Sources close to Vice President Kamala Harris have a new explanation for her extreme unpopularity: The Biden administration only defends white men.
Staffers and allies of Harris believe her disastrous first year as vice president is in large part due to racial discrimination from President Joe Biden and his office, a new CNN report claims. One former aide to Harris noted the "specific energy that the White House brings to defend a white man, knowing that Kamala Harris has spent almost a year taking lots of the hits that the West Wing didn't want to take themselves." That white man, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, faced criticism for taking months off the job in order to care for his newborns without informing the public, only for Biden press secretary Jen Psaki to call his decision an example of how he is a "role model" for Americans.
Harris faces "constant" "racism" from "Republicans and right-wing media," according to CNN (which declined to cite any specific examples), over the handling of her wide-ranging portfolio, which includes solving the "root causes" of the border crisis, the future of national security in space, dramatically reforming voting rights, accelerating the rate of COVID-19 vaccinations, pushing for more unionization in the labor force, and closing the "digital divide." Her lack of progress in virtually all of these areas is well documented, although CNN's sources contend that is because her "staff has repeatedly failed her" and that Biden has not "adequately prepared or positioned" her for success.
Despite those excuses, Harris's staffers have repeatedly complained of a toxic work culture in her office. One former staffer went as far as to say that he or she sought professional help to "resolve trauma from on-the-job abuse." As a California lawmaker, she saw one of the highest staff turnovers in the Senate.
Harris's allegedly abusive conduct has made attempts by her chief of staff, Tina Flournoy, to hire outside consultants difficult. According to CNN, several contractors have "turned down" offers because they are "unwilling to work" with the vice president.
The effort to rehabilitate Harris's image has been a months-long project by powerful Democrats. In July, a group that included Obama advisers Stephanie Cutter and Jennifer Palmieri huddled together and concluded that sexist treatment from the media is responsible for Harris's plummeting approval ratings.
"Many of us lived through the Clinton campaign, and want to help curb some of the gendered dynamics in press coverage that impacted HRC," one source familiar with the meeting said. "It was like: 'We've seen this before.' It's subtle. But when things aren't going well for a male politician, we ask very different questions, and they're not held to account the way a woman leader is."
Part of Harris's plummeting approval rating, she and her allies contend, is due to the fact that Biden repeatedly gives her challenging tasks. A "top donor to Biden," according to CNN, blasted the president for not handing her easy wins.
"You should be putting her in positions to succeed, as opposed to putting weights on her. If you did give her the ability to step up and help her lead, it would strengthen you and strengthen the party," the individual said.
What those positions look like, neither CNN nor the donor explained. Biden's allies say Harris has caused many of her own problems, such as when she solemnly nodded as a college student erroneously accused Israel of committing "ethnic genocide" against Palestinians in September or when she laughed away a question about not visiting the border despite a record number of illegal crossings.
That combination of prejudice and dismissiveness from Biden and his staff has created a panic throughout Democratic circles. At 78 years old, the president completing his first term or running again in 2024 is an open question.
Harris shedding her image as unlikable and incompetent is therefore critical to the future electoral success of the Democratic Party. A primary challenge against Harris in 2024 or 2028 could prove disastrous, with future opponents likely focusing on her myriad failures as vice president.
"She's not only the first woman vice president, but the first woman of color. This is a moment that has to succeed, otherwise we are fearful that this could set us back as women for a long time," one outside adviser to Harris told CNN.