Kamala Harris’s Vice Presidency Is Coming Into Focus. Everyone Has an Opinion About What They See.

WASHINGTON — It ought to have been an simple query.

In Guatemala this week, Vice President Kamala Harris sat with NBC anchor Lester Holt, who grilled her about why she had not visited the U.S.-Mexico border as a part of her work inspecting the basis causes of migration. After the third border-related query, the vp appeared to have had sufficient.

“I’ve never been to Europe,” Ms. Harris mentioned. “I don’t understand the point you’re making.”

That response perplexed a number of administration officers who knew she had ready at size for the query. By veering away from the script, Ms. Harris gave Republicans grist for a information cycle that lasted longer than her two-day journey. In one other look, her blunt message to migrants on behalf of President Biden — “do not come” — was criticized by lawmakers within the progressive wing of her personal celebration.

The journey crystallized one thing essential about Ms. Harris’s vice presidency: Whether she stays on message — as she did by telling migrants to not come — or goes off script, she will be unable to fulfill everybody. With two of probably the most polarizing points, migration and voting rights, now in her portfolio, the risk of missteps is so excessive and the problems so intractable that even her allies say she is in a no-win state of affairs.

A politician who has at all times struggled to outline herself, Ms. Harris is now attempting to take action in actual time, with two points that might complicate her personal political future and probably upend a few of Mr. Biden’s central ambitions for his legacy.

“They’ve just been flat-footed on immigration and they’ve opened up a significant political vulnerability for themselves,” Richard N. Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, whom Ms. Harris turned to for international coverage recommendation in the course of the common election, mentioned of the Biden administration’s strategy to responding to a surge of migrants on the border. “It was her bad luck that this is her assignment. She can’t succeed given these circumstances.”

(As for her “Europe” remark, Mr. Haass had one phrase: “Inartful..”)

Her aides say the criticism mustn’t overshadow a visit that, from a coverage perspective, delivered on its diplomatic and financial objectives. Officials on the National Security Council are nonetheless flooding her with requests for extra international journey, viewing her presence within the Northern Triangle nations of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala as a plus for the administration.

Ms. Harris is conscious of the stakes concerned.

According to interviews with 20 White House aides, allies and former advisers, Ms. Harris is attempting to form her vice presidency by tackling unwieldy coverage points, growing relationships she was not identified for nurturing as a senator and adhering to the president’s objectives, even when a few of what she is saying now contradicts what she mentioned she used to consider.

“That’s the role she signed up for,” Gil Duran, a Democratic strategist and former aide to Ms. Harris, mentioned in an interview. As a senator, Ms. Harris signed a letter criticizing the Trump administration’s use of a public well being rule to show away asylum-seekers on the border, a place at odds with the Biden administration’s present coverage.

But Mr. Duran identified that the reception by Democrats to the Biden administration’s warnings to migrants “might look very different in a general election in the future, and that’s the audience she’s playing to now.”

A charismatic senator who entered the 2020 presidential election eliciting comparisons to Barack Obama, Ms. Harris didn’t make it to the Iowa caucuses largely as a result of she never knew which issues to emphasize. As vp, Ms. Harris started her tenure as a generalist, largely to study the rhythms of a president she was nonetheless attending to know.

At first, she had two choices, drawn up by Ron Klain, Mr. Biden’s chief of employees. She may develop a slim portfolio, diving deep into a couple of specialised points. Or she may spend most of her time with Mr. Biden. Ms. Harris, who since becoming a member of Mr. Biden on the ticket has been desirous to show herself a crew participant, eagerly selected the primary choice.

When Mr. Biden decided to assign her the Northern Triangle — a activity he had accepted throughout his eight years as vp to Mr. Obama — it was seen as “taking one for the team,” mentioned one in all her former aides, who spoke on the situation of anonymity to protect relationships.

Over a month in the past, Ms. Harris started having conversations with each the president and Mr. Klain about one other space the place she felt she could possibly be efficient. She had labored on voting rights laws within the Senate, and had co-sponsored two of the expansive payments that had been foundering within the chamber. And, as the primary Black girl and girl of Asian descent to carry her workplace, the subject was personally vital to her.

She instructed Mr. Biden she could be glad to take the lead on the problem. Mr. Biden agreed.

“I’m glad she is not waiting for someone to put on her plate what should be on her menu,” mentioned Donna Brazile, who managed Vice President Al Gore’s 2000 presidential marketing campaign. “I can’t think of a better issue for her.”

