Harris prepares for central role in White House

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.   | Photo Credit: AFP

Kamala Harris will make history on Wednesday when she becomes the nation’s first female Vice-President — and the first Black woman and the first woman of Indian descent to hold that office. But that’s only where her boundary-breaking role begins.

With the confluence of crises confronting Joe Biden’s administration — and an evenly divided Senate in which she would deliver the tie-breaking vote — Ms. Harris is shaping up to be a central player in addressing everything from the coronavirus pandemic to criminal justice reform.

Symone Sanders, Ms. Harris’ chief spokeswoman, said that while the Vice President-elect’s portfolio hasn’t been fully defined yet, she has a hand in all aspects of Mr. Biden’s agenda.

“There are pieces that Biden may specifically ask her to champion, but outside of that she is at the table for everything, involved in everything, and giving input and feedback and being a supportive partner to him on all pieces,” she said.

People working closely with Ms. Harris on the transition resist the idea of siloing her into any specific issue early on, because the sheer number of challenges the Biden administration faces means it will be “all hands on deck” during their early months. They say she’ll be involved in all four of the major priorities they’ve set out: turning around the economy, tackling COVID-19, and addressing climate change and racial justice.

‘All hands on deck’

“She has a voice in all of those. She has an opinion in all those areas. And it will probably get to a point where she is concentrating on some of the areas more specifically,” Ms. Sanders said. “But right now, I think what we’re faced with in this country is so big, it’s all hands on deck.”

Ms. Harris has been closely involved with all of Mr. Biden’s biggest decisions since winning the election in November, joining him for every one of his key meetings focused on Cabinet picks, the COVID-19 relief Bill, security issues and more. The two talk over the phone nearly every day, and she travels to Delaware sometimes multiple times a week for transition events and meetings.

Those involved in the transition say both have taken seriously Mr. Biden’s insistence that he wants Ms. Harris to be the “last voice in the room” on key decisions. Mr. Biden is known to turn to Ms. Harris first during meetings to ask for her perspective on the matter at hand.

Personal connect

Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris knew each other prior to the 2020 presidential campaign in part through Ms. Harris’ friendship with Biden’s deceased son, Beau. But they never worked closely together.

Since joining the ticket, and particularly since the election, Ms. Harris has made efforts to deepen their relationship and is in frequent contact with the president-elect, people close to Ms. Harris say. That personal relationship, according to presidential historian Joel Goldstein, will be key to their success as working partners.

“The relationship of the Vice-President to the President is the most important relationship. Establishing mutual understanding and trust is really a key to a successful vice presidency,” Mr. Goldstein said.

Mr. Goldstein pointed to Mr. Biden and President Barack Obama’s relationship as a potential model for the incoming team.

Mr. Biden and Mr. Obama were from similarly different backgrounds and generations. But their relationship and mutual understanding grew throughout the presidency, and Mr. Obama trusted Mr. Biden with some of his administration’s biggest endeavours, like the implementation of the 2009 Recovery Act and the troop withdrawal from Iraq.

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Printable version | Mar 5, 2021 6:48:33 AM |

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