The first six-ish months of Kamala Harris’ time as vice president have, generally speaking, gone according to her plan. She’s been a consistent messenger for President Joe Biden while learning the possibilities (and limitations) that come with being second-in-command.
That smooth ride ended this week, thanks to a confluence of events – some within her control, others not.
* The White House made a big deal out of Harris’ two-day trip to Central America earlier this week. And Harris’ main goal was simple: To send a message to Central Americans to stop coming to the US southern border. Which she did, to the consternation of liberals but the satisfaction of Biden. But the visit wound up being overshadowed by her seemingly flippant answer to a question from NBC’s Lester Holt about why she hadn’t yet visited the southern border. (Biden has tasked Harris with leading the administration’s response to stemming the flow of migration from Central America.)
“At some point, you know, we are going to the border,” Harris said in the interview. “We’ve been to the border. So this whole, this whole, this whole thing about the border. We’ve been to the border. We’ve been to the border.”
Holt responded: “You haven’t been to the border.”
“I, and I haven’t been to Europe,” Harris replied to Holt, with a laugh. “And I mean, I don’t – I don’t understand the point that you’re making.” Which, not great. As CNN reported on Tuesday: “Several sources say there was a real hope inside the White House that Harris’ first trip abroad would be a success, and worry that what looked like ill-prepared answers to that inevitable question would overshadow it.”
* Aside from immigration, Harris’ other big job in the Biden administration is to work to expand voting rights – and push back against a series of laws being passed in GOP-controlled states that make it harder to vote. That effort took a massive body blow on Sunday, when West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin (D) announced that he would oppose the For the People Act, a major election reform package that Democratic leaders on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue had been advocating for. Manchin’s opposition not only ensures the measure is DOA in the Senate but also that its potency as an issue to be used against Republicans in 2022 is much reduced. While Manchin sought to pivot — calling for passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act – the prospects for passage of that legislation look decidedly dim. All of which means that passing any sort of major (or minor) election reform proposal in this Congress seems very unlikely at the moment.
* Politico reported on Monday that Biden is growing increasingly likely to seek a second term in 2024 despite the fact that he would be in his early 80s at that time. “According to his allies, Biden believes that he is the Democrat best equipped to take on Trump, just as he did in the lead up to 2020,” Politico wrote. “They also say that is driven by the idea that his legacy could be that of the president who defeated Trump and Trumpism, which he sees as an ugly, corrosive movement.”
Add it all up and you get a bad week for Harris. And unfortunately for her, it’s not likely to be just a bad week. Manchin’s opposition to the For the People Act, coupled with the complex challenges at the border – there’s a reason none of the last three presidents have been able to find a workable solution – raise the possibility that Harris’ two main priorities may not deliver her the sorts of wins a vice president with an eye on the top job might want.
Republicans are using this moment to ramp up their attacks on Harris. (Worth noting: Harris has been a regular target for Republicans since she began running for president – and the frequency of those attacks has only increased as the GOP has struggled to find a good hit on Biden.)
“The only thing Vice President Kamala Harris managed to achieve in the last 3 days was avoid actually dealing with the worsening crisis at America’s border,” tweeted House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
Those attacks, however, won’t (and shouldn’t) bother Harris – or Biden. The Trump wing of the Republican Party, which is the majority of the GOP base, is heavily invested in demonizing Harris, and will find ways to do so no matter what the vice president says or does. (Plus, the fact that Harris is the first woman and first person of color to serve as vice president shouldn’t be lost on anyone in this conversation.)
What should concern Harris and her advisers is that her first foreign trip – a heavily touted one no less – did not go to plan.
And her two domestic priorities, immigration and voting rights, appear to be stuck in neutral at best.