Vice President Kamala Harris and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg traveled to North Carolina Thursday amid speculation about a growing rivalry between the two for the role of future Democratic Party standard-bearer.
Gossip about the pair of prominent Biden administration members ramped up last month after Harris allies suggested to CNN that the vice president had been sidelined inside the White House and was not getting the same level of support as other officials.
“It’s hard to miss the specific energy that the White House brings to defend a white man, knowing that Kamala Harris has spent almost a year taking a lot of the hits that the West Wing didn’t want to take themselves,” a former Harris aide told the outlet, referring to the administration’s support of Buttigieg taking paternity leave amid the global supply chain crisis.
Since the report came out, whispers have grown louder that Buttigieg could challenge Harris for the Democratic presidential nomination in either 2024 or 2028.
“It’s 2021,” Buttigieg said when asked about the speculation aboard Air Force Two Thursday. “And the whole point of campaigns and elections is when they go well, you get to govern. And we are squarely focused on the job at hand. I am excited to be part of a team led by the president and the vice president and I think the teamwork that got us to this point is really just beginning.”
When asked if Thursday’s event in Charlotte was meant to promote a united front, Buttigieg added: “As transportation secretary, I get to be the face of a lot of these investments that we’re doing, but we would not be here without the leadership of the vice president as well as the president, of course, and so many others. So I am glad we’re able to shine a light on that today.”
Soon after the publication of the CNN report — which described the relationship between Biden and Harris as an “exhausted stalemate” — Biden and Harris attempted a display of unity at the signing ceremony for a bipartisan $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill.
Harris also attempted to rebut the report in a Nov. 18 interview with “Good Morning America,” telling ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos that she didn’t feel, as the anchor put it, “misused or underused.”
“I’m very, very excited about the work that we have accomplished,” Harris said at the time. “But I am also absolutely, absolutely clear-eyed that there is a lot more to do, and we’re gonna get it done.”
The trip to North Carolina also comes hours after chief Harris spokeswoman Symone Sanders announced she would leave her post at the end of the year.
“I’m so grateful to the VP for her vote of confidence from the very beginning and the opportunity to see what can be unburdened by what has been,” Sanders wrote in a statement.
Sanders is the second major departure from Harris’ office after it emerged last month that her communications director Ashley Etienne would be leaving to “pursue other opportunities.”
Amid her staffing woes, Harris and Biden have been subject to rapidly dropping job approval numbers over recent months. According to an Economist/YouGov poll done late last month, around 43 percent of US adults have a favorable opinion of the vice president while approximately 50 percent have an unfavorable opinion.
The same poll found that approximately 44 percent of US adults approve of Biden’s job as president compared to the 50 percent who disapprove.