Vice President Kamala Harris is back in Washington as she and her team try to perform some damage control after her first foreign trip proved to be an abject failure and a media disaster.
The spectacle of a politician in over her head was painful to watch. We should take no joy in watching our vice president, the next person in line for the presidency should anything happen to Joe Biden, flail about like a fish out of water. It was an embarrassment for the United States and a PR headache for the White House.
An op-ed in the Chicago Tribune summed it up: “Kamala Harris Interview Leads to Wish For Biden Longevity.”
The purpose of the vice president’s trip was planned ostensibly to get her feet wet in foreign policy. Send her to Guatemala and Honduras — no place really important — and have her get a feel for the job, the president’s aides must have been thinking.
Instead, she bollixed it up royally.
White House officials are said to be “perplexed” at Harris’s performance in front of the media. After all, she’s supposed to be a seasoned politician. Surely she should have done better with the media. Her response to the question of why she hasn’t visited the border yet — “I haven’t been to Europe, either” — was so bad that even Lester Holt, the NBC reporter interviewing her, was shocked.
Policy-wise, her trip may have done more harm than good. Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei sat down with journalist Sara Carter and complained of “mixed messaging” from the U.S.
Giammattei told Carter that people are leaving Guatemala and being taken advantage of by the ruthless cartels and human trafficking “coyotes”, in part because of mixed messaging from the United States.
“He pushed back against the Biden administration… He said this border crisis is one of your own making. Don’t put the blame on us,” Carter recalled.
Giammattei said the U.S. should be clearer in its messaging, and that humanitarian messages have routinely been “distorted” by coyotes to flood the border with unaccompanied minors – and benefit financially in the process.
“Mixed messaging” is the same as “incompetence,” isn’t it?
When even CNN headlines its analysis of Harris’s foray with “Kamala Harris’ rocky first foreign trip,” you understand why the Biden team is “perplexed.”
Her shaky handling of the politics around the immigration issue drew new questions about her political dexterity both as vice president and as a future aspirant for the White House, because the trip this week was her first test at the highest levels of statecraft.
The right-wing media is trying to portray Harris as hopelessly inept when it comes to matters at the border — and she gave them an opening by appearing to try to distance herself from the problems there. The awkwardness of her answer to Holt came to dominate the storyline about her trip, leading to questions about her preparedness and sexist critiques of her readiness to take on these challenges. It also overshadowed her substantive answers about policy in the Northern Triangle and the intensive, hands-on efforts that she is making to dig deeply into the subject as she tries to shape the strategy for the region.
In other words, she gets an “A” for effort even if her incompetence is making the situation worse.
Despite the lowly status of the vice presidency in general, Harris’s dismal performance takes on an extra added urgency. Simply put, she’s not ready. Will she ever be ready?
Or is that “sexist” of me to ask?