Thursday, February 29, 2024

How Kamala Harris found her groove. And why being vice president is still tough

“Proud,” Kamala Harris said, elongating the word and stretching out its vowels. “PROUD!”

Donald Trump expressed great joy at choosing three of the Supreme Court justices who overturned the constitutional right to abortion and now the vice president is using his own word – proud – to stir up a roomful of mockery and cheers from Nevada Democrats.

“Proud,” she said. “Proud to have given freedom of choice to millions of women and people in America.”

With that, her voice rose as if she could barely believe the statement that was falling from her lips.

“He speaks openly about his admiration for dictators,” Harris continued in the same tone of wonder, while some in the audience murmured their disapproval. “Dictators imprison journalists. Dictators suspend elections.

“Dictators”. She underlined each word. “Take. Your. Rights.”

After a historic rise to the vice presidency and a humbling descent into mockery and disdain after her rocky start, Harris finally appears to have found her place in a role she is accustomed to and adept at: prosecutor.

She became a top fundraiser for Democrats, an emissary to groups lukewarm toward President Biden — particularly Black and younger voters — and became the administration’s strongest voice on abortion, women’s health and, as Harris says, the threat posed by Trump. to freedom and individual choice.

During a recent three-day tour of California and Nevada, she highlighted the issue of abortion and urged Democrats to vote early ahead of Tuesday’s Nevada primary.

“Do you believe in freedom? “” the vice president shouted, and a crowd of about 300 supporters inside the well-lit union hall shouted in affirmation. “Do you believe in democracy? »

“Are we ready to fight for this? Because when we fight” – and here they joined Harris in a thunderous chorus – “we win!” »

Columnist Mark Z. Barabak joins candidates for various offices as they embark on the campaign trail in this momentous election year.

Her higher profile — as cheerleader, prosecutor, pugilist — is a reset of sorts after Harris’ many missteps and a series of assignments, among them immigration reform and border enforcement, which seemed doomed to failure.

Its purpose and utility changed when the Supreme Court issued its abortion decision in Dobbs in June 2022, overturning Roe v. Wade.

Even as her approval ratings continue to languish, those in the vice president’s orbit say she has become more confident in a role that better suits her skills as a former district attorney and Attorney General of California.

The abortion issue “draws on her political experience, her political values, her legal training and experience,” said Jamal Simmons, who served as Harris’ communications director for a year until January 2023. “Questioning is a comfort zone for her and since Dobbs she has done other things with more confidence and dexterity.


The vice-president’s movements are intended to be as smooth as possible.

A block-long procession of cars slides along highways closed to traffic and crosses city streets specially cleared for its passage. Guests applaud Harris’s arrival and departure at the airport, and reporters are kept at bay by an aggressive squadron of Secret Service agents.

However, external events have the power to puncture the bubble.

So the vice president seemed ready when protesters appeared in San Jose, where Harris appeared as part of her “Fight for Reproductive Freedoms” national tour. Several hundred donors filled a large auditorium at the adobe-style Mexican Heritage Plaza as Harris fielded questions kindly posed by actress Sophia Bush.

Protesters unfurled banners reading “Free Palestine” and “Ceasefire Now.” They interrupted Harris repeatedly, loudly condemning the Biden administration’s support for Israel in its war against Hamas.

“You are complicit in genocide,” a young woman shouted from the fourth row before being escorted out of the auditorium as the crowd chanted “MVP!” “MVP!” » – abbreviation for Madam Vice President.

Harris looked on, expressionless. Protest is a fundamental part of democracy, she said in equal measure. Everyone wants to see an end to the conflict in the Middle East.

A second explosion followed. A few moments later, a third. “So,” Harris began, then paused for a long time. “There are many major issues affecting our world today. Which rightly evokes very, very strong emotions, fears, anger and tears.

“Today’s topic,” she continued, taking on the tone of a scolding school teacher, “is the topic of what happened in our country after the Dobbs decision…and so I’m going to to come back. Because this is an important issue and we must not get distracted.

At the fourth interruption, Harris simply stopped and waited for a protester on the balcony to be taken away. The supporters chanted: “Four more years! She then continued precisely where she left off mid-sentence, arguing against Trump and the Supreme Court’s conservative majority as if nothing had happened.

Equanimity might just be part of the job description.

As the first Black and Asian American vice president, Harris has faced extraordinary scrutiny and, with it, inordinate presumption about what she can plausibly achieve.

The vice presidency is, and always has been, inherently limiting – there is no greater intrusion than overtaking or overshadowing the president – ​​and this can only diminish those who hold that position, regardless or their place in history.

Even Harris fans have difficulty understanding her status and appreciating this gap between expectations and reality.

Mia Casey, the mayor of Hollister, got up before dawn and drove an hour and 15 minutes to see Harris in San Jose.

“I liked her when she was running with Biden, but I didn’t see her much,” Casey said from her perch, 10 rows back and left of center stage. “I expected to see her more visible there, doing meatier things in Washington”


If Harris’ main mission is to re-elect Biden (and herself) in November, another aspect is to convince Casey and others that she is more than just a player in the Biden administration – or the Biden-Harris administration, as the vice president prefers.

At his Las Vegas rally, Harris gave a comprehensive account of the past three years.

“President Biden and I have canceled more than $138 billion” in student loans, she said. “President Biden and I took on big pharma” to cap the price of insulin. “President Biden and I” increased lending to hundreds of small businesses.

Yet it is often her fate to be overshadowed or treated as a mere afterthought.

Introducing Harris, Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto recalled the depths of the pandemic lockdown, when the Las Vegas Strip went dark and unemployment in the metro area topped 30%.

“This is a president who came in and worked with us to ensure that we could turn our economy around and get out of this horrible time,” Cortez Masto said. She paused for dramatic effect. “And it was President Biden.”

“And,” she hurried, “Vice President Harris.”

It wasn’t logical, but at least the senator recognized the guest of honor.


Harris loves to cook, so a pre-rally stop at the Chef Jeff Project in North Las Vegas offered a happy convergence of fun and politics.

The program was started by Jeff Henderson, an ex-con turned celebrity chef, who mentors at-risk youth into careers in the culinary arts. Its industrial-sized kitchen located in a run-down strip mall serves as a sort of second-chance sanctuary, so the cramped quarters provided a perfect backdrop for Harris’ event. Its theme: the power of redemption.

Standing at a small portable lectern and speaking in front of two cameras, the vice president announced a change in federal policy that would make it easier for formerly incarcerated people to obtain loans from the Small Business Administration.

Yes, she said over the whir of an ice machine, there must be accountability, especially for criminal acts. “But isn’t it the sign of a civil society to allow people to come back and earn a living?

Harris walked around the work area, passing tall shelves filled with plates and pans, stopping where Kam Winslow was stirring a giant bowl of jambalaya. “Let’s talk about your process,” she says. “Tell me how you did it.”

As Winslow explained – dicing the chicken, browning the andouille sausage, saving the shrimp for last, so they aren’t overcooked – Harris punctuated his narration with a series of little interjections. “Yes.” “Uh-huh.” “Delicious.”

“You know what I love about cooking is the process,” Harris told him. “It’s about being patient and knowing that it’s going to take action, right? As if it wasn’t going to be easy to do.

“It’s the same with life,” Winslow said.

“Yes, that’s absolutely true,” agreed the vice president, who has learned a few things in recent years about trial and error, mistakes and redesigns. “It is totally true.”

Note: The content and images used in this article is rewritten and sourced from



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