US president attempts to boost his VP’s profile
Standing shoulder to shoulder in the battleground state of Pennsylvania, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris offered a preview of their 2024 re-election bid.
The US president and vice president highlighted their achievements in office, from creating jobs to stimulating domestic manufacturing.
It was a theme that will be the centrepiece of Biden’s re-election bid, which is expected to be announced within weeks.
But there was another, unspoken theme: Harris’s status as Biden’s heir.
The rare sight of the president sharing the stage with his deputy on Friday was a warning shot to the Democratic whisperers who have been briefing against Harris of late.
At the halfway point of their term, the Biden-Harris administration finds itself at a critical juncture.
If Biden runs for re-election, his running mate, 58, will be an integral part of the campaign for an 80-year-old whose age is seen as a liability.
But many Democrats are not convinced by Harris’s performance — let alone her ability to step into the top role — and have raised concerns about her.
Elizabeth Warren, the influential Massachusetts senator, gave Biden a full-throated endorsement to run in 2024 in a recent interview, but did not do the same for Harris.
Asked if Harris should be Biden’s running mate, Warren said: “I really want to defer to what makes Biden comfortable on his team... But they have to be a team.”
She quickly added that she did not mean to suggest there were “any problems”, but her non-committal response was seized upon regardless.
At the same time, Democratic strategists have turned to the media to anonymously voice their doubts about Harris’s political skills.
Harris’s tenure has been underwhelming, marked by struggles as a communicator and at times near invisibility, more than a dozen Democratic leaders in key states told The Washington Post in a piece published this week.
That has left many rank-and-file Democrats unconvinced she has what is needed to mount a winning presidential campaign, the piece added.
In response, the White House has launched an operation to boost Harris’s profile.
Last week, it was Harris, not Biden, who delivered an impassioned speech at the funeral of Tyre Nichols, the black motorist killed by police in Memphis, Tennessee.
Later this month, the US vice president will attend the Munich Security Conference, as the face of America’s response to Russian aggression in Ukraine.
Harris’s team views this as an opportunity to reset and position her as a president-in-waiting to the oldest American commander-in-chief in history.
Her horizons have been broadened by the fact she is no longer required to cast tie-breaking votes in the Senate, and therefore no longer shackled to the Washington DC area.
The Biden team is understood to be priming her to undertake intensive travel on behalf of her boss, who will be 82 at the next election.
Karen Finney, a Democratic strategist close to Harris, said she had demonstrated “what a tremendous asset she is to [Biden’s] ticket” by playing a “critical role” in the party’s midterm success.
She credited the vice president’s “extensive travel” on behalf of Democratic candidates for “boosting enthusiasm and turnout” in critical races.
Biden’s age will sharpen the spotlight on his vice president, who supporters say represents a younger voice for Democrats.
But concerns remain about Harris, whose term has been blighted by a staffing exodus and a flood of leaks describing turmoil in her office.
Gil Duran, who worked for Harris for five months in 2013, when she was attorney general of California, said many Democrats had lost faith in her.
“One of my critiques has been that she has tended to not prepare for things, not read a briefing,” he said.
Harris’s allies say the portfolio of challenging tasks assigned to her by Mr Biden has left her hamstrung at times.
Her status as Biden’s heir apparent now appears in jeopardy amid a growing list of potential challengers.
They include Gavin Newsom, California’s governor, who appeared to take aim at Harris by criticising the administration’s handling of the southern border — a key part of her brief.
Pete Buttigieg, the US transportation secretary, also appears to be readying a presidential campaign.
Whenever Joe Biden steps aside, “nobody will be ceding ground to Harris”, predicted Duran.
Garry South, a longtime Democratic strategist in Harris’s home state of California, said her historically low popularity presented a major obstacle.
He said: “She is basically lower in public approval than any of the previous three vice presidents, including Dick Cheney — who wasn’t exactly a warm and fuzzy guy. That’s saying something.”
Supporters are quick to point out that the vice president’s approval has been closely tied to Biden’s polling, which has remained stubbornly low amid persistent inflation. They also hit back at many of the criticisms levelled against her, suggesting there was an element of sexism.
Karen Finney noted that former VPs Dick Cheney and Mike Pence had staff turnovers of a similar level — but that went unreported.
One former staffer said Harris had one main aim for the next two years: being seen “as a good partner to Joe Biden”.
“Any of Biden’s failures will be attributed to her as well as the president — but also any successes,” the source said.
Telegraph Media Group Limited