Kamala Harris isn't Joe Biden's real problem (2023)

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris are officially running for reelection but this time there may be even closer scrutiny of Biden's running mate as the president becomes the oldest person ever to seek a second term.

Harris has long been the target of criticism from Republicans over her role in dealing with the U.S.-Mexico border—she had been tasked early on with addressing the "root causes" of migration into the U.S. from Mexico and the so-called Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

In 2021, the vice president faced an exodus of staff from her office amid reports that she was difficult to work with, and that there existed a rift between her and Biden due to a number of apparent errors in the vice president's messaging and rumors of dysfunction in her office.

Harris' approval rating remains low, like the president's. According to analysis from poll tracker FiveThirtyEight, her approval rating stood at 42.1 percent as of April 28, while disapproval of the vice president was at 53.9 percent.

In the same analysis, Biden's approval rating stood at 43 percent, while disapproval of the president was at 52.5 percent.

Political scientists who spoke to Newsweek suggested that while vice presidential candidates don't normally have a major impact on presidential races, Biden's advanced age is likely to place more focus on Harris. The president has always indicated that Harris would run with him again and experts suggested she may be looking forward to her own potential White House run.

Harris may not be a problem for Biden in 2024, according to the experts, yet the president might have a more pressing concern: himself.

A Heartbeat Away From the Presidency

Vice presidents are traditionally described as a "heartbeat" away from the presidency—meaning that if the president dies, the vice president will take their place. The situation has arisen several times in U.S. history and last occurred due to assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963. In 1974, President Richard Nixon resigned from office, and his vice president assumed office.

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"Normally, the vice presidential candidates have no detectable effect on the presidential election outcome," Paul Quirk, a political scientist at the University of British Columbia in Canada, told Newsweek.

"We know this because election poll questions that mention both the presidential and vice-presidential candidates—Trump and Pence versus Biden and Harris in 2020, for example—almost always get exactly the same result as those that only mention the presidential candidates," he said.

"It takes a severely deficient candidate in the second spot—think Sarah Palin, Senator John McCain's running mate on the Republican ticket in 2008—to move the needle a point or two downward," Quirk said.

"Normally, however, a presidential candidate is not going on 82 years old, as Joe Biden will be on election day in 2024," he added.

Kamala Harris isn't Joe Biden's real problem (1)

"Presidential candidates always tout their running mate's ability to serve as president in the event of their own disability or death," he said. "But Biden's claims about his running mate will have exceptionally obvious possible relevance. His running mate will receive unusual scrutiny with respect to the 'heartbeat-away-from-the-presidency' role."

Biden's Long Shadow

In his reelection campaign, Biden will surely drum up his administration's achievements—from falling inflation to the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill to efforts at student debt relief—and Harris may not get an equal share of the praise.

"In any president/vice president relationship, the White House incumbent invariably casts a long shadow," said Mark Shanahan, an associate professor in politics at the University of Surrey in the U.K. and co-editor of The Trump Presidency: From Campaign Trail to World Stage.

"Despite Biden's travails in his first term so far, he has consistently had a higher approval rating than his Veep," Shanahan told Newsweek. "But this is hardly a surprise: the number 1 executive never wants to be upstaged by their number 2, so Biden has largely taken the credit for the administration's successes, while Harris has taken the fall for less successful policies, such as immigration on the southern border."

However, in a second term "where the vice president is seen as a likely or possible successor, they tend to be given a higher profile and become more a feature of public thinking," Shanahan said.

"In the upcoming reelection campaign, Harris will never be more than an add-on—useful in shoring up the younger, female and minority vote, but always the warm-up act before the main event," he went on.

"Her polling now will have little impact, and she has the advantage in a reelection campaign of being a known face and experienced on the presidential campaign trail," Shanahan said.

Vote Biden, Get Harris?

Republicans have long been critical of the vice president, in particular over her role as Biden's border "czar," while the issue of the president's age is likely to resurface during the campaign. He'll turn 82 shortly after Election Day in 2024.

