It's a Pivotal Week in Harris' 'Fraught, Fascinating' Tenure

All political eyes on the vice president as she heads to Guatemala and Mexico
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 7, 2021 9:34 AM CDT
Much Is at Stake for Kamala Harris in First Big Trip
Vice President Kamala Harris waves goodbye prior boarding Air Force Two at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Sunday, June 6, 2021, en route to Guatemala City.   (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Kamala Harris has embarked on her first foreign trip as vice president, though things got off to a bumpy start. Her plane out of Joint Base Andrews had to turn back after 30 minutes because of an unspecified "technical issue" on Sunday, reports the AP. Harris, though, boarded a second plane and has since landed in Guatemala City. Now comes the hard part of trying to put a dent in the number of migrants heading north to the US—and, in the bigger picture, navigating an especially complicated political terrain. Coverage:

  • The trip: Harris visits Guatemala on Monday and Mexico on Tuesday, all part of her mandate as VP to ease the immigration crisis. She'll be focusing on what officials have called "root issues" behind the surge, including corruption. The latter "really does sap the the wealth of any country, and in Central America is at a scale where it is a large percentage of GDP across the region,” says special envoy Ricardo Zuniga.

  • The map: A look at a map shows why Guatemala is key, notes USA Today. Migrants from El Salvador and Honduras to the south must pass through Guatemala on their way to Mexico and the US border. Plus, the US has better relations with Guatemala than with the other two nations in what's known as the Northern Triangle.
  • The risk: An analysis by Lisa Lerer in the New York Times wonders whether Harris is "drawing the shortest straws in the White House." Because she's not only leading the White House mission on immigration but on voting-rights reform. Both "are politically fraught problems with no easy solutions," and Lerer digs into the details. The rewards are great if Harris succeeds, but failure puts her political future—including a possible 2024 run—in jeopardy because her critics love to pile on. Is "Biden setting up Kamala Harris for failure in 2024," asks a headline on an op-ed in USA Today by Peter Funt.
  • The criticism: For a sample of how Harris' critics on the right already are pouncing, see this column by Charles Cooke in the National Review. He calls Harris a "phony" under a headline of "The Democrats Have a Kamala Harris Problem." Cooke predicts Democratic regret in the near future. "By 2024, Republicans may well be politically ascendant—and, if they are, the Democrats are going to wish that they hadn’t allowed a dud such as Kamala Harris to become the most vibrant face of their brand."
  • The dilemma: Harris "can't win," writes Frank Bruni in the New York Times. "She confronts the confines in which a vice president has to operate on top of the similar confines in which Black people and women in positions of power are often expected to operate," he writes. "It’s a Goldilocks double or even triple whammy. Too strong a voice and you’re stepping outside of your place. Too soft a voice and you’re timidly failing to rise to the occasion." All in all, he adds, "this is one fraught, fascinating vice presidency."
  • Summing up: In an analysis at CNN, Stephen Collinson goes over much of the above. "Neither the immigration nor the voting rights assignments offer much promise for success," he writes. "But they are an opportunity for Harris to create her own White House legacy—and will test her skills and qualifications for the one executive office higher than the one she already holds."
(More Kamala Harris stories.)

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