As the prospect of a midterm route looms large for Democrats, some corners of the party are casting their eyes farther into the future, to the 2024 presidential election. And on all sides, uncertainty abounds. President Joe Biden has said both publicly and privately that he intends to run again—contrary to messaging during his campaign that he would serve only a single term—but nevertheless there’s “persistent chatter” that he may opt out, according to Politico.
Along with the chatter has come early jockeying to fill the void Biden might leave. Vice President Kamala Harris would seem to be the logical choice, but a number of reports published on Monday indicate that pick is far from certain. Her primary assignments—voting rights and the border as related to Central American migration—are slow-moving issues with low visibility. The passage of Biden’s $1.2 billion bipartisan infrastructure bill should’ve meant a Harris victory lap, but as Axios notes, her “largely under-the-radar efforts” to push the bill through have often gone unacknowledged. Despite holding “more than 30 public events—and about 150 calls, meetings and other engagements with members of Congress” to talk up the plan, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has outshone her as the plan’s spokesperson.
Politico notes that Harris’s role has “limited her capacity to do public outreach” as other Democrats, such as Buttigieg and Senators Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren, and Cory Booker, “have raised their own national profiles,” perhaps in service of 2024 ambitions. Depending how they fare in 2022, people like Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Georgia’s Stacey Abrams could also be in the mix. As one veteran New Hampshire operative put it to the outlet, Harris is “definitely not going to clear the f—ing field.”
The uncertainty comes amid reported frustration from Harris over her role. The vice president “has told several confidants she feels constrained in what she’s able to do politically” under Biden, according to CNN. Such “exasperation” speaks to the increasingly strained relationship between Harris’s office and some members of Biden’s team. “It is natural that those of us who know her know how much more helpful she can be than she is currently being asked to be,” Eleni Kounalakis, the lieutenant governor of California and a longtime friend of the vice president, told the outlet. “That’s where the frustration is coming from.” When such feelings strike, some close to Harris have reportedly been known to pass around an Onion story mocking how little she has to do, headlined “White House Urges Kamala Harris To Sit At Computer All Day In Case Emails Come Through.”
Part of the issue may be internal. Sources told CNN that Harris’s staff “has repeatedly failed her and left her exposed,” and has struggled to follow through when it comes to getting the vice president more involved in the administration. Her chief of staff, Tina Flournoy, reportedly asked Biden’s chief of staff, Ron Klain, for budget to make additional hires following communications and planning stumbles over the summer. Per CNN, Klain was unsupportive, and told Flournoy to “think creatively about drawing on other resources in the office.” Flournoy has reportedly struggled to make new hires and to retain existing members of her team. And Harris has “complained about the lack of support,” such as when, after appearing at a September fundraiser for Virginia’s gubernatorial race, “she asked why she’d been put in a situation that ran counter to the good modeling of COVID-19 protocols.” White House press secretary Jen Psaki referred to Harris as a “vital partner” to Biden a few hours after the CNN story dropped.
In a statement, Harris’s office pushed back against CNN’s characterizations. “It is unfortunate that after a productive trip to France…and following passage of a historic, bipartisan infrastructure bill that will create jobs and strengthen our communities, some in the media are focused on gossip,” the office said. But the optics are having a real impact. Last week, Harris’s approval rating fell to 28 percent—“a historical low for any modern vice president,” according to Insider, and her supporters “see no coherent public sense of what she’s done or been trying to do as vice president,” according to CNN.