"Republicans clearly think that repeating the line 'a vote for Biden is a vote for Harris' is a political winner for them, " Thomas Gift, founding director of University College London's Centre on U.S. Politics (CUSP), told Newsweek.

"Yet while they may be right, there's only so far that can take that strategy. In the end, evidence suggests that Americans primarily cast their ballot for the top of the ticket," he said.

Gift acknowledged that while Biden's age "could make the VP more relevant in 2024 than in past cycles, it's still unlikely to dwarf the names of the presidential candidates. Especially if that choice is Biden vs. Trump, Harris' popularity (or lack thereof) is likely to fade into the backdrop as a key factor driving voter decisions."

Harris' Difficult Portfolio

The vice president may not have done herself any favors with reports that she's difficult to work with or some high-profile verbal gaffes, such as talking about a U.S. alliance with North Korea—the dictatorship ruled by Kim Jong Un—when she meant South Korea, a key U.S. ally, at the Demilitarized Zone.

"As vice president, Harris has not made a strong positive impression on many observers," Paul Quirk told Newsweek. "She has been criticized for poor management of her vice presidential staff and belittled as making rambling, incoherent remarks in public appearances."

Kamala Harris isn't Joe Biden's real problem (2)

"She has not figured prominently in accounts of major presidential decisions. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg has been far more effective than Harris as a spokesperson for the administration," he said.

"At the same time, Harris has had a difficult portfolio," Quirk said, adding that it "naturally fell to her to take on leading roles on voting rights and immigration—two issues where the administration's efforts have had disappointing results, due mainly to obstacles not of Harris' making."

A 'Vague' Role

The vice presidency was once described by Vice President John Nance Garner as "not worth a bucket of warm p***" and he may have been thinking of the fact that the vice president has little real power—and often little influence on elections.

"I think concerns about Harris are overblown, at least so far as having an impact on the presidential race is concerned," David A. Bateman, an associate professor of government at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, told Newsweek.

"Vice presidents tend to not be very significant for a president's election bid, especially in an era of intense partisanship," he said. "And the position itself is vague, undefined, and often structurally inconsequential."

Bateman said that while some presidents give their VPs greater roles than others "their influence is more often marginal and ultimately subsidiary to the president."

"They are chosen to placate or appeal to specific organized constituencies at the conclusion of the primary, and their job is more or less done at that point: think of Pence, who as best I can tell was an unpopular non-entity for four years, having served his one purpose of helping solidify organized Christian nationalist support for Trump," he said.

"Still, VPs are almost always running for president," Bateman said. "They want to be involved and seen as consequential, and so I expect are often frustrated at the fact that they rarely are. But that's the job."

"The flip side of this is that their lack of influence is usually weighted accordingly by voters. Voters might like or dislike a VP—but this isn't going to matter very much, if at all, for most of them when they make their decisions," he added.

No Incentive to Defend Harris

Bateman told Newsweek that Harris' approval ratings should be taken "with a grain of salt" but also suggested that there was little incentive for anyone other than the vice president's own supporters to defend her.

"Maybe things are different with Biden, since his age increases the possibility that Harris will be president," Bateman said. "Certainly Republicans would like it if voters gave more weight to their disapproval of her than of Biden in their votes, though Biden's low approval numbers make the advantage there less compelling. But death or incapacity is always a risk, and hasn't led the VP to be highly weighted before."

Bateman said it was important to keep in mind that "the VP's approval ratings are at least partly endogenous to the low expectations about their electoral importance."

"If it were well-established that the VP contributed meaningfully to a reelection campaign, beyond non-visible things such as fundraising, then you would have Democrats defending Harris and celebrating whatever are her accomplishments, and her numbers might be better," he said.

"As it is, no one has an incentive to defend her other than herself and her allies and prospective members of a future Harris administration—and their ability to do so is limited by the relatively low standing and influence of the VP in the U.S. constitutional system," Bateman said.

An Effective Advocate

There is little prospect that the Democratic Party will make any serious move to replace Harris on the ticket and Paul Quirk told Newsweek that the vice president could have an effective role to play,

"Her public approval ratings, although generally low, have consistently been very similar to Biden's," Quirk said.

