Kamala Harris and a high-risk, high-reward presidential resume

Written by Lisa Lerer

Is Kamala Harris drawing the shortest straws within the White House?

This week, President Joe Biden introduced that Harris would lead the administration’s effort to guard voting rights, a process he instantly mentioned would “take a hell of loads of work.”

And Sunday, Harris leaves for her first journey overseas, visiting Mexico and Guatemala as a part of her mandate to handle the basis causes of migration from Central America which are contributing to a surge of individuals making an attempt to cross the U.S.’ southern border.

The central political query going through Harris has by no means been whether or not she is going to run for president once more. It is when and the way.

Yet for a history-making politician with large ambitions, Harris has adopted an early agenda that has left some Democrats fretting about the way forward for a politician who’s already positioned as a presidential-nominee-in-waiting.

Both immigration and voting rights are politically fraught issues with no straightforward options. Democrats’ expansive election laws has faltered within the Senate, with reasonable get together lawmakers like Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia expressing considerations concerning the invoice.

And regardless of the perfect efforts of her staff, Harris has change into the administration’s face — generally fairly actually — for the inflow of migrants, together with tens of hundreds of unaccompanied kids, on the southern border.

Allies level out that Harris’ portfolio extends past these two high-profile points. She can be accountable for increasing broadband web entry, combating vaccine hesitancy, advocating the infrastructure plan, serving to girls reenter the workforce, highlighting the Black maternal mortality fee and aiding small companies, amongst different points.

The allies cite the challenges Biden took on throughout his first time period as vice chairman — together with main the White House effort to attract down troops in Iraq and overseeing the implementation of the stimulus invoice — and argue that voters reward politicians for tackling arduous points, even when they continue to be unresolved.

And many argue that there aren’t any straightforward issues in a rustic nonetheless grappling with a devastating pandemic, continued financial uncertainty and a divisive racial reckoning.

“These are long-term, systemic points,” mentioned Donna Brazile, a former Democratic Party chair who speaks with Harris and her staff. “She’s outlined by what I name actual large issues — and issues that require a unique sort of management to resolve.”

Of course, “actual large issues” additionally carry a far better threat of political missteps and coverage failures, notably for a politician who’s extra polarizing than the president she serves, polls present.

Even earlier than she grew to become the primary Black feminine vice chairman, Harris emerged as an early goal of Republicans, who discovered it simpler to rile up their base with racist and sexist assaults in opposition to her than with condemnations of Biden. In the conservative media, she is relentlessly outlined as an untrustworthy radical with an unpronounceable title and an anti-American agenda.

The false caricature could also be having an impression on her picture: Tracking polls discover Harris’ approval score hovering just a few proportion factors decrease than Biden’s, with extra voters expressing destructive views of her efficiency.

Aides to Harris have quietly positioned a number of the blame for the politically damaging scenario on Biden, in response to some Democrats outdoors the White House. The president introduced her new diplomatic project by telling reporters earlier than a March assembly on immigration on the White House that the vice chairman would “lead our efforts with Mexico and the Northern Triangle, and the nations that may assist, want assist in stemming the motion of so many of us, stemming the migration to our southern border.”

Harris’ employees spent weeks explaining that her job was to not reform the nation’s immigration system however a narrowly targeted overseas coverage mission. That distinction is tough to attract, given the interconnected nature of world migration.

And it appears to have been misplaced on Republicans, who see the scenario on the border as considered one of their most potent traces of assault in opposition to a comparatively fashionable administration. They have spent weeks falsely calling her Biden’s “border czar,” releasing #BidenBorderCrisis movies and calling on the vice chairman to go to the southern border, which she is going to fly over this weekend on her technique to conferences in Central America.

But there are some indications that behind the scenes, Harris pushed for management roles on these charged coverage points.

After the election, some allies of Harris urged her to tackle immigration, in response to individuals who have spoken along with her staff, despite the fact that the problem has lengthy been so intractable that the final president to cross vital laws addressing it was Ronald Reagan. And the vice chairman personally requested Biden if she may spearhead the administration’s battle in opposition to Republicans’ new voting restrictions as an extension of her previous work as a senator and the lawyer normal of California on an issue she believes threatens the underpinnings of American democracy.

Yet within the Senate, Harris was not identified for her shut relationships with moderates like Manchin. It is unclear if she is going to be capable to dealer the sort of compromises inside her get together that will probably be essential to cross a voting rights invoice. And given the dearth of Republican help, little is more likely to occur on the invoice until Democrats conform to abolish the filibuster, which a number of moderates oppose.

Beyond laws, her affect is restricted. In the states, Republicans have made the passing of legal guidelines that prohibit voting an early litmus take a look at for his or her get together. While the Justice Department can convey litigation in opposition to voter-suppression measures, Harris can not been seen as pressuring the company to take action. Filling judicial vacancies with pro-voting judges may assist cease a number of the state legal guidelines, however that could be a function that falls to Congress and Biden.

Still, there could also be political upsides for Harris in taking over voting rights. Voting rights advocates have expressed frustration at what they see because the administration’s tepid method to countering voter suppression and the prospect that it may hamper Democrats’ means to win elections in 2022 and past.

Harris can journey the nation rallying her get together’s base, notably voters of shade who’re the spine of Democratic politics. Allies say her function will prolong far past the legislative wrangling within the Senate to incorporate conferences with activists, state officers and companies — constructing relationships with the sorts of Democrats who might help bolster a presidential bid.

“From her perspective, what I might say she’s excited about is, ‘Look, if we don’t repair this, our democracy is gone,’” mentioned Leah Daughtry, a veteran of Democratic campaigns. “She will probably be utilizing the ability of the bully pulpit of the White House to get individuals engaged and concerned.”

But some counsel that Harris’ portfolio could have extra to do with workplace politics than these of the presidential selection. While Biden feels snug with Harris, Democrats accustomed to the workings of the White House say, some on his staff stay skeptical of her loyalty after the divisive main race. Her agenda, they argue, could merely be the White House model of cleansing up after the workplace get together: What higher technique to show her constancy than by taking over a number of the most thankless duties?

“There’s all the time the lengthy view when you find yourself vice chairman and you concentrate on the longer term,” Brazile mentioned. “But it’s too early. Joe Biden has mentioned he’s working in 2024, and she or he is an actual staff participant.”

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