Kamala Harris can’t fix her office, much less the border
President Joe Biden has a problem, and her name is Kamala Harris. The vice president has become a comic figure in today’s Washington—a politician given to missteps and unforced errors who inspires neither loyalty nor trust within her inner circle. She might have been Biden’s safest pick for running mate. But now she’s a liability for both the president and the Democratic Party.
It’s not just that Harris is unpopular. Her unique combination of falsity and incompetence generates negative press and endangers her dreams of succeeding Biden. For Harris, the month of June has been an extended replay of highlights from Veep, the HBO comedy starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus as a clueless and floundering politician on the make. Only Harris isn’t laughing.
Her favorability among registered voters is 7 points underwater in the latest Economist/YouGov survey. Biden’s approval, by contrast, is split even: 48 percent approve, and 48 percent disapprove. More worrisome for Harris is her “very unfavorable” rating. It’s at 40 percent. That’s 3 points higher than Biden’s number—and just 3 points short of Nancy Pelosi’s.
The reason for Harris’s unpopularity is no mystery. It’s her performance. She has a problem following through. She’s fine when working from a script, but she stumbles whenever she must improvise. The classic example came early in the 2020 campaign. Harris attacked Biden during a primary debate for opposing school busing in the 1970s. The moment went viral—and then evaporated. Harris couldn’t rebut Biden’s arguments against Medicare for All. She couldn’t withstand Tulsi Gabbard’s criticism of her record as California’s state attorney general. She didn’t make it past the first week of December 2019.
Last August, when Biden asked her to join the Democratic ticket, Harris took the Hippocratic Oath of running mates: first, do no harm. She lived up to the pledge. She followed the Biden strategy of letting President Donald Trump hog the stage and self-destruct. She made no great mistakes during her debate with Vice President Mike Pence. And she barely made a sound during the presidential transition. The biggest flap concerning Harris was over a Vogue cover shoot that annoyed her Very Online fan base.
It was Biden who set Harris up for a fall. By May, the surge in illegal crossings at the southern border had become impossible to ignore. Biden said the vice president would lead the administration’s response. This was a gargantuan and impossible task. After all, Biden’s reversal of Trump’s immigration policies is behind the increase in illegal immigration. And there’s no way Harris would contradict her boss, even if she wanted to.
Harris immediately distanced herself from her assignment. She recast her mandate as a diplomatic effort to address the “root causes” of migration. (The root cause is simple: America is a better place to live than the Northern Triangle of Central America.) Her evasion was transparent—and Republicans began criticizing her for refusing to visit the border. But the Harris team doubled down, scheduling a trip to Guatemala and Mexico in early June. It was a disaster.
Harris meant to strike a tough tone during her visit to Guatemala City. “Do not come,” she told potential migrants. But her message was undercut: first by Guatemalan president Alejandro Giammattei, who blamed Biden’s “lukewarm” rhetoric for the rise in migration, and then by NBC News anchor Lester Holt, who asked Harris why she was several thousand miles away from the border. A flustered Harris laughed awkwardly and tried to dodge before blurting out, “And I haven’t been to Europe!” Louis-Dreyfus couldn’t have delivered the line any better.
Harris’s inane reply amplified Republican charges that she was avoiding the real issue. By the time she returned from her trip, it was obvious that Harris would visit the border sooner rather than later. The question was when. On June 25, less than a week before Trump was scheduled to visit Texas, Harris hurriedly went to El Paso. The Democratic bastion is far from the Rio Grande valley that has been the busiest site of illegal activity. But Harris managed to get through her day trip without incident. The fallout didn’t arrive until later.
The voyage to El Paso illustrated another Harris vulnerability: She’s a terrible manager. Leaks and infighting bedeviled her short-lived presidential campaign. Working for her is hazardous to your health. Or at least that’s what an anonymous source told Politico on June 30. The blockbuster story, carrying three bylines and based on interviews with 22 “current and former vice-presidential aides, administration officials, and associates of Harris and Biden,” left no doubt that Harris runs a dysfunctional operation. “It’s not a place where people feel supported but a place where people feel treated like s—,” said a “person with direct knowledge of how Harris’s office is run.” Imagine what they say on the office Slack channel.
