Kamala Harris: Somebody’s Been Busy!

Kamala Harris: Somebody’s Been Busy!

The 60 Minutes interview that Vice President Kamala Harris gave at the end of October coincided with a flurry of articles in an attempt by mainstream media to report on her existence. Yes, her existence. Because, in the eyes of many, VP Harris did not exist. Her efforts and accomplishments are rarely mentioned, her position as tie breaker for the Senate is forgotten, her position as an overseas emissary is brushed aside. You would think that she is just a fragile woman on ice, in case Biden dies.

At age 59, same as me, Vice President Harris, or rather Kamala since we’re being so familiar, is amazing. She has risen up the political chain in California to become the second black woman to ever serve in the Senate. And yet, when Biden tapped her as his running mate, it was as if he had bowed to Affirmative Action, instead of simply choosing someone who is completely qualified. Even African-Americans had doubts about Harris, with her hard-line approach to law and order as a district attorney, and the corporate ties of her husband. Surely, they did not expect Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson, after we had had Obama. But even my brothers and sisters seemed unsure of Howard University Alumna, AKA Soror Kamala Harris. Many people acted as though she was a liability.

And then, after the election, it was as though she had disappeared. I was reading all about Jill Biden, but virtually nothing about Harris. Yet, she was there all along.

A few months ago, Harris gave an interview about the Ukraine and I was quite puzzled. I didn’t know that this was an expert subject for her; I didn’t know it was part of the role she was playing as Vice President, to be point person for US efforts abroad. And now, as she is again popping up on my radar, I want to be informed. What has Kamala been up to?

A lot.

In 2021 and 2022, with our extremely divided Senate, – Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin, both Democrats, often siding with Republicans on key issues – VP Harris stepped in as president of the Senate. As presiding officer, Harris has been the tie breaking vote on 31 occasions, breaking an old record as the highest number of tie-breaking Senate votes in US history. In addition to tie breaking votes on various political and judicial appointments, Harris cast the tie-breaking vote on Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, a major effort toward energy conservation with tax credits, access to lower cost clean energy, climate-smart agriculture, and more jobs. Harris has also broken the tie on budget concerns.

After 2023, as the Senate majority was more solidified, VP Harris was able to focus on her second role: emissary of US interests abroad. In the last three years, Harris has traveled around the world, touching down in 19 different countries, meeting with over 100 heads of state at conferences and meetings, advancing America’s diplomatic presence abroad, especially in underdeveloped countries in which Russia and China are advancing their causes and making investments. In Asia, Harris has visited Singapore and Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines. She attended the funeral of the Japanese prime minister, and she visited the Korean Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea. She attended a major Southeast Asian Summit in Indonesia. Everywhere she goes, she works with the diplomatic corps to further US ties, letting Asian countries know that they are on America’s radar, and that we want to work with them economically. It is a hard mission; many Southeast Asian countries are trading partners with China and hope to be able to position themselves favorably between China and the US. In some cases, there have been questions of why Biden has not been present, but in general, Harris is well received, and her message is heard.

This year, Harris traveled to Africa, specifically Ghana, Tanzania and Zambia, again underscoring US interests at a time when China is making overtures to African nations. The three countries that Harris visited are all in states of financial crisis and discussing debt agreements with China. The US hopes to extend some financial support as these countries get on their feet. Each country is wary, not wanting to commit to an exclusive partnership with the US, or China, or Russia. In fact, several African nations abstained from voting at the UN to censure Russia for their invasion of Ukraine, indicating that Russia is finding friends in Africa.

The task that Harris was given for Latin America was herculean. If you look at the 1.8 billion people who are struggling with hunger, poverty and health care crises in the world, it would be impossible for the US to take in more than a figurative handful. And yet, our Southern border is bombarded with the bravest migrants who hope for a better life here. Analysts have made clear that the key to the \”immigration problem\” is to make developing countries economically viable, so that people can stay where they are and have a better quality of life. So, in Latin America, Biden tasked Harris to tackle the root causes of migration to the US-Mexico border by bringing in private sector investments. Harris went to Latin America with pledges of over $4 billion to be invested in countries such as El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, by nearly 50 different US companies including Target. But Harris has had a very tough role to play. She is very concerned about the level of corruption in Central American countries and this has earned her serious enmity from many Latin American leaders who are very sensitive about the issue. She is also reinforcing the message that we do not have an open border; we cannot welcome all of the migrants who are coming but advise them to stay where they are. The Venezuelan migration has overshadowed Harris’ efforts, but the number of migrants from Central America has dropped.

VP Harris has stayed on top of the War in the Ukraine, making the first trips to the region after Putin’s invasion in 2022. She visited Poland and Romania, two of Ukraine’s bordering countries, to discuss Ukrainian refugees and negotiate Poland’s engagement as a NATO country. Harris has also been to Germany and France, explaining the US position as an ally of Ukraine, and pushing other European countries to support them.

Domestically, VP Harris has been a rallying point for efforts to secure abortion rights in states around the country. Prior to the 2022 elections, she held over 30 meetings in 18 states to discuss reproductive issues with state legislators. One of the reasons why the Dobbs ruling is so vicious is that the states with the strictest abortion laws are also the states with the highest maternal mortality rates. Pregnant women are dying and these states are not focusing their energies on solving the problem. Maternal mortality is a second issue that Harris is championing, having what is called \”representative presence\”.

In September, Biden created an Office of Gun Violence Prevention which VP Harris will oversee. It has had instant objections from congressional Republicans, and yet it is an issue that is heavy on the minds of millennials. Most recently, Harris has been on the campaign trail with her ‘Fight for Our Freedoms\” Tour, focused on colleges. In 2022, she visited 14 different schools including Bryn Mawr, Central Connecticut State and Metro State in Minnesota, and now she plans to tour schools in multiple states including Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New York, Florida, Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, North and South Carolina, Wisconsin, Wisconsin, Nevada and Virginia – all states where Biden currently has mixed reviews. Her outreach includes both black and Latino college-age institutions, and she is focusing on issues that matter to young people: reproductive freedom, gun safety, climate change, voting rights, LGBTQ equality, mental health… and book bans. At 59, Harris is one of the youngest vice-presidents that we’ve had, and her ability to connect to young voters will be key to winning the election. With her interview on 60 Minutes, the country is taking notice, and we will see if she can help carry 2024.

Putting together this blog has been educational and uplifting. Vice President Harris has been given powerful roles to play and she is considered a world leader in her own right. It is highly likely that today’s voting millennials are more familiar with her than 50-somethings like me. The articles I’ve read have suggested that she’s endured a lot of criticism and made many mistakes. I would bet that this is an exaggeration, in part due to the spotlight that would be placed on a woman leader. The reality is that we have a woman who can work with the Senate, communicate with world leaders, and recognize the issues faced by our next generation of voters. Sounds presidential to me.

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