United States President Joe Biden recited a list of economic stimulus bill priorities during one of his first press conferences as Commander-in-Chief when he stopped in the middle of the sentence to correct itself.
“These are the things that we consider to be a priority,” Biden said, emphasizing the pronoun. Then, turning to face Vice President Kamala Harris, who was a few yards behind him, Biden apologized.
It was a rare misstep from the president, who has worked to include Harris in almost all of her public appearances, and emphasizes that she is a total partner in the decisions he makes. These recurring scenes are the most palpable result of the president’s efforts – and a presidential directive – to treat Harris, the first black woman and vice president, as a full participant in his work to mend the country’s political feuds. , fight racial inequalities and contain the coronavirus pandemic.
“The president has given us clear instructions,” Biden chief of staff Ron Klain said in an interview. “Our goal is that it is always seen by the public.”
Harris’ relationship with the president was built amid the relentless political struggle of the Democratic primary campaign, when she became one of Biden’s strongest opponents. An incredible chemistry with Biden has led them to run for president as partners, and now that relationship will be crucial in allowing Harris to define himself in what appears to be “a job of spectacular frustration and, I believe, incurable.” , according to historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr.
“She came out of a failed campaign to win the ticket, as the main replacement for a man who values the role of vice president and will put her ahead in this historic role,” said Gil Duran, a former Harris’ assistant. she was the California Secretary of Justice. “So the question is, what is she going to do in this new environment?”
The answer is still a work in progress.
The Vice President took note, most recently on Friday morning (5), when she went to Capitol Hill before dawn to vote decisively in the Senate, paving the way for Biden’s recovery plan against the coronavirus, $ 1.9 trillion, to move forward without Republican support.
And, as the duo overcame obstacles, Harris took on the burden of meeting the expectations of voters, especially people of color, who helped place Biden in the Oval Office. It’s a load that, according to Klain, she can handle “gracefully” even though it weighs a lot on her shoulders. Others say it will take time to find its way.
For now, the Vice President’s advisory team seems determined to cement and emphasize his connection to Biden through his joint appearances, while trying to stop Harris from becoming a rigid figure, a supermodel next to the President, as did the vice president. President Mike Pence for four years.
As a model, Harris just needs to watch Biden. In eight years as vice president, he has carved out his own space alongside President Barack Obama, but not before overcoming an initially strained and formal relationship.
Biden and Harris got off to a faster start. They’ve spent much more time together than their predecessors – typically four to five hours a day in the White House, according to staff – in part because the coronavirus pandemic has limited their travel.
Harris and Biden typically start the day together by receiving the President’s Daily Summary in the Oval Office, a tradition resumed after the departure of President Donald Trump, who had little interest in it.
They also quickly adopted a weekly White House lunch as an opportunity to build confidence and share ideas in private.
Aides the Vice President has repeatedly pointed out that all of her events and public messages are aligned with Biden’s team members. A visit by Harris last week to the National Institutes of Health to thank scientists and receive the second dose of the coronavirus vaccine was then accompanied by a speech from Biden in which he announced the purchase of 200 million additional doses vaccine.
This turnout was very impressive in the district of Democratic Representative Joyce Beatty, Ohio, president of the Black Bench in Congress. In an interview, Beatty said she received calls from voters interested in receiving the vaccine after seeing pictures of Harris being vaccinated on the internet.
Black Americans are almost three times more likely to die from Covid than whites, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), but white Americans are more likely to be vaccinated, in part because of systemic racism present on health. institutions. The sight of a black woman receiving the vaccine, Beatty said, “gave people hope and gave them an education.”
These times, when Harris connects with people from across the country, are critical to any future she may have after government. But they’re also consistent with messages Biden is hoping his vice president – as a woman, a minority and a young generation – can stick to his agenda.
But, as Biden well knows, the more opportunities there are to delve into a distinct identity as vice president, the greater the chances of causing confusion. As vice president, Biden’s talkativeness often caught the Obama White House off guard, which followed a strict script. Sometimes, including in 2012 when he expressed support for gay marriage before Obama, Biden completely tore the script apart.
When Harris gave an interview last week to a West Virginia TV station, his support for President Biden’s rescue plan was interpreted as an attempt to pressure Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, who took offense and expressed his discomfort at not having been warned.
Harris has also faced questions about her family members taking advantage of her relationship with her. Reports that Harris’ daughter-in-law was hired as a model a week after the inauguration have caused strangeness even among the president’s allies. And a business run by Harris’ niece that sells Harris-themed merchandise has been an ethical issue for Biden’s advisers since the campaign. The White House said her name will not be used in business activities that “involve endorsement or support,” according to a spokesperson.
It didn’t hurt the president’s opinion of Harris. White House officials say Biden was eager to put her to work, just as Obama tasked him with the economic recovery program in early 2019. But the president’s not planning to immediately give him a portfolio specific issue inevitably prompted questions about your role in government.
Instead, Biden gave Harris a series of high-level tasks during his first two weeks on the job. Hours after the president announced, in office, that the United States intended to return to the World Health Organization, the vice president was on the phone with Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the WHO, confirming support for the new government after Trump’s constant attacks on the world’s largest health institution.
The call sent an initial message that she is speaking on behalf of Biden about some of his most critical priorities, but Harris has not been shy about putting pressure on Biden on his own. In recent weeks, advisers to the president and vice president have said she has repeatedly pushed for a greater focus on government policies that can affect disadvantaged people in urban and rural communities that are often overlooked. .
In a meeting in the Oval Office with Biden and advisers on his first Monday at the White House, Harris urged Jeffrey Zients, the coronavirus response coordinator, to provide more details on the use of the centers. mobile vaccination to ensure that the poor population in remote areas is protected from the virus.
“The Vice President insisted, in a very good way, asking if there were enough mobile units available. As we closed this meeting, she urged me:” What is the situation of the mobile units vaccination? How many will we have, how can they reach rural and urban communities? What progress have you made? Zients said.
That kind of persistence left a deep mark on Biden, according to his staff.
It wasn’t until hours after Harris pelted Zients with questions that the president found himself making the back-up plan on his own with Harris. Klain, who has served two vice presidents as chief of staff, said the case was further proof that Biden had an instinctive understanding of how those moments feel.
“We have a president who has been there and understands what it is like to be a person close to a public event,” Klain said. “I think he empathizes with his situation, which is unique.”
Translation by Luiz Roberto M. Gonçalves