What has Kamala Harris Done during her first year in office?

Aviva Clauer, Photo Editor

Image by Flickr.

A year ago, history was made when the first female as well as the first African American and Asian American Vice President was elected to office alongside President Biden. Of course, the person I am talking about is Kamala Harris.

The position of vice president is not a clear-cut position; history has shown many individuals with this title who themselves accomplished close to nothing, at least in the public eye, during their president’s administration. Obviously, the responsibility load for the vice president has increased over the course of many presidencies, but nonetheless  Harris’ actual role in the Biden administration is unknown to many. Those who are politically engaged, though, hold a lot of judgment towards her and her agenda.

Harris was sworn into office January 20, 2021. Image by Flickr.

For the past 12 months, approval of the White House has dropped drastically. Despite much noteworthy progress in advancing their agenda, the approval ratings of both Biden and Harris have plummeted by over 10% since January 2021, according to an LA Times article by Matt Stiles, Ryan Murphy, and Vanessa Martinez. Criticism of the vice president, specifically, has been a commonality over the course of the year. This dissatisfaction with Harris’ policy and decisions has come in from all sides of the political spectrum.

Obviously, disappointment for Harris’ work has arisen partially from what some of the public views as unfulfillment of and failure in her tasks. Assignments she’s had have been complex and strenuous to say the least- some of which are controversial from the get-go. Her most demanding tasks have been addressing the causes of undocumented immigration and repressing it, enacting national voting reform, and involvement in a varity of foreign affairs. These topics, of course, are some of the most controversial in terms of criticism received.

Harris, however, has been given much praise beneath the criticism. According to Tal Kopan of the San Francisco Chronicle, for the Central America immigration task, Harris has made commitments to improve on-ground conditions in the region such as preventing corruption. She re-established positive relations with the Mexican President and even announced a $1.2 billion investment toward the initiative, helping prompt significant economic growth for the forgein populations. Despite all of this, she has been dragged by progressives for disencouraging illegal immigration and blamed for migrant clashes along the border by conservatives.

Regarding the task of expanding voting rights, the initiative was well-supported, especially considering that the goal was to reverse voting reforms that had been made in many Republican-controlled states to decrease easy voting access. Her failure in the senate to advance a congressional bill overturning these state laws, however, has caused plentiful dissatisfaction with the vice president, with acknowledgement for her efforts being consistently overshadowed by criticism.

This concept of criticism overshadowing her success, or at least efforts, has been prevalent throughout Harris’ entire time in office so far. Controversy has arisen on many occasions from mere words she’s used. A major trend by her critics has been calling her out for certain remarks made in interviews and broadcasts that supposedly did not sit well with them.

For example, regarding the immigration crisis, she was asked why she had not actually visited the border itself, to which she responded, “and I haven’t been to Europe, I don’t understand the point you’re making.” Through statements like these, many claim she sounds uneducated on certain topics in the event of audibly answering questions on the spot. The consistency of what many would consider are slip-ups has been a major cause for her declining popularity.

The Biden administration ran its campaign on the grounds of being fairly moderate. Image by Flickr.

An additional cause of consistent critique for Harris derives from her previous work as a California Senator and state prosecutor. In these positions, according to Lara Bazelon of the New York Times, Harris has a history of instigating controversy on many varying topics due to certain things she has either said or done. Actions of hers unfavorable to many include: converying support for the death penalty, supporting the criminalization of recreational marijuana, and a deep history of supporting excessive, unjust criminalization of individuals. Though she has altered her take on some of these opinions since, dissatisfaction with her for originating those ideals is ongoing and likely to blame for a good fragment of opposition towards her.

Many who remain in support of the vice president, however, feel like people are constantly digging for reasons to criticize her, attributing that criticism to racism and sexism. They praise Harris for being a trailblazer in her role, and likewise believe that she should be distinguished from her predecessors while at the same time not being held to a double standard, as that all federal officers have been unfavorable at times.

And, despite the media’s stance on Harris’ performance, the truth is that she is contributing to much more than she is generally given credit for. This is particularly true in consideration of her role as the President of the Senate who casts the tie breaking vote on even senate divides. In just a single year she has cast 15 tie-breaking votes, and on the basis of that number has already cast the fifth most votes of any US vice president.

This is entirely due to the 48-50 divide between Democrats and Republicans respectively in the current 117th Congress, with the remaining two Independents caucusing with the Democrats. This even divide has enhanced Harris’ vice presidential power significantly, allowing her to adopt an amendment proposition, advance a COVID-19 budget resolution, and resolve many other situational matters.

Thus, Harris is proving to be one of the most influential vice presidents in US history. Who’s to say where her approval ratings will be at the end of her term, but regardless, she  will have made an impact on the country. Plus, speculation continues to circulate as to whether Harris may run for President in 2024. That is up in the air entirely, though; it is dependent on Biden choosing not to run for a second term. So, we’ll just have to wait it out and see what is to come.