Biden adviser Anita Dunn told Politico that the situation was “not anywhere near what you are describing.” Perhaps it’s worse. One of Harris’s former Senate aides said, “The boss’s expectations won’t always be predictable.” Not exactly what you want in a leader. Politico says Harris “excels when those around her project calm and order, creating a sense of confidence and certainty.” Unfortunately, confidence and certainty are precisely those qualities that go missing in the ad hoc, improvisational, contingent, and situational world of global politics.
More interviews and stories like these and Harris will soon be living the politician’s worst nightmare: becoming a punchline. A cynic might say that Biden purposely handed Harris the toughest assignments to redirect negative public sentiment away from the Oval Office and to displace the frustrations and embarrassments he experienced during eight years as Barack Obama’s vice president. Democratic strategists worry that Harris exhibits none of Biden’s strengths, such as they are, while shouldering all his weaknesses. That doesn’t bode well if Biden opts not to run in 2024.
Then again, in the third season of Veep, the fictional president steps down. Louis-Dreyfus’s character becomes president. Think Harris is funny now? The joke might be on us.
Engage Taiwan, boycott the 2022 Olympics, and impose a carbon tariff
The debate over the origins of the coronavirus—did it come from a wet market in Wuhan or from the virology lab nearby—has exposed the bias of media and technology companies and the potential danger of so-called gain of function research. But it also has led to something of an intellectual cul-de-sac. Barring a high-level defection from the Chinese Communist Party, we are unlikely ever to learn the answer. And even if we did have conclusive evidence one way or another, we still would have to decide what to do about it. The real question isn’t whether the pandemic is China’s fault. It’s whether China will pay a price for the catastrophic damage it caused the world.
Wherever the virus came from, we know that the Chinese government lied about it for weeks. Dr. Ai Fen shared information about a novel coronavirus with her colleagues on December 30, 2019. The next day, as Lawrence Wright recounts in The Plague Year, China removed social media posts that mentioned “unknown Wuhan pneumonia” or “Wuhan Seafood Market.” Dr. Li Wenliang, who warned the public that the virus could be transmitted from human to human, was arrested and forced to deliver a televised confession. He died of COVID-19 on February 6, 2020.
Beijing prevaricated for a month while the deadly pandemic spread. China did not allow the World Health Organization to visit Wuhan until January 20, 2020. The same day, one of China’s top doctors finally admitted the obvious: COVID-19 is a communicable disease. By the time the Communist leadership took action, it was too late. On January 21, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control confirmed the first case of coronavirus in America. China did not quarantine Wuhan until January 22. “By that time,” according to Wright, “nearly half the population of Wuhan had already left the city for Chinese New Year.”
The dishonesty and incompetence of the Chinese Communist Party turned a national crisis into a global one. A March 2020 study estimated that cases might have been reduced by anywhere from 66 percent to 95 percent if Chinese authorities had acted earlier. Why was Beijing slow to move? Because bureaucratic collectivist societies such as Communist China are especially prone to delays and coverups as underlings attempt to avoid punishment from above. The same powers of draconian coercion that China used to lock down its population inspired fear among the midlevel and regional officials who allowed the virus to leave China in the first place. The problem wasn’t scientific. It was political. And punishment is deserved.
What to do? Writing in the Washington Post, Mike Pompeo and Scooter Libby call on the “leading democracies” to “act together,” leveraging “their great economic power” to “persuade China to curb its dangerous viral research activities, cooperate with the investigation of the coronavirus’s origins, and, over time, pay some measure of the pandemic’s damages to other nations.” It’s a worthy strategy with a potentially fatal flaw: The other democracies might put economics ahead of accountability.
Another proposal in Congress would strip China of its sovereign immunity and make it liable for damages in U.S. courts. That plan would also leave American foreign policy dependent on outside actors—in this case, judges. And millions of potential claimants attempting to seize Chinese assets in the United States could make for a mess.
China never will volunteer to open its labs. Nor will it compensate either nations or individuals for the havoc it unleashed. Costs must be imposed that Beijing cannot avoid.
I have three suggestions. Each is more controversial than the last. But all of them would ensure that China paid some price for its lax hygiene and sanitation standards, loosey-goosey research protocols, and reckless attitude toward human freedom and human life.
Engage Taiwan. To its credit, the Biden administration has continued the stepped-up engagement with Taiwan that began under President Trump. In April, Biden sent an unofficial delegation to the island that included his close friend Chris Dodd. Most recently, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai raised the prospect of new trade talks in a conversation with her Taiwanese counterpart. This pattern of contacts bothers mainland China to no end.
