© 2024 Allbritton Journalism Institute
President Joe Biden hugs Vice President Kamala Harris during a campaign event at Girard College.
Evan Vucci/AP

‘Her Future Is Intertwined With His’: How Kamala Harris Is Approaching Her Most Pivotal Stretch With Biden

Those close to Harris contend that the best strategy for the historic politician with presidential ambitions is to stay close to Biden, have his back and wait for whatever comes next.

Evan Vucci/AP

Vice President Kamala Harris has buckled in for the long haul, doubling down on being President Joe Biden’s partner as he faces the potential collapse of his reelection campaign, people close to her told NOTUS.

That’s even as the political winds turned apocalyptic for Biden, with Democrats now openly questioning if he should be on the ticket following his disastrous debate. And some have begun publicly floating her name as his replacement, a 180-turn from the fraught first two years of her vice presidency.

“Harris is looking to be a team player. Her future is intertwined with his future,” said a Democratic operative close to the campaign. “It is either him or her. There is no other option.”

Those close to Harris contend that the best strategy for the historic politician with presidential ambitions is to continue to stay close to Biden, have his back and wait for whatever comes next.

“Her team feels as if they gotta stay the course. She is so tied to him,” said one lawmaker close to the White House. “There’s nothing she should say until there’s something to say.”

Harris staffers were instructed Monday not to engage in anything close to fueling chatter about a “West Wing”-esque swap, though one person present said that staff didn’t need the reminder — they were fully committed to supporting the full Biden-Harris ticket. And Harris’ own loyalty is genuine, another person said: “Knowing her, Kamala will be the last person off this train.”

There’s caution among outside allies not to do anything that could be perceived as opportunistic.

“The sure death fire for her, is any of her people pushing her as a replacement because it would be perceived as disloyal, when they need loyalty more than anything right now,” said one donor who spoke with NOTUS. “She would be furious if her people started pushing that narrative.”

The vice president joined Biden for a campaign all-staff call on Wednesday, where the president said he’s “in this race to the end,” according to a source familiar.

Harris, the source said, echoed his words: “We will not back down. We will follow our president’s lead. We will fight, and we will win.”

Her strategy was evident when the vice president privately met with a handful of high-profile Black celebrities in Los Angeles over the weekend. Harris took in some tough questions, particularly on the debate and the president’s aptitude, a person present told NOTUS.

Asked if Biden was going to stay in, the vice president answered unequivocally: Yes, he is our nominee.

Meeting with the actors Octavia Spencer, Yvette Nicole Brown, Robin Thede, rapper 2 Chainz and music producer Jermaine Dupri among others, Harris stuck close to her talking points, maintaining her loyalty and mirroring the fiery rebuttal to Donald Trump she delivered post-debate.

Brown said the group spoke about their fears and concerns, with no question off the table. Some asked why Harris wasn’t more visible, to which she responded that her events aren’t always well-covered by the media. Many in the room were surprised as she rattled off things she had accomplished in office with the president’s support.

“The antidote to whatever is buzzing around is for us to see Vice President Harris more and hear her speak about the Joe Biden she knows and why she got on the ticket,” Brown said, adding that people left the party committed to Harris and ready to amplify her in any way possible. “I believe she has always been his secret weapon.”

But the vice president has maintained a relatively low profile for a person who could become the first Black woman Democratic nominee.

“They don’t want her to look like she’s taking advantage of the situation,” one person close to the campaign explained.

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks as his running mate Sen. Kamala Harris listens.
Carolyn Kaster/AP

During campaign events on Saturday, one person who saw her up close said she was “upbeat, funny” and wasn’t fretting — “at least not publicly.”

And on Tuesday in San Francisco, Harris publicly swatted away any notion that she could replace Biden after Democrats began to break from the president, kicked off by the first Democratic congressman to call on him to withdraw and break with the president.

“I am proud to be Joe Biden’s running mate,” Harris told a reporter.

The former prosecutor attended a handful of prescheduled fundraisers across the West Coast, where she sought to assure restless donors that Biden was capable of leading. She addressed what she called “two elephants in the room” — the debate and Trump — to tepid laughter while in San Francisco, according to a pool report.

“The debate, as the president said, not his finest hour. We all know that,” she said, according to the report. But she repeated that the election cannot be decided by “one day in June.”

The momentum began to turn in the vice president’s favor despite her attempts to show her fidelity.

Former Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan published an op-ed on Monday calling for Harris to be the Democratic nominee and then took to the networks to make his case.

“You put in Kamala Harris, she’s going to energize young people. She’s gonna energize those different minority groups and different minority communities,” Ryan said on CBS News. “She’ll destroy Trump in a debate.”

A CNN poll pitting Harris against Trump put her 2 percentage points behind him, whereas Biden trailed the former president by 6 points in a matchup. The poll, released Tuesday, also showed Harris’ strength with non-white voters — she was 29 points ahead of Trump, while Biden was 21 points ahead — and winning with independents.

It was a whipsaw change from over the weekend, when she was initially left out of many discussions of who could replace Biden to the annoyance of many of her allies, particularly Black women who feel Harris is often slighted due to her gender and race. It’s not that they believe Biden will drop out — most don’t — but they said it was disrespectful that Harris wasn’t being mentioned in the speculation.

“I’m not surprised that people don’t see her. Because no one saw her. No one saw her as a leader,” said Donna Brazile, a veteran Democratic strategist and Harris ally. “They don’t see the future. They see the past. And unfortunately, Kamala represents the future.”

Brown was more direct: “How dare you leapfrog over the woman that has been side by side with him, working hard. … Her place in this conversation, from start to finish, is not where it should be.”

Two people told NOTUS that there had been some preliminary conversations among Harris allies around whether to organize a campaign to support her as part of the Biden ticket, possibly by putting more Black women on the airwaves to tout her record. One of those people told NOTUS that there were discussions inside the campaign around having Harris do more high-profile and public pushback herself, similar to her post-debate appearances.

During a high-profile Monday night call with the national finance committee and a restless group of donors, senior campaign aides brought up that they’re looking forward to Harris’ debate with Trump’s eventual VP pick. Some allies view that as a moment for Harris to shine and instill confidence in the public

But they warn against any overt tipping of their hand.

If Biden dropped out, “he’s gonna have to throw weight behind you anyway,” one Democrat said of Harris. “So just sit back and be patient.”

If Biden did leave the ticket and Harris became the nominee, she would reportedly receive his campaign funds. But she would still face significant headwinds. Though she’s been praised for her efforts on abortion rights, critics still eagerly share videos of her stumbling over her words or other gaffes. Her approval ratings are weaker than those of other modern vice presidents. And already, Republicans are pumping out new attack ads to discredit her.

Allies said Harris’ handling of the current moment is in line with how she’s handled their work together from the start. Since taking office, she has fashioned herself as a close partner to Biden, taking on one fraught assignment after another.

That partnership has played out privately, according to an aide, as the pair have spoken over the last few days, even as many elected Democrats say they haven’t heard from the president.

Harris and Biden will meet for lunch on Wednesday — their first time seeing each other after the debate. But as some wish-cast that the lunch means more than upkeep of their semiregular routine, few of Harris’ allies believe at the moment that Biden won’t be the nominee come November.

“The reality is, you can jockey all you want, but he’s going to be on the ticket,” said another Democratic donor. “So it’s better to be loyal to the person who’s going to be on the ticket with him, rather than fantasize about a ‘Star Wars’ episode where something fucking weird happens.”

Jasmine Wright is a reporter at NOTUS.