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Vice President Harris reaches 2023 at a crossroads

Vice President Harris finds herself at a crossroads as she enters her third year in office. 

After a bumpy start, which saw a string of missteps and a slew of staff departures, Harris has sought to steady the ship. 

Now, as President Biden is expected to run for reelection, Harris will need to support him in that effort while making her case that she’s able to step in at a moment’s notice and can follow him to the White House in 2028. 

“The vice president is at an interesting place,” said one Democratic strategist. “In some ways she still has to prove she can be president, but she also has to walk a fine line and show she’s supporting the president and not her own agenda.”

Harris’s approval ratings remain largely underwater. FiveThirtyEight and other surveys show her job performance ratings hovering around 40 percent with nearly 50 percent disapproving, a metric strategists say is reflective of her standing within the party. 

“She does not have the type of dominant sway that most Democrats would want her to have in a few years as the standard-bearer of the party,” a second strategist said. “And this is the time for her to get there.” 

Harris may win a little more freedom and flexibility in 2023 with Democrats gaining a 51st seat. The vice president has spent much of her time at the Capitol over the past two years, casting a number of tiebreaking votes.

Democrats now control 51 seats, though one of those is held by Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), who became an independent earlier this month. Sinema usually votes with Democrats on legislation, but she and fellow centrist Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) may keep Harris in the Senate at times next year.

To date, the vice president has cast 26 pivotal tie breaking votes, including the passage of the Democrats’ sweeping climate and tax bill, as well as to approve many of Biden’s nominees, including Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson.

At the halfway point of her tenure, even some of her supporters acknowledge Harris still lacks a defined portfolio and a brand. 

Basil Smikle, director of the public policy program at Hunter College who served as the executive director of the New York State Democratic Party, said some of the scrutiny and doubts surrounding Biden have diminished on the heels of the president’s legislative victories and the Democrats’ performance in the midterm elections. 

That took some pressure off Harris, he said.  

“But the question now is, will the vice president’s platform within the administration change substantively so she can be viewed as someone to whom the president can pass the torch?

“Are there some policies that she can marshal that provide enough of a victory when the time comes? For her own trajectory, what are the key policy areas that she can tackle?” he added. 

During her first two years in office, Harris’s portfolio has included examining root causes of migration — a complicated task that has created political difficulties at times for the vice president.

She also was tasked with putting forward federal voting rights legislation, an issue she reportedly asked to take the lead on. And, in the wake of the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, she crisscrossed the country, visiting local leaders and reproductive rights activists. 

Harris has indicated that she will continue her focus on reproductive rights in the next two years, a move that will please the party’s base. Biden called for the Democratic-controlled Congress to codify Roe v. Wade, but Democrats did not have the votes in the Senate to pass such a bill. The vice president told NPR that she wants to keep trying.

“There is the work that we need to do to continue to appeal to the common sense and goodwill of members of the United States Congress to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act with a recognition that this issue is fundamentally about the issue of freedom and liberty,” she said in an interview that aired on Tuesday.

She added that other issues she will focus on over the next two years include uplifting small businesses in the U.S. and giving them greater support to access capital, as well as international issues like the U.S. relationship with Indo-Pacific nations.

But her policy portfolio has been a point of contention during her tenure.

In “The Fight of His Life,” a new book about Biden’s first two years of office, second gentleman Doug Emhoff reportedly complained about Harris’s policy portfolio, according to Politico. “Biden was annoyed,” one excerpt reads. “He hadn’t asked Harris to do anything he hadn’t done as vice president – and she’d begged him for the voting rights assignment.” 

The second strategist said the passage was indicative of a large problem for Harris: “She has to find an issue she owns.”

“She’s not the Recovery Act Person or the COVID person or the voting rights person. She could be the champion of women’s rights. But she and her team have to be dogged in approaching that. 

“She needs to create and demonstrate value not just to Biden but Democrats writ large and for the country,” the strategist said. “She needs to go figure out a thorny policy issue … something that can be packaged and sold to voters and turned into a narrative. 

“Biden was ‘Middle class Joe’, Barack Obama was ‘Hope and change.’ Ron DeSantis is ‘Own the libs,’” the strategist continued. “What’s her throughline? What’s her thing?” 

Other Democrats argue Harris was an asset on the campaign trail during the midterm elections and will be a boost to her party in 2024.

“I suspect as much as she can be out on the road, she will be. I think she’s a pretty great asset to the president, particularly with the Democratic base, and to be out there rallying the troops is a good thing,” said David Thomas, who served as deputy director of legislative affairs for former Vice President Al Gore. 

Steve Elmendorf, a Democratic lobbyist and donor, said that getting out of Washington will help Harris build her own profile.

“I think you’ll see an entirely different kind of campaigning and time spent out there, which is why the one-seat majority makes a big difference,” he said. “Running a presidential campaign where one of the principals has to be near Washington is hard. Having that one seat majority and letting her get out and campaign more is good.”

Elmendorf said every vice president takes criticism. “I think the job is by definition a hard job and people always want to minimize the role of the vice president,” Elmendorf said. “I don’t find all of the criticism of her to be all that unusual.”

“I think she was an asset to getting him elected, she has been an asset so far and she will be an asset to the reelection, and I think having a better Senate majority will allow her to get out and demonstrate that.”

Source: The Hill

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