WASHINGTON – Kamala Harris will make history on Wednesday when she becomes the nation’s first female vice president – and the first Black woman and the first woman of South Asian descent to hold that office. But that’s only where her boundary-breaking role begins.
With the confluence of crises confronting Joe Biden’s administration – and an evenly divided Senate in which she would deliver the tie-breaking vote – Harris is shaping up to be a central player in addressing everything from the coronavirus pandemic to criminal justice reform.
Symone Sanders, Harris’ chief spokeswoman, said that while the vice president-elect’s portfolio hasn’t been fully defined yet, she has a hand in all aspects of Biden’s agenda.
“There are pieces that Biden may specifically ask her to champion, but outside of that she is at the table for everything, involved in everything, and giving input and feedback and being a supportive partner to him on all pieces,” she said.
People working closely with Harris on the transition resist the idea of placing her into any specific issue early on, because the sheer number of challenges the Biden administration faces means it will be “all hands on deck” during their early months. They say she’ll be involved in all four of the major priorities they’ve set out: turning around the economy, tackling COVID-19, and addressing climate change and racial justice.
Harris has been closely involved with all of Biden’s biggest decisions since they won the election in November, joining him for every one of his key meetings focused on Cabinet picks, the COVID-19 relief bill, security issues and more.
Those involved in the transition say both have taken seriously Biden’s insistence that he wants Harris to be the “last voice in the room” on key decisions. Biden is known to turn to Harris first during meetings to ask for her opinion or perspective on the matter at hand.
Biden and Harris knew each other before the 2020 presidential campaign in part through Harris’ friendship with Biden’s deceased son, Beau. But they never worked closely together.
Since joining the ticket, and particularly since the election, Harris has made efforts to deepen their relationship and is in frequent contact with the president-elect, people close to Harris say. That personal relationship, according to presidential historian Joel Goldstein, will be key to their success as working partners.
“The relationship of the vice president to the president is the most important relationship. Establishing mutual understanding and trust is really a key to a successful vice presidency,” Goldstein said.
Goldstein pointed to Biden and President Barack Obama’s relationship as a potential model for the incoming team.
Biden and Obama were from similarly different backgrounds and generations and entered the White House with a relatively fresh working relationship. But their relationship and mutual understanding grew throughout the presidency, and Obama trusted Biden with some of his administration’s biggest endeavors.