WASHINGTON — Over the last 100 days, Vice President Kamala Harris has broken from some of her predecessors and embraced a portfolio that has thrust her into the spotlight, including some controversy. It’s a style that differs from the behind-the-curtain style set by her predecessor, Mike Pence, who often operated as the “straight man” to Donald Trump’s bombast, but fits how she conducted herself on the campaign trail, calling out fellow candidates both onstage and off.
Her assertive style is not without risk. During Joe Biden’s deliberations for a running mate, Harris’s political ambitions were called into question by Democratic critics, who questioned her ability to remain loyal to Biden’s agenda.
While the White House and Biden have worked to quell that fear by asserting that Harris is a trusted adviser and that he plans to run for a second term, there has been no shortage of rumors that Harris is being set up for another presidential run after the Biden era.
Even before she assumed the role, Harris told CNN that she sees herself and Biden as “full partners” too.
“If the future is determined in any way based on what has been happening, we are full partners in this process,” she said.
She’s already cast more tiebreaking votes than Biden did during his entire tenure as vice president, and will likely continue to play an integral part in parlaying Democratic legislation through the Senate, especially with growing Republican dissatisfaction with the White House’s trillion-dollar infrastructure and family care bills. A White House official told Yahoo News that Harris’s visible public role allows her to “advance the President’s agenda on the world stage.”
Her official White House assignment list contains over half a dozen issue areas, foreign and domestic. Here’s a rundown of what falls under her portfolio and what’s been accomplished (or not) in her first 100 days as vice president.
Currently, Harris’s most public assignment has been to address the surge in migrants from Central America’s Northern Triangle countries — Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — to the United States. Biden took on immigration during his tenure as vice president under Barack Obama. Harris’s assignment to this role has thrown her into the center of the White House’s controversial handling of the surge in migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border, including thousands of children who have arrived unaccompanied.
The White House has stressed that Harris’s role is focused on the root causes, rather than the crisis at the border, and the White House official said that overarching issues like economic instability, corruption and food insecurity in the Northern Triangle countries “won’t be fixed overnight.”
The official said Harris will be “working with international partners” and “meeting with leaders” as part of her outreach. Harris has already spoken to the presidents of Mexico and Guatemala.
However, a key member of the vice president’s Northern Triangle team, former Mexico ambassador and White House southern border coordinator Roberta Jacobson, announced she would be leaving the White House as tensions ratcheted up at the border in early April. The White House maintains that Jacobson was always scheduled to depart around Biden’s 100-day mark, but news of her departure came during the administration’s struggle with the influx of migrants at the border.
And Harris, to the discontent of some advocates, has yet to make a personal visit to the U.S.-Mexico border or to any Northern Triangle country. The White House said that both Biden’s and Harris’s travel is limited by the threat of the coronavirus pandemic and the resources required for a high-level visit. This week, the White House announced that the vice president will travel to Mexico and Guatemala to discuss migration “as soon as possible.”
Communicating with world leaders
Harris’s role beyond U.S. borders isn’t limited to Central America. The White House official familiar with Harris’s agenda said she has called at least a dozen world leaders regarding her domestic policy interests, including labor rights, COVID equality, the well-being of women and girls, and climate change. According to the official, Harris has spoken to the prime ministers of Israel, Australia and Norway as well as Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of the World Trade Organization and the president of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Selling the White House relief and infrastructure bills
Over the last several weeks, Harris has appeared in virtual capacities to lobby for the American Rescue Plan, the administration’s COVID relief package, primarily championing the impact on small businesses and childcare. In order to promote different segments of the plan, she worked with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to spread the word to small businesses on how they can capitalize on the Paycheck Protection Program extended by the Biden administration. Another main messaging focus championed by Harris was declaring the mass exodus of women from the workforce as a “national emergency.”
She assumed a similar role for the American Jobs Plan, the administration’s infrastructure bill, which has yet to be passed through Congress. She touted the bill’s provisions on clean water, electrifying school buses and housing infrastructure, and her role in this will be expanded, as Biden announced Wednesday to a joint session of Congress that Harris will shore up the federal effort to expand broadband access.
She’s also assumed a leading role for the administration’s efforts on vaccine equity, especially to individuals from marginalized communities, according to the White House official. She spoke at the launch of the COVID-19 community corps, an initiative created by the Department of Health and Human Services that provides participating Americans with information on how to both receive the coronavirus vaccine and address vaccine hesitancy in their communities. Harris received her first dose of the coronavirus vaccine on camera, as did Biden.
Her domestic policy footprint is about to get even larger. On Monday, the White House established the White House Task Force on Worker Organizing and Empowerment, a pro-labor panel of over 20 Cabinet members and agency heads chaired by the vice president, allowing Harris to expand her pro-union politics from the campaign trail.
National Space Council
As Pence did, Harris will chair the National Space Council, a group disbanded in 1993 and reestablished under Trump, which oversees national and domestic space matters. The council is working on public-private partnerships for space exploration and shaping policy that will affect the Pentagon’s new Space Force.
Space is hardly a new area for a vice president to tackle (Dan Quayle was the first VP to chair the National Space Council), but it can be a way to gain cachet and approval ratings with the public, a majority of whom support the U.S. maintaining a strong foothold in space.
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