The importance of Kamala Harris

US Vice President Kamala Harris waves during the inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th President in Washington. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

John Nance Garner gave up the powerful position of Speaker of the House to serve two terms as Franklin Roosevelt's vice president (1933-1941), but he's best remembered today for a comment (he may never actually have made) that the job of VP "is not worth a bucket of warm spit."

In reality, the role of US vice president is determined almost entirely by the president. With that in mind, how might Kamala Harris advance President Biden's agenda? A few thoughts.


As everyone surely knows by now, the 50-50 partisan split in the US Senate means that Harris — who as VP is president of the Senate — will be called upon to break tie votes. But that power has limits, because the even split within Senate committees will force Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell, leaders of the Democratic and Republican parties respectively, to agree on rules to even bring legislation up for a vote.

There are three factors that make her more important.

First, Biden says he's asked Harris to be "the last voice in the room," the final opinion he listens to before making big decisions. Early reports indicate that Biden has not given Harris a specific issue portfolio. That means that rather than exercising lead influence on one issue, she will have meaningful influence on many.

Second, Harris will also be a lightning rod, a person who can divert attacks from Biden. The Trump campaign found it difficult to land rhetorical punches on the avuncular Biden, but Harris was often targeted as a "far-left radical." Some Republicans belittled her by mocking the sound of her name. She certainly knows what misogyny and racism sound like.

By drawing fire from the president, Harris can help protect Biden's popularity as he works to advance his agenda.

Finally, the vice president's most important job is to be ready to serve as president on a moment's notice. See Harry Truman (1945), Lyndon Johnson (1963), and Gerald Ford (1974). That's the part of the job that ensures that even the least influential of vice presidents should always hold our attention.

Iran was involved in two naval incidents in the Gulf of Oman in recent days. The US, UK, and Israel have blamed Iran for a drone attack that killed two European nationals. Iran has rejected the accusations. Iran is also suspected in the "potential hijack" of a tanker off the coast of the United Arab Emirates.

These provocations are happening just as Iran inaugurates a new president, Ebrahim Raisi, and as talks continue over the possible US re-entry into the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. What's the connection between these events? We asked Henry Rome, Eurasia Group's deputy head of research and a director covering global macro politics and the Middle East.

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Jon Lieber, Managing Director of the United States for Eurasia Group, shares updates on recent COVID-19 policy developments:

The Biden administration extended an eviction moratorium even after the Supreme Court said they couldn't, what's next?

Well, the CDC imposed a nationwide eviction moratorium in light of increased risk from evicted people because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Supreme Court in June ruled that they (CDC) overextended their authority in doing so and mandated that the moratorium expire on schedule in July. A group of progressive activists weren't happy about this and raised a huge stink in Congress, but Congress recessed for their August vacation before they could solve the problem, putting big pressure on President Biden to extend the moratorium even though he said he didn't think that it would pass constitutional muster. The CDC did it anyway, extending the moratorium until October 3rd, which is a time that's short enough to probably avoid it being overturned by lawsuits, but long enough that Congress has time to figure out how to either extend it on a bipartisan basis or put more money into a rental assistance fund that few people have taken advantage of so far. This whole incident shows the power of progressive activists in the Biden administration who were able to elevate the profile of this issue and potentially prevent millions of people from losing their homes this summer.

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We expect the usual suspects — US, China, Russia — to dominate the Olympic medal tally. But how should the performances of large, well-resourced countries really be assessed? Drawing on a model first developed by a team of labor economists, the Financial Times looks at a range of factors — including past medal hauls, population size, and GDP per capita — to determine whether nations have surpassed or failed to meet expectations at the Tokyo Games. We take a look at the biggest under-performers and over-performers per the model, and whether people in these countries really care about the Olympics at all.

This week, the market value of Tencent, China's biggest video game company, nosedived after a state media outlet suggested that online gaming was as addictive and destructive as opium. Tencent immediately pledged to cap the number of hours people can play, and to keep minors off its platforms.

It's the latest example of a months-long crackdown on major Chinese technology firms that until recently were viewed as some of the world's most powerful and successful companies, as well as a source of national pride. Beijing's about-face on its own tech titans could have big implications for China, and beyond.

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Whenever Burkina Faso is in the news, it's often about how the crisis-ridden country has got caught up in the crosshairs of horrific jihadist violence plaguing the Sahel.

But this week, the nation of 20 million was celebrating because Hugues Fabrice Zango won its first-ever Olympic medal after finishing third in the men's triple jump in Tokyo.

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Should people get COVID vaccine booster shots? Not yet, says the World Health Organization, which is pushing for rich nations or those with access to jabs to hold off until at least the end of September so all countries get to fully vaccinate at least 10 percent of their populations before some jump ahead with boosters. But the WHO's call has fallen on deaf ears in nations like Israel, France, Germany and Russia, which are already planning to offer boosters, in part to better protect people against the more contagious delta variant. What's more, mRNA vaccine makers Pfizer and Moderna are recommending supplemental doses for the same reason. The problem is that, beyond the obvious moral imperative for equal access to vaccines, if the rich continue hoarding jabs while vaccination rates stay low elsewhere, the virus will continue to thrive — and mutate into new, potentially even more infectious variants that sooner or later will reach every corner of the planet.

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80: If polar ice caps continue to melt at their current pace due to climate change, 80 percent of all emperor penguins will be wiped out by the end of the century because they need the ice for breeding and keeping their offspring safe. American authorities want to list emperor penguins, which only live in Antarctica, as an endangered species so that US fishing vessels will be required to protect them when operating in their habitat.

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