Even Vice President Kamala Harris’ supporters fear she hasn’t been able to define her leadership credentials as the 2024 election looms amid questions about President Biden’s age and ability to serve, with one Democrat remarking: “I can’t think of one thing she’s done,” according to a new report.
Harris made history in 2020 when she was elected the first black and first Asian-American vice president, but has struggled while in office with frequent staff turnover — coupled with reports of a toxic office environment — along with frequent gaffes and “word salad” statements, and criticism of her work as the administration’s “border czar.”
As a result, some Democrats say that even in a historically low-profile office, Harris has failed to carve out a niche for herself, the New York Times reported.
The concerns have become more focused and the criticism more pointed as the 80-year-old Biden gears up for a re-election campaign — with the paper reporting that even Democrats to whom Harris’ advisers referred reporters for complimentary quotes are expressing exasperation.
Some worry Harris will turn into a political liability if she becomes the object of Republican attacks arguing that a vote for Biden will be a vote to put her in the White House,
“That will be, in my opinion, one of the most hard-hitting arguments against Biden. It doesn’t take a genius to say, ‘Look, with his age, we have to really think about this,’” John Morgan, a prominent Democratic fundraiser, told the newspaper.
But Morgan said the jury is still out on whether Harris, 58, can lead the party and rally the nation behind Democrats.
“I can’t think of one thing she’s done except stay out of the way and stand beside him at certain ceremonies,” Morgan added.
Since the fall, high-level Democrats have been running through scenarios in case Biden decided against a 2024 run — and a number of them told the Times that they didn’t believe Harris could win.
Others said the party might have to find a way to sideline her without alienating critical Democratic factions, most notably black voters and college-educated women.
The Times also reported that two Democrats had recalled private conversations with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in which the 2016 Democratic nominee said she didn’t think Harris had the political chops to beat back a field of primary candidates.
But Nick Merrill, a spokesman for Clinton, said the former first lady has had talks with Harris about being a “woman in power” and the two share a “strong bond.”
He dismissed “any other characterization” as “patently false.”
Other Harris allies say she is caught up in a position designed not to overshadow the president, presenting a situation that some see as a double standard for a prominent black woman.
“That’s what being a first is all about,” Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-SC) told the Times. “She’s got to work every day to make sure she’s not the last.”
Ron Klain, the departing White House chief of staff, praised Harris’ outspoken support for abortion rights and her frequent overseas trips representing the administration.
“She has done all that operating under high expectations,” Klain said, noting her ground-breaking role as vice president. “She carries these expectations not as a burden but with grace and an understanding of how much her history-making role inspires others.”
Harris’ staffers say she will play a more prominent part in the administration going forward, pointing to her speaking last week at the funeral for Tyre Nichols, who died Jan. 10 after being beaten by Memphis police officers.
Others contend Harris had been limited by having to be tethered to the Senate in the last Congress, when she cast 26 votes to break ties — more than any vice president since John C. Calhoun, who left office in 1832.
With the Democrats holding a clear Senate majority, Harris allies believe she will be able to leave Washington more frequently.