As the potential of a midterm election looms large for Democrats, some members of the party are looking forward to the presidential race in 2024. And there is a lot of uncertainty on both sides. President Joe Biden has said publicly and privately that he plans to run again—contrary to his campaign message that he would only serve one term—but there is “constant talk” that he may opt out.
Along with the discussion, there has been early maneuvering to fill the gap that Biden may leave. Vice President Kamala Harris seems to be the natural option, but according to a series of headlines released on Monday, that decision is far from guaranteed.
Her principal responsibilities—voting rights and the border in relation to Central American migration—are slow-moving and low-profile problems. The passing of Biden’s $1.2 billion bipartisan infrastructure measure should have resulted in a victory lap for Harris, her “mostly under-the-radar efforts” to get the bill passed have frequently gone unnoticed.
Despite attending “more than 30 public events—and approximately 150 calls, meetings, and other contacts with members of Congress,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has outperformed her as the plan’s spokeswoman.
Harris’ employment has “limited her capacity to do public outreach” while other Democrats, like Buttigieg and Senators Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren, and Cory Booker, have “raised their own national profiles,” perhaps in support of 2024 aspirations.
People like Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Georgia’s Stacey Abrams might potentially be considered, depending on how they do in 2022. According to one senior New Hampshire operator, Harris is “definitely not going to clear the f—-ing field.”
The uncertainty arises amid reports that Harris is dissatisfied with her employment. Under Biden, the vice president “has told several confidants she feels constrained in what she’s able to do politically.” Such “exasperation” reflects the deterioration of ties between Harris’ office and certain members of Biden’s staff.
“Those of us who know her know how much more helpful she can be than she is now being expected to be,” said Eleni Kounalakis, California’s lieutenant governor and a longtime friend of the vice president, told the source. “That’s where the frustration is coming from.”
When such sentiments arise, people close to Harris are said to have circulated an Onion piece ridiculing how little she has to do, headed ““White House Urges Kamala Harris To Sit At Computer All Day In Case Emails Come Through.”
Part of the problem might be internal. According to CNN, Harris’s team “has repeatedly failed her and left her exposed,” and has struggled to get the vice president more active in the administration.
Tina Flournoy, her chief of staff, allegedly requested Biden’s chief of staff, Ron Klain, for funds to make further employees after communications and planning blunders over the summer.
Klain, according to CNN, was unsupportive, telling Flournoy to “think creatively about drawing on other resources in the office.” Flournoy is said to have struggled to find new employees and maintain current members of her staff.
And Harris has “complained about the lack of support,” such as when “she asked why she’d been put in a situation that ran counter to the good modeling of COVID-19 protocols” after speaking at a September fundraiser for Virginia’s governor election. A few hours after the CNN article broke, White House press secretary Jen Psaki referred to Harris as a “vital partner” to Biden.
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
Harris’ office responded to CNN‘s characterizations in a statement. “It is unfortunate that after a productive trip to France…and following passage of a historic, bipartisan infrastructure bill that will create jobs and strengthen our communities, some in the media are focused on gossip,” the office stated.
However, the optics are having a significant influence. According to Insider, Harris’s popularity rating dropped to 28% last week, “a historical low for any modern vice president,” according to Insider, and her supporters “see no coherent public sense of what she’s done or been trying to do as vice president.”
However, her ability to connect with the base was on display last month at the 30th anniversary gala for Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network civil rights organization, when she “let loose,” according to CNN, particularly on the matter of voting rights.
Sharpton told the publication that it was one of her “better public appearances” and that “the administration ought to be using her more as the face in the voting rights fight. Being Black and a woman, she literally is the physical manifestation of why we need to protect the right to vote.”
Sharpton speculated that Harris’ generally reserved attitude is in respect to a government that has long valued “bipartisanship,” noting that “the whole tone of the administration has to change.”