In Brief

Kamala Harris: is Joe Biden setting up the vice-president to fail?

Harris is already unusually ‘unpopular’ for a veep, with a recent YouGov poll showing her approval rating at 41%

Even before she became America’s first black female vice-president, Kamala Harris was a soft target for Republicans, said Lisa Lerer in The New York Times. It was all too easy to define the outspoken senator from California as an “untrustworthy radical with an unpronounceable name and an anti-American agenda”. But she has become an even easier target now that her boss has assigned her tasks widely regarded as “the shortest straws in the White House”.

Back in March, President Biden asked her to take charge of stemming migration at America’s southern border – one of the most “intractable” and polarising issues in US politics. And this month, he appointed her to lead the administration’s efforts to counter moves by various “red” (i.e. Republican) states to tighten the rules on voter registration – or “voter suppression”, as Democrats prefer to call it. But given the implacable resistance to voting-rights legislation by Republican senators – who form 50% of the Senate – that too is a nigh on impossible task. Actually, Harris requested the assignment, said Cleve R. Wootson Jr. in The Washington Post. But if she flops in both, it would be a serious setback for her undisguised ambition to run for president at the next election.

It has to be said that Harris is off to an “unimpressive” start, said Noah Rothman in Commentary Magazine. Three months after she was put in charge of the border crisis, attempted border crossings are at a 21-year high. That’s why her aides are desperate to stress that her job is to tackle “the root causes” of migration – climate change, for example – not to manage the surge on the southern border.

When politicians focus on “root causes”, said Hugo Gurdon in the Washington Examiner, you can be sure they’re trying to deflect attention from the “real causes”. And the real cause of the surge in immigrants is perfectly clear: Biden’s relaxation of Trump’s tough immigration policy and his commitment not to expel migrants without first giving them a chance to claim asylum. On her recent trip to Guatemala, Harris did try to row back on this by saying: “I want to be clear to folks in this region who are thinking about making that dangerous trek to the US-Mexico border: do not come. Do not come.” But it’s all too little, too late. All this did was invite a storm of criticism from progressive Democrats like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Harris is already unusually “unpopular” for a veep, said David Harsanyi in the National Review. A recent YouGov poll showed her approval rating at 41%, and she’s “25 points underwater among independents”.

She has now become a political liability for her boss. No doubt Republicans are “already designing attack ads” in anticipation of her becoming the Democrats’ presidential nominee in 2024, said Peter Funt in USA Today. Biden will be 81 that year, and if he doesn’t seek re-election, Harris will be the party’s presumptive front runner. Over the past 150 or so years, however, the only vice-president to be elected to succeed his boss has been George H.W. Bush. And now Biden has dumped “two of the most radioactive issues facing the nation” on Harris’s plate. Intentionally or not, he appears to be “setting up Harris to fail”.

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