US Vice President Harris walked into her ceremonial office at the White House with a broad smile and easy confidence when we sat down for an interview on the Monday before Christmas. And why shouldn’t she smile?
President Biden’s electoral right-hand ma’am is finishing a banner year filled with domestic barnstorming and high-wire diplomacy.
To understand Harris’s 2022, I suggest looking at it as a tent held up by three poles. One is the Munich Security Conference in February.
Biden sent Harris to Germany on a critical mission at an important moment. In a Feb. 19 speech and in a private meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that same day, Harris warned of the looming threat to the rules-based international order. Harris sounded the alarm ahead of Russia-Ukraine war that began on Feb. 24.
Another tent pole in Harris’s year is the US delegation she led to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference in Thailand in November.
North Korea made sure her third trip to the region was eventful by launching an intercontinental ballistic missile. Harris responded by coordinating the allied response to Kim Jong Un’s latest provocation.
To me, the third tent pole is the most important. After the leaked draft in May of what would later become the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organisation decision to end the constitutional right to abortion, the former California attorney general saw plainly the implications for other rights, such as marriage equality. She was eager to speak out, Harris told me, and instructed her staff: “I’m getting the bleep out of D.C.”
She travelled to 18 cities in 14 states, plus the District of Columbia, to host rights events. During those trips and at the White House, Harris met with 200 state legislators from 18 states, state attorneys general, students and clergy. All to build a coalition to push back against what was coming.
Garnering little attention
Despite having a television and a print pool reporter at most of her public events, the vice president garners little attention. Sometimes the office is frustrating — as one of her predecessors famously put it, “not worth a bucket of warm,” um, spit.
And much of the attention she has received, especially in her first year, has been rough. Stories about staff departures were routinely hyped as disarray in narratives that unfairly called into question Harris’s competence.
I’m not saying that Kamala Harris walks on water. Her Chuck Taylors got plenty wet from the growing pains that come with adjusting to being a heartbeat away from the presidency.
Shattering ossified notions
But the nation’s first Black woman and first South Asian vice president has also had to contend with the negative reactions and low expectations that come with shattering ossified notions of who should be in the position.
Harris has ably fulfilled the role Biden chose her to perform. She was an instrumental partner in helping to shepherd the first Black woman to the Supreme Court.
Also, Harris cast one of her record 26 tiebreaking votes to confirm the first Black woman to the Federal Reserve. With Democrats and their independent caucus-mates holding 51 Senate seats in the next Congress, Harris will no longer be needed for tiebreaking duty.
Not being tethered to Washington by the pandemic or the threat of razor-thin votes means Harris can travel in the coming months.
She can hear directly from the American people, and they can hear directly from her. They can take the measure of her. And they can see what I saw on Monday: a vice president better than her portrayal in the media.
Demetrius Freeman is a columnist