Journalist Kate Andersen Brower has interviewed Trump, Obama, Biden and many other presidents in her time covering the White House. In this exclusive dispatch, the leading CNN contributor and NY Times best-selling author predicts how Kamala will operate inside the White House
As he steps into the role of President tomorrow, Joe Biden faces the most dire circumstances since President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s inauguration in 1933 when the Great Depression ravaged the United States. With the pandemic raging and a nation divided, Biden, like Roosevelt, will offer a message of competence and hope and a plan ahead. Biden, unlike Roosevelt however will be leading with the most powerful woman in the history of the executive branch standing by his side.
Harris served as a senator and attorney general from California and she will not be shy about using one of her only tangible powers as vice president: using her vote to break tie votes in the Senate (the Senate is split 50-50). “I intend to work tirelessly as your Vice President, including, if necessary, fulfilling this Constitutional duty. At the same time, it is my hope that rather than come to the point of a tie, the Senate will instead find common ground and do the work of the American people,” she wrote in a San Francisco Chronicle op-ed on January 18.
Undoing Trump’s carnage
On Inauguration Day there will be no throngs of exuberant Americans huddled on the National Mall to cheer on Biden and Harris’s historic election. There were half-a-million people in Washington for the Women’s March in support of gender equality on President Trump’s first full day in office. There would surely be at least that many people there on Inauguration Day to celebrate Biden and the election of the first woman and the first person of colour to be elected to the role. But the pandemic has robbed us of that.
We know that the Biden administration will be wasting no time undoing Donald Trump’s agenda, including ending the travel ban on several mostly Muslim countries, rejoining the Paris climate change accord, and reuniting children who were separated from their families at the border.
And because Biden, 77, knows the vice presidency better than any sitting president since George H.W. Bush, who was Ronald Reagan’s VP, he will be turning to Harris, 56, as a true teammate. She has already played a very visible role. We have seen Harris at most of Biden’s televised events in Wilmington, Delaware, where he announced nominees and other senior staff selections during the transition.
Committed to women’s issues
When I interviewed Biden for my book First in Line: Presidents, Vice Presidents, and the Pursuit of Power, he said he wanted to “be involved in everything” when he was vice president. He wanted to be the last person in the room when President Barack Obama was facing difficult decisions. Harris clearly wants to play a key role in decision-making too and part of her strength will be offering her perspective.
“What I will do, which is what Joe wants me to do, is share my lived experience to any issue that we confront as a Black child in America, who was also a prosecutor, who also has a mother who arrived here at the age of 19 from India,” she said in a 60 Minutes interview.
We know that Harris is committed to women’s issues. The top three aides in her office are all women, the first time that has ever happened in the VP’s office. Biden’s press team is made up of women and this administration has vowed to create a White House “that looks like America.”
She is more liberal – and more in line with progressive activists than Biden and she has expressed support for legalizing marijuana on a national level, the Green New Deal, and Medicare for All, which she co-sponsored in the same-named 2017 act with Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Holding Biden accountable
When she was a senator Harris got a perfect score from NARAL an abortion rights group. As states began to severely limit access to abortions during the last four years, Harris confronted Biden during one of the Democratic primaries about his support for the Hyde Amendment which ended federal funding for abortion. The amendment has especially affected women who rely on Medicaid, a programme for low-income Americans, and women of colour.
“On the Hyde Amendment, vice president, where you made a decision for years to withhold resources to poor women to have access to reproductive health care, including women who were the victims of rape and incest, do you now say that you have evolved and you regret that?” asked Harris, the then-presidential candidate. She wanted to know why Biden had waited to change his position until he was running for the 2020 Democratic nomination. Joe Biden’s past support for the Hyde Amendment was an opportunity for Harris and other Democratic rivals to paint him as lacking in progressive credentials.
She spoke her mind again when Brett Kavanaugh was being questioned during hearings before his appointment to the Supreme Court in 2018. At the hearing Harris was one of the most effective interrogators.
“Can you think of any laws that give government the power to make decisions about the male body?” she asked. After a few seconds he said, “I’m not thinking of any right now, Senator.” This is a woman who is not afraid to speak her mind.
The future is female
The women surrounding Biden, who are led by Harris, will be the game changers in this White House. They will show Biden, a white man who has been in politics for decades, the challenges they have faced both on issues of gender discrimination, racial discrimination, and the troubling and persistent pay inequality between genders and races in the U.S. Harris will amplify their voices and she will do it using her own personal experience. We have never had a vice president who can so powerfully speak to these inequities because this is the first time we have had a vice president who has lived through them.
* Kate Andersen Brower is a CNN contributor and the author of First Women: The Grace and Power of America’s Modern First Ladies, Team Of Five: The Presidents Club in the Age of Trump, First in Line: Presidents, Vice Presidents and the Pursuit of Power, and The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House. Her most recent book is for children, Exploring the White House: Inside America’s Most Famous Home. She has covered the Obama White House for Bloomberg News and is a former CBS News staffer and Fox News producer. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, Vanity Fair, and the Washington Post. Her book The Residence has been optioned by Shonda Rhimes for Netflix.