Keep it up. But also do more to train and equip Taiwanese military forces, as my American Enterprise Institute colleagues Gary Schmitt and Michael Mazza suggested last year in The Dispatch. Taiwan is a reminder that Chinese people can be free and that open societies can deal effectively with pandemics. The very existence of Chinese democracy in Taiwan is a threat to the legitimacy of Communist rule in the mainland. It’s an obstacle to Beijing’s ambitions in the Pacific. Taiwan’s defense is imperative.
Boycott the Olympics. One day before he left office, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the Chinese Communist Party “has committed genocide against the predominantly Muslim Uighurs and other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang.” Here, too, the Biden administration has not deviated from its predecessor’s course. The United States openly accuses its arch-rival of crimes against humanity. This is a pretty big deal, is it not?
Well, start acting like it. Why the participation of U.S. officials in the Beijing Olympics next year is even up for debate is a mystery. The White House has said that it is not exploring a boycott. That needs to change. On June 7 a bipartisan resolution was introduced in Congress demanding that the International Olympic Committee explore other venues. A declaration that no U.S. government personnel will participate because of China’s actions at home and abroad would embarrass Beijing. It would encourage other democracies to do the same. China deserves neither the honor of nor the revenue from the participation of U.S. officials. Let the athletes compete. But cheer them on from home.
Impose a carbon tariff. President Biden has also maintained the tariffs that President Trump levied against Chinese goods. Economist Irwin Stelzer of the Hudson Institute has a better plan. He would replace these tariffs with a border tax on the carbon content of Chinese exports. The strategy has appeal for environmentalists and China hawks alike. Everyone knows that China is the world’s largest emitter. Everyone knows that China’s promise of greenhouse gas reduction is worthless. Beijing won’t do anything that jeopardizes the economic growth on which it bases its claim to rule.
“In effect,” writes Stelzer, “by selling us ‘dirty’ products, China is adding to the competitive advantage it has from selling us stuff made by slave and other laborers paid wages with which we cannot decently compete, around $2 per hour in Beijing.” The EU already is at work on what it calls a “Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism” on Chinese exports. By pushing for a carbon tariff of its own, the Biden administration would please not only hawks and greens, but also the European allies whose opinion it values so highly.
The problem with a “carbon border adjustment mechanism,” of course, is that the process of calculating a good’s carbon content might turn out to be overly complicated, bureaucratic, and subject to politicization. I’m not in the habit of taking economic advice from Brussels. But these problems must be weighed against the justice and potential benefits of such a tax. And the additional cost could be rebated to low-income U.S. consumers along the lines that Senator Tom Cotton proposed in a slightly different context in 2019.
In the end, whether or not the United States adopts a tax on Chinese carbon is less important than moving the debate from the pandemic’s origins to the pandemic’s endgame. The despotic regime whose malign indifference killed so many and cost so much cannot be allowed to pretend that nothing happened. We can hold China responsible. And we can make China pay.
President Trump has repeatedly warned of potential voter fraud associated with mass mail-in ballots for the November election, but a bigger threat might be sheer incompetence. Can we really rely on the U.S. Postal Service to handle a nationwide influx of mail-in ballots beginning next month?
So far, there’s not much reason for confidence. Last week in New York City, the Board of Elections threw out more than 84,000 mail-in ballots for the June 23 Democratic primary. That was out of a total of nearly 319,000 mail-in ballots, which means about 21 percent of all mail-in ballots were invalidated.
The New York Post reported, “One out of four mail-in ballots were disqualified for arriving late, lacking a postmark or failing to include a voter’s signature, or other defects.” What’s more, it took six weeks to declare a winner in two closely watched Democratic congressional primary races, largely because of delays associated with a surge of mail-in votes.
Elsewhere around the country, similar problems are cropping up. In Pennsylvania, mail-in ballot problems kept tens of thousands of residents from voting in the June primaries. In California, more than 100,000 mail-in ballots were rejected in the March presidential primary, mostly for missing the postmark and arrival deadlines.
