons as her communications director. Simmons, whose media work has included time at Hill.TV, is expected to “change things up” and provide more structure to the team.
“It’s standard for any executive to take stock in what is working and what could use improvement entering year #2 on the job,” said Democratic strategist Adrienne Elrod, who served on Biden’s 2020 campaign.
Elrod said Simmons would “bring experience and leadership to the team, not only in the area of communications but in other policy areas as well.”
Sources close to the vice president’s office say there will be more structure in the communications office instead of an operation that lacked a traditional flow chart.
“The communications team lacked a cohesiveness and a structure,” said one source close to the office. “I think that all changes with this new round of hires.”
Simmons and the new team can also assist Harris with achieving consistency, the source said.
“It seems like she’s around and then she’s not and then she makes news and then she goes dark,” one source said. “They should come up with a plan for her and stick to it.”
But other Democrats say a good vice president does both.
“People need to remember that her job as VP is to be behind the scenes,” said Democratic strategist Karen Finney, who has been a vocal supporter of Harris. “There are a lot of parts of the job that are by definition not as public.”
Still, Finney said she’s enjoyed seeing Harris alongside Biden pushing monumental issues including voting reform.
“I love seeing them together because I think they’re such a great team,” she said. “They have a good energy together. And when the two of them appear to gather it sends a signal that this is a top priority. This is important and we’re going to treat it as something special.”