Kamala Harris sidelined amid growing tensions with Biden, insiders say

Vice President Kamala Harris feels increasingly isolated inside the White House as her approval ratings plummet — with the first female veep believing she’s not getting the same support given to other members of the Biden administration, according to a detailed new report.

“It’s hard to miss the specific energy that the White House brings to defend a white man, knowing that Kamala Harris has spent almost a year taking a lot of the hits that the West Wing didn’t want to take themselves,” a former Harris aide told CNN, which based its report on interviews with nearly three dozen insiders. 

The ex-staffer was referring to the Biden administration springing to defend Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg for taking paternity leave amid the global supply chain crisis. Buttigieg is considered a potential challenger to Harris for the Democratic presidential nomination either in 2024 or 2028.

Despite their public show of unity, Biden and his right-hand woman have a dysfunctional relationship that has reached an “exhausted stalemate,” according the network.

At a time when the president would usually be expected to promote his vice president as a future replacement, Biden has instead been sidelining Harris as a potential liability, the report said. 

For their part, Harris’ allies are reportedly frustrated with the president for dumping politically fraught issues in her lap — including, infamously, the ongoing illegal immigration crisis at the US-Mexico border. “They’re consistently sending her out there on losing issues in the wrong situations for her skill set,” summed up one former top Harris aide to CNN. 

Other aides say the vice president should have asked for better-defined responsibilities at the start of the administration, but has not done so out of fear of appearing disloyal to the president.

In March, Biden announced that Harris would lead the administration’s talks with Mexico and Central American countries about slowing the tide of migrants crossing the US border. 

However, with the exception of a rocky visit to Mexico and Guatemala in early June and a brief trip to El Paso at the end of that month, Harris has largely avoided the issue in public. Last month — while Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Attorney General Merrick Garland and Homeland Security chief Alejandro Mayorkas met with their Mexican counterparts about the issue — Harris was in New Jersey to promote Biden’s multitrillion-dollar social spending bill.

Insiders told CNN the West Wing has been especially bothered by Harris’ handling of the border issue. The veep’s trip to Mexico and Guatemala was overshadowed by a disastrous interview with NBC News anchor Lester Holt, in which Harris responded to Holt by noting that she hadn’t yet been to the frontier region by chuckling and joking: “And I haven’t been to Europe.”

Immigration advocates have also expressed disappointment with Harris. Fernando García, executive director of Border Network for Human Rights, told CNN that he was optimistic Harris would take action, but she instead just “disappeared.”

“We haven’t heard any substantive messaging push for better immigration policies,” he told CNN. “We haven’t seen her leadership.”

CNN reported that those close to Harris are miffed at the White House for, in their view, failing to mount a stronger defense of the vice president over the Holt interview. However, Biden aides were similarly silent when Harris inflicted her own political wounds by sending a tweet the Saturday before Memorial Day telling Americans to “[e]njoy the long weekend” while making no mention of honoring the country’s war dead — as well as when she told a college student who claimed Israel was committing “ethnic genocide” that “your truth should not be suppressed.”

The outlet also reported that Harris did not attend most of the meetings Biden held with members of Congress as he attempted to secure passage of the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill. At one point on Nov. 5, with the White House attempting to lock down crucial votes, Harris visited a NASA facility in suburban Maryland. 

Eleni Kounalakis, the lieutenant governor of California and a longtime friend of Harris, confirmed there is irritation.

“It is natural that those of us who know her know how much more helpful she can be than she is currently being asked to be,” she told CNN. “That’s where the frustration is coming from.”

The CNN report is not the first time Harris has been the focus of DC whispers. At the end of June, Politico reported that her office was “chaotic” with a “tense and at times dour” atmosphere.“

“People are thrown under the bus from the very top, there are short fuses and it’s an abusive environment,” one source told the outlet at the time. “It’s not a healthy environment and people often feel mistreated. It’s not a place where people feel supported but a place where people feel treated like s—.”

That report suggested that efforts by Harris’ chief of staff, Tina Flournoy, to shield the VP from criticism had instead led to Flournoy dismissing or ignoring staff ideas, refusing to delegate responsibility, unnecessarily prolonging decisions, and shifting the blame for negative outcomes.

On Sunday, Flournoy denied being one of those taking sides against her boss.

“If someone is accusing me of being loyal to Joe Biden, I’ll take that. If someone is accusing me of being disloyal to Kamala Harris, I won’t take that,” Flournoy told CNN. “She doesn’t believe there is a conflict between being loyal to her and being loyal to Joe Biden.”

Harris’ spokeswoman Symone Sanders also dismissed insiders’ griping.

“It is unfortunate that after a productive trip to France in which we reaffirmed our relationship with America’s oldest ally and demonstrated US leadership on the world stage, and following passage of a historic, bipartisan infrastructure bill that will create jobs and strengthen our communities, some in the media are focused on gossip — not on the results that the president and the vice president have delivered,” Sanders said.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki joined the defense of Harris Sunday night, tweeting: “For anyone who needs to hear it. @VP is not only a vital partner to @POTUS but a bold leader who has taken on key, important challenges facing the country—from voting rights to addressing root causes of migration to expanding broadband.”

The revelations emerged days after a USA Today/Suffolk University poll showed Biden with an approval rating of 37.8 percent, a new low for the president. However, Harris’ approval rating was 10 points lower, at 27.8 percent.