By Arul Louis
New York, Jan 20 (IANS) US President Joe Biden has declared categorically that Vice President Kamala Harris will be his running mate squashing questions about her future on the eve of their completing the first year in office.
“Yes,” he said emphatically on Wednesday when asked by a reporter at a news conference.
He was asked to expand on the terse reply by the reporter who queried: “You put Vice President Harris in charge of voting rights. Are you satisfied with her work on this issue and can you guarantee, can you commit that she will be your running mate in 2024 provided that you run again?”
“There is no need to (expand),” Biden said, but went on to add: “She is going to be my running mate, Number 1; and Number 2, I put her in charge (voting rights) and she is doing a good job.”
Harris has herself dismissed as “gossip” and “punditry” the rumours questioning her place on the 2024 Democratic ticket.
After being sworn in last year as the first Vice President of Indian and African descent, she proudly spoke of her Indian American mother Shyamala Gopalan and her “chithis” (younger maternal aunts) and said: “We are bold, fearless, and ambitious. We are undaunted in our belief that we shall overcome; that we will rise up.”
Now comes the challenge of rising up to meet the swirling questions about her performance and future.
According to the RealClear Politics average of polls, 50.3 per cent disapprove of her performance – slightly less than the 53.3 per cent who disapprove of Biden.
Only 39.7 per cent approve of Harris’s performance.
Her most important role has been in the Senate which is divided equally between the Democrats and Republicans and she wields the tie-breaking casting vote.
But not only has she failed to make headway in the two high-profile jobs assigned to her, shepherding the voting rights bill through Congress and stemming illegal immigration, an exodus of her top staff has pushed her office into disarray and questioned her leadership.
In the latest blow to her, the voting rights bill that she was assigned to shepherd failed in the Senate Wednesday night because she could not get enough support within her party to break the Republican block.
Although it was in her portfolio the most visible interactions with senators on the voting rights bill were by Biden himself and Chuck Schumer, the Democratic Party leader in the Senate.
Harris has visited Central America, the main source of illegal immigration, to dissuade people from coming over and has tried to get investments there to create jobs.
But the problem on the Southern border with Mexico has worsened with a record number of 1.7 million illegal border-crossers caught by authorities last year.
Some of her supporters have said she has been given “Missions Impossible” and set up to fail.
A political commentator and her backer, Bakari Sellers, told the Grio, a Black-oriented media: “Her portfolio is trash. You give someone a portfolio that is not meant for them to succeed.”
But Harris shot back telling a CBS TV interviewer: “I don’t believe I’m being set up to fail. I’m the Vice President of the US, anything that I handle is because it’s a tough issue.”
Tom Friedman, an influential columnist for The New York Times, roiled the political waters recently by floating the idea of Biden ditching Harris and in an attempt to create a unity ticket by picking up Liz Cheney, a renegade Republican member of the House of Representatives who is a vociferous critic of former President Donald Trump, or Senator Lisa Murkowski, a moderate Republican.
When an NBC TV interviewer, with a nod to the column, asked Harris if she would be on the 2024 Biden ticket, she replied testily: “I mean, honestly, I know why you’re asking the question, because this is part of the punditry and the, the gossip around places like Washington, D.C.
“Let me just tell you something: We’re focused on the things in front of us.”
Friedman’s column had also speculated on a Harris presidential run with Republican Senator Mitt Romney, a strong critic of Trump and a 2012 presidential candidate who lost to Barack Obama, while laying out other possible unity ticket combinations.
Now that Biden has unequivocally said that Harris would be on his ticket in 2024, the question of what happens if Biden, who will be 81 years old on election day, decides not to seek reelection.
Biden has told an ABC TV interviewer that he plans to run in 2024 “if I’m in good health”.
But there are concerns over his age and a Politico poll in November 2021 showed that 48 per cent of voters disagreeing that he is mentally fit and 46 per cent agreeing.
Should he decide not to run again, Harris may not automatically assume his mantle and could face challengers.
In that scenario, she could be pulled down by Biden’s performance as President, which has been on a downward spiral.
In either scenario, there is but a two-year window for them to refurbish their record.
(Arul Louis can be reached at email@example.com and followed @arulouis)
By Arul Louis