WASHINGTON — The president wanted the senator from West Virginia on his facet, however he wasn’t certain he wanted his vice chairman to get him there.
It was summertime, and President Biden was beneath immense strain to win the assist of Senator Joe Manchin III, whose decisive vote in a 50-50 chamber made him the president’s most delicate negotiating companion. Mr. Biden had invited Mr. Manchin to the Oval Workplace to privately make the case for his marquee home coverage laws. Simply earlier than Mr. Manchin arrived, he turned to Vice President Kamala Harris.
What he wanted from her was not technique or recommendation. He wanted her to solely say a fast good day, which she did earlier than turning on her heel and leaving the room for an additional assembly.
The second, described as an change of “temporary pleasantries” by a senior White Home official and confirmed by two different individuals who had been briefed on it, was a vivid reminder of the complexity of the job held by Ms. Harris: Whereas most presidents promise their vice presidents entry and affect, on the finish of the day, energy and duty will not be shared equally, and Mr. Biden doesn’t all the time really feel a necessity for enter from Ms. Harris as he navigates a few of his most essential relationships.
In Ms. Harris’s case, she got here to the job with out sturdy ties to key senators; one individual briefed on the Oval Workplace assembly stated it will be extra productive if the dialogue between Mr. Biden and Mr. Manchin remained non-public. It’s unclear that the president had a lot sway on his personal, both, given the senator’s choice this week to break with the White House over the home coverage invoice.
However and not using a headlining function in among the most important choices dealing with the White Home, the vice chairman is caught between criticism that she is falling brief and resentment amongst supporters who really feel she is being undercut by the administration she serves. And her allies more and more are involved that whereas Mr. Biden relied on her to assist him win the White Home, he doesn’t want her to manipulate.
“I feel she was an unlimited assist to the ticket in the course of the marketing campaign,” stated Mark Buell, one in every of Ms. Harris’s earliest fund-raisers since her first race for district legal professional in San Francisco. “I wish to see her employed in the identical method, now that they’re implementing their goals or objectives.”
The urgency surrounding her place is tied as to if the president, who at 79 is the oldest individual to carry the workplace, will run for re-election in 2024. He told ABC News on Wednesday that he would run once more if he was in good well being. However questions on Ms. Harris’s readiness for the highest job are beginning far sooner than is common for an administration in its first yr.
Ms. Harris declined requests for an interview, however White Home officers stated that her relationship with Mr. Biden is a partnership.
“The vice chairman has diligently labored alongside the president coordinating with companions, allies and Democratic members of the Home and Senate to advance the objectives of this administration,” stated Sabrina Singh, Ms. Harris’s deputy press secretary.
An early front-runner whose presidential ambitions fizzled amid a dysfunctional 2020 campaign, Ms. Harris was pulled onto the Biden ticket for her coverage priorities that largely mirrored his, and her means as a Black lady to bolster assist with coalitions of voters he wanted to win the presidency. However in accordance with interviews with greater than two dozen White Home officers, political allies, elected officers and former aides, Ms. Harris remains to be struggling to outline herself within the Biden White Home or meaningfully right what she and her aides really feel is an unfair notion that she is adrift within the job.
Confronted with declining approval scores, a sequence of employees departures and a drumbeat of criticism from Republicans and the conservative information media, she has turned to highly effective confidantes, together with Hillary Clinton, to assist plot a path ahead.
Ms. Harris has privately informed her allies that the information protection of her can be completely different if she had been any of her 48 predecessors, all of whom had been white and male. She additionally has confided in them in regards to the difficulties she is dealing with with the intractable points in her portfolio, resembling voting rights and the basis causes of migration. The White Home has pushed again in opposition to scathing criticism on each fronts, for what activists say is an absence of consideration.
“I feel it’s no secret that the various things she has been requested to tackle are extremely demanding, not all the time nicely understood publicly and take numerous work in addition to numerous ability,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg stated in an interview. “It’s a must to do every thing besides one factor, which is take credit score.”
Even in the perfect of instances, the constraints of the job usually make the vice chairman an afterthought, and never everybody requested to serve accepts it. (“I don’t suggest to be buried till I’m actually lifeless and in my coffin,” Daniel Webster, a former secretary of state, said within the 1840s about declining the job.)
However the complexity of the problems she has been assigned, and the long-term options they require, ought to have prompted the West Wing to defend Ms. Harris extra aggressively to the general public, stated Consultant Karen Bass, Democrat of California and the previous chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus.
“What the White Home may’ve carried out is been clearer with the expectations of what was speculated to occur beneath her watch,” she stated.
Different Democrats say their frustrations run deeper.
Ms. Harris, who spent a lot of her 4 years within the Senate working for the presidency, was at odds with Mr. Manchin after she gave a sequence of interviews in West Virginia that he interpreted as unwelcome infringement on his dwelling turf. Requested in regards to the assembly within the Oval Workplace over the summer season, a spokeswoman for Mr. Manchin stated that the senator enjoys “a pleasant and respectful working relationship” with the vice chairman.
Consultant Henry Cuellar, a average from Texas and one of many extra outstanding voices on border points within the Democratic Get together, stated his experiences with Ms. Harris’s group had been disappointing. When Mr. Cuellar heard Ms. Harris was touring to the border in June, he had his employees name her workplace to supply assist and recommendation for her go to. He by no means acquired a name again.
