Thursday, May 23, 2024

Kamala Harris speaks in 2019 in Clear Lake, Iowa. (Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr)

President Joe Biden had a cancerous lesion removed successfully from his chest last month that was just reported. At 80, questions continue about his fitness to serve a second term. Questions also abound concerning Vice President Kamala Harris’ job performance and ability to lead the country if Biden cannot. And they’re from various corners of the political spectrum – Republicans and Fox News, but also Democrats. “She had not risen to the challenge of proving herself as a future leader of the party, much less the country,” several Democrats told The New York Times.

Harris has been in office since 2020. She struggles to carve out a lane for herself, and she feels the weight of being the first Black and Asian American to be the nation’s vice president. But with an approval rating no higher than 39 percent from multiple polls, can Harris convince the U.S. public for a second term?

Can’t win for losing conundrum

Harris supporters contest that she is set up to fail with unwinnable assignments such as curbing the influx of immigration from Central America and expanding restrictive voting rights in stronghold GOP states. Republicans and Democrats, however, are unhappy with Harris’ job performance on immigration.

Republicans are having a field day pointing to the unstoppable high volume of migrant crossings and drug trafficking under her watch. They assert that Harris’ ineptitude as border czar has aided and abetted Mexican drug cartels – the Sinaloa and the new generation Jalisco – in contributing to the high incidents of fentanyl deaths in the United States.


Harris didn’t help herself in a tense interview with NBC’s Lester Holt in June 2021. When queried why she had not visited the U.S.-Mexico border since taking office, Harris retorted that her team did.

Republicans have made Harris the face of Biden’s failed immigration policy to win political ground in 2024, while Democrats are holding back on enthusiastic endorsements for a second term. Last month on Boston Public Radio, Elizabeth Warren endorsed Biden but demurred . when it came to Harris, sending shockwaves throughout the party and a signal to Kamala. When asked why she was not endorsing Harris now, Warren said: “That wasn’t a hard no, but it wasn’t a hard yes, either.”

Harris is between a rock and a hard place within her party. Harris stirred debate, ire and criticism in the progressive wing and with immigrant-rights groups when she emphatically told Guatemalans “do not come” to the United States because they will be turned away. Her directive was seen as a reaction to right-wing pressure and a tone-deaf betrayal to immigrants seeking asylum.

Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez lambasted Harris on Twitter: “It would be helpful if the United States would finally acknowledge its contributions to destabilization and regime change in the region. Doing so can help us change U.S. foreign policy, trade policy, climate policy and carceral border policy to address causes of mass displacement and migration.”

The politics of being the first

The job of vice president is to support the president. Harris has to be politically adroit not to outshine Biden or to disappear in his shadow. Striking the right balance is difficult in this polarized era, especially for a woman of color in power who identifies as black. The “angry black” trope hovers over all sisters of African descent. Harris runs the risk of being too loud, too forceful, not knowing her place, not staying in her lane and being arrogant. Harris must walk a tightrope to avoid this misogynoir trope when asserting her power and authority. Also, she mustn’t be a titular head for fear of being perceived as unqualified or tokenized. Research shows that Harris is one of the most targeted politicians on the Internet; Fox News runs a constant thread of bogus articles about her.

The intersectionality of her race and gender is weaponized to discredit her ability. Women and people of color see that Harris being appointed as point person on immigration policies that previous administrations couldn’t resolve is a setup for failure.

Harris’ blunders are magnified, and her victories muted. “People need to cut Kamala some slack … she’s got a tough job. She’s not an eloquent speaker like Obama, but she’s strong in her delivery, “Corinne Copper, a white Southerner of Lewisville, North Carolina, told me. “Vice President Harris has cast the tie-breaking vote 26 times in an evenly split Senate. Her position may prove essential, with women’s reproductive freedom under attack.”

Harris has accomplished a lot since taking office. Alongside Biden, she has helped America get vaccinated, rebuild the economy due from Covid, led Congress to protect voter rights by building a broad and diverse coalition, expanded worker rights to organize and collectively bargain and focused on women’s issues such as reproductive justice since the overturn of Roe v. Wade, maternal health and child poverty.

In 2024, Harris will have my vote again.

The Rev. Irene Monroe is a speaker, theologian and syndicated columnist. She does a segment called “All Revved Up!” on WGBH (89.7 FM) on Boston Public Radio and a segment called “What’s Up?” Fridays on New England Channel News.