Harris needs to warm up her act

She hasn’t had a good moment yet. Brittle is the word, without a bit of President Joe Biden’s bonhomie.

I speak of Vice President Kamala Harris, who made history as the first Black person — and the first woman — ever to get the job. Her presidential campaign failed before the first contest in Iowa. Nearly five months in as Veep, and it’s safe to say she’s not winning new hearts and minds.

An example: She marched in Washington’s Pride parade, but only for about a block — just long enough to get her picture taken. Then she took off, likely up Massachusetts Avenue to her northwest mansion.

Harris has an awkward habit of laughing loudly at her own lines (when nobody else is), as seen at the U.S. Naval Academy commencement.

More serious were her harsh words during her first trip abroad, to Guatemala, on securing the southern border.

“Do not come; do not come” did not sit well in a nation of immigrants, since the Mayflower landed and the Statue of Liberty welcomed poor huddled masses yearning to be free. The United States is morally (and legally) obligated to assist fleeing political refugees.

Sorry to say, Harris did not reflect us well that day, as a nation turning over a new leaf from former President Donald Trump. Further, she has not even visited the border, as Lester Holt of NBC News fished out in an interview.

“And I haven’t been to Europe,” Harris told Holt, flippantly. Whatever.

Biden asked her to shepherd the Voting Rights Act — a major assignment.

Just one thing: Harris recently offended a pivotal senator, Joe Manchin, D-W. Va, when she went to West Virginia and did a live interview in his state on infrastructure without calling him.

The centrist Democrat was not swayed or amused by a rookie mistake. Popular in his red state, Manchin holds the keys to any big deal in the Senate.

It’s really Manchin’s Senate now, evenly divided 50-50.

As a liberal woman from California, I had reason to believe when the freshman senator, a California Democrat, was named by Biden as his running mate.

This was over the caution of his close friend, Christopher Dodd, a former senator.

Back in the winter, I wrote an opinion piece for the San Francisco Chronicle on the best ways Harris could help Biden. Mainly, the advice was to be his “eyes and ears” in the Senate, where she’d break 50-50 ties, as the constitution requires.

My advice was to reach out to both sides in the clubby body, because Biden truly loves the Senate. More to the point, the success of his presidency depends upon it.

Biden knows the old guard, but Harris could round up and build camaraderie among the younger guard. The two new Democratic senators from Georgia, Jon Ossoff and the Rev. Raphael Warnock, are natural allies.

Call me old-fashioned, but persuasion, charm and temperament still count in political deal-making in a place as small as the Senate. Skilled engagement can make a margin of difference.

It was my thought that, working with Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., Harris could energize and cohere a caucus tired of playing defense on loss after loss in the long Trump years.

Harris went through those team losses, too, notably contesting Trump nominees to the Supreme Court. Her standout Judiciary Committee moments were in sternly questioning Attorney General nominee William Barr and Supreme Court justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh, who barely cleared Senate approval to the high court, 50-48.

Harris is now the president of the Senate, strictly speaking, but does not show up much. Senate Democrats think she’s fine, but not an essential element in their political chemistry. That’s a lost opportunity to make a mark.

Harris plans to host a dinner for the 24 Senate women, a good icebreaker, if Republican women accept the invitation.

As a newcomer, Harris cut a crisp and cool figure on the Senate floor, voting quickly and beating a retreat. Her lack of mixing can be chalked up to the relentless partisan tone set by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. He’s after her now.

So, Harris weathered the Capitol party wars. Now a savvy strategy would be to broker peace on the Senate side.


Jamie Stiehm may be reached at JamieStiehm.com.


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