Chasing July 4 vaccine target, White House taps Kamala Harris’ husband Doug Emhoff

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On the verge of missing its July 4 national COVID-19 vaccination goal, the Biden administration turned to second gentleman Doug Emhoff to help promote the benefits of getting the shot to young Americans.

The White House sent the husband of Vice President Kamala Harris on the road in states such as Tennessee and Illinois, where adults were lagging behind the administration’s desired 70 percent vaccination rate.

“I want every parent, I want every family, I want every young person to get the vaccination, so we can move forward,” Emhoff said Wednesday in Phoenix at one such stop. “So people, talk to your friends, talk to your family, get the shot, tell five people, tell 10 people, go on social media, do what you need to do as leaders, get the word out.”

Emhoff has emerged as a top advocate for President Joe Biden’s agenda at a time when the administration says it needs all hands on deck. He is described as eager to travel on behalf of the White House and has been a vocal advocate for a top administration priority — encouraging younger people to get vaccinated.

“The reality is many younger Americans have felt like COVID is not something that impacts them, and they have been resistant to getting the shot,” Emhoff said during a June media call.

Emhoff said that seeing his own children, Cole and Ella, who are 26 and 22, get vaccinated was “one of the biggest reliefs” he’d had in a long time and he wanted other parents to have that same experience.

“For him, this is personal,” his spokeswoman Katie Peters said.

Emhoff appeals to young people, said Peters. “I think that’s an audience that he clearly resonates with and has some experience with. As a dad of two twenty somethings, he’s had conversations with his own kids about getting vaccinated.”

As of Thursday, almost 67 percent of adult Americans had received one dose of the vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Young adults who have not received the vaccination are a significant reason the Biden administration has not met its goal of having 70 percent of adults at least partially vaccinated by July Fourth. The administration has tried targeting them with free beer, free bagels, free burritos and food and alcohol delivery credits offered by private businesses.

“We’ve got incentives galore out there,” Emhoff remarked in Phoenix.

Emhoff said that vaccinations will help Americans return to sporting events, weddings and travel.

“The second gentleman has been a wonderful advocate in this effort. He really connects well with young people,” said Courtney Rowe, director of strategic communications and engagement for the White House COVID-19 Response Team.

“What we needed is boots on the ground in communities, having direct conversations with people. And the second gentleman has been enthusiastic about doing that, and we’re really seeing that make a difference,” she said.

INDEPENDENCE DAY BLITZ

Biden officials have concentrated their efforts recently on southern states, sending Emhoff to Memphis, Birmingham, Tallahassee, Phoenix and Houston for vaccination events. He also traveled to Chicago.

“He’s very passionate about this issue. I remember in the first weeks of the administration his team reaching out to me and saying, the second gentleman cares deeply about getting people vaccinated and wants to be an asset in this. And he absolutely has been,” Rowe said.

Peters said that Emhoff has sought to “get in the trenches, raise his hand and do everything he can” to help the Biden administration, including on vaccinations.

This weekend, the White House says the president, first lady, vice president and Emhoff will fan out across the country to “celebrate Independence Day and our independence from this virus” in recognition of the nation’s vaccination progress. Members of the Cabinet are also attending events.

President Biden will travel to Traverse City, Michigan, on Saturday for a festival. First lady Jill Biden has events this weekend in Maine and New Hampshire. Harris is headed to Las Vegas, and Emhoff on Friday will visit Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah.

White House officials said that Bryce Canyon was included in the July Fourth holiday travel because it is symbolic of the American experience during the summer and during the pandemic, when many people spent their vacations outdoors at national parks.

Emhoff will meet with park rangers, who he plans to thank for their work during the pandemic, Peters said, and talk with families visiting the site.

The former entertainment lawyer has taken a new job at Georgetown Law, but Emhoff is not teaching any classes this summer. The lighter schedule has allowed him to pick up the pace of his travel. Emhoff will resume teaching in September.

EMHOFF IN DEMAND

Emhoff has been in high demand for official and political events, Democratic officials said.

A fundraiser that Emhoff attended earlier this year with Democratic National Committee Chairman Jaime Harrison brought in over $1 million, a party official told McClatchy. The DNC recently sent out a fundraising email in Emhoff’s name.

Emhoff traveled to New Mexico to assist with the party’s effort to win a special congressional election there. The Democratic Party official said that Emhoff has been a “huge asset to the DNC” and that as more in-person events are scheduled, he is expected “to be one of the top surrogates for the DNC and state parties.”

He has also begun to branch out at the White House beyond COVID-relief and vaccination efforts, participating last month in a discussion with White House Counsel Dana Remus and bipartisan state attorneys general about a White House initiative that aims to expand access to the legal system.

“He realizes the opportunity that this role presents,” Peters said of Emhoff. “He is fully embracing public service, and he sees himself as being in this opportunity but having a responsibility to do as much as he can to get out there and to be helpful, especially during a time like what our country has gone through this past year.”

Updates with DNC clarification that Emhoff traveled to New Mexico.

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