"Right now, they are essentially identical to his—suggesting that few Americans have genuinely distinct opinions about her," he said.

"In the post-Dobbs period, she has emerged as an effective advocate for, and campaigner on, abortion rights. She will be effective with the suburban women who will be crucial to the Democrats' prospects in 2024," Quirk went on.

He was referring to the Supreme Court's decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, where the conservative justices found that the U.S. Constitution did not guarantee the right to abortion.

Abortion could be a major issue in the 2024 election, as many Republican-led states have moved to impose stringent restrictions on access to the procedure.

"For Biden's campaign, replacing Harris on the ticket might anger her supporters and do little to strengthen his chances for reelection," Quirk added.

Newsweek has reached out to the Biden campaign via email for comment.


Is Kamala Harris the 47th vice president? ›

Kamala Devi Harris (/ˈkɑːmələ ˈdeɪvi/ ( listen) KAH-mə-lə DAY-vee; born October 20, 1964) is an American politician and attorney who is the 49th and current vice president of the United States.

How many vice presidents have gone on to become president? ›

Of the 15 vice presidents who went on to become president, eight succeeded to the office on the death of a president, and four of these were later elected president.

How old is Joe Bidan? ›

Who is the current vice president of the US responses? ›

The 49th and current vice president of the United States is Kamala Harris. She was sworn in on January 20, 2021.

Who becomes president if both the president and the Vice President can no longer serve? ›

If Both the President and Vice President Can No Longer Serve, Who Becomes President? The Speaker of the House is next in the line of succession if the President and Vice President can no longer serve.

Why is there 46 presidents and 49 vice presidents? ›

Because the two roles haven't always been elected or ruled in lockstep, there just isn't the same number of presidents and vice presidents. It happens to total up to 46 presidents and 49 vice presidents so far.

Who is the oldest president ever? ›

Age of presidents

The youngest at the time of their election to the office was John F. Kennedy, at age 43. The oldest person elected president was Joe Biden, the nation's current president, at age 77. Biden celebrated a birthday between Election Day and Inauguration Day so he was 78 when sworn into office.

Is there an age limit on U.S. president? ›

Legal requirements for presidential candidates have remained the same since the year Washington accepted the presidency. As directed by the Constitution, a presidential candidate must be a natural born citizen of the United States, a resident for 14 years, and 35 years of age or older.

What are the 5 requirements to be president? ›

Candidates for president must:
  • Be a natural-born citizen of the United States.
  • Be at least 35 years old.
  • Have been a resident of the United States for 14 years.
Apr 6, 2023

Has a vice president ever been removed from office? ›

The second proceeding, the impeachment trial, takes place in the Senate. There, conviction on any of the articles requires a two-thirds majority vote and would result in the removal from office (if currently sitting), and possible debarment from holding future office. No United States vice president has been impeached.

How much money does the vice president of the United States make? ›

$235,100 per annum

Who is fifth in line for the presidency? ›

Current order of succession
4Secretary of StateDemocratic
5Secretary of the TreasuryDemocratic
6Secretary of DefenseUnknown
7Attorney GeneralUnknown
14 more rows

What President had the most children? ›

John Tyler was the most prolific of all American President: he had 15 children and two wives. In 1813, Tyler married Letitia Christian, the daughter of a Virginia planter. They had eight children.

Who is the oldest Vice President alive? ›

The oldest living vice president is Dick Cheney, born on January 30, 1941 (age 82 years, 94 days). The youngest living vice president is the incumbent, Kamala Harris, born on October 20, 1964 (age 58 years, 196 days). The shortest-lived vice president was Daniel D.

Who was the only President who was a lifelong bachelor? ›

James Buchanan, the 15th President of the United States (1857-1861), served immediately prior to the American Civil War. He remains the only President to be elected from Pennsylvania and to remain a lifelong bachelor.

Can a vice president be president for 3 terms? ›

However, vice presidents, like members of the U.S. Congress, face no such restrictions on how long they can hold their jobs. To date, though, no one who's ever been a heartbeat away from the presidency has served more than two full terms.

