Just about every American vice president has been the target of jokes about having little to do, and criticism about doing things wrong — much of it unfair. Vice President Kamala Harris is no exception.
Like a spare tire, for most of our history vice presidents have served the primary function of being available in case the president dies or resigns. But the role of the vice president changed dramatically when Vice President Walter Mondale took office in 1977. President Jimmy Carter gave Mondale major responsibilities and treated Mondale as a trusted adviser.
This pattern has held with presidents and their vice presidents for the most part ever since. It was certainly true in the strong working relationship between President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, and it is true today in the relationship between President Biden and Vice President Harris.
As Biden said when he was serving as vice president: “The way the world has changed, the breadth and the scope of the responsibility an American president has virtually requires a vice president to handle serious assignments, just because the president’s plate is so very full.”
Harris has played a key role handling serious assignments to help achieve historic accomplishments by the Biden-Harris administration. These include implementing a free vaccination program to fight the coronavirus pandemic, reinvigorating our economy, creating a record 6 million jobs, revitalizing our infrastructure, seeking major investments in social programs, repairing relationships with foreign allies, and standing firm against foreign adversaries.
Biden made a wise choice in selecting Harris to be his governing partner. While her performance has been placed under a microscope because she is the first woman, first Black person, and first person of Asian descent to serve as vice president, Harris has solid qualifications for her job. These include service as a prosecutor, California attorney general and U.S. senator. Throughout her career she has proven to be both an effective and compassionate leader.
Biden and Harris took office at a time when our nation faced grave crises that arose under defeated and twice-impeached former President Donald Trump’s chaotic and incompetent administration. These included the out-of-control pandemic, a deep recession, high unemployment, racial injustice and unrest, dangerous climate change, growing income inequality, a deeply divided population, and an unpredictable and erratic foreign policy alienating our allies around the world.
These were arguably the biggest challenges any incoming administration has faced since President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was inaugurated in 1933 during the depths of the Great Depression.
While vice presidents are often not visible on major policy issues, Harris has been tasked with important assignments. She has worked with President Biden to ensure that millions more Americans have the support they need to succeed and brought people to the table who are often left out.
Biden and Harris won congressional approval for the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan to give vital assistance to American families, state and local governments, and businesses — as well as to fund the coronavirus vaccination program.
The administration followed this historic achievement by winning approval for the bipartisan infrastructure bill to invest $1.2 trillion to improve our nation’s roads, bridges, mass transit, railroads, ports and the electric power grid.
And most recently, House Democrats passed the administration’s Build Back Better Act to invest about $2 trillion over 10 years to provide affordable child care, free universal pre-kindergarten, tax credits to families with children, paid family leave, expanded Medicare and Medicaid assistance, job creation, initiatives to fight destructive climate change, and other landmark programs. The bill now awaits action in the Senate.
On the foreign policy front, the vice president has traveled to Europe, Asia and Latin America to rebuild America’s alliances, and has held dozens of meetings and calls with foreign leaders, including leaders of Mexico, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Jordan, India, Singapore, the United Kingdom and Vietnam.
Yet in these hyper-partisan times, Republicans are savaging Harris with exaggerated and absurd criticisms, joined by the right-wing Trump-worshipping media. Even some in the mainstream media are piling on, bending over backward to show they can be tough on Democrats after four years of deservedly critical coverage they gave to Trump.
Republicans are doing everything possible to lower the vice president’s approval ratings among the American people because they fear she will one day seek the presidency in the post-Biden era. They know she would make a powerful candidate.
But Harris is a strong Black woman who will not let her critics silence her, shove her aside or push her to the back of the bus. She shall overcome!
The vice president stands on the shoulders of strong Black women who changed history for the better like Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Rosa Parks, Fannie Lou Hamer, Rep. Shirley Chisholm, Rep. Barbara Jordan, Sen. Carol Moseley Braun and many others.
And Harris is using her seat at the table to advocate for the specific needs of Black people and women by fighting Republican efforts to take away our voting rights and rig elections, fighting right-wing efforts to take away our reproductive rights, working for health equity in combating COVID-19, and promoting maternal health.
The spotlight always shines brightest on the president, of course, and Harris is fiercely loyal to President Biden. But the vice president plays an important, though sometimes unseen, part in the accomplishments of any administration. Vice President Harris has done this and will continue to do this as a valued partner for President Biden and a public servant fighting and winning battles for the American people.
Donna Brazile is an ABC News Contributor, veteran political strategist, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University, and the King Endowed Chair in Public Policy at Howard University. She previously served as interim Chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and of the DNC’s Voting Rights Institute. She managed the Gore campaign in 2000 and has lectured at more than 225 colleges and universities on race, diversity, women, leadership and restoring civility in politics. Brazile is the author of several books, including the New York Times’ bestseller “Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns That Put Donald Trump in the White House.”
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