In practice, that means bringing into policy discussions wider circles of Americans, from Black women leading businesses to female union leaders — both of whom she has met with recently. Biden has relationships with some senators going back decades; Harris has ties to many newer members, especially the diverse class of House members who entered after Biden left the Senate. If Biden has decades of experience navigating through the thicket of Senate egos, Harris knows which credible figures in local communities and national advocacy groups have sway with members on given issues.
When Biden set up his task force to deal with covid-19, he looked to a bill Harris introduced while she was in the Senate that would have required the collection of data on racial and ethnic disparities and the inclusion of equity in covid-19 policy implementation. The administration built on that model, putting Marcella Nunez-Smith in charge of coronavirus equity issues and issuing an executive order to put equity at the center of its pandemic efforts. The administration also set up a Health Equity Task Force. Harris has followed up with visits to vaccination centers in cities such as Chicago and Jacksonville to see techniques for reaching people where they are, from videos for churches to outreach by NBA stars.
She has also increased her visibility on foreign policy, holding solo calls with many world leaders. In addressing the root causes of migration from the Northern Triangle nations of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, Harris has not only talked to Guatemala’s president and civil society groups but also is trying to involve other countries, such as Finland and Japan, to tackle the humanitarian crisis.
On jobs and infrastructure, Harris focused on making buses — the most common form of public transportation for working people — run on green energy. The Post reported: “The administration’s push to electrify the nation’s school bus fleet is derived directly from Harris’s original bill, according to senior administration officials.” Likewise, she has been intensely focused on addressing disparities in access to broadband. As Biden declared in his address to Congress: “I’m asking the vice president to lead this effort, if she would, because I know it will get done.”
Slicing off bits and pieces of policies is harder than one might imagine, given the integrated nature of policy. Covid-19 is related to jobs, health care and child care. As Biden promised, Harris is at the table when significant decisions are made (e.g., the components of the American Families Plan). Nevertheless, in addition to her assignment on the Northern Triangle and broadband, Biden tapped her to head the Task Force on Worker Organizing and Empowerment. And just after the 100-day mark, he named her the chair of the National Space Council.
Many voters and even pundits do not fully appreciate how relatively new to Washington she truly is. She has not spent years cultivating the chattering class inside the Beltway, nor does she crave exposure on the Sunday shows, where she now would be just another administration figure hammering the message of the day. When it comes to media, her greatest added value may be her frequent local news hits, when she can highlight what administration policies mean in concrete terms for families in, say, Baltimore, where she visited Thursday, or Cincinnati, where she visited public transit officials on Friday.
Harris brought a handful of longtime staffers with her, but many of her senior advisers are new to her and to the White House. According to those close to her, she carries a hefty briefing book home with her at night and then returns the next morning with questions, suggestions and observations. She goes through all of it with her advisers, giving them a chance to see her working style and learn her preferences.
Harris’s addition to the ticket was rightly seen as an effort to reflect the country’s diversity. What was less apparent then but has become more so in office is the degree to which she and Biden complement one another with different skill sets and different networks. With Harris, the perspective encompasses a wider swath of America. The pair is stronger together, and their staffs have largely avoided friction.
As the pandemic recedes, Harris will increase her appearances around the country. She wants Americans to see in her someone like themselves — and to be assured that they are seen as well. Achieving that objective may be among her most significant contributions to this White House.