The more that skeptics doubt President Biden’s ability to perform in a second term, the harsher the spotlight shines on Kamala Harris.
White House officials are well aware that the vice president is a liability and are trying to change that, which may be an uphill battle.
When I first wrote about the VP’s political difficulties early in the administration, one official told me racism and sexism were a significant factor. You can’t entirely dismiss that, since every veep before her has been a white man.
A few days ago, former White House chief of staff Ron Klain told podcaster Kara Swisher: "Well, I do think sexism and racism are part of the problem, no question about it. I think she was not as well known in national politics before she became vice president. And I think that she hasn’t gotten the credit for all that she’s done."
But White House leaks about how Harris has been a disappointment certainly haven’t helped. Her poll numbers are worse than Biden’s, and he’s underwater.
What’s more, being the No. 2 is a thankless task, as Biden well knows. Nor has the administration helped by giving her impossible tasks, such as fixing the disaster at the border.
It’s also true that Harris can give rambling answers that don’t really say anything, presumably out of concern for making a misstep. That tendency often makes her come across as less than authentic.
I think she’s improved somewhat in recent months, especially as the administration has put her out front on abortion, in the wake of the Dobbs ruling.
Axios reports that top White House official Anita Dunn recently directed her political teams "to help schedule events with Harris promoting popular Democratic causes such as infrastructure spending and abortion rights."
It doesn’t take a genius to see that the VP kept popping up in Biden’s reelection video, conveying the image that she is a close partner.
At the same time, Axios says, "she has suffered frequent staff turnover, and rarely has been entrusted with high-profile assignments."
Yesterday, both Biden and Harris spoke at a small business event – not surprisingly, MSNBC and CNN took it live only when the president started speaking about the latest bank bailout and the debt-ceiling showdown.
Other events this week seem destined to generate no headlines: Harris hosting a brunch for the Philippines president and his wife, and joining a "moderated conversation at the White House Asian American & Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Forum." (Kamala is also the first VP of Asian descent.)
It’s not hard to grasp why the media focus so intently on Harris. Not when you have GOP presidential candidate Nikki Haley saying on FOX, "the idea that he would make it until 86 years old is not something that I think is likely."
That was crudely put, to say the least, but of course anyone voting for a president who is now 80 years old has to consider the possibility that Harris would inherit the office. That’s why the White House wants to ensure she’s not a drag on the ticket.
There is one opening that I think the veep, if she can get past her word-salad style, could fill.
Biden’s increasingly limited arm’s-length relationship with journalists – fewest news conferences since Ronald Reagan, a quarter of the interviews granted by Donald Trump – has become so blatant that no one bothers to deny it anymore. (The president even joked about it at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.) His aides talk about new ways of reaching voters, but that amounts to such softball events as doing the "Daily Show" with an Obama-Biden veteran.
I happen to think that this reinforces the notion that the White House is shielding Biden, too concerned that he may stumble or commit a gaffe during such sessions.
If Harris could be put on the biggest shows – and provided with newsworthy comments – that would make her appear more of a player. Of course, she’d have to be careful about not overshadowing the boss, as Biden famously did by getting ahead of Obama in embracing gay marriage on "Meet the Press."
Even if such appearances didn’t help Biden, they could establish his running mate as someone who does more than host roundtables and brunches.