After spending five months in a bubble, the White House finally sent Kamala Harris out to conduct business in public view — in France, anyway. How well did that work out? Good enough that the White House spent yesterday scrambling to deal with the fallout (via Power Line):
For anyone who needs to hear it. @VP is not only a vital partner to @POTUS but a bold leader who has taken on key, important challenges facing the country—from voting rights to addressing root causes of migration to expanding broadband.
— Jen Psaki (@PressSec) November 15, 2021
What prompted this tweet on a Sunday evening? A couple of days earlier, Politico Europe reported that Harris’ visit to the Continent was underwhelming at best. Other than the normal, protocol-driven pleasantries, Harris got mostly ignored — and when she got noticed, it was for all the wrong reasons:
Three days into her five-day stay in France, the vice president’s visit to France has not garnered the kind of popular or media interest that visits by Presidents Barack Obama or Donald Trump did.
Granted vice presidents don’t get the same billing, but Harris’ unique profile as the first woman and first Black and Indian vice president could have attracted more curiosity.
Instead, French media coverage has been minimal. Her bilateral meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday evening did not get prime billing on newscasts or in newspapers, and her presence at the Armistice Day commemoration was mentioned in passing.
This year’s commemoration honored Hubert Germain, the last surviving member of the Order of Liberation that fought under General de Gaulle’s command to free France from Nazi occupation. Germain died in October aged 101. As a result, Harris’ presence was overshadowed even though she was the only foreign dignitary present at the commemoration.
Harris was one of the VIP guests at the opening ceremony of the Paris Peace Forum, Macron’s yearly marquee event on global multilateralism. But her speech fell a bit flat, with Harris offering little by way of concrete solutions or new game-changing proposals to fight inequalities.
That’s a rather remarkable outcome, given all of the advantages Harris had going into this trip. As Rym Montaz points out, her gender and ethnicity should have generated at least some initial enthusiasm, and it fit right into Macron’s topic. It was a platform practically designed to launch Harris as a heavyweight in her own right. Instead, she got showed up by a centenarian veteran and fumbled with a substance-free speech that made her look like a female version of Joe Biden.
That may have been the last straw at the White House. CNN reported on Sunday evening that the West Wing has “largely thrown up their hands” at Harris’ incompetence and that of her team — and that the feeling is mutual:
Worn out by what they see as entrenched dysfunction and lack of focus, key West Wing aides have largely thrown up their hands at Vice President Kamala Harris and her staff — deciding there simply isn’t time to deal with them right now, especially at a moment when President Joe Biden faces quickly multiplying legislative and political concerns.
The exasperation runs both ways. Interviews with nearly three dozen former and current Harris aides, administration officials, Democratic operatives, donors and outside advisers — who spoke extensively to CNN — reveal a complex reality inside the White House. Many in the vice president’s circle fume that she’s not being adequately prepared or positioned, and instead is being sidelined. The vice president herself has told several confidants she feels constrained in what she’s able to do politically. And those around her remain wary of even hinting at future political ambitions, with Biden’s team highly attuned to signs of disloyalty, particularly from the vice president.
She’s a heartbeat away from the presidency now. She could be just a year away from launching a presidential campaign of her own, given doubts throughout the political world that Biden will actually go through with a reelection bid in 2024, something he’s pledged to do publicly and privately. Or she’ll be a critical validator in three years for a President trying to get the country to reelect him to serve until he’s 86.
Few of the insiders who spoke with CNN think she’s being well-prepared for whichever role it will be. Harris is struggling with a rocky relationship with some parts of the White House, while long-time supporters feel abandoned and see no coherent public sense of what she’s done or been trying to do as vice president. Being the first woman, and first woman of color, in national elected office is historic but has also come with outsized scrutiny and no forgiveness for even small errors, as she’ll often point out.
Well, boo hoo. The big leagues are tough on everyone, as Harris discovered two years ago while flaming out of the Democratic pre-primaries. Harris didn’t even make it to Iowa despite having the best set-up for the nomination of anyone except Biden himself. Harris came from the most populous state, which had just moved its primary up to the beginning of the schedule; she had national name recognition; and Harris had two diversity cards to play rather than just the one most of her competitors had in the 2020 primary cycle. Harris got beaten like a drum not once but twice by Tulsi Gabbard and utterly exposed as a lightweight who had never once faced a truly competitive political fight until 2019.
The problem with Harris is not that she’s not being well prepared, but that she’s just not up to the task of being VP, let alone president. As a legislator, she could operate as one of 100 in a group, but as an executive, she has to stand out on her own. Time after time, Harris ends up falling on her face while making that attempt, a pattern she established long before she got inexplicably chosen as Biden’s running mate.
The only mitigating factor for Harris is the utter incompetence of her boss. Joe Biden’s disgraceful performance as president undoubtedly weighs her approval down. But if Harris had an ounce of competence herself, the White House would be delighted to send her out to deflect attention from Biden’s aphasiac performance. The fact that they’ve kept her under wraps all during his confidence-crisis cascade in the polls tells us a story — and it’s not the one that Jen Psaki tried to tell 15 minutes after this CNN piece went live last night.
Or is Psaki trying to let the White House eat its cake and have it too? That’s what Ron DeSantis’ spokesperson thinks:
My 2 cents as a comms person: Psaki knows EXACTLY how her Tweet about Kamala Harris comes across. The Biden Admin is trying to use Kamala as a scapegoat for all their failures. They’re planting negative stories about her. I don’t pity her obviously, but it is pathetic of Biden.
— Christina Pushaw 🐊 (@ChristinaPushaw) November 15, 2021
Harris makes for a strange scapegoat. The only public task she’s been given is dealing with a border crisis that the White House denies is happening at all. Harris has had literally nothing else to do in this White House, and it’s becoming apparent why.