The Corner


Flop Sweat: Kamala Harris Runs from the Border

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at the virtual Washington Conference on the Americas in Washington, May 4, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

It really requires a heart of stone not to laugh uproariously at today’s report from CNN by Priscilla Alvarez and Natasha Bertrand entitled “Vice President Harris’ team tries to distance her from fraught situation at the border”:

In the weeks since the President asked her to take charge of immigration from Central America, Vice President Kamala Harris and her staff have sought to make one thing clear: She does not manage the southern border. Two White House officials familiar with the dynamic said Harris and her aides have emphasized internally that they want to focus on conditions in Central America that push migrants to the US southern border, as President Joe Biden tasked her to do. . . . Biden announced Harris’ new assignment on March 24 . . . telling reporters that he had asked the vice president “because she’s the most qualified person to do it, to lead our efforts with Mexico and the Northern Triangle, and the countries that can help, need help in stemming the movement of so many folks, stemming the migration to our southern border.” After the announcement, Harris’ aides appeared to “panic,” according to one of the officials, out of concern that her assignment was being mischaracterized and could be politically damaging if she were linked to the border, which at the time was facing a growing number of arrivals. But another White House official pushed back on the sentiment, saying the vice president’s team wasn’t panicked.

Standard cautions about anonymously sourced journalism apply here, but the frantic effort to disassociate Harris from what Biden said she’d be doing is consistent with White House press secretary Jen Psaki’s “clarifying” about Harris’s role in late April “that her focus is not on the border” but “on addressing the root causes in the Northern Triangle,” as well as being consistent with Harris refusing to visit the border (allegedly due to “COVID issues” or the risk of disruption of a vice presidential visit) and going 69 days without holding a press conference since Biden’s announcement. The CNN report says that Harris is trying to avoid responsibility for pretty much exactly the reasons you’d expect:

One of the officials said Harris appears eager for a portfolio that will allow her to achieve political victories, especially in foreign policy, an area where she is far less experienced than Biden. Instead, Republican critics and the media have portrayed her new immigration role as a border assignment, potentially opening her up to criticism for the handling of the seemingly intractable problem.

The Democratic Party sure has come a long way from “the buck stops here.” This administration is visibly desperate to avoid images of what is happening at the border, to the point of blocking congressional Republicans from investigating firsthand the conditions in which migrants are being held. Harris clearly wants to be able to just organize a list of résumé-building “accomplishments,” rather than be judged on whether those things actually have any tangible results:

Harris and her staff have made it clear that they want to focus narrowly on diplomatic efforts in Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, where they believe they are more likely to achieve tangible results in addressing the root causes of migration, like economic despair, said the officials. The recent commitments Harris secured from 12 private companies and organizations to invest in the Northern Triangle are one example.

But fixing “the root causes” of why people would rather live in America than Honduras is, itself, hardly a modest task. This is nation-building: an effort to change the economic and social conditions of a place that has been unable to make those changes itself. Our efforts over the past century at nation-building in many corners of the world have been spotty at best even when we have a significant “boots on the ground” presence of the U.S. military, let alone by just lining up a handful of donors and investors. As things currently stand, we can’t even create conditions that stop people from fleeing California, Illinois, and New York, but Harris thinks we can do it for El Salvador? No wonder she and her aides, already grappling with her manifest unpopularity, really do not want to have her measured against any yardstick beyond just showing up for work — and at the border, she won’t even do that.



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