Unpopularity is like Kryptonite for any politician – and more so if he or she is sitting behind the Resolute Desk. Abysmal poll numbers are not the only things haunting President Joe Biden these days, however. The relationship between him and his number two, Kamala Harris, which has been the subject of speculation from the moment he chose her to be his 2020 running mate, has become something of a soap opera as political observers bandy about various theories. Do those in Harris’ circle have the knives out for Biden, or is it the other way around? Alternatively, are rumors of war in the White House merely that: rumors?
A lot of folks on the right initially speculated that Harris was picked for the vice-presidential spot so she could step up and take over when Biden succumbed to ill health – physical or mental – and was deemed no longer fit to serve. Perhaps some on the left even hoped that was the case. For those obsessed with identity politics, Harris checks all the boxes. Well, perhaps not all the boxes, but the two that count most: She is a woman of color.
Set Up to Fail?
More recently, the spotlight has been on Harris for behind-the-scenes mutterings that she has been “set up to fail” with assignments she has no hope of successfully completing to everyone’s satisfaction. Right off the bat, her boss saddled her with a southern border in crisis.
On its own, that issue could have been the kiss of death for any presidential aspirations she still holds. After all, it is a problem that does not need a solution, in the eyes of Democrats. The only way to solve the illegal immigration puzzle is to deny would-be “undocumented immigrants” entry into the United States and deport those already here. But Harris’ party – and she herself, one might suppose – would rather have the issue fester, thus providing something on which to campaign in the future. So, the hapless Harris had to find a way not to end the crisis while looking as if she were trying to do just that.
Without setting foot anywhere within sight of the border, the veep jetted off to Central America in search of “root causes.” It was a flawed, if not pointless, strategy from the start since everyone knows the root causes of America’s illegal alien problem: the desire by so many to flee poverty and violence in favor of a country where one of the dominant political parties promises free this and free that and no consequences for breaking its immigration laws – or any other laws, for that matter.
Harris seems to resent the allegation that Biden or those behind him have essentially hung her out to dry by tossing the border boondoggle in her lap. “No, I don’t believe I’m being set up to fail,” she said in direct response to that exact question posed on Dec. 26 by Margaret Brennan, host of CBS’ Face the Nation. “I’m the vice president of the United States. Anything that I handle is because it’s a tough issue and it couldn’t be handled at some other level.” Apparently, the vice president is unaware that secretary of homeland security is a Cabinet-level position, and that Congress has the power to amend immigration laws or pass new ones.
But I’m the Vice President!
Then there is Harris’ habit of pointing out to people that she is the vice president of the United States. When asked during another recent interview by TV host Charlamagne Tha God whether Biden or Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) is the real president, Harris seemed to completely miss the subtle humor and became somewhat defensive, deeming it necessary to point out that Biden was indeed the president “and I’m vice president and my name is Kamala Harris.” Is she trying to reassure herself? Confident people in positions of power and leadership do not feel the need to state their titles; they know their position – and they know that everyone else knows their position. Perhaps a psychologist would have fun dissecting the VP’s thought process.
Harris is quick to take opportunities to praise and defend the man whose deputy she is. Then again, she could hardly do otherwise, so one should perhaps not read anything at all into that. As for Biden himself, a big question mark hangs over his re-election prospects – and Harris is, of course, a part of that equation. Will Biden run for a second term? Did he ever intend to serve more than four years in the White House? Was his recent remark, during an interview with ABC News, that “if I’m in good health, then, in fact, I would run again,” a way of giving himself an escape hatch? If so, is the speculation about Harris’ situation and the supposed near-mutiny within her office – staffers allegedly deserting the sinking ship – all part of some behind-the-scenes powerplay to sideline her and line up a more promising Democrat candidate to step in when Biden leaves?
Catapulted from the also-rans of the 2020 presidential primaries to vice president by virtue of her sex and skin tone, and now unable to salvage a sinking administration because she appears even less capable and less popular than her floundering boss, Harris really does appear doomed. It may be that the only chance left for her to enjoy the dubious pleasures of White House life is if Biden does indeed run again – assuming he doesn’t opt for a new deputy.
~ Read more from Graham J. Noble.