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Biden's 100-Day Mark: What Role Has Kamala Harris Played So Far?

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Just as President Biden began his speech to Congress on Wednesday night, he went through a formality which turned into an applause line. Biden addressed the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, and the presiding officer of the Senate, Vice President Kamala Harris.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Well, Madam Speaker, Madam Vice President...

(CHEERING, APPLAUSE)

BIDEN: No president has ever said those words from this podium. No president has ever said those words, and it's about time.

(CHEERING, APPLAUSE)

INSKEEP: The first female vice president has seldom been far from Biden's side during his first hundred days. So what has her role been in the new administration? NPR White House correspondent Ayesha Rascoe has been paying attention. Ayesha, good morning.

AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: I guess we should just remember the vice presidency doesn't necessarily have any power attached to it. It sort of depends on the president and what the vice president makes of it. So how is she defining the

RASCOE: Harris has absolutely embraced and celebrated the historic nature of her position. Harris and her supporters say she's expanding the view of what normal looks like, but it is a complicated role. She's not the No. 1. She's the No. 2. And part of the job for a vice president is to not outshine the president. She hasn't done a lot of attention-grabbing things in her job yet, but Biden and Harris have made clear that they are partners. Here's Harris in an interview with CNN earlier this week.

(SOUNDBITE OF CNN BROADCAST)

VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: He and I are in almost every meeting together, have made almost every decision together. I'm not going to talk about our private conversations, of course, but I can tell you that it is often the case that, as I will ask his opinion about things, he will ask my opinion.

RASCOE: And the spotlight is much more on Harris than a typical vice president because of her identity, of course, but also because of Biden's age and questions about whether he'll run again.

INSKEEP: Your - the clip there reminds me of the saying that Biden wanted to be the last person in the room when Obama made a decision. Now that he's president, she wants to be the last person in the room when he makes a decision. So they are sharing views, we would think. But she's also getting out of Washington and traveling. And you've gone with her.

RASCOE: Yes. You know, back in March, I went on my first trip with her. It was to Connecticut to talk about child care funding. She visited a daycare center class with 4- and 5-year-olds. A little girl asked her how it feels to be vice president. Here's a taste of that.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DELLA: Della (ph).

(CROSSTALK)

DELLA: My name is Della.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: How does it feel like being a vice president?

HARRIS: You know, I kind of like it.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: She's going to keep the job.

RASCOE: Yeah, Harris brought her own personal story out of - during that trip. She talked about - her mom was a cancer researcher and how her mom was able to work because an older woman in the neighborhood ran a daycare and was able to keep Harris and her sister while her mom worked. She used that to drive home the point of the importance of child care for working parents. And yesterday, Harris actually talked about that trip to Connecticut. And she mentioned one of the little girls that she met in that classroom, this really sweet, precocious 5-year-old girl named Galia (ph).

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HARRIS: I said to her - I said, Gallia, you can be anything you want to be. And this little one looked at me in my eyes. And do you know what she said? I want to be everything.

(APPLAUSE)

HARRIS: I want to be everything. Right?

RASCOE: Harris called that the spirit of American aspiration. But it was also a moment where the first Black and first Asian woman vice president spoke to a young Black girl about her aspirations.

INSKEEP: How much has she talked about race?

RASCOE: Her words carry a lot of weight. She obviously has a lived experience. But she hasn't been the White House spokesperson on race. The White House is trying to weave equity into every policy and action. I spoke to Glynda Carr, who is president of the Higher Heights for America PAC, which is focused on getting progressive Black women elected. She dismissed this idea from some critics that Harris may not be impacting policy. Here's some more of what she had to say.

GYLNDA CARR: People are discounting the significance and the leverage and influence she can have being the first and last person in the room to help shape President Biden's thoughts on budget policies and budget priorities and policy innovations.

RASCOE: Carr said that she believes Harris is at her best when she's out meeting with people and that she'll be a big asset to the Biden administration when she can do more of that.

INSKEEP: Very briefly, how is Harris addressing a very specific assignment that she's been given - diplomacy with Latin America in the immigration situation?

HARRIS: This is a role that has put a target on Harris. Republicans have criticized her for not going to the U.S. side of the border. The White House has stressed she's not in charge of that part of the issue. But it's a nuanced point that might be difficult to convey to the general public. And the root causes of the surge of migration won't be fixed overnight.

INSKEEP: Ayesha, thanks so much.

RASCOE: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR White House correspondent Ayesha Rascoe. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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