Kamala Harris Makes Solo Debut, Selling Relief Law and Raising Her Profile
(Bloomberg) -- Kamala Harris embarked Monday on her first official trip as vice president to promote the just-signed $1.9 trillion stimulus law, a two-day swing that doubles as a chance to boost her own profile.
She traveled to Nevada and later will visit Colorado, both important presidential election states where Democratic senators are defending seats in next year’s midterms. The trip is part of a cross-country blitz planned by President Joe Biden and top administration officials to sell the relief package and ensure Democrats get credit for it from voters.
Harris said in a speech at the Culinary Academy in Las Vegas that she and Biden aim to tell voters that the relief bill is an example of what the government should do.
“We have a duty to help each other out, especially in times of need,” she said. “It is our responsibility when people are suffering. And you do it understanding the dignity of each person and your fellow human being.”
Since taking office in January, Harris has been under scrutiny as she carves out a role for herself as vice president -- an office with few specific responsibilities that a former occupant, John Nance Garner, once called “a spare tire on the automobile of government.” Gaining important duties will be crucial for Harris, 56, should she choose to run for president again in the future.
With this week’s trip, Harris is developing a role as a key promoter for the stimulus, the first major legislation Biden signed into law. The White House views the plan as central to defeating the pandemic and engineering a strong economic recovery. Much of Harris’s focus has been on how the rescue package could help small businesses and women in the workforce.
A White House official downplayed the notion that the trip is intended to build Harris’s profile. The vice president sees it as a chance to encourage Americans to get a Covid-19 vaccine, the official said, especially people of color who are more likely to be hesitant.
The official asked not to be identified discussing Harris’s plans ahead of the trip.
Before stopping at the Culinary Academy, Harris visited a mass vaccination site in Las Vegas. “You all are the heroes of this moment,” she said there. “You guys are saving lives.”
The Culinary Workers Union, a major labor and political force in the state, is one of the groups that operates the academy.
On Tuesday, Harris is scheduled to visit a vaccination clinic in Denver and meet with small business owners to discuss aid that will flow to them under the stimulus law, the official said.
Harris is eager to travel the country, the official said. The Biden White House has thus far limited official trips because of the ongoing pandemic. One of the vice president’s goals is to hear directly from people about how their lives were affected, and explain how various provisions of the rescue plan may help.
“Americans will see what we did here. What you did, Mr. President,” Harris said during a Rose Garden ceremony last week celebrating the bill. “And they will feel the impact of this bill for generations to come.”
The trip is part of what the White House is calling the “Help is Here” tour to tout the stimulus plan, which polls show is supported by majorities of Americans, even though it passed the House and Senate with no votes from Republicans.
“The tour will make clear that help is here and we are on the path toward crushing the virus and rebuilding our economy,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Monday at a briefing.
Harris will also join Biden during a stop in Georgia on Friday. The president plans his own trip earlier in the week to Pennsylvania, a state that was key to his victory in November. Doug Emhoff, Harris’s husband, is accompanying her to Las Vegas and Denver and will also visit Albuquerque, New Mexico, in his first solo trip as second gentleman.
Harris is expected to do more traveling in the coming weeks, the White House official said.
Shaping Her Role
After more than 50 days in office, her role in the Biden administration hasn’t yet been fully shaped.
Biden has included Harris in nearly all of his public appearances, and has said she’s a full partner in his decision making. She’s had solo calls with foreign presidents and prime ministers, including the leaders of France and Israel. But she’s not yet been given a specific policy portfolio, as some of her modern predecessors have had.
In his eight years as Barack Obama’s vice president, Biden put his own stamp on the job. One of his first tasks was to oversee implementation of the 2009 Recovery Act that followed the Great Recession, and was passed a month into Obama’s term. He was dubbed “Sheriff Joe” for efforts to enforce against waste, fraud and abuse.
Biden appeared to acknowledge both the perks and pitfalls that come with those type of vice presidential responsibilities. He recalled in the Rose Garden last week the “dubious distinction” of implementing the law, an apparent recognition that he would have been blamed for any major problems.
But he also suggested being tapped for such a job is a vote of confidence for the second in command.
“I know, from experience, when the president turned to me -- like I haven’t done to the vice president yet -- and said ‘take care of it, you take care of implementing the plan,’” he said. “But she can do it.”
On Monday, Biden named Gene Sperling, a former White House economic adviser under Obama and President Bill Clinton, to oversee implementation of his stimulus.
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