Harris has told people close to her that she wants to shape her vice presidency after the way Biden worked with President Barack Obama for eight years: testing and pushing the government, while publicly becoming a dedicated and loyal lieutenant. remains.
Harris basically wants to be Biden’s Biden and has played a key role in the formation of the next government in recent weeks, interviewing every possible cabinet nominee and spending a lot of time talking to Biden about the process, sources said. She’s also worked to get to know the president-elect by talking on the phone almost every day, something Harris believes will help her better understand what kind of partner Biden wants her to be.
“She’s trying to prove she’s capable of being a second,” said a source. “For her there is as much learning and watching as there is participation.”
While she may not be the first vice president to take an active role in shaping a new government, Harris’s vantage point is especially notable. Not only will she be the first black, first South Asian American, and first female vice president in history, she will also learn how to become a vice president from someone she believes has done the job well.
That dynamic was evident this week when Harris was asked on ABC what the “ definition of success ” would be as she looks back on her four years as a vice president.
“Joe Biden’s success,” Harris said quickly.
While sources tell CNN that there has been little or no disagreement between the two Democrats, nothing has fled in public so far, which is exactly how both Biden and Harris want it. Biden has said publicly that he appreciates being pushed, telling CNN earlier this month that “if we disagree, it will be like … when Barack and I did … privately. “
In addition to loyalty, there will also be another undeniable dynamic between Biden and Harris: succession. Those close to Harris know that almost everything she does over the next four years will be considered as possible positioning for a new presidential bid, a fact that could test her relationship with longtime Biden aides if they find themselves sets future ambitions above current ones. administration.
Building the cabinet
Harris’ first test has come in how she got through the tricky business of choosing a cabinet. While she has given Biden her views on each candidate, she has not raised any major opposition to any of his selections, according to a source familiar with Harris’ workings. That’s both because Harris feels that Biden, as president, deserves the team he wants, but also because she had no reason to primarily oppose any of the choices.
Groups outside the transition have tried to rely on Harris to boost cabinet candidates they support, but sources said Harris tried to avoid overshoot by specifically advocating for one person in the cabinet talks.
Biden and Harris have grown closer over the past two months, speaking by phone almost every day, and working specifically to develop their relationship as they prepare to take office. Biden said during a meeting with reporters on Wednesday that he called Harris to thank her for not getting on the freeway during the upcoming winter storm Gail, a sign of that deepening relationship.
Being second-in-command will be a new role for Harris, who has been the top person in all of the roles she holds since she was a San Francisco District Attorney in 2004.
Those following the transition are less concerned about the relationship between Biden and Harris than about the relationship Harris will have with experienced Biden assistants who are more focused on protecting their old boss than elevating the vice president .
A major aspect of these concerns is the specter of Biden not running for reelection in 2024, opening up a democratic one to all in the closing years of his first term. Biden, who tries to avoid becoming a lame duck before taking office, has said nothing about running for re-election in four years.
Biden loyalists are expected to defend the suggestion that Harris positions himself for a run in four years.
“I think their relationship will be great,” said one who has worked with Harris. “I think the question is whether the top staff wants her to become a top consultant.”
The eye of a prosecutor
Harris has spent her waning days as a senator commuting between her Washington, DC apartment, her Senate office on Capitol Hill, the transitional office in the Commerce Department building, and the occasional trip to Wilmington for an event with the President-elect .
She has delved into the many issues that the upcoming Biden government will face, including the ongoing fight against the coronavirus. She has also served as a liaison between the party’s factions, calling on the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus to convey the new government’s desire for a strong relationship.
Harris’ portfolio remains undefined, sources said, in part because Biden has not decided what his priorities will be. Like the rest of the government, Harris will initially focus on getting the coronavirus pandemic under control, sources said. Beyond that is an open question.
One skill that will bring them to administration is a keen ability to read people in groups and a penchant for asking probing questions.
According to people who have worked closely with her in the past, Harris is someone who enjoys challenging assumptions in meetings and works on perfecting plans by refusing to accept conventional wisdom and regularly asking “why” when something is proposed.
“One of the very first things I noticed about Kamala Harris was how perceptive she was about people and situations,” said one who has worked with Harris. “I always thought I was really good at reading rooms and reading people – and then after a few months of being around her I realized that I am a regular amateur.”
These subsequent skills, which this person attributed to Harris who routinely chooses juries, will come in handy as vice president, and allow Harris to just “observe” what Biden wants and quickly understand “what works for him and what doesn’t. “.
Training to be Biden’s Biden
Historians who follow the vice presidency marveled at the way Obama placed Biden at the center of the White House’s day-to-day operations.
“In my opinion, Obama and Biden really took it to the highest level,” said Joel Goldstein, vice presidential historian at St. Louis University. “They were able to develop a scheme where Biden was deeply involved in important matters and sustain it for the entire eight years.”
Biden has said he wants a similar relationship with Harris.
“When I agreed to serve as President Obama’s running mate, he asked me some key questions, he said to me, he asked me what I wanted most … I told him I was the last person in the room. wanted to be before he made important decisions, “Biden said after selecting Harris.” I asked Kamala about that. I asked Kamala to be the last voice in the room. “
Assuming that arrangement is in place, Harris will have the opportunity to exert enormous influence, and Biden will prove she can save disagreements for private conversations.
“She’s part of the team,” Goldstein concluded. “And part of the deal is that when the president makes a decision, you can discuss it beforehand, but then you try to implement it and try to make the decision work.”
One thing Harris has full decision-making power over is the vice president’s residence and her new kitchen. Harris, a well-known cook, has said that she and her husband Doug Emhoff often ate meals made in large quantities and then frozen in the general election.
“One of the things I’m looking forward to is cooking,” Harris recently said with a laugh to a donor when asked what she’s going to do in the office for fun. “And my husband Doug is looking forward to the same.”