WASHINGTON – President Biden was listing his priorities for a coronavirus relief bill during one of his first meetings with reporters as commander-in-chief when he stopped mid-sentence for correct himself.
These elements, Mr Biden said, are what “we think are the priorities,” emphasizing the pronoun. Then, turning to face Vice President Kamala Harris, standing a few steps behind him, he apologized.
It was a rare mistake for the president, who has worked to include Ms Harris in almost all of her public appearances, and has emphasized that she is a full partner in the decisions he makes. These recurring scenes are the most tangible result of Mr Biden’s efforts – and a presidential directive – to treat Ms Harris, the first black woman and vice president, as a full stakeholder as he moves forward. strives to reconcile the nation’s political divisions, tackle racial inequalities and derail the coronavirus pandemic.
“The president has given us clear instructions,” Ron Klain, Mr. Biden’s chief of staff, said in an interview. “Our goal is to get her out as much as possible.”
Ms Harris’ relationship with the president was forged by the outright politics of the Democratic primary campaign, when she became one of Mr Biden’s most vocal opponents. A surprising chemistry with Mr. Biden has made them running mates and that relationship will now be crucial in enabling Ms. Harris to define herself in what historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. has said has turned out to be “spectacular work and , I believe, incurable. frustration.”
“She went from that failed campaign to getting the golden ticket, as the chief substitute for a guy who appreciates the role of vice president, and is going to put her out there in that historic role,” said Gil Duran, Ms Harris’ former aide when she was California attorney general. “So the question is, what is she doing with this reset?”
The answer is a work in progress.
The Vice President has already made her presence known, most recently on Friday morning, when she traveled to Capitol Hill before sunrise to vote a tie in the Senate, paving the way for the 1, 1 coronavirus stimulus package. $ 9 trillion from Mr. Biden to move forward without Republican support. .
And as part of the barrier-breaking partnership, Ms Harris has taken on the onus of meeting the expectations of voters, especially people of color, who helped place Mr Biden in the Oval Office. It is a burden that Mr. Klain says he has borne “with grace” even as it weighs heavily on her. Others say it will take time to forge its own course.
For now, the vice president’s personnel advisers appear determined to cement and emphasize his connection to Mr Biden through their joint appearances, while seeking to avoid letting Ms Harris become a rigid figure and model standing alongside. of President, just as Vice President Mike Pence has done for the past four years.
For a model, Ms. Harris doesn’t need to look any further than Mr. Biden. In eight years as vice president, he has carved out his own role alongside President Barack Obama, but not before overcoming a relationship that was initially tough and formal.
Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris start faster. They spent much more time together than their predecessors – typically four to five hours a day in the White House, assistants say – in part because the coronavirus pandemic has limited their travel.
Ms Harris and Mr Biden typically start the day receiving the President’s daily briefing together in the Oval Office, a tradition restored since the departure of President Donald J. Trump, who had little interest in it. They also quickly embraced the idea of a weekly White House lunch as a private opportunity to build confidence and share their ideas.
When putting together her own staff, Ms. Harris selected people who she believed had a good relationship with the president and his team. She chose Tina Flournoy, who has close ties to Mr. Klain, to run her office. Ashley Etienne, former advisor to President Nancy Pelosi, is its communications director.
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Ms Harris also knew the president held Symone Sanders, who worked as a press secretary for Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign before joining the Biden campaign in high regard. Ms. Sanders is now his press secretary.
The Vice President’s aides have repeatedly stressed that all of her events and public messages are closely coordinated with members of Mr. Biden’s team. A visit by Ms Harris last week to the National Institutes of Health to thank scientists and receive his second dose of the coronavirus vaccine was linked to a speech later today by Mr Biden in which he announced the acquisition 200 million additional doses. vaccine.
The appearance made a lasting impression on Rep. Joyce Beatty, Democrat of Ohio and Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, in the district. In an interview, Ms Beatty said her phone turned on with calls from voters who were newly curious about getting the shots themselves after photos of Ms Harris receiving the photo were posted online.
