During their first two months in the White House, President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were virtually inseparable – Harris traveled with Biden to the Pentagon, sat in the Roosevelt Room when he virtually met a foreign leader and made his own remarks on priorities.
The closeness fueled a feeling that she would be part of an unusual partnership, the “Biden-Harris administration,” as it was called.
But nine months later, Harris’ schedule mirrors the life of a more conventional vice president, one who sees the president less often and spends more time selling the administration’s agenda at roundtables. and day trips to tanks and classrooms, according to an analysis of its audience. events by The Times.
Only about a fifth of the activities listed on Harris’ public calendar in September and October involved Biden, up from about three quarters of them in January and February. This month, Harris has organized seven activities with Biden in his public schedule, including six behind closed doors. At least part of that change is the result of a drop in COVID-19 restrictions, which brought Washington’s leadership closer in the first few months.
The only public event this month with Biden came on Thursday, when Harris delivered remarks to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the Washington Mall.
In the previous two months, Harris attended a public event with Biden, a wreath laying ceremony at the Pentagon on September 11. Harris and Biden traveled at different times that day to commemorate the flight that crashed in Shanksville, Pa., Even as the two paid their respects.
Harris came into office with unique expectations as a groundbreaking politician serving the longest-serving president in history and who himself had been President Obama’s No.2. Biden during the 2020 campaign told donors he was a “transition candidate” who was looking “to get more people on the bench who are ready to come in.” The implication, for some, was that Harris would be prepared in case Biden, 78, is unable to fulfill his term or refuses to stand for re-election in 2024.
However, White House officials and Harris allies say it is misleading to read too much into the schedule change, or even to call it that. They point out that schedules fluctuate – Harris and Biden were more often together in July and August, a period that included public remarks after the Senate passed an infrastructure bill and a series of private briefings during the withdrawal chaotic afghanistan. Early in the administration, officials say, the couple also spent time with each other out of necessity as the nation grappled with a pandemic that severely limited travel and the size of public events.
The needs have now changed. With more people vaccinated and its legislative programs at risk, the White House has launched a full-blown effort to pass its program. This means Harris and Biden frequently speak to different groups, sometimes in different states, on the same day.
“I don’t really think there is much space between them,” said Bakari Sellers, Harris’ presidential campaign co-chair and CNN political commentator who has remained a close ally. “She’s just being deployed further.”
White House officials have said some closed-door meetings and briefings were not on Biden’s or Harris’ official schedule, which does not reflect the full extent of one’s day-to-day activity. either of the characters.
“The vice president has a busy schedule doing administration work and always supporting the president,” said Sabrina Singh, spokesperson for Harris. “Sometimes these events are together, other times they are separate. Sometimes she’s on the road to amplify the administration’s agenda and stress the importance of Building Back Better.
Andrew Bates, spokesperson for Biden, added that “thousands of letter carriers” affect their schedules and it is common, as administrations move forward, to send key leaders to different locations for efficiency.
“They have a partnership in the mold of the Obama-Biden relationship,” he said.
Regardless of the reasons the two spent more time apart, Harris’s perception of influence in the administration is in part related to his closeness. Biden and Harris have repeatedly said she will be “last in the room” on important decisions.
A large part of the vice president’s power and influence derives from his access to and relationship with the president, said Joel Goldstein, an academic who has written two books on the vice president. “It makes the vice president seem more authoritarian to the other leaders.”
Goldstein said he was not surprised that the events Harris publicly reported with Biden had waned, after she spent the first few months seeking to “createrialize” by being seen with Biden. For modern vice-presidents to be effective, he said, they must balance time spent with the president and visibility elsewhere.
This month, for example, Harris traveled to Lake Mead in Nevada to discuss climate change and drought – key elements of Biden’s legislative agenda. She also flew to Newark to visit a COVID-19 vaccination site, as part of the administration’s efforts to convince more Americans to protect themselves from the disease. Next month, she is heading to Paris, her third trip abroad after traveling to Latin America and Asia.
“Later, once you’ve come up with a program, it’s predictable that you’ll be on the outside trying to sell it,” Goldstein said. “She’s trying to mobilize support for what the administration is doing.”
The lack of public events with Biden may contribute to the general feeling that Harris is not as visible as she initially was. Trips and roundtables generate less media coverage than events with Biden. Her position in the polls, with an average of around 42% of voters viewing her favorably, is generally lower than that of the president.
Overall, about 40% of its nearly 500 events were with Biden, including dozens of publicly disclosed lunches and meetings involving the economy, infrastructure, or COVID-19. She also received the President’s Daily Brief – the country’s classified intelligence summary – more than 60 times with Biden in the Oval Office. This regular briefing accounts for about a third of all his events with Biden, according to the analysis.
As in every administration, Biden and Harris have their own teams of advisers, which can make it difficult for them to position themselves as leaders. Biden, who was first elected to the Senate in 1972, has had a coterie of advisers for decades while Harris has a small group of people who are largely new to her.
Former rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination weren’t particularly close and had to overcome friction on the debate stage, when Biden picked her as running mate.
A former Harris adviser, who requested anonymity to discuss the sensitive topic, said he remained concerned about an apparent lack of trust between operations Biden and Harris and the feeling that “she received no star portfolio, ”a criticism that White House officials dispute.
In addition to selling off Biden’s economic and climate programs, Harris is leading efforts to curb migration to Central America, which remains at levels not seen in decades, and to lead the fight for voting rights, an area in which Congressional Republicans blocked action on Wednesday for the third time this year. White House officials say tough missions are signals it has gained confidence, while some outside supporters and analysts complain they are political losers.
Kevin Madden, a senior communications assistant in Republican Senator Mitt Romney’s two presidential elections, who is now independent, said he believes the White House hasn’t figured out how best to deploy Harris.
“Part of the problem seems to be that the Biden-Harris relationship is a political partnership that is still maturing,” he said.
Data and charts reporter Maloy Moore contributed to this report.
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.