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Republicans are planning to make Vice President Kamala Harris a focal point of their political attacks in the lead-up to midterm elections, casting the Democrat as a champion of policies they disagree with from the Biden administration.
Harris has been at President Joe Biden’s side throughout much of their first month in office and the new president has made clear that Harris will be fully involved when weighty issues are discussed in the Oval Office.
That access and influence, praised by liberals, is seen by Republican groups, including the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee, as a reason to direct criticism of the administration at the vice president.
“We’re going to be highlighting the Biden administration’s socialist policies, and that includes Kamala Harris,” said Torunn Sinclair, national press secretary of the NRCC. “He knew when he picked her that she was a far-left progressive who was going to advocate for socialist policies.”
Republicans made similar criticisms of Harris during the 2020 presidential campaign. They called her a radical, accused her of supporting violent rioters and insisted she would push Biden to take extreme policy positions. She and Biden went on to win more than 81 million votes, which is more than any other presidential ticket in American history.
With Harris’ influence on the rise as vice president—a role that Biden and other previous office holders have used as a springboard to the top job—Republicans are revisiting their criticism of her.
Lawyers for former President Donald Trump highlighted past comments from Harris during his impeachment trial this month following the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham subsequently said that Republicans could seek to remove Harris from office based on her remarks if the GOP wins control of Congress.
Democrats are warning that a messaging blitz on Harris from Republicans could hurt the GOP’s efforts to appeal to minority and women voters in the next election.
Republican focus on Harris could also have other unintended consequences, Democrats say, pointing out that GOP attacks on Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez helped to fuel the New York Democrat’s rise to prominence.
“They haven’t figured out how to focus on what they’re good at. So instead they look for problems or cracks in the Democratic coalition,” said former Democratic National Committee head Donna Brazile. “They know that Kamala is the face of political power in our country, as the first woman ever elected vice president of the United States, and so they’re just going back to the old playbook. It’s going to backfire. It’s not going to work.”
Harris ran for president but dropped out before she appeared on any ballots, with her support sagging and her campaign’s cash on hand dwindling. Having risen to vice president, she is viewed as a likely front-runner for president in 2024 if Biden decides not to compete.
Republicans are expected to ramp up criticism of the Democratic administration during the Conservative Political Action Conference that kicks off this week in Orlando, Fla. The annual conference is put on by the American Conservative Union and typically serves as a testing ground for Republican rhetoric and potential GOP presidential candidates. Trump is a keynote speaker.
ACU Vice Chair Charlie Gerow said the administration’s agenda will be the “single most significant rallying point” for conservatives from now until the next presidential election, and Harris’ record as California senator will be part of those conversations.
“As one of the chief spokespersons for the far left of the Democrat party now, she’s certainly going to be a focus of conservative activists at CPAC and elsewhere,” Gerow said.
GOP and conservative groups said their messaging plans are still taking shape for the 2022 midterm elections.
They have spent the early days of the Biden administration criticizing decisions to revoke authorization of the Keystone XL pipeline, put a moratorium on fracking on federal land and pursue comprehensive immigration reform that would provide a pathway to citizenship for the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States.
The RNC said its research and communications departments had transitioned to a full-scale rapid response and research operation that’s focused on the White House. Republican research group America Rising said it would be tracking Harris’ media appearances and highlighting her comments as the midterm elections approach.
The Republican National Senatorial Committee said rather than Harris it would focus on Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer. A spokesman for the organization that acts as the political arm of Senate Republicans said criticizing Harris doesn’t raise much money for their group.
Republicans say another potential reason to launch criticism at Harris is if she ends up being the deciding vote on the administration’s $1.9 trillion stimulus proposal in her role as president of the Senate. The package does not currently have Republican support in Congress.
“It is clear after just one month of the new administration that it is the Biden-Harris agenda, not the Biden agenda,” said Jessica Anderson, executive director of Heritage Action, the lobbying arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation. “Vice President Harris is likely to become the face of this extreme agenda as she uses her tie breaking vote in the Senate to advance an agenda too extreme to pass a gridlocked Senate,” she said.
The vice president’s office declined to comment on the political attacks against Harris, however Harris denied that she would impose a “socialist or progressive” perspective on Biden in an interview that aired just before the presidential election.
“I am not gonna be confined to Donald Trump’s definition of who I or anybody else is,” Harris said in the CBS “60 Minutes” interview. “And I think America has learned that that would be a mistake.”
Harris had a 52 percent favorability rating in a Morning Consult/Politico poll released this week, with voters saying they liked her a little less than Biden, who they gave a 58 percent approval rating, and significantly more than Trump, who was liked by 37 percent of respondents.
Rahna Epting, executive director of the progressive organization MoveOn, said that Biden’s reputation has made him “hard to smear,” and Republicans are looking for a different “poster child” for their fundraising efforts and political attacks.
“So I don’t know what the arrow is in their quiver for 2022,” Epting said, bringing up Republicans’ focus in the past on Ocasio-Cortez and Harris. “They realize they’re in a mess, and they’re trying a lot of different angles.”