Hello Welcome to On Politics, your summary of the week in national politics. I’m Lisa Lerer, your hostess.
Is Kamala Harris drawing the shortest straws in the White House?
This week, President Biden announced that Ms. Harris would lead the administration’s effort to protect voting rights, a task he immediately said would “take a lot of work.”
And on Sunday, Ms. Harris goes on her first trip abroad, visiting Mexico and Guatemala as part of her mandate to address the root causes of migration from Central America that are contributing to the increase in people trying. crossing the southern border of the United States. .
The central political issue facing Mrs Harris has never been whether she will run for president again. It’s when and how.
Still, for a politician who makes history with great ambitions, Ms. Harris has adopted an early agenda that has left some Democrats worried about the future of a politician who is already positioning himself as a presidential candidate.
Both immigration and voting rights are politically full problems and without easy solutions. Democrat expansionary election legislation has faltered in the Senate, and moderate party lawmakers, such as Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, have expressed concern about the bill.
And despite the efforts of her team, Ms. Harris has become the face of the administration – sometimes literally – by the influx of migrants, including tens of thousands of unaccompanied children, to the southern border. .
Allies point out that Ms. Harris ’portfolio extends beyond these two high-profile issues. It is also responsible for expanding broadband Internet access, combating vaccine vaccination, defending the infrastructure plan, helping women to return to work, highlighting the black maternal mortality rate, and helping small businesses, among other issues.
The Allies cite the challenges Biden took on during his first term as vice president, including leading the White House’s effort to withdraw troops to Iraq and oversee the implementation of the stimulus bill, and argue that voters reward politicians for tackling difficult issues, even if they remain unresolved.
And many argue that there are no easy problems in a country that is still facing a devastating pandemic, continued economic uncertainty and racial division.
“These are long-term systemic problems,” said Donna Brazile, a former Democratic Party president who speaks with Ms. Harris and his team. “It’s defined by what I call big real problems and problems that require another kind of leadership to solve.”
Of course, the “big real problems” also carry a much greater risk of political failures and political failures, especially for a more polarizing politician than the president he serves, according to polls.
Even before she became the first black vice president, Mrs. Harris appeared as the first target of Republicans, who found it easier to increase her base with racist and sexist attacks against her than with condemnations of Mr. Biden. In conservative media, he relentlessly defines himself as an unreliable radical, with an unpronounceable name and an anti-American agenda.
The false caricature can have an impact on his image: polls show that Mrs Harris’s approval rating is a few percentage points lower than Mr Biden’s, with more voters expressing negative views on his performance.
Mrs Harris’s aides have silenced some of the blame for the politically damaging situation for Mr Biden, who announced his new diplomatic assignment by telling reporters ahead of a March meeting on immigration at the White House that the vice president “would direct our efforts with Mexico and the Northern Triangle, and the countries that can help them need help to curb the movement of so many people, to curb migration to our southern border.”
Ms. Harris’ staff spent weeks explaining that their job was not to reform the country’s immigration system, but to focus on a highly focused foreign policy mission. This distinction is difficult to draw, given the interconnected nature of global migration.
And it seems to have lost the Republicans, who see the situation on the border as one of their most powerful lines of attack against a relatively popular administration. They’ve spent weeks falsely calling him Mr. Biden’s “border tsar,” posting #BidenBorderCrisis videos, and calling on the vice president to visit the southern border, which will fly this weekend on the way to meetings in Central America.
But there are some indications that, backstage, Ms. Harris pushed for leadership roles in these accused political affairs.
After the election, some allies of Ms. Harris urged her to take up immigration, according to people who have spoken to her team, although the issue has been so intractable that the last president to pass major legislation that addressed it was Ronald Reagan. And the vice president personally asked Mr. Biden if he could lead the administration’s fight against new Republican voting restrictions, as an extension of his previous job as a California senator and attorney general on an issue that she said , threatens the foundations of American democracy. .
Yet in the Senate, Mrs. Harris was not known for her close relationships with moderates like Mr. Manchin. It is unclear whether he will be able to negotiate the kind of commitments within his party that will be needed to pass a voting rights bill. And given the lack of Republican support, little is likely to happen in the bill unless Democrats agree to abolish the filibuster, which several moderates oppose.
Beyond the legislation, its influence is limited. In the states, Republicans have made passing laws restricting voting become an old turn test for their party. While the Justice Department may file a lawsuit against voter suppression measures, it cannot be seen Ms. Harris pressuring the agency to do so. Filling judicial vacancies with voting judges could help stop some of the state laws, but that is a role that belongs to Congress and Mr. Biden.
Still, there may be a political rise for Mrs Harris in assuming voting rights. Proponents of voting rights have expressed frustration at what they see as a lukewarm approach by the administration to counter voter suppression and the prospect that it could hamper Democrats ’ability to win elections in 2022 and beyond.
Ms. Harris can tour the country gathering the base of her party, especially black voters who are the backbone of democratic politics. Allies say their role will extend far beyond the legislative dispute in the Senate to include meetings with activists, state officials and corporations, establishing relationships with the types of Democrats who can help bolster a presidential candidacy.
“From your perspective, what I would say you’re thinking is,‘ Look, if we don’t fix this, our democracy is gone, ’” said Leah Daughtry, a veteran of the Democratic campaigns. “It will use the power of the House pulpit. White to get people engaged and involved. “
But some suggest that Ms. Harris’ portfolio may have more to do with office politics than presidential variety. While Mr. Biden is comfortable with Ms. Harris, Democrats say familiar with the running of the White House, some of his team remain skeptical about his loyalty after the primary race split. They argue that their agenda may simply be the clean-up version of the White House after the office party: what better way to demonstrate their loyalty than by taking on some of the most ungrateful tasks?
“There’s always a long vision when you’re vice president and think about the future,” Ms. Brazile said. “It simply came to our notice then. Joe Biden said that she ran in 2024 and that she is a real team player “.
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