What happened to Kamala Harris?
He shattered all kinds of glass in the ceiling when Joe Biden named the young California senator his vice president and … Harris was elected vice president. Since then, it has largely moved away from Washington’s day-to-day business and the hanging drama that has surrounded the struggle on the president’s agenda.
Part of the answer is simple: What happened to Harris is that she became vice president.
Even if it takes on a number of policy portfolios, even while visiting Paris this week trying to deal with the administration’s broken relations with France, it remains a fact that no. 2 White House work is inherently decreasing.
It is neither racist nor misogynist to point this out when Harris is the owner of the job.
Virtually every vice president in modern history – except Dick Cheney, who played an unusually prominent role in leading defense and foreign policy under President George W. Bush – seemed smaller than when they accepted office.
This is because one of the main requirements of the job is to get away from the spotlight, except when rooting for the president and his schedule.
This requires varying degrees of servility. After four years of emasculation, Mike Pence didn’t seem to care but his boss, President Trump was not at all upset that some of Trump Supporters wanted to kill Pence for refusing to illegally overturn Biden’s election. Pence, whatever else he accomplishes in life, has managed to set new standards for tolerance and self-humiliation.
There were different and higher expectations for Harris, mainly due to his revolutionary election. No one like her – the first woman, the first person of color, the first elected vice president of an Asian American – has ever moved across Washington’s higher borders. His every action would be unprecedented and certainly, it seemed, deserved special attention and a great deal of news coverage.
But that one cardinal rule – never purposely overshadow the president, or seem eager to take his place – doesn’t give in to history or stardom. This is especially true when the CEO is 78 years old.
So, since taking office, Harris has made humility a big point on his public agenda, along with tasks: voting rights, space exploration, women in the workforce, immigration from Central America, and more – the president gave her. It is not a surprise. Caution has long been a hallmark of Harris’s political career, and the submissive nature of the vice presidency, as well as scrutiny of Biden’s loyalists sensitive to the slightest hint of personal ambition, reinforce this bias.
(There is a long history of tensions between presidential and vice-president staff members, and Biden’s White House is no exception.)
Another reason Harris took a back seat is his meager Washington resume.
Typically, vice presidents are chosen because they are perceived as “doing something the president can’t do or can’t do very well,” said Chris Devine, who teaches political science at Dayton University and co-wrote two books on vice presidency.
Biden, Cheney, and Al Gore had the Capitol Hill experience that the presidents under whom they served – Barack Obama, Bush, Bill Clinton – lacked. Pence, a congressman for more than a decade before becoming governor of Indiana, was Trump’s emissary for the conservative and evangelical wings of the GOP.
There isn’t much Harris can do that Biden can’t, or hasn’t already done, including acting in the work he now does.
The president served 36 years in the Senate and Harris only four – much of which he spent preparing for a 2020 presidential race – so it’s not like Biden needs Harris’ help to build relationships with lawmakers or find his way. through Pennsylvania Avenue to the House and Senate. Although the vice president was among those who phoned from the established war room last week to push Biden’s large infrastructure bill beyond the finish line, he did not play the role of closer legislator than Biden did under Obama.
Harris, 57, is on his third overseas trip as vice president. Biden began traveling overseas as a senator when Harris was still in elementary school. So it’s not that Biden has to look to his vice president to explain the difference between the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, or to teach him the protocol for meeting the Pope, with whom Biden has visited three times.
Harris was chosen to run alongside Biden largely because he brought balance – relative youth, race and gender – to the Democratic presidential ticket. In the White House, the president has made an effort to make his vice president look like a full partner in the “Biden-Harris administration.” In practice, however, it is more like an apprentice.
There are several vice presidents who have come out of the shadow of the Oval Office and modest No. 2 work to win the presidency, even after serving under larger than life figures like Ronald Reagan or people who made history like Obama.
Barring unforeseen circumstances, Harris has at least another three, and possibly even seven, years to learn and grow in the White House.
It will mostly do it out of sight and, for many, out of mind.