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For a woman about to become second-in-command of the world’s most powerful country it seemed rather trivial, but the cover photo on the forthcoming edition of U.S. Vogue was enough to wipe the perpetual grin off Kamala Harris’s face.
It was two weeks before the presidential inauguration in January 2021, but Joe Biden’s running mate was mortified that the fashion bible had chosen to illustrate her interview with a photo in which she was wearing skinny jeans and Converse trainers.
She was ‘wounded’ and felt ‘belittled’, asking aides: ‘Would Vogue depict another world leader this way?’
When her PR complained to Vogue boss Anna Wintour, she countered that she’d chosen the picture herself because she thought it made Harris ‘relatable’.
Harris clearly didn’t want ‘relatable’, she wanted ‘formidable’, according to the authors of a new book that is causing major ructions in Washington.
Vogue subsequently used another photo — of Harris in a power jacket, arms folded — for its online edition and even put out a limited-edition print run with the approved image on the front.
Kamala Harris, 57, was California’s attorney general before becoming the second black female senator
However, when Harris’s chief of staff, Tina Flournoy, passed on her boss’s deep upset to a senior figure in Biden’s campaign team, Flournoy and Harris were basically told to grow up.
Rioters had only just stormed the U.S. Capitol, the economy was in dire straits and the pandemic was laying waste to the population. ‘Tina,’ the adviser replied witheringly, ‘these are First World problems.’
That clash, say journalists Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns in a forthcoming book, This Will Not Pass: Trump, Biden And The Battle For America’s Future, was an early indication of a widening rift between the U.S. President and Vice President.
A rift, many believe, that could doom Democrat hopes for the next election and return Donald Trump to the White House.
For how can the increasingly doddery-looking Uncle Joe hand over the reins — as has always looked like the plan — to a successor whose political decline (to quote a Senate friend cited in the book) is a ‘slow-rolling Greek tragedy’?
While Biden’s approval ratings dropped to a new low of 40 per cent this week (continuing a collapse that started with the bungled U.S.
The cover of Vogue (right) of Harris wearing sneakers and skinny jeans reportedly didn’t please her team, who are said to have requested the replacement image in a power suit (left)
Afghanistan withdrawal and rising Covid deaths last August), Harris’s has already sunk as low as 28 per cent, making her the least popular vice president in some 50 years.
And that was before she had a giggling fit before answering a question at a press conference in Poland about the fate of Ukrainian refugees earlier this month.
Donald Trump must be rubbing his small hands with glee. No matter how many Americans shudder at the prospect of him winning a second term (something he has vowed to aim for), his dreams could become reality if the opposition cannot steady their floundering ship and find a viable opponent for 2024.
The new book, which is out in May (though excerpts have been leaked to the website Politico) is twisting the knife by alleging that the widespread public perception of Harris as imperious, insecure and out of her depth is shared even in the White House.
According to Martin and Burns, who work for the Left-wing New York Times, the relationship between the Biden and Harris camps is getting worse and is now characterised by anger, mutual contempt and turf wars.
A senator close to her told them Harris’s ‘frustration is up in the stratosphere’ and she’s told White House aides in ‘frank terms’ that she doesn’t want her remit to be restricted to a few issues ‘mainly associated with women and black Americans’.
The book claims that Biden staff have grown tired of complaints by the VP and her cheerleaders that she’s been set up to fail
Biden insiders, meanwhile, prefer a different explanation: the Vice President is simply not up to the job. Harris has gone so far as to complain that White House staff were not standing up when she entered a room.
‘Some of Harris’s advisers believed the President’s almost entirely white inner circle did not show the VP the respect she deserved,’ the book says.
‘Harris worried that Biden’s staff looked down on her; she fixated on real and perceived snubs in ways the West Wing found tedious.’
Harris also clashed with the President’s office over her foreign policy role, the authors claim. Her team had wanted her to oversee America’s relationship with Scandinavian countries — an obviously fairly easy job.
But as Barack Obama’s VP, Biden had taken on Central America — a far bigger challenge, as it includes the problem of illegal immigration across the Mexican border.
The Biden camp felt it only reasonable that Harris did the same, alongside overseeing voting reform — another tricky responsibility, albeit one she’d asked for.
The book — whose allegations the administration has done little to dispute beyond noting they are ‘unattributed’ — claims that Biden staff have grown tired of complaints by the VP and her cheerleaders that she’s been set up to fail (although why Biden would want to do that appears less clear).
Insiders fear the alleged rift between Harris and Biden could doom the Democrats in 2024 and see the return of Donald Trump in the Whitehouse
Months of whingeing reportedly culminated in an exasperated Kate Bedingfield, Biden’s communications director, privately totting up the number of times Harris had failed — notably during her ‘fiasco’ of a 2020 presidential run and her messy record as a senator — and concluding she ‘had fallen short of sky-high expectations’ throughout her political career.
Responding to these claims, Bedingfield told Politico: ‘Vice President Harris is a force in this administration and I have the utmost respect for the work she does every day to move the country forward.’
And this was the running mate whom a year ago Biden gushingly called the ‘last voice in the room’ whenever he needed honest counsel.
Their weekly lunches, a key part of the Biden-Obama years, lack ‘personal and political intimacy’, the book claims.
Some always warned that the Biden-Harris double act — no matter how many boxes it ticked for Democrat campaign chiefs — was a marriage of convenience that would end in divorce. They appear to have included the First Lady, Jill Biden.
According to the book, when her husband picked Harris as his running mate on August 11, 2020, Mrs Biden wasn’t impressed.
‘There are millions of people in the United States,’ she complained privately. ‘Why do we have to choose the one who attacked Joe?’
She was presumably referring to Harris’s vicious swipes during the Democrat primaries, such as when she said she believed the women who accused him of inappropriate touching.
Although the genial Biden has always only had warm words publicly for Harris, it was hardly the ideal basis for a partnership.
The office of Vice President has been derided as a non-job for centuries, as fans of the TV comedy Veep will know. However, Harris was supposed to have been different.
Given Biden will be pushing 82 by the 2024 election, Democrat insiders said Harris would effectively become a co-president, gradually assuming some of his responsibilities before smoothly replacing him as the Democrat nominee ahead of the election.
The 57-year-old was California’s attorney general before becoming the second black female senator.
The media started calling her the ‘female Obama’, which reportedly annoyed her — although one imagines she’d jump at the comparison now.
Facing an endless trail of negative headlines, she is a victim of sexism and racism, her defenders say. But it’s hard to argue that something isn’t badly wrong given the flood of staff departures. .
Last week, Sabrina Singh, her deputy press secretary, became the ninth member of the team to throw in the towel since last summer. Harris is accused of being a dysfunctional boss.
Some 18 people connected to the VP told the Washington Post she was a ‘bully’ who inflicted ‘soul-destroying criticism’ on her underlings and routinely refused to review briefing materials, blaming aides when she appeared underprepared.
It’s not surprising that Democrats are peering around anxiously for an alternative 2024 candidate.
Transport secretary Pete Buttigieg and Hillary Clinton both look keen, but nobody fancies their chances against Trump.
Michelle Obama would have a good shot but doesn’t seem interested.
As for Harris, she might like to explain why anyone silly enough to let Vogue photograph them in jeans and trainers deserves to be given the chance to make more pressing decisions.