Vice President Harris has found herself at the center of multiple key policy pushes and national debates in recent weeks, giving her a significant platform as she and President Biden ready a reelection campaign.
Harris became the highest-ranking Biden administration official to visit Africa when she traveled to the continent late last month. Last week, she made a quickly arranged trip to Nashville after two Black Democrats were expelled from the state legislature for engaging in gun violence protests.
And Harris has again found herself as the administration’s leading voice on protecting reproductive rights in the face of a judge’s ruling against a popular abortion drug and a Florida ban on the procedure after six weeks of pregnancy.
“I’ve been thrilled to see her in the spotlight on these two issues in particular over the past couple of weeks here. And it makes sense as we’re really starting to focus on the reelection campaign here,” said David Thomas, a Democratic strategist who was an aide to then-Vice President Al Gore.
“These are two issues, guns and abortion, that are really such stark contrasts between Democrats and Republicans, and the fact she’s out there being really active on these outside of Washington, D.C., is exactly where she should be,” Thomas added.
The vice president stepped into the foreign policy spotlight late last month when she traveled to Ghana, Tanzania and Zambia as part of a week-long trip to Africa. Harris’s presence was intended to reiterate the Biden administration’s commitment to the continent, and it was backed up by billions of dollars in government and private sector investments in bolstering economic opportunities for women and efforts to adapt to the changing climate.
The trip also took on a personal tone for Harris, who is the first African American woman to serve as vice president. After touring an old slave trading post in Ghana, she delivered somber remarks about the need to remember history and learn from it.
Upon returning to the U.S., Harris quickly found herself at the center of a major national news story when she flew to Nashville with little notice to meet with the “Tennessee Three,” a trio of state lawmakers who were targeted for expulsion because of protests over gun violence on the state House floor following a school shooting.
Former government officials were particularly impressed with how rapidly the trip came together, as Harris was on the ground speaking with lawmakers in Tennessee within 24 hours of the expulsion votes.
This week, Harris has reprised her role as the White House’s leading voice on the issue of reproductive rights, with key developments over access to abortion playing out in the courts and statehouses.
A federal judge invalidated the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) approval of mifepristone, a popular abortion medication, in a decision the Justice Department appealed to the Supreme Court, which issued a temporary stay on Friday afternoon.
Meanwhile, in Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis, a potential 2024 GOP presidential candidate, signed into law a ban on abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, though many women do not yet know they are pregnant by that point. Advocates have expressed concern that the Florida law will drastically limit abortion access across the South.
Harris on Wednesday hosted a meeting of the White House’s task force on reproductive health care to discuss ways to protect patient privacy. On Saturday, she appeared at a Los Angeles rally in support of reproductive rights.
On Tuesday, she will travel to Nevada for an event with actress Rosario Dawson and Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve to discuss how the fight for abortion access impacts young Americans.
“Let us clearly understand the moment we are in: a moment in which our hard-won freedoms are under attack,” Harris told a crowd of supporters Friday at the National Action Network’s convention.
A spokesperson for Harris stressed that the vice president has been active in addressing gun violence and abortion access throughout the Biden administration, noting her response to a shooting in Highland Park, Ill., and her visit to Buffalo, N.Y., after a shooting at a grocery store.
The recent stretch in the spotlight has been notable for Harris, who frequently attracts scrutiny from Republicans, particularly over her role as the White House’s point person on addressing migration from Central America.
Conservatives have repeatedly zeroed in on the influx of migrants at the southern border, placing the blame on Harris and questioning whether she’s qualified for the job.
Among Democrats, Harris’s performance has at times sparked speculation about whether Biden should consider picking a different running mate for 2024 — or if Democrats would unite behind Harris should Biden opt not to run for a second term. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) made waves in January when she was asked if Harris should remain Biden’s running mate and said she’d defer to Biden.
A March 21 survey from Monmouth University found Harris with a 36 percent approval rating, 5 percentage points lower than Biden’s in the same poll. The vice president’s approval rating in that poll among Democrats was 76 percent, 10 percentage points lower than Biden’s with the same group.
Biden and his team have repeatedly voiced public support for Harris, and some Democratic strategists and Harris allies believe the vice president has shown she can be a valuable asset when she is outside of Washington, discussing issues such as gun violence and abortion, which have proven to be key drivers of turnout for the party.
Rev. Al Sharpton, a leading civil rights activist, welcomed Harris on Friday as a keynote speaker at the National Action Network’s convention in New York, hailing her as a symbolically and substantively important politician and comparing the vice president to the Biblical figure Esther.
“She was built for this. She was born for this. She was raised for this. She can take every shot you shoot, because she’s been through shots worse than this,” Sharpton said. “She’s tough enough, she’s strong enough.”