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Covering Kamala Harris Covering Kamala Harris

Kamala Harris says Democrats, following tough electoral losses, don’t need a new plan

Vice President Kamala Harris holds her arms out while speaking behind a lectern
Vice President Kamala Harris meets with reporters in Paris.
(Thomas Coex / Associated Press)

Vice President Kamala Harris on Friday brushed aside suggestions that Democrats need to change course following last week’s poor election performances, saying the party has since engaged in “a robust dialogue and discussion” and believes that passing the Biden administration’s agenda will win over voters.

“What they want is that we’re not sitting around talking about politics — that we’re talking about, instead, the policies that are going to impact them and improve their lives,” she said at a news conference in Paris during her official visit this week. “And that’s where we’re putting our attention.”

The comments mark the first time Harris has publicly weighed in on a wide-ranging debate among Democrats following the loss of the governor’s election in Virginia and a close victory in heavily Democratic New Jersey’s governor’s race.

Some in her party, most of them moderates, are calling for caution in handling the administration’s spending bill; the more liberal lawmakers and Harris are advocating for quick passage of President Biden’s $1.85-trillion social and environmental spending plan, and say that such a legislative success will help on the 2022 campaign trail.

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Democrats are also debating whether they need to more effectively parry Republicans’ cultural attacks and do a better job of explaining their own plans to revive the economy and support schools. The economy is a major issue on voters’ minds, particularly with reports of rising inflation. In the Virginia race, Republicans tapped the anger of parents whose children have spent much of the COVID-19 pandemic learning remotely.

Harris made what now looks like a dire prediction for her party at her second of two October campaign rallies in Virginia for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe, telling supporters, “What happens in Virginia will, in large part, determine what happens in 2022, 2024, and on.”

The vice president pointed Friday to last week’s passage of a $1-trillion infrastructure bill as a first step toward regaining voters’ support. But she acknowledged many are frustrated with inflation — prices rose 6.5% in October, the largest year-over-year increase in more than 30 years. She said the administration was making inflation “one of our highest priorities,” but offered no solutions beyond ongoing efforts to provide programs to aid working families and to ease the supply chain crisis by expanding port operations.

“Prices have gone up. And families and individuals are dealing with the realities that bread costs more, that gas costs more,” she said, adding that people are “having to stress and stretch limited resources.” While acknowledging inflation’s toll on many families, she declined to promise that the issue would be fixed by Christmas.

Harris sidestepped a question about whether the United States should adopt France’s vaccine “passport” system — used at restaurants and for larger events like the international conference she attended Thursday — to better cope with the pandemic. She said that communities should make those decisions based on public health guidance, and that the biggest focus now was on getting children vaccinated.

The news conference came near the end of the vice president’s five-day fence-mending trip to France. French leaders have been angry with the Biden administration since September, when the United States and the United Kingdom announced they had cut a deal to build nuclear-powered submarines for Australia, which then canceled a $65-billion contract to buy less sophisticated submarines built by the French.

Harris met with Macron for more than 90 minutes on Wednesday at the Élysée Palace and has spoken with him at several other events. But her role in clearing up the dispute was a mostly symbolic gesture to reinforce efforts Biden initiated last month. The president admitted that the security deal had been handled in a “clumsy” way.

In response to a French reporter’s question about whether she fixed the relationship or made promises to President Emmanuel Macron, Harris said she and Macron did not discuss the spat.

“That was not the purpose of this trip, and we didn’t discuss it,” the vice president said. “What we did discuss is the issues that are challenging us, and the issues that are the basis for this relationship, and the strength and the endurance of this relationship.”


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