The challenges of Ms. Harris’s new position introduced themselves nearly instantly: Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, who’s perceived as a pivotal reasonable holdout who may assist his fellow Democrats cross an expansive voting rights regulation, publicly said last week that he could not support it.

He additionally mentioned he was towards eliminating the legislative filibuster, a promise that imperils a lot of the Biden administration’s agenda, together with voting rights.

Mr. Manchin’s choice laid naked for Ms. Harris one other political actuality: She didn’t have sturdy sufficient relationships with key lawmakers to barter on that difficulty, or on a number of others dealing with the administration.

Ms. Harris, who spent a piece of her 4 years within the Senate operating for president, was not identified for constructing particularly shut relationships along with her colleagues, and Mr. Manchin was no exception. She has not acted as one of many administration’s lead negotiators on the American Rescue Plan that Mr. Biden signed into regulation in March or the American Jobs Plan, his infrastructure proposal.

Recently, she has tried to do extra outreach to her former colleagues. Next week, she is going to host a bipartisan dinner for all 24 girls senators at her official residence on the grounds of the Naval Observatory, her first social occasion since shifting in.

With the passage of any laws on voting rights wanting much less possible, many Democrats count on Ms. Harris will play a job in marshaling civil rights teams, personal corporations and group leaders to beat again a whole lot of restrictive legal guidelines launched in Republican-led state homes throughout the nation. Next week, she is going to host a gaggle of Texas Democrats who final month blocked the passage of laws that may have made it more durable for Texans to vote.

“You’re going to need a high-profile surrogate saying, ‘They did this on purpose and you must turn out to vote.’ That may be what she ends up doing,” mentioned Jennifer Palmieri, who served as White House communications director beneath President Barack Obama.

Many of her predecessors struggled with the constraints of the vice presidency, however Ms. Harris, the primary girl of shade in her place, encounters a special form of scrutiny. She has change into a goal of assaults from conservative media retailers, which to date haven’t discovered a method to assault Mr. Biden head-on. And each motion of hers is being seen via the lens of her personal political future. In selecting her as his operating mate, Mr. Biden basically anointed her the main Democratic candidate to succeed him.

For now, although, Ms. Harris continues to be studying to play a job that her boss is aware of higher than nearly anybody.

Aware that he made an enormous funding in Ms. Harris by selecting her as his vp, Mr. Biden has made certain she receives the identical briefing supplies he does, and folds her into most of his conferences, as a result of, as one White House official put it, he needs her to soak up his mind-set. They each obtain their every day briefings and media clips on iPads.

Ms. Harris has a weekly one-on-one assembly with Mr. Klain as effectively, a degree of inclusion within the day-to-day work of the White House that Biden aides level out was by no means supplied to Mr. Biden when he served as vp.

“The vice president’s job is such a hard one because the advice you give is unseen and the tasks you perform are totally at the discretion of the president and his staff,” mentioned David Axelrod, a former prime adviser to Mr. Obama. “For politicians accustomed to leading roles, it can be very frustrating.”

As vp, Mr. Biden was identified for stepping exterior of the boundaries of his workplace, typically getting forward of Mr. Obama on hot-button points, together with homosexual marriage. Ms. Harris has made no such missteps, however does pay attention to the criticism she receives.

Ms. Harris is fast to chuckle in interviews, a bent that has earned her unflattering headlines. In March, a misleadingly edited video that appeared to indicate her laughing in regards to the plight of youngsters on the Southern border gained consideration on-line, irritating Ms. Harris and other people near her. It occurred once more this week, when she was requested in regards to the border by Mr. Holt, and a wave of criticism adopted.

“That message was sent loud and clear that she really doesn’t care,” mentioned Brandon Judd, the president of the National Border Patrol Council, referring to the NBC interview.

Because she pays shut consideration to her personal media protection, Ms. Harris has gone to her allies with some model of the identical query, based on a number of folks briefed on inside exchanges: Should I by no means chuckle?

“Women, especially women in executive positions, get judged far more harshly, and that is a reality,” mentioned Anita Dunn, a senior adviser to President Biden. “Of course she’s aware of that.”

The president’s advisers say he’s happy with how Ms. Harris’s journey went. Ms. Dunn identified that Mr. Biden referred to as the vp on Friday, whereas he was overseas on his personal first international journey, to congratulate her on her work.

“She’s never going to get an easy issue,” Ms. Dunn mentioned, “and neither is the president of the United States.”

Zolan Kanno-Youngs contributed reporting.

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