President Joe Biden is incorporating the lessons he learned as vice president to former President Barack Obama into his relationship with Kamala Harris.He is taking a partnership approach to governing with his vice president, relying heavily on the advice and input of the former senator with whom aides and allies said there is a mutual respect that is evident in their interactions behind the scenes and in public.
During remarks this week on the pandemic, Biden turned to Harris and apologized after he referred to the administration’s COVID-19 relief priorities as his own. “That we think the priorities are, I apologize, within this legislation,” Biden said, emphasizing the word we.“He has included her every step along the way,” said Donna Brazile, a Democratic strategist who is close to the White House.
“She reviews everything and Kamala has a good eye for detail, and I think the president also prized that in his vice president,” Brazile said, “that she really is looking to ensure these signature events, the executive orders, and his interactions with not just national leaders but also foreign leaders, that she’s involved in every step.”
The first person in the room for discussions and the last person out, Biden said his relationship with Obama would be a model for how he interacts with Harris. Biden competed against Obama in the 2008 presidential race, then served as Obama’s vice president for both terms.Aides to the current president and vice president say that Biden stuck to the commitment throughout the transition and has so far given Harris a seat at the table in the White House.
Since taking office last week, Biden has kept Harris close to him, acting as a mentor and giving serious consideration to her counsel, a White House official said. She takes part in his intelligence briefing each morning and is present for many of his meetings.
If the early approach of involving Harris in many of a wide array of meetings continues, it would differ from some previous administrations in which the vice president focused on one or two specific issue areas.
“There’s no question that he’s shaping his choice of Harris, and the way in which Harris works around how he operates, which is to be involved in everything, versus being siloed on a project,” said National Urban League President Marc Morial, a civil rights leader who met with Biden during the transition.
Biden has spent his early days in office rolling back Trump-era rules and regulations that liberals opposed and pushing a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief proposal the White House wants Congress to pass.
Harris has spoken to mayors about the administration’s stimulus package, made calls to her former Capitol Hill colleagues and met with editorial boards, said her spokeswoman Sabrina Singh.
The vice president also joined a meeting of labor leaders and spoke with small business owners during a virtual roundtable.
“Whatever the most urgent need is that I’m not able to attend to, I have confidence in being — turning to her,” Biden said in a joint CNN interview with Harris during the transition.
Harris in the same interview said that she would be a “full partner” to Biden on every issue that comes before the administration.
“If the future is determined in any way based on what has been happening, we are full partners in this process,” Harris said.
Although Biden is in many ways seeking to emulate his experience as vice president, his relationship with Harris compared to the one he had with Obama is expected to prove substantially different.
Biden was ten years older than Harris when he became vice president at age 66. By that time he had already spent nearly 40 years representing the state of Delaware in the Senate.
His lengthy legislative and foreign policy experience was seen as helpful to Obama, who was 47 years old when he was first inaugurated and had spent just under four years in the Senate.
Harris, who is 56, served four years in the Senate before she became vice president. She spent much of her career in California as a prosecutor and then attorney general.
The first woman, Indian American and Black vice president, Harris is in many ways a symbol of the ideals the administration is emphasizing in its policies and appointments, said Joel Goldstein, a vice presidential scholar and emeritus professor at Saint Louis University School of Law.
That could lead her to take on roles and speak to constituencies that other vice presidents have not done, he said.
“Harris’s vice presidency is going to be different than Biden’s, because her time in the Senate is sort of like Obama’s time in the Senate,” Goldstein said. “So her role will be different, I think, but it doesn’t mean that it’s not going to be important.”
BRIDGE TO NEW GENERATION
Biden this week signaled that he would be looking to Harris for help understanding the dynamics of the current Senate. He left a decade ago while she resigned this month to become vice president.
“My colleague may know, the vice president, but I think there were very few debates on the Senate floor the whole last year,” Biden said during remarks, pausing so Harris could respond.
Joel Payne, a Democratic strategist who was an aide to former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, said that Harris can serve as a bridge between Biden and newer generations of Democrats, who were skeptical of him in the primary process.
“It’s not going to be to go right up to the Hill and to twist Mitch McConnell’s arm,” he said, referring to the Senate Republican leader. “Her job is really to be a kind of a conduit to these Democrats who maybe don’t feel like Joe Biden has a full grasp of everything that they represent and everything that they are. That’s a different job.”
Depending on how much support the administration is able to build for its agenda and political appointees, Harris may have to cast votes in the vice president’s role as president of the Senate, which is evenly split between Democrats and Republicans.
That could cut into her time for tackling other issues and sitting in on meetings in the Oval Office.
“She’s got to stay close to the Senate. She’s got to provide that 51st vote,” Morial, the civil rights leader, said. “I think that what role she ultimately plays on any of these issues remain to be seen.”
Biden wants to generate bipartisan support for his proposals, and Harris aides have said they hope she does not have to spend an excessive amount of time acting as tiebreaker on Capitol Hill.
Goldstein said that Harris’ access to Biden positions her to be a power player who Cabinet officials, foreign leaders and legislators seek out.
“The access really becomes a source of enormous power and of importance. You become important to a lot of other people,” he said.