“I say this very respectfully to her: I moved on,” Mr. Cuellar stated. “She was tasked with that job, it doesn’t appear to be she’s very on this, so we’re going to transfer on to people that work on this challenge.”
Sooner or later, Mr. Cuellar stated he would go straight to the West Wing together with his considerations on migration fairly than the vice chairman’s workplace.
Of the White Home, Mr. Cuellar stated, “no less than they discuss to you.”
Ms. Harris’s aides have pointed to her work lobbying different nations and corporations to hitch america in a dedication to take a position about $1.2 billion to increase digital entry, local weather resilience and financial alternative in Central America. However little progress has been made on curbing corruption within the area.
On voting rights, Ms. Harris, who asked Mr. Biden if she could lead on the administration’s efforts on the difficulty, has invited activists to the White Home and delivered speeches. However her workplace has not developed detailed plans to work with lawmakers to be sure that two payments that will reform the system will go Congress, in accordance with a senior official in her workplace.
Since arriving in Washington, Ms. Harris has sought the counsel of different girls — together with Mrs. Clinton, the primary feminine Democratic presidential nominee — who’ve achieved historic political success to assist her discover a path.
“There’s a double customary; it’s sadly alive and nicely,” Mrs. Clinton stated in an interview. “Numerous what’s getting used to evaluate her, identical to it was to evaluate me, or the ladies who ran in 2020, or all people else, is de facto coloured by that.”
The 2 converse each few months on the telephone; in November, Mrs. Clinton visited Ms. Harris in her West Wing workplace.
Ms. Bass identified that the double customary goes past Ms. Harris’s gender.
“I do know, and all of us knew, that she would have a troublesome time as a result of anytime you’re a ‘first,’ you do,’” Ms. Bass stated. “And to be the primary lady vice chairman, to be the primary Black, Asian lady, that’s a triple. So we knew it was going to be tough, however it has been relentless, and I feel extraordinarily unfair.”
Earlier than her trip to Vietnam and Singapore in August, Ms. Harris referred to as Mrs. Clinton and several other former feminine secretaries of state, together with Condoleezza Rice and Madeleine Albright. She has had a number of non-public conversations with Angela Merkel, who has recounted the challenges she confronted as the primary feminine chancellor of Germany.
For this text, Ms. Harris’s workplace equipped dozens of examples of her work. She was sent to France to further repair frosty relations after an embarrassing diplomatic spat, a visit that the White Home has hailed as a hit. She has attended over 30 occasions targeted on selling the president’s home agenda, and her mark is on the ultimate infrastructure invoice on points like clear water coverage, broadband entry and investments to fight wildfires. (Voting rights is one other.)
The president additionally gave Ms. Harris credit score for her curiosity in relieving scholar mortgage debt as he agreed on Wednesday to extend a moratorium on federal loan repayments until May 1, a call that was hailed by activists and Democratic lawmakers who’ve pleaded with the administration to do extra.
And but, because the White Home struggles to push by main laws, Mr. Biden has relied on his personal expertise — 36 years within the Senate and eight years as vice chairman — to attempt to pull america out of the coronavirus pandemic and ship on a towering set of financial guarantees. And Ms. Harris is dealing with questions on the place she suits into the White Home’s largest priorities.
By all accounts, she and the president have a heat relationship. In conferences, the 2 usually play off one another, with Mr. Biden permitting her to leap in and ask questions that transcend what he has requested for; one adviser likened it to them enjoying “good cop, dangerous cop.” Alongside the president, Ms. Harris, a former prosecutor, has quizzed financial specialists and immigration officers, at instances asking them to higher clarify their reasoning.
Nonetheless, her allies are involved that she is typically handled as an afterthought.
When the president labored late hours on a Friday evening final month to win approval from lawmakers for his bipartisan infrastructure plan, a White Home assertion stated solely that he was working with a bunch of coverage and legislative aides.
The vice chairman’s group, stunned her title had been omitted, knowledgeable the information media that she had additionally been there, inserting calls to lawmakers. Requested in regards to the exclusion, a White Home spokesman stated the preliminary assertion issued to the general public was primarily based on info gathered earlier than the vice chairman had arrived to hitch Mr. Biden and his senior employees. The White Home issued an announcement hours later noting Ms. Harris’s presence.
In current weeks, she has seen a string of exits from the communications workplace; a lot of different officers departed earlier this yr.
Gil Duran, who labored for Ms. Harris when she was California legal professional normal in 2013, stated she could possibly be insulting and unprofessional. Mr. Duran stated he give up after 5 months on the job when Ms. Harris declined to attend a briefing earlier than a information convention, however then berated a employees member to the purpose of tears when she felt unprepared.
“Numerous us would nonetheless be along with her if she was the Kamala Harris we thought she can be,” Mr. Duran stated.
The White Home had no remark when requested in regards to the episode.
Conscious of the criticism of her, Ms. Harris has been targeted on selling her personal agenda in a sequence of interviews and appearances.
However Ms. Bass stated the speedy problem was the midterm elections subsequent yr, when Republicans may take again management of the Home. As for Ms. Harris’s presidential ambitions?
“I feel she is the front-runner,” Ms. Bass stated. “I feel she’ll be the front-runner.”