A Lifeboat for Kamala Harris
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
Could Kamala Harris become a truly radical vice president, meaning one who would restore the highest office in the Senate to its original constitutional concept? We ask because of the reports that the relationship between her and President Biden has collapsed and become what, according to Cable News Network, West Wing aides are calling “entrenched dysfunction.” Opportunity knocks, we say.
At the outset of this editorial let us confess that had we been Joe Biden — a stretch to be sure — we wouldn’t have tapped for vice president the woman who’d stood next to us at a Democratic debate and suggested that we were a racist. Then again, too, had we been Kamala Harris — another stretch — we wouldn’t have wanted to be the running mate to a man about whom we felt the need to say such horrible things.
What were either one of them thinking? Now they seem to be caught in a destructive relationship in which, CNN reports, “the exasperation runs both ways.” Its sources call it a “complex relationship.” The way the New York Post encapsulated CNN’s long dispatch is that “despite their public show of unity, Biden and his right-hand woman have a dysfunctional relationship that has reached an ‘exhausted stalemate.’”
Our own suggestion is that Ms. Harris should quit. We don’t mean that she should resign the vice presidency. On the contrary, she should quit the White House. The thing for her to remember is that — constitutionally — the vice president doesn’t report to the president. The vice president can’t be fired by the president. She can’t even be told what to do. She was elected in her own right.
The fact is that in some technical sense it’s not clear whether she is even part of the executive branch. We grasp that there are differences of opinion on this head. Her one constitutional assignment, though, is as president of the Senate, where she has the not-so-insignificant power to break ties. One would think that in a divided Senate in which each party has 50 seats, she could make quite an impact.
So the logic, in our view, is for her to pack up her desk in the Executive Office Building and the other desk in the West Wing, pick up her brief case, get in her limo, and go to the Senate. It happens that one of the stateliest offices in Washington, known as the vice president’s room, is always there for her. She could then send a note to Mr. Biden (and the newspapers) letting them know that she’s moved her base of operations.
It would probably be a relief for both of them. Mr. Biden would have her out of his hair, and she would be done with the indignity that attaches to a vice president having to do the political equivalent of fetching coffee for a president to whom she doesn’t even report. That seems particularly undignified for the first woman to hold the office of vice president. And she apparently senses that herself.
So why not spend most of her time on the Hill, trying to bring the Senate together. Understand, we’re not endorsing her, or Mr. Biden’s, or the Democrats’ policy points. We’re with Senators Manchin and Sinema and our columnist Larry Kudlow. Were Ms. Harris meeting with senators and trying to find a way forward in the famed legislative saucer, at least she would be doing something the constitution anticipates.
Much as we disagree with Ms. Harris, we feel for her the kind of sympathy we’ve felt for John Adams. He held what his biographer James Grant calls the “first federal leaf-raking job.” The first vice was so besotted with President Washington that Adams would mutter about how he felt “a great difficulty as to how to act. I am vice president, yes. And in this I am nothing.” Then he would brighten, “I may be everything.”
It was Vice President Nixon who is most often thought of as the first “modern” vice president. The Veep’s office was moved in the 1950s to the Executive Office Building. The vice presidency has been downhill ever since. So we say in respect of Ms. Harris what we said, in 2016, as the GOP began to realize Donald Trump was going to be president but others were reluctant to be his vice. What we said — in “The Radical Vice President” — was go for it but, in office, stand apart.
We haven’t yet had the chance to ask Vice President Pence about all this. He was, in our view, a magnificent vice president, but he — and the Republic — would have been better served had he based himself on the Hill. In the end, he proved to be one of the most courageous vice presidents in history. He showed the importance of the constitutional independence of the office Ms. Harris now holds.
Image: Drawing by Menachem Wecker. Correction: The 1950s was when the vice president took offices in the Executive Office Building; the date was garbled in the bulldog.