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In the News

Kamala Harris becomes first female President of the United States

Mike McCartney

21st November 2021

For 85 minutes

I am sure students of Politics will have seen this story. Well, the 85 minutes Harris was in charge of the nation as Joe Biden was under anaesthesia may well prove to be the highlight of her time in the White House.

If you didn't see the story, here is a recap according to CNN:

"President Joe Biden on Friday temporarily transferred power to Vice President Kamala Harris while he was under anesthesia for a routine colonoscopy for one hour and 25 minutes, according to the White House.

The nation's first female, first Black and first South Asian vice president broke yet another barrier when she temporarily stepped into the acting role. Harris worked from her office in the West Wing while Biden was under anesthesia, according to Psaki.

"@POTUS spoke with @VP and @WHCOS at approximately 11:35am this morning. @POTUS was in good spirits and at that time resumed his duties. He will remain at Walter Reed as he completes the rest of his routine physical," Psaki tweeted.

Biden, who turns 79 on Saturday, arrived Friday morning at Walter Reed Medical Center to undergo his first routine annual physical since taking office.

It's routine for a vice president to assume presidential powers while the president undergoes a medical procedure that requires anesthesia. Then-Vice President Dick Cheney did so on multiple occasions when then-President George W. Bush underwent routine colonoscopies."

See the full story here:

The VP is sometimes referred to as the heartbeat job, since the holder of the office is first in line to take over as President should the incumbent die. But there is more to it than that. If we go back to the early days of the United States, the office was not seen as very important. John Adams, the first Vice President declared that the role of the Vice President was “The most insignificant office that man has ever imagined”. Since, yes, there was not a great deal of power vested in the office, and in constitutional terms, there was really nothing for the veep to do other than hope the POTUS died. Even as recently as the 1970s the VP's role was not that significant. But the office assumed greater political importance in the coming decades. As the columnist John Broder once wrote of one of the subsequent holders, that is mentioned above, Dick Cheney:

"The vice presidency, a constitutional afterthought and for most of its history little more than a V.I.P. parking spot, has evolved tremendously since Nelson A. Rockefeller derided its occupant — for a brief unhappy time, himself — as “standby equipment.”Three decades after Mr. Rockefeller departed the office, Dick Cheney has transformed it into a veritable fourth branch of government. Mr. Cheney pursued his agenda across a broad range of policy, including the war in Iraq, treatment of suspected terrorists, domestic surveillance, energy and the environment. His authority at times seemed to eclipse that of President Bush.

Scholars and officials who study the office say that, in light of the power of recent vice presidents and the centralization of power in the White House, it is not enough to ask if a candidate for the office is qualified to be president. Voters must assess if he or she can handle being vice president."

The full Broder article is here:

Historically, therefore, the role of VP has not been significant until recent decades, mirroring the growth in the size and scope of the role of the executive branch. And this is where the unofficial dimensions of the office gets interesting. Al Gore as Bill Clinton’s deputy took a key role in environmental policy and reorganising government, and as Broder says, Cheney was a driving force behind America’s intervention in Iraq. So we have seen the development of a 'dual presidency' or 'co-presidency' thesis. When it comes to current POTUS, Joe Biden used his much greater experience as a member of the Senate than Barack Obama in building bridges between both ends of the avenue.

But Harris, by contrast, has not assumed anywhere near the same significance under Biden. And she is deeply unpopular.

According to the Los Angeles Times: "As of Nov. 9, 41% of registered voters had a favorable opinion of Harris and 51% had an unfavorable opinion — a net rating of -10 percentage points, according to a Times average."

How this can this be explained? So say the LA Times:

"Since taking office, Harris has been assigned one of the administration’s thorniest issues: stemming the influx of immigrants attempting to cross U.S. borders. Republicans have sought to make her the face of an issue that they believe could help them politically.

After taking on that role, Harris’ approval ratings began to decline, with unfavorable opinions surpassing favorable ones in June. Whether the decline is directly related to the immigration debate is uncertain, however, as the dip in her approval also corresponds to a small decline in President Biden’s job approval.

The dip followed an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt, where Harris bristled at a question about why she had not visited the border, triggering criticism. Comments about immigration and the United States’ southern border during visits to Mexico and Guatemala have also sparked controversy.

The decline also corresponds with studies showing that Harris, like other female politicians, has increasingly become the target of online abuse. As Harris’ stature has increased, so has the volume of sexist, violent and misogynistic attacks against her on social media, with researchers finding hundreds of thousands of examples."

In addition to this, rumours have emanated from the White House of infighting between the two camps, with Harris's team apparently furious that she has not been given a more prominent role in the Biden administration.

See the video clip below...

Oh dear

Mike McCartney

Mike is an experienced A-Level Politics teacher, author and examiner.

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