On Friday, her work — and that of the administration as a whole — hit a brick wall, as two moderate Senate Democrats said they would not support weakening chamber rules to pass two electoral reform priorities for the party. It left Harris in a place now familiar: in an awkward position and an uncertain path forward.
Harris’s aides and advisers say she was unaffected by the setback. They view her more aggressive stance and increasingly public figure as an implicit sign that she has cemented her standing in the White House. Allies argue that it finally had a chance at success after a previous abuse.
Bakari Sellers, a friend of the vice president and one of her most vocal supporters, said, “When you’re the vice president, you can’t really get out of the White House. It’s hard. But with the president actually being strong by nature and not sitting around his stand on this issue, it gives it a go. The tools needed to be successful and that’s the only concern I’ve ever raised. You want to make sure it’s not handicapped.”
However, the failure – for the time being – to move voting rights legislation raises questions about how effective Harris’ lobbying is in reality. A person familiar with the administration’s thinking argued that much progress has been made even in the absence of legislation. “If you think at the beginning of this year, there were very few Senate Democrats who supported doing this in the stall. Right? Today there are two people who are not doing it. This is a huge shift,” said this person.
The expectation going forward is that Harris and the administration will continue to press for legislative progress as well as meeting with key stakeholders. A White House official said Harris’ team is formulating plans for what the next steps will look like, and that Harris’ public and private engagements are being discussed.
When asked on Friday what the next step would be regarding voting rights, Harris told reporters, “Well, we keep fighting. We’re committed to seeing that no matter how long it takes and no matter what.” She noted that she had held, only today, “intense meetings and discussions about how we can see this through.”
The rise of voting rights to the top of the management’s agenda comes at a time of transition for her position, with a group of assistants leaving and new staff coming in. Notably, there were disagreements among staff about how much public attendance the vice president would have had in the early months, with some aides fearing that the low profile of Harris allowed a story to be made about her being adrift and struggling with the elements of her portfolio, and on top Addressing the flow of migrants from the Northern Triangle countries in Central America.
Her recent activism has emboldened activists in and out of Washington, D.C., many of whom felt that President Joe Biden had not focused enough on the issue of voting rights because he had prioritized a bipartisan infrastructure bill and the Social and Climate Spending Bill.
“I’ve been very clear about the discrimination. I don’t have anything negative to say about VP Harris, I think this should fall into Biden’s lap, he’s the president. All my conversations with her: I think she’s been very clear. [that] She saw this as a key and important issue, said Latosha Brown, co-founder of Black Voters Matter, who chose not to attend the Biden-Harris speech there earlier this week, despite being in Atlanta. “And so, I’m not letting Biden get away with this. Because one, isn’t Biden the one who came to the negotiating table with the Senate experience, four decades of being in the Senate?”
But Harris’s elevated role has also pushed her into a legislative initiative that appears to be going nowhere. During Thursday’s interview, she made an impassioned plea for voting rights legislation, blaming both Republicans and members of her party for standing in the way of changing Senate rules to pass electoral reform by a simple majority.
“I don’t think anyone should be absolved of the responsibility to uphold and protect our democracy, especially when they took an oath to protect and defend our constitution,” she said when asked specifically if Senator Joe Manchin (DW.Va.) and Kirsten Sinema (Dim-Arizona) were responsible for the lack of a movement on voting rights.
The direct appeal to moderate Democrats was not far from the rhetoric that the White House itself was spreading. The matter drew attention nonetheless, hours before the Senate was set to consider changing its rules to pass voting rights reforms. When Biden went to speak to the Senate Democratic caucus about the stalled reform push, he went it alone. And when he met Mancin and Cinemaa Thursday night after they both reiterated that they weren’t budge, Harris did not attend the meeting.
White House aides cautioned against reading about Harris’s absence, citing Biden’s enduring relationships with two senators over the past year from meetings and negotiations about his other priorities. They said the fact that the president delegated Harris to lead voting rights in the first place is evidence that he values them. “[Biden and Harris] Deputy Press Secretary Andrew Bates said in an email, something that Harris’ team reiterated.
“They showed that they are a team there. There [aren’t] Melanie Campbell, president and CEO of the National Coalition for Black Civic Engagement. “You get one head at a time. [It’s important it’s seen] as a single administration. Whatever happens, her role in it is also high.”
Yet Harris’ past few weeks on the voting rights front have become, in a sense, a microcosm of her tenure as vice president: one defined by sharp moments, accidents, public drama, private work, and a touch of political bad luck.
While there is some concern at Harrisworld that it might get some blame from the press if the Voting Rights Act eventually fails to pass the Senate, it is not shared globally. Allies note that the larger civil rights community is pleased with Harris’ work and argue that the issue is not a lack of effort but moderate Democrats’ intransigence over pending reform combined with a lack of Republican support. This time, the thinking goes, the others will back off.
“I got the work done,” Sellers said. “this is [is] On Mansion, Cinema, and intellectual dishonesty about our country’s history.”
Laura Baron Lopez Contribute to this report.