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Vice President Harris May Be 'The Busiest Woman In Washington'

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

On the campaign trail last summer, candidate Joe Biden promised to make his running mate, Kamala Harris, the last voice in the room before he made important decisions. And in March of this year, he joked about what he meant by that.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I said when we became a team and got elected, that the vice president was going to be the last person in the room. She didn't realize that means she gets every assignment (laughter).

SHAPIRO: Well, since then, he has appointed her to oversee immigration issues at the border, the push to protect voting rights and more. To talk about the vice president's growing to-do list, we're joined by Errin Haines, editor at large at The 19th. Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

ERRIN HAINES: Thanks so much for having me again.

SHAPIRO: You describe the items on the vice president's to-do list as some of the most intractable and politically divisive priorities facing the new administration. What does that say about her role in this White House?

HAINES: Well, you know what it says, based on the folks that I talked to, is that it really is an acknowledgement of the leadership of Vice President Harris, who said when she took this job that she really wanted to bring her lived experience to this role. And so I think that you are seeing her showing up in areas that - where she is able to bring her experience as a woman, as a Black person in this country, person of color in this country, an immigrant in this country, somebody who holds a lot of different identities into the roles that she's being tasked with and also roles that she has raised her hand and said that she wants to take on. Certainly, the issue of voting rights is something that we're told she wanted to have a role in. She had a role in that as the lone Black woman in the Senate before she became vice president - but also immigration, something that she worked on as a prosecutor in California.

And the vaccine equity issue, she has told me personally, is something that she takes personally and that she is very eager to play a role in and to continue to get African Americans, who we know were disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus, vaccinated in numbers that are equal to the rest of the country as we begin to look to reopening.

SHAPIRO: Beyond the specific person of Kamala Harris, what does it mean to have a Black woman overseeing the administration's push on voting rights or the daughter of immigrants overseeing immigration policy at the border?

HAINES: Well, what it means, especially for a lot of these folks who, frankly, voted for the Biden-Harris ticket in November, is that they see in the vice president having these identities somebody who has a shared experience, having a seat at the table to really bring their issues to the forefront in a way that they know will include them and makes them feel seen and heard because she can relate to them on a very personal level in terms of their shared identities.

SHAPIRO: If these are, as you say, among the most difficult challenges the administration faces, is there a downside for Harris to take them on, particularly if she wants to run for president again someday in the future?

HAINES: Yeah. Well, look; there definitely is a political calculus to this, Ari, I would say, because, you know, for Black women, especially Black women who are firsts, who are pioneers in the roles that they inhabit, they know that there's - the margin for error is almost zero. If they don't get this right, the opportunity for the person coming behind them, unfortunately, is that much less, you know, and that is something that a lot of professional Black women who, you know, have risen to a certain level in whatever their profession is - that's something that I hear from them over and over again and something that resonates with them and something that they see in themselves and the vice president.

SHAPIRO: You know, when Joe Biden was vice president, President Obama charged him with overseeing the war in Afghanistan, the economic recovery, the fight against cancer. So is Harris' portfolio that much broader or more difficult than a typical vice president?

HAINES: Well, no, it's not unusual for vice presidents to be tasked with kind of these big projects. Former Vice President Mike Pence was tasked with addressing the coronavirus crisis, which was a huge task regardless of your politics. I think what seems different about this moment is that any one of the items, the agenda items that the vice president has on her plate now, any one of those on their own would seem pretty daunting, but stacked up on her plate simultaneously I think is really going to test her time management and multitasking skills. I think this summer, she certainly seems to be one of, if not the busiest woman in Washington.

SHAPIRO: And Harris is joined by other Black women in the administration who are taking on some of the most difficult, long-standing challenges in the country. I mean, the list includes Susan Rice on the Domestic Policy Council, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge and others. What do you think this says more broadly about the role of Black women in politics right now and in this administration specifically?

HAINES: Yeah. Well, you know, I've been writing a lot for the past few years about Black women who were really saying that they don't want to be valued just for their output - right? - at the polls. They want to be valued for their input. They want to help to shape an agenda, to shape policy because they are the most loyal and reliable voters in the Democratic Party. And so now what they're seeing is a translation, a return on that investment - a lot of those voters and activists and organizers are telling me. So having the most powerful person in the world, arguably, tapping these Black women for these roles really is a testament to their leadership and also their commitment to the Democratic Party.

SHAPIRO: That's Errin Haines, editor at large of The 19th. Thank you so much.

HAINES: Thank you, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.