Home Top News Kamala Harris steps into vice presidential role with unique strengths

Kamala Harris steps into vice presidential role with unique strengths

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Kamala Harris steps into vice presidential role with unique strengths


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Vice president-elect Kamala Harris delivers remarks to the nation after her and her running mate Joe Biden secure enough votes to win the White House.

USA TODAY

WASHINGTON – Since Joe Biden selected Kamala Harris as his running mate, the California senator has been a mainstay at the president-elect’s side.

She has stood with Biden as he announced Cabinet appointments. She has received national security briefings and COVID-19 briefings alongside him. And both vice presidential historians and political activists expect Harris will continue to serve as Biden’s right-hand woman after being sworn in as vice president on Jan. 20.

“The way she’s approaching the vice presidency is very similar to the way Joe Biden approached the vice presidency with Barack Obama,” Harris press secretary Sabrina Singh told USA TODAY. “She’s walking into this office as a full governing partner to Joe Biden and is completely aligned and supportive of his priorities.” 

Harris also faces unique circumstances unlike those of Biden and other former vice presidents like Dick Cheney. Both Cheney and Biden were older than the presidents they served and had years more experience in the federal government — something Harris does not have. And even more notably, she will be the first woman of color to hold the office, which brings another specific set of challenges and barriers to break.

Harris’ expected positioning within the White House will be a sharp contrast with the current administration, where Vice President Mike Pence has had to defer the spotlight almost entirely while President Donald Trump stayed front and center throughout his presidency.

Harris in a couple of days will step into the West Wing, a heartbeat away from holding the most powerful office in the world. While she will be carrying the expectations and hopes of millions, experts said, she’ll also be navigating a budding relationship with Biden and the weight of her own historic victory.

“A president/vice president relationship, like every other relationship in life, is dynamic,” said Joel Goldstein, author of the book “The Modern American Vice Presidency: The Transformation of a Political Institution.”

“It changes as people react to different events, and as people get to know each other and their strengths and weaknesses and as different circumstances arise, and as you see … what are the needs of the administration and what’s the relationship between the two principals and what’s the ability of the vice president to solve problems for the administration.”

More: Kamala Harris’ VP win marks ‘powerful, emotional’ moment for African American and South Asian American women

Biden and Harris are taking over while the country faces several pressing issues, including the COVID-19 pandemic and it’s economic ramifications, a nationwide reckoning over racial justice and the effects of climate change. 

A Biden transition aide who spoke on background to discuss the Biden-Harris relationship said the administration will use a hand-in-hand approach to address the crises. As an example, the aide said, while Biden takes the lead on vaccine distribution planning, Harris might take the lead in trying to Congressional approval for the funding needed for that plan.

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Biden says Harris will focus on urgent needs 

During a joint CNN interview in December, Biden said “whatever the most urgent need is that I’m not able to attend to, I have confidence in … turning to her.” Biden added that unlike Vice President Al Gore, who focused on the environment during his vice presidency, Harris “will do whatever the urgent need is at the moment.”

Elaine Kamarck, director of the Center for Effective Public Management at the Brookings Institution, who served as a policy adviser to Gore, noted that vice presidents in modern times have often “had areas of responsibility totally delegated to them, which the president has, you know, basically said, ‘Here, it’s yours.’ ”

More: Kamala Harris wears suffragette white in first speech as history making vice-president-elect

“There would be memos written by (President Bill) Clinton, in the margins of memos, saying, ‘Al, this is yours.’ So I expect that there will be some emails or whatever, saying, ‘Kamala, this is yours,’ ” Kamarck said. Harris also likely will play a large role on Capitol Hill, as she will be the tie-breaking vote in the Senate, which is split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans.

But some scholars also say Harris might not be the “legislative closer” that Biden was for Obama, helping shape key agreements at the start of the administration. Notably, Biden helped push through one of Obama’s landmark accomplishments, the Affordable Care Act. 

