WASHINGTON (The Hill): Vice President Harris has rebounded in recent weeks, regaining her footing with approval ratings that now stand higher than President Biden’s.
Harris got off to a rocky start at the beginning of the administration, including a botched response on why she hadn’t traveled to the Mexican border, when she said she hadn’t been to Europe either.
But her allies say Harris, whose difficult start provoked questions about her ability to be a future presidential candidate for the party, “has found her place” in the White House.
“I think there’s definitely a feeling that things have been smoother,” said one ally. “It seems like they have ironed out some of the initial wrinkles.”
Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University, said Harris has “started to solidify her position and strengthen the office, gaining a sense — always difficult for a VP — of what her role should be in the administration.”
“The key will be how those numbers hold as policy controversies continue and politics heats up,” he added.
A Gallup poll last week showed 49 percent approved of Harris’s job as vice president, 6 points higher than Biden’s 43 percent approval rating. It’s a significant change for both Biden and Harris. The president fell 6 points since August and 13 points since June. Harris’s current approval rating is the same as Biden’s in 2009, when he served as Barack Obama’s vice president.
The Sept. 22 Gallup poll — conducted earlier in the month — also revealed that the vice president performed better than Biden with independents, a stunning revelation for a man who was catapulted to the White House because of support from that demographic.
It’s unclear why Harris’s numbers have risen higher than Biden’s in some surveys, though Biden in the last two months has gone through the most difficult phase of his presidency so far. Biden has received bipartisan criticism related to the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and has also taken some hits over the prolonged coronavirus pandemic.
The president has also been criticized over his handling of the border and immigration, taking hits from the left and the right over an influx of migrants from Haiti for the last few weeks.
Harris, in contrast, has been more in the background than the foreground on those controversies, though she did win headlines for criticizing the way some Haitian migrants were being treated by border agents.
Most Democratic strategists and observers say Harris hasn’t had a singular moment or two that has boosted her in the public realm.
“Nothing specific,” said Basil Smikle, the Democratic strategist and former executive director of the New York State Democratic Party, when asked if there has been a standout moment for the vice president.
He suggested the White House could actually benefit by doing more with Harris.
Smikle said that while Harris has been accessible, for example by appearing at Howard University’s homecoming, “the White House could bring her in more closely — as other administrations have — but they seem to keep her at a little distance, which may have been helpful to her in the long run.”
Other strategists say Harris has benefitted from Republicans setting their sights on Biden in recent weeks. They have portrayed him as weak on the border and Afghanistan.
“My instinct is to say that so much fire has been aimed at Biden, Harris’s numbers have gone up by sheer virtue of being out of the spotlight,” Democratic strategist Christy Setzer added. “She’s not giving anyone fresh reason to dislike her, so her polling numbers revert to the mean, with the country about evenly divided on the Black woman in the No. 2 spot.”
But Harris has appeared to settle into more of a role in her vice presidency. Last week, she hosted the leaders of Zambia, Ghana and India separately. On Wednesday, she hosted a meeting with five Latino small-business leaders. Harris has been increasingly active politically too, giving a forceful speech for Calif. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), fundraising for Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe and attending an event at George Mason University for National Voter Registration Day.
To be sure, Harris’s polling numbers are not spectacular. The same Gallup poll that showed her with a 49 percent approval rating showed she had a 49 percent disapproval rating. Other polls in the last month also show her with support in the low or mid-40s, though some polls in August had her hovering in the mid- to high 30s.
Not everything has gone to plan for Harris either. Aides and allies grew frustrated last week after she was scheduled for an in-studio interview on “The View,” but two of the hosts were pulled from the set after they tested positive for COVID-19.
Harris conducted the interview virtually as a precaution, even though she had flown from Washington to New York for the program. The hosts subsequently tested negative, and the tests were ruled a false positive.
The Harris ally called the incident “unfortunate” while saying Harris needs to continue to up her national stature for her own political prospects.
“I think we’re all happy to see her settle into her role and find her bearings, but I think even she knows she has a long way to go,” the ally said.