The Very Public Persona of Kamala Harris

The current U.S. vice president represents a lot of things to a lot of people. Yet, among the public expectations, she is struggling to find a singular political voice.

Indrani Basu

June 17, 2021

The Very Public Persona of Kamala Harris
Kamala Harris (White House)

Vice President Kamala Harris, by her own admission, doesn’t make long-term plans. “I have never been one to have a five-year plan,” she said in a recent television interview. “Do what’s in front of you well, and the next thing will come.” 

Five months into her term as history’s first female, South Asian, and Black vice president (VP) of the United States, Harris has taken on a slew of tasks that President Joe Biden has made a public showing of giving her, including two issues that are, in today’s America, as high profile as they come: immigration and voting rights.

So, Harris seems to be everywhere. She is a constant presence at every Biden announcement, frequently making her own remarks at the events. She gets the same briefing materials as the president and has drop-in privileges to the Oval Office, as did Biden when he was second-in-command. But unlike then-VP Biden, Harris has a weekly meeting with the president’s chief of staff, Ron Klain. And every week, she and Biden have a private lunch in his dining room, under a painting of President Abraham Lincoln conferring with his generals during the final days of the Civil War. Publicly, she is often tasked with leading messaging to promote Biden’s presidential projects, which, so far, have included passing the American Jobs Plan and American Rescue Plan (known as the COVID-19 relief bill).

But, at the same time, Harris is also nowhere. By involving herself in every aspect of the administration’s policies, she has positioned herself as a great partner to the president, but hasn’t carved out a distinctive identity for herself or her agenda. It’s not the first time Harris has found herself in this position. In the early days of her unsuccessful presidential bid, she struggled to define herself. In the first few months of her vice presidency, Harris is still struggling to stand alone.