Can the president temporarily give power to the vice president? ›

Section 3 allows for the voluntary transfer of presidential authority to the vice president (for example, in anticipation of a medical procedure) by the president declaring in writing to be unable to discharge the powers and duties of the presidency.

Can a president serve another term? ›

Section 1. No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice, and no person who has held the office of President, or acted as President, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President shall be elected to the office of the President more than once.

Who was the only President never to name a vice president? ›

Ford succeeded to the presidency when Nixon resigned in 1974, but was defeated for election to a full term in 1976. Ford is the only U.S. president to have never been elected president or vice president.

Are 42 of the 43 presidents related? ›

The remarkable discovery was made by 12-year-old BridgeAnne d'Avignon, of Salinas, California, who created a ground-breaking family tree that connected 42 of 43 U.S. presidents to one common, and rather unexpected, ancestor: King John of England.

Who was the only President to have 2 presidential numbers? ›

Stephen Grover Cleveland (March 18, 1837 – June 24, 1908) was an American lawyer and politician who served as the 22nd and 24th president of the United States from 1885 to 1889 and from 1893 to 1897. Cleveland is the only president in U.S. history to serve non-consecutive presidential terms.

Who is the richest president? ›

Donald Trump

Who was the best president? ›

Abraham Lincoln is mostly regarded as the greatest president for his leadership during the Civil War and the abolition of slavery. His main contender is Franklin D. Roosevelt, for leading the country out of the Great Depression and during World War II.

Who was the youngest First Lady of the United States? ›

Hundreds of spectators gathered outside of the White House to celebrate the wedding. It was the first to see a president married in the White House itself, and it inaugurated Frances Cleveland as the youngest presidential spouse in American history.

How many presidents were not born in the United States? ›

All presidents who have served since were born in the United States. Of the 45 individuals who became president, there have been eight that had at least one parent who was not born on U.S. soil.

How can the president be removed from office? ›

Article II, Section 4: The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.

Can the president declare war? ›

The Constitution divides war powers between Congress and the president. Only Congress can declare war and appropriate military funding, yet the president is commander in chief of the armed forces.

What is president salary? ›

The president's salary currently sits at $400,000 annually. This amount was set by Congress in 2001, with the passage of a provision in the treasury appropriations bill.

Who was the youngest person to run for president? ›

At the age of 36, Bryan became and still remains the youngest presidential nominee of a major party in American history. The convention nominated Arthur Sewall, a wealthy Maine shipbuilder who also favored free silver and the income tax, as Bryan's running mate.

What is the 12th Amendment? ›

Constitutional Amendments – Amendment 12 – “Electing the President and Vice President” Amendment Twelve to the Constitution was ratified on June 15, 1804. It revises and outlines the procedure of how Presidents and Vice Presidents are elected, specifically so that they are elected together.

Has any president run for a second term with a different vice president? ›

No president has sought reelection with a running mate different than their incumbent vice president since Gerald Ford did so unsuccessfully in 1976.

Can a Supreme Court justice be removed by the president? ›

Federal judges can only be removed through impeachment by the House of Representatives and conviction in the Senate. Judges and Justices serve no fixed term — they serve until their death, retirement, or conviction by the Senate.

Can a Supreme Court justice be impeached? ›

The Constitution states that Justices "shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour." This means that the Justices hold office as long as they choose and can only be removed from office by impeachment. Has a Justice ever been impeached? The only Justice to be impeached was Associate Justice Samuel Chase in 1805.

Does the vice president get a pension for life? ›

Once the vice president leaves office, he/she is entitled to various benefits in retirement. The vice president receives a pension based on their position as the president of the senate, and the years they served in public office.

How much does the average American make? ›

What Is the Average US Salary (2022) The national average salary is $60,575. That is the sum of all incomes divided by the number of workers. Where someone lives, their industry, education level, and current demand for that job all contribute to how much a worker earns per year.

Who pays the vice president's salary? ›

The Office of the Vice President (OVP) consists of the aggregation of Vice Presidential employees whose salary is disbursed by the Secretary of the Senate from the Vice President's legislative appropriation, Vice Presidential employees employed with the Vice President's executive appropriation, employees assigned or ...

