Who Is Kamala Harris? Part 4 Of Series

Jordan Meadows, Staff Writer

Following Kamala Harris’s withdrawal from the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, she threw her support behind the emerging frontrunner, Joe Biden. Among three other women, Harris found herself on Biden’s final shortlist for the vice presidential slot. South Carolina Democrat Jim Clyburn urged Biden to choose a black woman as his running mate, highlighting the importance of acknowledging the loyalty of Black women within the party.

As protests erupted following the death of George Floyd in May 2020, there were renewed calls for Biden to choose a Black woman as his running mate. These protests spotlighted the law enforcement backgrounds of VP candidates like Harris, and by the end of the summer, she was chosen as Biden’s running mate.

As the first female Vice President of the United States, Harris holds the distinction of being the highest-ranking female elected official in the nation’s history. Additionally, she is the first African-American and Asian-American to hold the vice presidency – something she has embodied in most of her previous positions.

During the 117th Congress, the Senate was evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, necessitating Vice President Harris’s frequent intervention to break tie votes in her capacity as the Senate president.

Harris played a pivotal role in advancing key policy initiatives, including the passage of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. Harris’s decisive votes were also instrumental in advancing President Biden’s agenda, particularly as Republican support for the COVID-19 stimulus package was absent.

By July 20, 2021, Harris had surpassed Vice President Mike Pence’s record for tie-breaking votes in the first year of a vice presidency, casting a total of seven tie-breaking votes within her initial six months in office. She ultimately set a new record for the most tie-breaking votes in a single year in U.S. history, exceeding the previous record held by John Adams. And notably, on December 5, 2023, Harris shattered the record for the most tie-breaking votes cast by a vice president, surpassing the achievements of John C. Calhoun in significantly less time.

In April 2021, Vice President Harris disclosed her role as the final decision-maker alongside President Biden in the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan – the nuking of the administration’s approval which has yet to recover.  National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan highlighted Biden’s insistence on Harris’s presence in key decision-making forums, noting her valuable contributions and distinct perspectives.

Notably, on November 19, 2021, she briefly assumed the role of acting president during Biden’s medical procedure.

Harris was tasked to address the surge of unaccompanied minors and adult asylum seekers; spearheading negotiations with Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Her work has involved over a dozen foreign excursions, visiting more than 19 nations, engaging with over 150 global leaders, and the establishment of task forces targeting corruption and human trafficking.

Her Central America Forward initiative has garnered significant private sector commitments, surpassing $4.2 billion, according to CNN. While some experts commend Harris for securing these investments, concerns linger about the long-term sustainability of these endeavors.

In protest of increasing immigration levels, Texas Governor Greg Abbott dispatched multiple buses of asylum seekers from the border to Harris’ residence in 2023.

“The problem is, when you roll out any innovation, new policy, or plan for the first time, there are likely to be glitches, and because you’re in the public eye, those glitches are likely to end up on the front page in bold lettering,” Harris said in her 2019 book.

On another note, following the reversal of legal abortion in the U.S. in 2022, Harris took on the responsibility of rallying support for abortion rights: visiting numerous states, including Republican strongholds, she championed women’s rights and healthcare initiatives.

The administration perceives abortion as advantageous to their agenda, believing that Harris presents a more compelling face and voice on the matter compared to an older white male figure – like President Biden. They are optimistic that her advocacy will resonate strongly with voters, particularly during an election year, and at a time when they are achieving electoral success on this front.

Harris has also taken up the mantle on other critical issues such as voting rights and foreign policy. Despite her advocacy, the key obstacle remains the party’s struggle to secure adequate votes in the divided Congress to pass legislation aimed at strengthening federal protections.

For instance, the John R. Lewis Act, which sought to reinforce the Voting Rights Act of 1965, received unanimous support from Democrats but faced unanimous opposition from Republicans, leading to its failure in the Senate.

Additionally, Harris’s call for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war exerted additional pressure on one of the U.S.’s tightest allies, reflecting a slightly more progressive stance compared to the administration’s overall policies. Nevertheless, this position resonates strongly with a significant portion of the party’s coalition.

Harris has faced criticism for high staff turnover and perceived struggles in communication. Her approval ratings have fluctuated downwards. Media scrutiny has often focused on her speaking style and leadership approach.

The evolving nature of the vice presidency over the past four decades has elevated expectations regarding the incumbent’s power and influence. Yet, vice presidents must enhance the administration’s appeal to diverse party factions while navigating entrenched partisan divisions. In essence, the vice presidency embodies multiple roles simultaneously – a party function, an executive branch responsibility, and occasionally a legislative duty, as evidenced by Harris’s pivotal tie-breaking votes in the Senate.

Harris fits into this model pretty clearly – she’s been given important and difficult issues to address. Like some other post-Mondale vice presidents – Al Gore for example – the extent of vice presidents’ political challenges remains somewhat ambiguous, with media scrutiny often amplifying perceived shortcomings.

“Politics is a realm where the grand pronouncement often takes the place of the painstaking and detail-oriented work of getting meaningful things done,” Harris said.

While critiques of her speaking style have garnered attention, defenses from Democratic circles have been comparatively muted. Despite her active involvement in critical policy matters, Harris has some of the lowest approval ratings for a vice president in history.

Harris faces all of the usual problems that vice presidents do – a murky official role, with her political project subsumed by the administration’s goals, and no guarantee that loyalty to those goals will be rewarded with status or political clout. She inherits all the baggage of the Biden administration but without the benefits or prestige of the presidential seal.

Throughout her career, Kamala Harris has shattered barriers, made history, and influenced policy – for better or worse. She has served in a multitude of public spotlight roles ranging from prosecutor to District Attorney of San Francisco, Attorney General of California, U.S. Senator, and now Vice President.

Her impact has been felt: from breaking records with tie-breaking votes to leading progressive efforts on issues such as child trafficking, drug enforcement, homeowner rights, bank regulations, LGBTQ+ rights, abortion rights, and voting protections.

Despite facing criticism on various fronts, including on bail rates, prison labor policies, drug laws, and personal demeanor, Harris remains steadfast in her approach and loyal to the Biden administration’s liberal – and at times progressive – agenda, prepared to assume the role of President should the need arise in the future.

In her 2019 memoir’s final sentence, Harris encapsulates the politically interventionist stance and activist drive that defines her political trajectory: “Years from now, our children and our grandchildren will look up and lock eyes with us. They will ask us where we were when the stakes were so high. They will ask us what it was like. I don’t want us to just tell them how we felt. I want us to tell them what we did.” 

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