In the three weeks since President Biden tapped Ms. Harris to take charge of the migrant crisis, the vice president has avoided traveling to the border region, let alone holding a press conference about the thorny issue.
“Where is Kamala? (hint: still not at the border),” tweeted former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley.
Asked about Ms. Harris’ role this week, the White House seemed to go out of its way to credit others in the administration for an agreement with Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala to set up more security personnel at their borders to slow migration.
“As with any diplomatic discussion, these discussions happen at several levels,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki. “We have an envoy who has discussions with the region. We’ve had [border coordinator] Roberta Jacobson working for a period of time to help have these discussions with the region about what steps can be taken to help reduce the number of migrants who are coming to the U.S.-Mexico border.”
Ms. Harris did speak last week with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and “thanked [him] for his cooperation on migration issues,” the White House said. She also provided an update on U.S. humanitarian aid in Central America and in late March spoke by phone with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei.
The vice president’s first public event Tuesday was a White House event devoted to Black maternal health. Ms. Harris used the forum first to speak about the fatal police shooting of a 20-year-old Black man, Daunte Wright, in Minnesota over the weekend.
“Folks will keep dying if we don’t fully address racial injustice and inequities in our country, from implicit bias to broken systems,” the vice president said.
“Black women in our country are facing a maternal health crisis. Black women are two to three times more likely to die in connection with childbirth than other women,” she said. “We know the primary reasons why: systemic racial inequities and implicit bias.”
She said the administration is budgeting $30 million this year for “implicit bias training for health care providers” and called on elected officials at “every level everywhere” to address the problem.
“It cannot be for Black women alone to fight for their rights and to fight for their dignity,” Ms. Harris said.
Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers from border states are accusing the vice president of making a halfhearted effort to address the surge of migrants.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, California Republican, last week requested a classified briefing on two Yemeni terrorism suspects caught at the border and suggested that Ms. Harris attend. He said she “could benefit” from a briefing.
“No press conference. No trip to the border. No plan. No transparency,” tweeted Rep. Andy Biggs, Arizona Republican. “The epitome of incompetence.”
Some are even claiming her inattention is deliberate.
Rep. Ronny Jackson, Texas Republican, said “a few ‘phone calls’ with foreign leaders ain’t going to cut it.”
“Why hasn’t Vice President Kamala Harris visited the border yet?” Mr. Jackson tweeted. “She WANTS the crisis to continue — it’s more Democrat voters for her 2024 Presidential campaign!”
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich agreed with that theory.
“They want the border to be open,” he said this week on “Fox and Friends.” “Go back and look at the presidential primary debates. They are all in favor of open borders. They are all in favor of eliminating ICE. They are all in favor of eliminating any threat to sanctuary cities.”
With Republicans viewing Ms. Harris as the likely successor to Mr. Biden, they are also eager to link her as closely as possible — and on video — with an issue that they consider a political loser for this administration.
Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich has invited Ms. Harris to take a tour of the border this month. “You have to see and smell and feel the circumstances of people to really understand them,” he told the vice president.
At an event in Edinburg, Texas, last week, Rep. Burgess Owens, Utah Republican, called on the White House to take charge of the crisis more visibly.
Sen. Marsha Blackburn, Tennessee Republican, tweeted on Monday, “Madame VP, why the sudden silence about kids in cages?”
Rep. Lauren Boebert, Colorado Republican, said of the situation, “Kamala’s border assignment is simple: Keep the new voters coming.” She sent a fundraising email to supporters Tuesday saying Mr. Biden is “practically sending [migrants] an invitation to break the law, empower dangerous cartels, and make the dangerous trek across our southern border.”
The vice president’s office didn’t return a request for comment.
Asked recently whether he was concerned that the public hadn’t heard much from Ms. Harris about the border, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said, “No, but she’s a very capable person, a thoughtful person and somebody who I think is very, very capable of coming up with solutions.”
Mr. Biden said this week that when he served as vice president to President Obama, he asked to be “the last person with the president before big decisions were made.” He said Ms. Harris is “providing the same counsel to me.”
“She’s the last voice in the room and never fails to speak the truth as we work to build our nation back better,” Mr. Biden posted on Twitter.
Still, some Democrats do not always give the nation’s first female vice president the traditional respect due her office, and her team has noticed.
At an event promoting COVID-19 vaccinations in Silver Spring, Maryland, late last month, the vice president’s spouse, Doug Emhoff, received an enthusiastic welcome from Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Democrat who represents the district where the event was held.
“Hope has arrived,” Mr. Raskin said. Turning to Mr. Emhoff, whom he called “the second gentleman,” Mr. Raskin said, “And will you send our greetings to Kamala Harris? We all love her.”
“The vice president?” Mr. Emhoff asked with a smile. “I’ll tell her you said hi.”
On illegal immigration, Ms. Psaki said the administration is focused on the “root causes” of migration from Central America. Without examining it, she said, “we are going to see the same cycle of rushes to the border year after year, as we have seen in 2014, in 2018, in 2019.
“We’re going to look to how we can work with these countries through diplomatic means,” she said. “The president has also proposed $4 billion in assistance and aid through his immigration package. And, of course, the vice president and our diplomats will be engaged with these countries to determine how we can best help to prevent these rushes at the border in the future. We’re talking about how we address this over the long term and how we … disincentivize travel over the long term to the border.”
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