It’s Time to Give Kamala Harris Her Due

It appears that it is, at long last, time to acknowledge the extraordinary and vital role being played by Vice President Kamala Harris on behalf of the Biden administration and the United States.

Finally, the narratives in the press that had for too long been colored by the political agenda, misogyny and racism of critics, have begun to change to reflect reality.

That said, there is still an aspect to Harris’ performance as vice president that remains underappreciated—the substance of her record as a full partner to the president, at the lead on domestic and international issues. That record not only makes her one of the most effective vice presidents in modern U.S. history, it has been part of President Joe Biden’s active effort to ensure that no one is better qualified to succeed him as President of the United States.

It is a subject that is especially significant to many voters given President Biden’s age, and it is one that should be addressed directly. That is both because it is our responsibility as voters to assess the issue carefully and because, in so doing, we see the real strengths Harris brings to her role.

Recently, positive stories about the role being played by Vice President Harris have become much more common in the media. The New York Times ran a major piece entitled, “Kamala Harris Takes on a Forceful New Role in the 2024 Campaign.” Bloomberg ran a piece citing the fact that she is now the most in-demand speaker at Democratic fund-raising events. Politico ran a piece arguing Harris “is a better VP than you think.”

What is more, you can tell this about-face in the press is real and not just the result of some White House press campaign because of the outsized attention Republican presidential candidates have placed on the vice president. As argued in the Boston Globe, a “re-energized” Harris is living “rent free” in the heads of Republicans. GOP candidates from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley have targeted Harris. And Harris has proved very effective in responding to those attacks, a factor that has no doubt played a role in the current reappraisal of her.

The president’s faith in Harris is not just offered in the form of public expressions of support. He has made the choice to place her out front and in the lead on a wide array of the issues that will be central to deciding the 2024 election. These include abortion, affirmative action, LGBTQ rights, the right to be safe from gun violence, and voting rights.

A picture of Kamala Harris delivering remarks at a pedestal.

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U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris announced that 43 non-profit, community-based organizations, private sector entities and institutions of higher education will receive $125 million American Rescue Plan-funded Capital Readiness Program (CRP) awards, aimed at helping “underserved entrepreneurs launch and scale their small businesses—a key pillar of Bidenomics.”

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Further, she also has taken the lead in outreach to the communities that are likely to be most important to determining the outcome of the election—including young voters, women, people of color, and other communities targeted by discrimination and hate groups in the U.S.

But digging deeper shows that the press coverage of the past few weeks is not simply based on her new role as the administration prepares for campaign 2024. Indeed, the role itself is not new.

Not long ago, Harris traveled coast-to-coast and played a leading role in the media as the administration commemorated the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision that overturned Roe v. Wade. As EMILY’s List president Laphonza Butler characterized it to Vanity Fair, Harris is seen as “the convener, the leader, the empathizer, and the fighter that we need.” White House officials have told us that they see this as one of the most crucial issues in the coming election.

Last year, immediately after the Supreme Court decision striking down affirmative action, Harris spoke out, calling the issue “a step backward for our nation.” She specifically cited the importance of affirmative action to college students, a group with which she has been actively engaged in outreach. In the past year alone, she has visited a dozen college campuses, and her aides say many more such programs can be expected throughout the next 18 months. Her message, tailored for young voters, has been extremely well-received at all the colleges she has visited.

Another of the hot button issues on which Harris has been leading for the White House is gun violence. This role, of course, draws directly on her strength and years of experience as a prosecutor—two terms as San Francisco’s district attorney, two terms as attorney general of California, and her time in the U.S. Senate.

In addition, throughout her time as vice president, Harris been an effective and impassioned Biden administration point person on LGBTQ issues, advancing efforts to enhance equality and fight hate both internationally and in the U.S.—including very recently at gay pride celebrations including at New York’s Stonewall Inn, a landmark location in the battle to ensure gay rights in America.

A picture of Kamala Harris at the Stonewall Inn in New York City.

