Biden: I'm putting Kamala Harris in charge of getting voting rights legislation passed through Congress

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Ah, that’s nice of him. Something new for her to fail at instead of just failing to ease the border crisis.

“To signify the importance of our efforts, today I’m asking Vice President Harris to help these efforts and lead them among her many other responsibilities,” Biden said. “With her leadership and your support, we’re going to overcome again, but it’s going to take a hell of a lot of work.”

Biden called the challenges to voting rights in recent months a “truly unprecedented assault on our democracy.” Georgia, Florida and Arizona, all competitive states in the 2020 election, have seen Republican-led legislatures drastically overhaul voting procedures. Texas is looking to pass a similar law, though Democratic lawmakers there managed to thwart its passage over the weekend.

Why does Biden want Harris in charge of voting rights? What’s she going to bring to the table to dislodge Joe Manchin’s and Kyrsten Sinema’s opposition to ending the filibuster, the only chance Dems have of passing a bill?

Not much. She’s the highest-ranking African-American official in the administration so having her as the face of the effort makes it even easier symbolically for the White House to frame the GOP’s new voting laws as essentially racist. Harris is a former senator too, of course, so in theory she has relationships in the chamber she could leverage to move votes. But she was in the Senate only four years; if anyone’s in a position to gladhand former colleagues in the interest of getting something passed, it’s Biden, not Harris. Besides, Joe Manchin is the key vote here and Manchin has already gotten annoyed once before at Harris for trying to strong-arm him on legislation.

Perhaps anticipating her new role, she told MSNBC this morning that she “eats ‘no’ for breakfast.” Well, she has a large breakfast waiting for her in the Senate:

I don’t think Harris is being put in charge of voting rights because Biden thinks it’ll help in some meaningful way. I think she’s being put in charge because she requested it. Watch this short CNN segment from this morning about how “vexed” her team is by the fact that she was plopped into a leadership role on the border, an intractable crisis, without clear communication to the public of what her role was. Supposedly she’s dealing with the “root causes” of the border surge in Central America, not controlling the influx at the border itself. But that point has been cloudy in the public mind, and even if it were clear the continued flow of migrants would be evidence to the public that whatever she’s doing in Central America isn’t working.

Immigration is Biden’s most poorly rated issue in polling, the glaring failure of his presidency so far. And his heir apparent, the possible 2024 nominee, is the face of it. Not great for her, not great for the party.

So she’s going to take on another issue that has more popular support, especially on the left. Eighty-seven percent of Democrats and 65 percent of independents say they’re more concerned with making sure everyone who wants to can vote than with making sure that ineligible people don’t vote. Harris will now be the administration’s lead spokesman on that subject. And although she’s doomed to failure legislatively, that’ll give her many opportunities to impress progressives and attack Republicans, crowding in on Stacey Abrams’s territory as the Democratic politician most closely associated with voting rights. She’s taking full advantage already:

At a basic level, it’ll associate her in the public imagination with an issue other than thousands of illegals streaming into America every day.

It could be fun for Republicans too. Imagine if we reach the point where Harris starts insinuating that Manchin’s a racist because he won’t rid Democrats of the procedural stumbling block to aggressive voting-rights reform. It’s certainly not beneath her to accuse a centrist guy from her own party named Joe of betraying African-Americans because he was too chummy with bigots.

Not that Manchin would care. If anything, having Harris mad at him might help him in his next reelection bid in West Virginia.

Here’s Biden earlier today deputizing Harris — and taking a swipe at Manchin and Sinema, describing them (without naming them) as two Democrats in the Senate who vote with Republicans more often than they do with him. He said this in Tulsa, by the way, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the racial massacre there. He may be looking ahead to the inevitable failure of voting-rights reform in Congress and guessing that African-American voters will hold it against him for not making it happen. To prove his commitment to them, it can’t hurt to have the first black woman VP in charge.