Vice President Kamala Harris is leaning into longer form interviews, where she has more freedom to discuss substantive policy and talk about the issues she is passionate about, as her office attempts to improve her public image and demonstrate that she’s a team player.
In interviews, 11 people familiar with Harris’ operation — some of whom requested anonymity to speak candidly about private conversations — described the effort to reshape the narrative around her vice presidency.
A White House official said that no dramatic shift in direction was underway, even as Harris hired a new communications director and worked to fill other high-level press and public relations positions.
Allies of the vice president said that turnover in her office after the holiday break allowed for a reset heading into the midterm elections.
“There’s a chance for everybody to take a breather and come back in a somewhat retooled fashion and take on the year ahead in a new way,” said Brian Brokaw, a former longtime adviser to Harris.
President Joe Biden has said he plans to run for reelection when his term is up. But speculation that the 79-year-old Democrat will not compete for a second term has not let up. Harris has drawn more scrutiny in her role and unparalleled interest, as a potential successor to Biden and the first woman and person of color to serve as vice president. Her supporters say the dynamic is leading to unfair criticism of Harris, 57.
The vice president’s team has an opportunity to reposition her as a high-level emissary for Biden’s top priorities, including infrastructure projects and social programs, and have her manage fewer side projects, said Democratic strategist Joel Payne.
“I think it’s taken a little bit more time than maybe some people would have hoped, but I think they’ve got a good opportunity to get her feet under her soon in 2022 and have 2022 be a much better year than 2021,” Payne said.
A little slow at the start
Democrats say that the White House struggled to build out Harris’ portfolio during the first year of the administration with no obvious paradigm it could use for the former California attorney general who served a partial term as a U.S. senator before she was elected to higher office.
Harris’ recent predecessors each served in Congress for a decade or more and entered office with more connections to and influence over their former colleagues on Capitol Hill. It took most of last year, allies of the vice president said, for the White House to begin adjusting the role to fit Harris’ background and experience.
“That’s new territory of having a woman, let alone a Black woman in that position, so she has a lot of that pressure. It’s real. There’s no playbook behind it. She’s making a playbook,” said Melanie Campbell, convener of the Black Women’s Roundtable.
One Democratic strategist close to the White House said that Biden aides recently had demonstrated a better understanding of how to support Harris, with officials such as White House chief of staff Ron Klain and press secretary Jen Psaki delivering forceful, public defenses of Harris in response to a report that detailed tension between the president and vice president’s allies and staff.
But the high-level Democrat and other operatives assessed that sustained interest in Harris calls for a different media strategy than the one that the White House has pursued. Harris’ aides have to put more energy into laying out the larger narrative arc of her vice presidency, they said, and better manage Harris’ coverage by proactively filling the information gap.
Harris’ office last week brought on veteran Democratic operative Jamal Simmons to serve as communications director, the first of several expected new hires.
The White House said Harris does interviews with local reporters nearly every week and would continue to communicate with the public in a variety of media formats and settings.
“The vice president will continue to work closely with the president to further the administration’s goals of protecting the right to vote, rebuilding our economy, investing in our nation’s infrastructure, strengthening America’s leadership on the world stage and combating COVID-19,” Harris’ deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh said in a statement.
New year, same frustration
Friends and allies of Harris have been candid about their frustration with the way the vice president was depicted in the media during her first year in office.
“I think most of the people who love her and have known her and care for her are rightfully annoyed and bewildered at times,” attorney and TV personality Star Jones said.
The 30-year friend of Harris’ said the vice president has not complained and has instead focused on doing her job. Jones said when she visited Harris in December at the White House, her friend’s response to the critique was, “Girl, I don’t have time for that.”
“Her attitude is, I’m not here to worry about myself, I’m here to worry about everybody else. And she really does approach it that way,” Jones said.
Yasmin Nelson, who was senior policy adviser to Harris when she was in the Senate, said the negative attention does not faze the vice president.
“She’s going to continue to redefine what it means to be the vice president and fight for societal norms for women and women of color,” Nelson said.
Reflecting on the lessons learned her first year in office in recent interviews, Harris has said she hopes to spend more time outside of Washington and among the people the administration’s policies are impacting in 2022.
McClatchy also requested an interview with Harris but was not granted one for this article.
The conundrum that vice presidents face
Bakari Sellers, an attorney and former South Carolina lawmaker who was a co-chair of Harris’ presidential campaign, said he’d like for her to be a more visible figure in Black communities and institutions.
“Hear the voices of them old black women who…sit at the front of the church with their big hats on. They cook the pies with two sticks of butter. When you hug them, they smell like Chanel No. 5 all day. Those all women in front of the church, go spend time with them,” Sellers said. “Come to South Carolina again. Get your groove back. Come to the HBCUs. Just get out of D.C.”
Harris’ average approval rating is 34.4%, according to the poll tracking website FiveThirtyEight, and her disapproval rating stands at 47%.
Sellers that Harris’ favorability rating would improve if she had more public exposure, especially on Black radio and television programs.
Elaine Kamarck, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who was a senior policy adviser to former Vice President Al Gore, said higher visibility could help with public criticism, but Harris is supposed to be “invisible.” If Harris draws more attention to herself, Kamarck said, she could jeopardize her relationship with Biden and make him look weak.
“I think that there’s been a profound misunderstanding — and it comes from some of her supporters as well as from some of her critics — about what this job is,” Kamarck said.
Kamarck said Harris backers who thought the job would be different because she is the first woman and person of color to hold the position were mistaken.
“Things are not going to be different about the job itself,” Kamarck said. “The job is still to support Joe Biden and what Joe Biden does.”
(this story/news/article has not been edited by PostX News staff and is published from a syndicated feed)