The Mercury News

Why Biden will not dump Harris as his running mate

- By Mark Z. Barabak Mark Z. Barabak is a Los Angeles Times columnist. © 2023 Los Angeles Times. Distribute­d by Tribune Content Agency.

Being vice president of the United States is sort of like working for Donald Trump or watching reality TV. It requires a high degree of tolerance for indignity and abuse.

The job is inherently subservien­t — the only thing worse than embarrassi­ng the president is outshining him — and the office almost always diminishes its occupant. Enter as a respected governor or U.S. senator and soon you're transforme­d in the public eye to a lapdog, a nullity or an anchor on the administra­tion.

(A notable exception being Dick Cheney, who, in caricature, was portrayed as the puppeteer and power behind a feckless President George W. Bush.)

Kamala Harris, California's former U.S. senator and attorney general, is just the latest to experience the enervating effect of the vice presidency, alternatin­g between periods of mockery and being largely ignored.

Now it's her turn to suffer another humiliatin­g rite: speculatio­n on whether Harris will be booted from the Democratic ticket in 2024.

Recently, Massachuse­tts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who challenged Biden and Harris for the 2020 Democratic nomination, caused one of those bouts of Beltway hyperventi­lation by endorsing the president for a second term but equivocati­ng when it came to keeping Harris as his running mate.

“I really want to defer to what makes Biden comfortabl­e on his team,” said Warren, who soon followed her conspicuou­sly tepid remarks with a mop-andbucket statement “fully” supporting the reelection of Biden and Harris “together.”

No matter that Biden has given every sign — in both public and private — that he plans to seek reelection with Harris by his side.

President George H.W. Bush faced pressure to replace Vice President Dan Quayle, who suffered the same kind of lousy approval ratings as Harris.

Former President George W. Bush considered swapping out Dick Cheney as his 2004 running mate as a way, he wrote in his memoirs, to “demonstrat­e that I was in charge” and that he, not Cheney, was running the White House.

In 2011, when President Barack Obama was at a low ebb in popularity, the White House chief of staff ordered up research on whether it would be a good idea to replace Biden with Hillary Clinton ahead of Obama's reelection bid. Some of those involved in the campaign later insisted it was never a serious option.

For much of the country's history, changing vice presidents was not all that unusual, said Joel Goldstein, a law professor emeritus at St. Louis University and expert on the office.

It wasn't until 1921 that Calvin Coolidge became the first vice president to regularly sit in on meetings of the president's Cabinet. Over the decades, other vice presidents were increasing­ly integrated into the workings of the White House. In 1977, Walter Mondale became the first to have an office in the West Wing, just a short walk from the Oval Office, where vice presidents have lodged ever since.

Harris has her critics within the White House and those around Biden. The relationsh­ip between the president and vice president has been described as friendly but not intimate. Even so, the political cost of replacing Harris, if the thought ever crossed Biden's mind, would far outweigh any gain.

Effectivel­y firing the first female, first Black and first Asian American vice president would risk a serious backlash from the Democratic base — especially Black women, who were crucial to Biden's election.

In 1976, facing a stiff election fight, President Gerald Ford chose to replace Vice President Nelson Rockefelle­r as a way to bolster his standing with restive conservati­ves. Even with a different running mate, Kansas Sen. Bob Dole, Ford lost, and he came to regret the move.

Voters have consistent­ly shown their focus is on the top of the ticket, not the No. 2 position.

Good or bad, the vice president can generally be summed up in a single word: afterthoug­ht.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States