Vice President Kamala Harris resurfaced on Wednesday to campaign for embattled California Gov. Gavin Newsom after weeks of remaining largely behind the scenes while the Biden administration took on water confronting multiple crises.
The timing of Harris's campaign appearance was the result of careful orchestration from the White House. A previous appearance for Newsom was scrapped on Aug. 26 after a suicide bomber killed 13 U.S. service members in Afghanistan the day before.
Since then, Harris has stayed mostly out of sight while President Joe Biden suffers plunging poll numbers following his disastrous plan to withdraw troops precipitously from Afghanistan. She proceeded in late August with a trip to Southeast Asia, for which she took some criticism from the Right due to a scheduled leg in Vietnam amid widespread comparisons of the fall of Kabul this year and the fall of Saigon in 1975.
Alex Conant, a Republican strategist and former senior adviser to Sen. Marco Rubio's presidential campaign, said Harris's reemergence is not surprising.
"Losing the recall would be incredibly embarrassing for Democrats and really undermine Biden's national standing," Conant said. "Harris has won statewide in California before and should be able to help with turnout, so I'm sure they think it's important that she's there now."
Harris's return to her home state this week comes after Newsom managed to recover from a slide in the polls that had Democrats concerned throughout August about his fate. Now, Newsom is more than 11 points ahead of the "remove" option in surveys of recall voters, according to the RealClearPolitics average of polls.
With the recall deadline approaching on Sept. 14, Biden is also expected to stump for Newsom early next week, the White House said on Tuesday.
Harris's brief speech on Wednesday afternoon in San Leandro, California, on behalf of her "long-standing friend" Newsom focused primarily on the liberal side of national debates over abortion and voting rights — making no mention of Afghanistan or the other problems presently facing the Biden White House.
The vice president has spoken little of inflation, disappointing jobs numbers, or plummeting public support for Biden's signature piece of legislation, a $3.5 trillion spending bill.
Besides taking questions from reporters in a controlled setting during her Asia trip last month, Harris has also largely avoided answering for the spiraling foreign policy mess the administration has weathered for the past several weeks.
"It makes good sense for her to stay in the background, both because she's been quite unpopular ... the more people see her, the less they like her, but it's also the case that she doesn't want to be in the position of overshadowing the president, who hasn't been very visible either," said Charles Lipson, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Chicago.
"Since he's not answering questions, it would be a problem if the No. 2 person is answering them," Lipson added.
Biden has indeed faced criticism for avoiding questions about the execution of the withdrawal plan while defending the underlying policy in a series of highly choreographed speeches since the fall of Kabul.
For her part, Harris claimed in April to have been the last person in the room when Biden made the decision to remove troops from Afghanistan, and she spoke out publicly and favorably about the decision at the time.
She has since receded into the background as other administration officials with foreign policy portfolios, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan, have assumed far more public-facing roles regarding Afghanistan than perhaps even the president himself.
But Harris has also stepped away from prominent roles handed to her by Biden earlier this year.
Named as the face of stemming migration to the border amid an immigration crisis in the spring, Harris has spoken little about the issue in recent weeks. Her handling of the situation drew criticism from Republicans, and eventually some Democrats, after she avoided a visit to the border until doing so became politically untenable.
Biden named Harris in June as the point person on shepherding voting rights legislation through Congress as Democrats argued such reforms are necessary to stop a tide of Republican state-level rule changes. However, Harris has not played a prominent public role in negotiations with Senate centrists over compromise legislation aimed at uniting Democrats who split over more ambitious reforms. She has also been unsuccessful in her limited efforts to promote those more ambitious versions.
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