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Kamala Harris visited the Stonewall Inn in New York City in June this year.

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Her work against hate has also been amplified by the unique and wide-reaching efforts played by her husband, second gentleman Douglas Emhoff, who has assumed the lead on administration efforts to combat anti-semitism.

At a recent White House meeting, she focused on the urgency of combating hate in an atmosphere of growing intolerance in some parts of the United States with such passion that some in the audience were moved to tears. This role, of course, fits with the reputation she’s built throughout her career—and especially in the U.S. Senate—as a fighter. Indeed, many agree that when Harris champions causes in which she deeply believes that she is at her impassioned best.

She is, and has been throughout her career, an advocate. Remember her tough questioning of Brett Kavanaugh and others. But it is also clear, especially if you see her up close, that she is always acting from empathy, from a desire to protect the vulnerable.

The centrality of her role however, extends beyond her role as a political spokesperson or champion—even as she has already completed trips to 35 states, primarily focused on the questions cited above. She also plays a prominent, active role in Oval Office and cabinet-level discussions on these issues, and has special influence, of course, through her frequent one-on-one meetings with the president.

Further, some of the most significant work she has done has not been on domestic issues at all. During her time as vice president, she has met with over 150 foreign leaders. She is typically at the president’s side during the morning intelligence briefings that take place on average several times a week and she regularly intervenes. She has a reputation for regularly asking tough, incisive questions during these sessions as a way to test policy proposals. Building on this, her role has included active leader-level diplomacy on issues from immigration to counterbalancing China and next-generation national security threats.

A picture of Vice President Kamala Harris speaks with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador outside the Vice Presidents residence at Naval Observatory.

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Vice President Kamala Harris speaks with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador outside the Vice Presidents residence at Naval Observatory in July of 2022.

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Harris’ designation as the lead on immigration and border issues was a particular focus of the media early in the administration when plans were being developed and implemented.

Receiving much less note ever since are the areas in which she was instrumental in achieving real progress—which included new levels of cooperation with Mexico, brokered in her discussions with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, and her work helping to mobilize and direct $4 billion in U.S. investment to “northern triangle” countries (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras) as part of an effort to create jobs within them and thus keep their residents from seeking to emigrate to the United States. Nothing defuses the critiques of her role on immigration issues quite so much as the fact that Mexican border crossings are down 50 percent since the expiration of Title 42.

Also on the international front, she has twice led U.S. delegations to the Munich Security Conference and participated in other bilateral meetings helping to build support for the U.S.-led effort to back Ukraine as it fights Russian aggression. It was she who met with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky in 2022, five days before the invasion, offering him the latest U.S. assessments of Russia’s intentions and helping to shape plans for future cooperation.

A picture of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris walking outside the Oval Office

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Joe Biden and Kamala Harris walk back to the Oval Office after an event about gun violence in the Rose Garden of the White House in April 2022.

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Another area in which her efforts have been vital (though not well understood) has been in the active diplomacy associated with countering China’s influence worldwide. She has traveled throughout the Indo-Pacific (on three separate trips), as well as to Africa, Europe, and Latin America at the vanguard of the Biden team’s effort to coordinate the creation of closer ties that will be central to our efforts to engage partners to help offset China’s own efforts at deepening its ties worldwide. These included a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Bangkok on the margins of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders meeting.

The vice presidency is often a low-profile job. It is seldom well understood by the public. But it is clear as the Biden-Harris team begins its efforts at seeking reelection that the relationship between our current president and his barrier-breaking vice president has grown into a genuine partnership.

She has gradually—and with too little credit—emerged as a significant, accomplished asset for the administration as the person, after Biden, who is best equipped to meet the challenges of the presidency.

That, in turn, suggests yet another area in which Vice President Harris shares something significant with the president. The two are among the most underappreciated yet most successful American leaders of our times. Fortunately, gradually, thanks to their records people are waking up to their aligned, complementary and significant strengths.

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