Biden, a more centrist Democrat, often notes that he worked across the aisle with Republicans during his time in Congress. Harris during her time in the Senate was a liberal firebrand and at times took Republicans to task. During the Supreme Court confirmation hearing for Brett Kavanaugh, Harris was criticized by some of her Republican colleagues for her thorough and direct cross examination of the now-justice.

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As a senator, Harris served on several Senate committees, including Budget, Judiciary, Intelligence and Homeland Security. Her time on the Intelligence and Homeland Security committees will likely benefit her in her new role, as she will likely deal with national security and foreign policy issues. 

“I think there’s going to be a need to repair relations around the world and Biden’s going to have an inclination to do that,” Goldstein said, adding that it’s “more than one person or a president and the secretary of state can handle.”

Goldstein noted that Harris probably wants to gain more foreign policy experience because “that’s a way of sort of credentialing yourself.”

More: Kamala Harris may finally change how corporate America sees and treats Black women

“That’s a way of deepening your standing as a plausible president,” he said.

Goldstein noted Biden sees himself “as a person of the Senate.” But Harris’ relationships in the Senate and House will deepen as vice president. 

“She’ll certainly play a legislative role … and I think that’s an important role for a vice president to play, sort of a conduit of information going both ways,” he said.

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Harris is also the first Black and South Asian American to be elected vice president.

USA TODAY

Activists look for Harris to be an advocate and ‘bridge’

Some activists have noted they also expect Harris to help lead the racial justice fight where it intersects with policy. Some would like Harris to be engaged around the racial disparities related to COVID-19, as well as the economic ramifications from the virus that heavily impacted communities of color.

Aimee Allison, founder and president of the advocacy group She the People, said Harris could champion an array of issues like election and voting rights reforms, as well as racial justice or gender justice initiatives.

“We’re going to be looking to her to work with legislators and to be that bridge between the administration and Congress, which I think is going to be very important,” Allison said.

Allison added: “She’s got this remarkable capacity for being able to speak to people and inspire people of all races and genders, and I think that’s part of the skill set that uniquely qualifies her to be able to help support a transformative agenda.” 

Jotaka Eaddy, founder and CEO Full Circle Strategies, said that Harris’ “lived experience” and “her area of expertise” as a senator, a former attorney general and a former district attorney “will bring out an immense amount of value to these issues and into the conversations around this important work.”

Eaddy, who was the 2008 Obama campaign’s Youth Vote Director for Ohio, said she is heartened by the partnership she’s seen thus far between Biden and Harris. She said that unlike during the current administration, where Trump wanted the spotlight on him, Harris will be seen in the Biden Administration.

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Before Kamala Harris broke barriers in the country’s political landscape she thrived at an historically Black college and learned about service from an historic Black sorority. It’s a pride shared by many. (Nov. 12)

AP Domestic

“I think what we’ll see is a much more mature, level-headed and competent leadership,” she said. “We will hear from Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, we will see her. We will see her doing exactly what Joe Biden selected her for, which was for her to be a partner and a leader.”

But Harris, who is both Black and of South Asian descent, is also going to face issues no other vice president has had to face: sexism and racism.

Goldstein, the vice presidential scholar, said “some are going to hold her to a different standard.” 

“They’re likely to see behavior that, if it were Al Gore or Dick Cheney, it would be not commented on and yet if she does the same thing, it may create pushback in some circles,” Goldstein said. “That’s simply an unfortunate fact of our political life, still, at this point.”

Eaddy said while she expects Harris to be the target of racism and sexism, her “very presence is the antidote to that racism.”

“Just her being is an inspiration,” Eaddy said. “And it is a form of resilience that we will not be able to ignore. So I look forward to seeing her put her hand on that Bible and taking that oath of office.”

Allison, of She The People, added that Harris is “taking office at a moment where it’s white supremacy versus a multiracial democracy.”

“She’s the physical embodiment of a multiracial democracy,” she said. “It’s her. It’s not just her identity, but what she represents and who she’s bringing with her in the White House. My expectation is that she will be a Vice President like no other.”

Read or Share this story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2021/01/17/kamala-harris-steps-into-vice-presidential-role-unique-strengths/3922852001/



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