Is criticism of VP Kamala Harris warranted?
Vice President Kamala Harris talks to the media, Friday, June 25, 2021, after her tour of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Central Processing Center in El Paso, Texas. Harris visited the U.S. southern border as part of her role leading the Biden administration's response to a steep increase in migration. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

When Kamala Harris ran as Joe Biden’s vice president, she rallied Greek organizations, HBCUs, and people all across the country to propel the Biden-Harris team to victory. Nearly a year into their administration, Harris has found herself on the receiving end of criticism that she’s all but disappeared. But some are questioning whether the backlash is warranted.

“Kamala Harris in the 2020 election was very convenient because she checked off on a lot of boxes in terms of being a woman of color, a Black person, an Indian, Asian descent and also the gender question, so that was of convenience,” said Texas Southern University political scientist Dr. Michael Adams. “I don’t know if people expected her to wave some magical Black wand and address all things Black, but that’s not how this works.” 

Harris, who recently returned from Paris where she met with allies, has been focused on border issues and the infrastructure bill. Yet, she’s drawing complaints from some who expected more.

“You have Republicans making ‘Where’s Waldo’ jokes, and media quoting anonymous sources about dysfunction in her office. But this is exactly what the opposition does to paint a narrative to discredit someone and then Black folks just buy right into it,” said political strategist Davis McClean.

Since taking office, the White House has taken steps to highlight Harris’ role as Biden’s closest adviser, with aides often referring to the “Biden-Harris administration” in official documentation and public statements.

Adams said many don’t realize the office of vice president is not a visible role.

“There was a former governor of Texas who described the office as not being worth ‘a bucket of warm spit,’ that being other than sitting around, waiting on something to happen to the president,” Adams said. “It’s up to the president of United States to determine how that individual will be used.”

Adams believes Harris would not be catching flak had the voting rights issue moved forward.

“She cannot be blamed for not being able to get the Voting Rights bill through and also the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. However that doesn’t play well in terms of minority voters, Black people in particular. So that’s a formidable challenge,” Adams said.

“But that blame has to be placed in the United States Senate in terms of its filibuster rule and the president, for whatever reasons he hadn’t seen fit to push the Senate to forego the filibuster. And we know if we didn’t have the filibuster with Kamala Harris being the tie-breaking vote, certainly we can get voting rights legislation passed,” Adams said.

Adams points to the administration’s disastrous reaction to the Haitian migration as another factor that brought on criticism of Harris.

“She was appointed the spokesperson to go to the border. And we saw what happened to the Haitian immigrants. That was an ugly look when we saw Texas State Troopers looking like a throwback to the plantation days or what we see in the Texas penal system in terms of whipping those Haitian refugees,” Adams said.

The White House, however, is continuing to rally around Harris after news reports of discord between her office and that of President Biden.

“The president relies on the vice president for her advice, for her counsel,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said when asked if Biden has confidence in Harris’ leadership, adding that Harris is tackling “challenging” issues and “not looking for a cushy role” as vice president.

Psaki added that Harris, as a confidante and top surrogate for the president, will also be “out in the country promoting the infrastructure bill,” Biden’s signature bipartisan achievement, alongside other senior administration officials in the coming weeks.

“The bottom line is she serves at the leisure of the president and he has not placed her in a strategic position, and that may impact on her being a formidable candidate if she chooses to run for president in 2024,” Adams added.