His work — and that of the administration as a whole — hit a brick wall on Friday, as two moderate Senate Democrats said they would not support weakening House rules to pass the two party’s electoral reform priorities. It left Harris in a now familiar place: stuck and with an uncertain path forward.
Harris aides and advisers say she couldn’t resist the setback. They view her more aggressive posture and increasingly public persona as an implied sign that she has cemented her position in the White House. The allies argue that she finally has a chance to succeed after previous misuse.
“When you’re vice president, you really can’t walk out in front of the White House,” said Bakari Sellers, a friend of the vice president and one of his most vocal supporters. “It’s tough. But with the president actually being forceful in nature and not sitting on his filibuster stance on this issue, it gives him the tools to succeed and that’s the only concern I’ve ever raised. You want to make sure she’s not handicapped.”
Still, the failure — so far — to push through voting rights legislation raises questions about the real effectiveness of Harris’ push. A person familiar with the administration’s thinking argued that substantial progress had been made even in the absence of legislation. “If you think back to the start of this year, there were very few Senate Democrats who supported this filibuster action. To the right? Today, it’s basically two people who don’t. This is a significant change,” the person said.
Harris and the administration are expected to continue pushing for legislative progress in addition to meeting with key stakeholders. A White House official said Harris’ team is developing plans for next steps and public and private engagements for Harris are being discussed.
When asked on Friday what the next step would be on suffrage, Harris told reporters, “Well, we keep fighting. We are committed to seeing this through for as long as it takes and at whatever cost.” She noted that she had, today, “meetings and in-depth discussions about how we can carry it out.”
The rise of voting rights to the top of the administration’s agenda comes at a time of transition for his office, with a batch of aides departing and new entrants. Privately, there had been disagreements among staff over how much public presence the VP might have had in the early months, with some aides worried that Harris’ low profile could allow a narrative to form. around her that she was adrift and struggling with her portfolio items, chief among them dealing with the flow of migrants from countries in the Northern Triangle of Central America.
His recent activity has emboldened activists inside and outside Washington, D.C., many of whom felt President Joe Biden had not focused enough on the issue of suffrage as he prioritized a bipartisan infrastructure law and a social and climate spending bill.
“I’ve been very clear about the distinction. I have nothing negative to say about Vice President Harris, I think it has to fall into Biden’s lap, he’s the president. All my conversations with her: I think she was very clear [that] she saw this as a fundamental and important issue,” said LaTosha Brown, co-founder of Black Voters Matter, who, despite being based in Atlanta, chose not to attend Biden-Harris’ speech earlier this week. . “And so, I’m not letting Biden off the hook. Because first, isn’t Biden the one who came to the table with the Senate experience, four decades in the Senate?
But Harris’ elevated role has also pushed her into a legislative initiative that’s seemingly going nowhere. In an interview on Thursday, she made an impassioned plea for suffrage legislation, pointing the finger at Republicans and members of her own party for blocking changes to Senate rules to pass simple majority electoral reform.
“I don’t think anyone should be absolved of the responsibility to preserve and protect our democracy, especially when they’ve taken an oath to protect and defend our Constitution,” she said when asked. specifically whether Sen. Joe Manchin (DW.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona) were responsible for the lack of motion on voting rights.
The direct appeal from the two moderate Democrats did not stray far from the rhetoric the White House itself deployed. But he turned heads nonetheless, hours before the Senate is considering changing its rules to pass voting reforms. When Biden went to speak to the Senate Democratic caucus about the filibuster’s reform push, he went alone. And when he met with Manchin and Sinema Thursday night after they each reiterated they weren’t moving, Harris didn’t attend the meeting.
White House aides cautioned against reading about Harris’ absence, noting Biden’s ongoing relationship with the two senators over the past year of meetings and negotiations over his other priorities. They said the fact that the president empowered Harris to lead the franchise in the first place is proof that he appreciates her and her. “[Biden and Harris] see voting rights in the eye,” Deputy Press Secretary Andrew Bates said in an email, which Harris’ team reiterated.
“They showed they were a team there. The [aren’t] degrees of separation,” said Melanie Campbell, president and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation. “You get one president at a time. [It’s important it’s seen] as a single administration. Whatever happens, his role is high in that as well.”
Yet Harris’ final weeks on the voting rights front have become, to some extent, a microcosm of her time as vice president: a period defined by high points, misadventures, public dramas, private work and a touch of political misfortune.
Although Harrisworld fears it will take the blame from the press if the suffrage legislation ultimately fails to pass the Senate, it is not universally shared. Allies point out that the broader civil rights community is pleased with Harris’ work and say the problem is not a lack of effort, but the intractability of moderate Democrats on filibuster reform alongside lack of Republican support. This time the thought goes, others will take the fall.
“She got the job done,” Sellers said. “This [is] on Manchin and Sinema and their intellectual dishonesty on the history of our country.
Laura Barron Lopez contributed to this report.