Collectively, the group also understood that Harris was about to enter a critical moment: one in which his issues were top of mind for voters and his role on the Democratic ticket was becoming sharper and more scrutiny. Harris had asked them to put pen to paper to formulate ways he could capitalize on the momentum and deal with the coming momentum.
Six months later, the plan is put into practice. As Biden’s campaign begins to rev up, the microscope on Harris is intensifying. Republicans have made it clear that she will be used as a cudgel to go after the president, arguing that her age effectively makes her the head of the ticket. How she performs over the next few months will determine whether those attacks continue. She will also go a long way in sealing confidence in Biden’s world about having her in a more public role.
She’s ready to play one. Harris has become a more prominent presence on the fundraising circuit, making the most appearances of the four White House principals. She has continued to escalate her travels without needing to frequently sever ties in the Senate. And she’s continuing to address the abortion rights debate right on the one-year anniversary of Roe’s demise.
Doubts about her have not completely dispelled. Harris it recently had the lowest net negative score of any vice president tested in an NBC News poll.
But his team thinks he’s finally solidifying his bona fides, having assembled a team they trust, including Sheila Nix as his campaign chief of staff. They believe that in the coming months, people will reconsider and appreciate her political skills.
“It’s time to get the objective viewer to take a second look. He needs a pin for that second look,” Jamal Simmons, former director of communications at Harris, told POLITICO. « Most of the bad news about Kamala Harris is old news. »
In Harris’s orbit, it has become a part of life to deal with naysayers. The perception of a vice president slightly on the fringes of Biden’s inner circle has persisted since the campaign. He wasn’t helped by the decision to hand Harris two of the administration’s first thorny policy issues: addressing the root causes of migration and the right to vote.
But there has been a notable change in the last year. Harris has taken up abortion rights, an issue for which her aides and allies say she’s uniquely suited.
The day the Supreme Court overturned Roe versus Wade, Harris was on a plane to Illinois for a maternal health event. When her assistants informed her of her decision, she brought senior staff to her stateroom and began reviewing her observations. The resulting speech would become the blueprint Harris would follow for the next year. She tried to persuade the dejected crowds that the matter required their attention and action, even though the possibility of federal action was questionable.
« When [the decision] came down, I remember telling her, « I hope you’ll continue to fight and use your bullying pulpit to help us elevate this issue, because right now we need your voice more and more, » said the longtime Democratic strategist and outside counsel to Harris Minyon Moore. « He didn’t miss a beat. »
Since then, Harris has held meetings with state representatives and state attorneys general to talk about protecting and expanding abortion access. Assistants say she leaned on her background as a civil servant during these sessions. She will often ask participants what they need from the federal government.
Inside his office, there was a sense of opportunity. Abortion, as one former senior aide who was granted anonymity to discuss inside White House conversations put it, « was not something the president wanted [going to lead on].” Harris, by contrast, felt a level of comfort and ease on the subject. Also, she was missing a signature issue.
« The stars didn’t align for the American people, but they did align for our strategy, » the senior aide said.
There was also an added bonus: overnight, Harris’ office no longer had to deal with the one question that had been nagging assistants since his first days in office.
“One of the vice president’s criticisms [I] listen[d] a lot is: ‘What [is] she up to? Where is she? We didn’t see her, what [is] He’s doing?’ But when he started talking about the right to abortion, to freedom, he was so consistent. And people didn’t ask that question that often, » Simmons said.
The re-election campaign has shown how comfortable Biden’s staff is with Harris leading abortion rights. The vice president spent the one year anniversary of roe deer falling to North Carolina, the only Trump-led state Democrats are really eyeing in 2024.
However, speculation remains rampant about how firm Harris’ position is. Cornell Belcher, a Democratic pollster speaking at the White House, said the situation creates opportunities and pitfalls in the upcoming critical months.
“It’s a double-edged sword. It gets more attention and it gets more attacks, too,” Belcher said. He pointed to the NBC poll as an example of Harris’ plight.
« Somehow the framework is that he has a worse negative than Biden when it’s exactly the same statistical negative, » Belcher said. “The vice president will fall and get back up with the top of the ticket. This is politics. It’s inherently unfair because what we’re asking of you is something we haven’t asked of any other vice president. »