Black Americans are nearly three times more likely to die from the coronavirus than white Americans, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but white Americans are more likely to receive the vaccine, in part because of the systemic racism present in health care institutions. The sight of a black woman receiving the vaccine, Ms. Beatty said, “gave people hope and gave them an education.”
These moments, during which Ms. Harris connects with people from across the country, are critical to any future she may have beyond administration. But they are also in line with messages Mr Biden hopes his vice president – as a woman, a minority and a young generation – can deliver on behalf of his agenda.
But, as Mr. Biden is well aware, the more opportunities there are to forge a distinct identity as vice president, the more likely it is to make a mess. As vice president, Mr. Biden’s talkativeness has often caught the well-designed Obama White House by surprise. At times, including in 2012 when he voiced support for same-sex marriage before Mr. Obama, Mr. Biden completely rejected the script.
When Ms Harris was interviewed last week with a West Virginia TV station, her support for the president’s $ 1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan was interpreted as an attempt to pressure the senator State Democrat Joe Manchin III, who took offense and expressed displeasure at not being warned.
And in a small stream during the same interview, Ms. Harris promoted the clearance of “abandoned landmines” in West Virginia – not “abandoned mining lands” – as an effort to create jobs in the state.
White House officials were quickly in touch with Mr Manchin to control the damage, lining the shutter in publicly praising Mr Manchin’s value for the Biden-Harris agenda.
Ms Harris also faced questions about her family members who were enjoying their relationships with her. Reports that Ms Harris’ daughter-in-law received a modeling contract a week after opening day have raised eyebrows even among the president’s allies. And a business run by Ms Harris’ niece that sells Harris-themed merchandise is an ethical issue for Mr Biden’s assistants since the campaign. The White House said her name would not be used for business activities that “involve endorsement or support,” according to a spokesperson.
This did not diminish the President’s opinion of Ms Harris. White House officials have said Mr. Biden is eager to put it to work, much as Mr. Obama instructed him with the economic recovery program in early 2009. But the fact that the president didn’t not intend to immediately assign him a specific portfolio. inevitably prompted questions about his role in administration.
Instead, Mr Biden gave Ms Harris a slew of high-profile tasks during their first two weeks in office. Just hours after the president announced on inauguration day that the United States was planning to join the World Health Organization, the vice president was on the phone with Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the chief executive of the group, reaffirming support for the new administration after M. Trump’s sustained attacks on the world’s leading health institution.
The call sent an early message that she is speaking on behalf of Mr Biden about some of his most critical priorities, but Ms Harris has not been shy about putting pressure on Mr Biden on her own. In recent weeks, aides to the president and vice-president said she had repeatedly insisted that administration policies affect the less fortunate in often neglected urban and rural communities.
In an Oval Office meeting with Mr Biden and his advisers on the first Monday at the White House, Ms Harris urged Jeffrey D. Zients, the coronavirus response coordinator, to provide more details on the use of the Mobile vaccination centers to ensure that poor people living in remote areas could be protected from the virus.
“The vice president pushed us hard, in a very good way, on are there enough mobile units available?” As we ended this meeting, she urged me to say, “Where are we with the mobile immunization units? How many are we going to have, in what period of time? Will they be able to reach rural and urban communities? What progress have you made? Mr. Zients said.
That kind of persistence has left a deep impression on Mr. Biden, his staff say.
It was only hours after Ms Harris sprayed Mr Zients with questions that the President found himself taking credit for his coronavirus relief plan on stage with Ms Harris on his own. Mr Klain, who has served two vice presidents as chief of staff, said the instance was more evidence that Mr Biden had an instinctive understanding of what those moments might feel like.
“It starts with a president who has been there and understands what it feels like to be the person standing behind two steps back at a public event,” Klain said. “I think he has this empathy for his situation which is unique.”