Superhero or super villain? Kamala Harris is said to be very powerful in the White House. The Vice President has her own problems.
In Washington, some sentences express a matter of course only at first glance. Let’s take this: the president is actually the president. Sounds banal, and yet this finding has taken some observers by surprise.
Because actually, it was often heard in the election campaign and in the fight after the election, Joe Biden was just a decrepit puppet, while in the White House the formal Vice President would in fact pull the strings. Kamala Harris, the real president.
The idea circulates not only with right-wing opponents, but also with some left-wing supporters. There are two versions: Either Biden, who only came out of retirement to drive Donald Trump out, will abdicate shortly after inauguration and Harris will officially take over as president. Or Biden will officiate, but only give a better August, while Harris determines the course of the government.
The other day I heard the second variant again on Fox News: The evening provocateur on the 8 p.m. program slot, Tucker Carlson, whispered from “President Harris”, an America-hating super villain who gives the commands behind the scenes.
In reality, however, the supposedly tired and unimaginative Joe Biden himself has developed enormous ambitions to go down in history as a great reformer, sets the tone and direction in the White House and Kamala Harris is always there, but remains pretty bland. Superschurkin, Superheldin, Supermächtig? Superblass!
Not a single sentence or deed by the Vice President has been branded so far, just one scene that I will come to. It has to do with Harris himself, but also with the office.
Since ‘by Seit’: Joe Biden often shares the stage with his Vice President. (Source: Evan Vucci / AP / dpa)
Many have overestimated the politician Harris because the person Harris symbolizes something great: the tremendous power shifts of our time.
She is the first female vice president in US history. With a father from Jamaica and a mother from India, she is also the first black American woman and the first Asian-American in the second highest office. Such things are very important to many people right now (while some others are very bothered by this fact). No text that doesn’t mention that. But there is something else.
In a Washington ruled by a 78-year-old who was elected to the Senate in 1972, the number three in the state, Nancy Pelosi, is 81 years old, and some influential senators are already preparing for their 90th birthday, this is at work Number two, 56 years old and only in Washington since 2017, young and fresh. She herself cultivates the image of a woman who brings a breath of fresh air into politics, all too much by wearing her now famous chucks.
That’s why there is this Kamala hype, especially among young women, which I – I once wrote about it here – was able to testify already in 2018 during an elevator ride in the Capitol, during which a young woman literally screamed out her “heroine”.
However, none of this fits the role of a vice-president at all. The vice or vice president does not stand for himself or others, but for the president.
The VP’s realm is the EEOB. The Eisenhower Executive Office Building is only a 30 second or 1 minute 30 walk from the West Wing, depending on the route, and yet it is a different world.
In the bitter sitcom “Veep” that was portrayed splendidly for years. An ambitious Vice President who, despite the short distances, never gets to face the President and for whom the EEOB becomes their inferiority office complex, while even the insignificant assistant to the President brags on every visit that he has just come from the West Wing. Over-the-top, sure, but honestly closer to reality than the idea of a pulling President Harris.
A vice only gets the power that the president grants him. Biden highlights Harris for gaining stature, especially in foreign affairs. He let her meet South Korea’s Moon separately at the EEOB, transferred a phone call to France’s Macron to her, and the conversations with her southern neighbors about the influx of refugees at the border. She is going there on her first trip abroad next week.
On Thursday I met a man for coffee who is more concerned with Harris than almost anyone. Noah Bierman is one of the White House correspondents for the Los Angeles Times and has only been writing about the VP for months. He just works for the largest newspaper in Harris’ homeland, California.
“She has not quite found her role yet,” he said with the reluctance that American newspaper reporters have. “Maybe something happens behind the scenes that we don’t know yet.”
Biden had promised that his vice president would always be “the last in the room” when making important decisions. But now, after the first few months, there are more and more stories in the capital about Biden’s true confidante, a handful of political friends who have forged and steeled their alliance over decades. “That is where the real decisions are made and Harris is not there,” said Bierman.
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He said that he had only talked to Harris on the phone the day before, a rare conversation that, after a lot of back and forth, was scheduled for five to seven minutes and then always lasted just under ten. Otherwise it makes itself scarce. Bierman’s prediction: “She will soon have more freedom, but she has always been very careful and I don’t think her style will change much.”
I can put it a little more bluntly in an opinion column: Harris is not only cautious, as Vice President she often speaks in phrases, in buzzwords of the big city left, and almost never with moments of spontaneity.
I noticed this while accompanying former presidential candidate Harris in Iowa in 2019. It got off to an impressive start in front of 20,000 supporters in native Oakland, but outside of California, she never really managed to establish a real connection with important constituencies.
You just didn’t know what it stood for. It didn’t hit the right note either. During the election campaign, the former prosecutor said she wanted to “bring the Donald Trump case to trial” and resolve people’s nightly worries, it was her so-called “3 o’clock in the morning plan”. There were talking pointswho could be seen as conceived by advisors at their desks.
I recognize some things from back then with the Vice-President. From her first few months in the White House, not a single sentence has stuck in her mind, rather her presence. Her key moment came in Biden’s first speech to Congress, when he was backed by number two and three, Harris and Pelosi, two women for the first time. Harris embodies the diversity that is currently very important to the Democrats and relatively important to Biden. So again: a symbol.
President Biden (before Vice President Harris and Speaker of the House Pelosi): “America is on the move again.” (Source: Melina Mara / Washington Post / Pool / AP / dpa)
Therefore, it is also ideally suited as an enemy image for the opposing side, who goes against the grain when talking about equality, racism and the representation of minorities. It offers very different points of attack than the old white man in the Oval Office.
Of course, there can still be something with “President Harris”. Your ambitions for the highest office are clear, and even if Biden pretends to run again in 2024, I don’t expect that. The good man would be 82.
But first of all, the Vice President has to hide her own ambitions as much as possible and fulfill her role as the most loyal assistant.
She also has two very selfish reasons for supporting Biden: Only if his government does a good job in the eyes of a majority does she have a good chance of being elected.
And only if it has the full support of its president. Biden himself experienced how important this is. He wanted to compete in 2016 and asked his president for public support. But Obama was silent, Biden pinched and there came Clinton and Trump.
And then Kamala Harris has one more thing to prove: that she can campaign. She has to find a language for those who neither adore her as a superhero nor labeled her as a super villain. So for the normal Americans. She still has a little time.