What happens if the Vice President resigns? ›

Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the Vice President, the President shall nominate a Vice President who shall take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both Houses of Congress.

Who is fourth in line if the president dies? ›

The Secretary holds the most senior position in the President's Cabinet. If the President were to resign or die, the Secretary of State is fourth in line of succession after the Vice President, the Speaker of the House, and the President pro tempore of the Senate.

Has the Speaker of the House ever been President? ›

James K. Polk of Tennessee was the first (and only) Speaker to serve as President.

Has Kamala Harris been confirmed as vice president? ›

Kamala D. Harris is the Vice President of the United States of America. She was elected Vice President after a lifetime of public service, having been elected District Attorney of San Francisco, California Attorney General, and United States Senator.

Is Kamala Harris the youngest vice president? ›

The oldest living vice president is Dick Cheney, born on January 30, 1941 (age 82 years, 94 days). The youngest living vice president is the incumbent, Kamala Harris, born on October 20, 1964 (age 58 years, 196 days). The shortest-lived vice president was Daniel D.

Is the vice president the second lady? ›

The second gentleman or second lady of the United States (SGOTUS or SLOTUS respectively) is the informal title held by the spouse of the vice president of the United States, concurrent with the vice president's term of office.

What vice presidential record did Kamala Harris break? ›

List of vice presidents by number of tie-breaking votes
RankNumber of tie-breaking votes castVice president of the United States (presiding officer of the Senate)
131John C. Calhoun
229John Adams
229Kamala Harris
47 more rows

How many female vice presidents have we had? ›

Only one woman, Hillary Clinton, was a major-party nominee for president. She was nominated by the Democratic party in 2016. One woman has won the office of the Vice President: Kamala Harris in 2020.

Has any vice president been removed from office? ›

No United States vice president has been impeached. One has gone through an impeachment inquiry, however, without being formally impeached.

Has a president ever served as vice president? ›

15 presidents previously served as vice presidents.

Who was the oldest president? ›

Age of presidents

The youngest at the time of their election to the office was John F. Kennedy, at age 43. The oldest person elected president was Joe Biden, the nation's current president, at age 77. Biden celebrated a birthday between Election Day and Inauguration Day so he was 78 when sworn into office.

Can a former president run for vice president? ›

Others contend that the original intent of the 12th Amendment concerns qualification for service (age, residence, and citizenship), while the 22nd Amendment concerns qualifications for election, and thus a former two-term president is still eligible to serve as vice president.

Who was the youngest vice president in the United States history? ›

John Cabell Breckinridge became the youngest vice president in United States history when he was elected with President James Buchanan in the 1856 election.

What does the first lady get paid? ›

The first lady is not an elected position; it carries no official duties and receives no salary. Nonetheless, she attends many official ceremonies and functions of state either along with or in place of the president.

What is a Vice Presidents wife called? ›

Second lady and second gentleman are honorary titles often used in reference to the spouse of a vice president, or spouse of a lieutenant governor or other second-ranked government official.

What is the husband of a female president called? ›

While there has never been a male spouse of a U.S. president, "first gentleman" is used in the United States for the male spouse of a mayor or governor. First spouse and first partner, both rare variations of the title, can be used in either case where the spouse of a political leader is of any gender.

Has a vice president ever ran for president and won? ›

Six have been elected to the presidency, or over a third of running vice-presidents, while seven have lost the presidential election. Eleven have earned the primary nomination in their party, with most of them winning the presidency.

Who was the only vice president to ever resign from office? ›

Spiro Theodore Agnew (November 9, 1918 – September 17, 1996) was the 39th vice president of the United States, serving from 1969 until his resignation in 1973. He is the second vice president to resign the position, the other being John C. Calhoun in 1832. Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.

Can the vice president break a tie vote in the Senate? ›

"The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no Vote, unless they be equally divided" (U.S. Constitution, Article I, section 3). Since 1789, 297 tie-breaking votes have been cast.


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