A new presidency means a new vice president. And this vice president is something new entirely: the first woman to hold our second highest office, but also the first African-American and the first Asian-American in this office. That’s a lot of firsts, there’s probably a couple of others. As a scholar of the vice presidency, I’m pretty excited. (As an American, I’m pretty excited for President Joe Biden as well.)
So it seems like a great time to both launch this new website that is all about the vice presidency, it’s role in American politics, and the people (no longer just men) who have held the office.
Along with the site I will, inspired by Daniel Drezner, start a Twitter thread about Vice President Harris. Drezner’s thread had a particular focus, each tweet had the line, followed by snippet from an article:
I’ll believe Trump is growing into the presidency when his staff stops talking about him like a toddler.
It became a book and just ended – finally – with 2615 entries.
My thread won’t have the same narrow focus, nor will it be particularly funny. It will just archive notes about Harris’ role in the administration.
There are a lot of interesting questions about what role Harris will play in the Biden administration. At the very core of vice-presidential influence has been our tendency to elect outsiders, with limited DC experience, who turn to their VPs for advice. Biden brings unprecedented experience to the presidency. Further he has a deeply experience staff that has worked with him closely. Harris will be fully integrated into the team. But Biden has worked with key members of his team like Chief of Staff Ron Klain, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan that they can practically finish one another’s sentences. Harris is very smart and capable, but how will she fit into this tight-knit group.
Harris faces another complicating factor – John Kerry. The former Secretary of State, Senator, and presidential candidate will be the U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate Change. This high-powered pick highlights Biden’s commitment to addressing climate change. Kerry too, has deep relationships with members of the Biden team including Biden himself. Kerry does not have future political ambitions, but as a defacto “assistant president for climate change” he is another prominent voice in the room. Again, this will not be a White House full of scheming. Biden will run a collegial process. But Harris will have to navigate an experienced and well-knit team and find the right place to make unique contributions based on her experience and her position.
Finally, there is the question of what assignments she will take. Vice presidents have unique convening power and a vice presidential trip is a big deal. VPs can take on tough inter-agency problems that are important, but that the president lacks the time to attend. Biden, as Obama’s VP handled oversight of the Recovery Act, as well as serving as a foreign policy trouble-shooter. Gore oversaw bilateral commissions with several critical nations including Russia and South Africa. Given the scale of problems facing the country, the challenge will be setting priorities and picking the right issues. Harris might be well-positioned to spearhead relations with Mexico (a nation with deep challenges that is critical to the United States) or India (where Harris has personal ties.) Domestically Harris could take on reforming U.S. government personnel processes. The federal workforce is aging fast and carrying out the expansive Biden-Harris agenda will demand a properly staffed government. Harris as a former Attorney General is well-placed to take on criminal justice reform or violence against women. The latter should be seen as not only as a criminal issue, but as a national security issue.)
I have shouted from the rooftops that Joe Biden will have a historic and transformational presidency. Vice President Kamala Harris is an exceptional politician and will play a critical role in this history-making administration. I look forward to the next four years observing this and seeing it unfold.