Where's Kamala? After all the hoopla and 'firsts,' the VP isn't living up to the hype

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When presidential contender Joe Biden anointed U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris as his running mate in 2020, expectations for her were high.

Harris’ addition to the team energized the Democratic base (she was the first Black woman and first person of South Asian descent on a major party presidential ticket). And at 58, she has brought relative “youth” to the White House.

Given Biden’s age, 80, Harris has also received extra scrutiny because there's a real possibility she might need to step into the Oval Office. Plus, she had been considered an obvious choice to run in 2024 if Biden does not.

That being said, identity politics can only take you so far, and Harris hasn’t brought much else to the table. The consensus seems to be that she has done an extraordinarily unimpressive job as vice president.

One recent headline from Reason magazine said: “Kamala Harris Is a Flop.” And in November, Slate didn’t mince words: “If Biden Runs Again, He Should Pick a New VP.

Absent from duty

Many of us could be forgiven if we’ve forgotten Harris is even around. Her public appearances aren’t frequent, nor widely publicized.

Even Biden botched the pronunciation of her first name at an event this week – something she has made clear she cares about. Ouch.

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The White House oddly avoids sending her to events that could showcase her strengths. For instance, Biden headed to California on Thursday to see the damage caused from endless rain in recent weeks. Yet, one area of the state hit hard by the deluge is Harris’ home turf of the Bay Area. Why wasn’t she chosen to represent the administration?

Instead, she’s talking about the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade in Florida on Sunday.

Shortly after taking office, Biden gave Harris the significant job of handling the border crisis. He has not taken back the role, but he might as well have.

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It took Harris months before even showing up to the border (her one and only visit), and during the Biden administration, migrant encounters at the border have risen to record levels.

It’s not just border cities that are dealing with this. New York Mayor Eric Adams, struggling with the influx of migrants in his city, called this week for a “national czar” to handle the crisis – apparently not realizing Harris is already tasked with the job.

So where is Kamala Harris?

When Harris is out in the world talking to folks, the outtakes often come back to haunt her.

For instance, at an event last April at the Vandenberg Space Force Base, she told a group of adults – and experts on space – that “space is exciting.” She continued: “It spurs our imaginations, and it forces us to ask big questions. Space – it affects us all, and it connects us all.”

Trust me, you need to watch it. Perhaps it would have been a more appropriate presentation at a grade school.

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Speaking of school, she was roasted for an October speech she gave announcing $1 billion for schools to replace old buses with electric ones. She got caught up in the moment:

“Who doesn’t love a yellow school bus, right? Can you raise your hand if you love a yellow school bus? ... Many of us went to school on the yellow school bus, right? It’s part of our experience growing up.”

USA TODAY columnist Ingrid Jacques
USA TODAY columnist Ingrid Jacques

Given Biden’s propensity for awkward gaffes and misstatements, Harris should have been his foil. That’s not the case. Nor have the early predictions that she could outshine her boss come true.

In fact, all this could be encouraging Biden to run again in 2024, something he seems increasingly likely to do. And I don’t think that’s what anyone – especially Democrats – expected with Harris as VP.

Ingrid Jacques is a columnist at USA TODAY. Contact her at ijacques@usatoday.com or on Twitter: @Ingrid_Jacques

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Kamala Harris had great opportunity as vice president. She fumbled it.