Every evening the White House emails an overview of the appointments President Joe Biden has for the next day. Shortly afterwards, it sends out another overview with the appointments of Vice President Kamala Harris. In most cases, however, the President’s Office could save itself this second email: Harris is present at almost all appearances, meetings and conversations that Biden has. Professionally, the president and his vice-president are practically inseparable.
It is no coincidence that the White House is so demonstrative. From what you hear about the relationship between the two, Biden Harris has promised to involve her closely in all decisions. Biden knows from his own time as Vice President of Barack Obama how much Washington journalists like to speculate about whether the vice president has anything to report in the government.
Biden usually speaks plural in the first person
At the time, he himself saw the President’s staff trying to emphasize their own importance by making fun of “Uncle Joe”. Biden does not want to give the media ammunition for mocking reports about him and Kamala Harris.
The US government is always referred to as the “Biden Harris government” in media statements. And when Biden talks about what he wants to achieve with a legislative proposal, he usually speaks in the first person plural – us. This is not a pluralis majestatis like Donald Trump, who never gave his Vice President Mike Pence a thought. It’s meant to show that Biden respects Harris as an equal.
President Biden has not yet given his deputy a political portfolio of her own.
What that means in everyday political life, however, is not entirely clear. That Harris is everywhere doesn’t mean that she really has an impact. When Biden says that the Vice President is always “the last person in the room” whose advice he’ll listen to when everyone else has had to leave, that doesn’t mean he’s going to follow Harris’ advice. In Washington, for example, there is the guesswork of if and when Harris over the youngest US air strike in Syria was informed.
What is certain is that Biden Harris has not yet transferred his own political portfolio. This is what sets them apart from other powerful vice presidents. Biden, for example, was commissioned by Obama to organize the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq and to get the aid package through Congress after the financial crisis.
Harris has no similar large-scale projects. Her office justifies this with the fact that the Vice President is helping to solve all crises and problems that the government has to deal with, from the corona pandemic to the revitalization of the economy to reconciliation between blacks and whites. “At the moment everyone has to work,” says Harris’ spokeswoman Symone Sanders. “She has a say in all of these topics.”
Kamala Harris is both the first woman and the first black and the first American woman of Asian descentwho holds the office of Vice-President. The 56-year-old democrat represents the future of her party much better than the 78-year-old white man Biden. That alone gives it political weight in government. Harris is also an experienced politician: she was a prosecutor and attorney general in California, then a senator in Washington.
A couple of missteps right at the start
But: Harris’ own attempt to become a presidential candidate failed miserably in 2019. That doesn’t have to mean a lot, Biden felt the same way with his first candidacies. But perhaps Harris’ unimpressive campaign performance was a omen. In any case, she started her tenure as Vice President with a few missteps – nothing dramatic, but enough to raise eyebrows in Washington.
Harris quarreled with the a few days before she was sworn in Fashion magazine «Vogue» about an allegedly unfavorable cover photo. Then, barely in office, she annoyed a conservative Democratic senator for criticizing him in an interview in his home state. The White House had to apologize for this.
And recently Harris objected to Anthony Fauci, the very self-confident infectious agent who advises Biden in the fight against the coronavirus and who was also jointly responsible for it under Trump. Harris’ claim that the new government had to start “from scratch” was incorrect, Fauci said. Judging by expectations, it wasn’t a particularly glamorous start for Harris.
Should Biden not run again in 2024, Harris would have the best chance of becoming a presidential candidate.
At the moment, Biden Harris seems primarily to want to help gain experience in foreign policy. The Vice President meets weekly for lunch with Secretary of State Tony Blinken. She has also started talking on the phone with foreign heads of state and government. Among them are politicians who would not necessarily be counted in the top league in world politics.
But Harris has also spoken to some very important US allies, such as the French President and the Prime Ministers of Australia and Israel. If Biden plans to give Harris foreign policy powers in the future, then such talks would be a good start.
And Harris has one big advantage, namely her position. As Vice President, she is something of the President’s natural political heir. Should Biden not run again in 2024, his deputy would have the best chance of becoming a presidential candidate. Any politician who has anything to do with Harris knows that he could see her again in four years. And that he might have to address her as “Madam President”.