Missing deadlines is turning out to be a real problem. A recent NPR analysis of 2020 mail-in primary ballots found significant rates of rejection because of late arrival. In Virginia, for example, more than 5.6 percent of all primary mail-in ballots were thrown out for arriving after the deadline. The numbers themselves are not large, but in a close election they can make all the difference—after all, Trump won in 2016 because of just 80,000 votes in three key states.
All these problems suggest the Postal Service isn’t prepared to handle an influx of voting by mail this November, as well as the possibility that no winner will be declared on election night because of mail-in ballot delays.
Postmaster General Louis DeJoy last week said the Postal Service is expecting “an unprecedented increase in election mail volume due to the pandemic,” yet insisted it “has ample capacity to deliver all election mail securely and on time in accordance with our delivery standards.”
Based on all the mail-in ballot problems we’ve seen so far this year, that doesn’t seem to be the case. The Postal Service has been bleeding money for a long time—its losses this year reached $1.5 billion, compared to $1.1 billion last year—and the coronavirus pandemic has made things worse as the volume of mail sent by businesses has plummeted. Last month, the Postal Service agreed to a $10 billion loan from the U.S. Treasury Department after congressional negotiations to give the service as much as $25 billion fell through.
DeJoy’s efforts to manage these losses, which include a hiring freeze for leadership positions announced last week, have been denounced by Democrats who sound increasingly like conspiracy theorists. Rep. Gerry Connolly of Virginia, the Democrat who chairs the committee overseeing the postal service, accused DeJoy of “deliberate sabotage to disrupt mail service on the eve of the election—an election that hinges on mail-in ballots.”
Democrats complain that DeJoy, a Republican and a Trump supporter, is a “partisan” postmaster general, and that his efforts to shore up the Postal Service are really a ploy to steal the election.
But to the extent the Postal Service has a political bias, it certainly isn’t DeJoy’s fault—and in fact, it goes in the other direction. Last month, the American Postal Workers Union’s National Executive Board endorsed Joe Biden, saying in a statement that Trump is “a serious threat to our decent postal jobs, our unions and to the right of the people to a public Postal Service.”
That’s not to say there’s a conspiracy in the other direction, that Postal Service workers are going to mishandle mail-in ballots on purpose to hurt Trump. Only that relying on a failing government agency like the Postal Service to ensure the integrity of a presidential election might not be a good idea, especially given all the problems we’ve already seen with mail-in ballots in primary elections this year.
by Carly Fiorina • USAToday
Last week, we learned that that 1 in 15 Americans was personally affected by the federal Office of Personnel Management’s egregious failure to protect our most personal information. It is now clear that their security breach compromised the personal information of every U.S. citizen who has undergone a government background check in the last 15 years. That is nearly 22 million people — more than the population of the state of New York and nearly 7% of the entire U.S. population.
Social Security numbers, health information, fingerprint records and information about family or foreign contacts were compromised. This breach violated not only our right to privacy – but also the very safety and security of our nation. Continue reading
Editorial Board • Investor’s Business Daily
Faced with what the World Health Organization calls the “most severe acute health emergency in modern times,” who gets the job of Ebola Czar? A political hack who signed off on the Solyndra fiasco.
Everything about how the unfolding Ebola crisis is being handled by the Obama administration suggests unseriousness and incompetence — painfully ironic considering that “making government work for the people” was one of President Obama’s original promises.
From refusing to ban travel to and from the West African Ebola hot spots; to the misinformation about medical protocols to isolate any cases of the disease appearing in the U.S. being ready; to the dubious claims that only those with symptoms could pass on the virus; this administration has gotten it wrong.
Challenged by so much confusion and so many dangers, the president canceled several fundraising trips for his party, but who does he then appoint to oversee the U.S. government’s efforts against Ebola? Famed rags-to-riches neurosurgeon Ben Carson perhaps?
No. Ron Klain, a political operative played by Kevin Spacey in a movie about the 2000 Florida recount. Continue reading
by Joseph Curl • Washington Times
It was only a matter of time.
President Obama, a short-term college professor and failed community organizer who became a mostly absentee state senator and then an all-but-invisible U.S. senator, has Petered out. Per the Peter Principle, he has risen to his level of incompetence — some would argue far beyond it.
The president — and the president alone — let Ebola into America. He could have made one phone call (even on Saturday, when playing his 200th round of golf as president) and said one sentence to protect all Americans from the usually fatal disease: “No one from West Africa gets into the country.”
Done. That single sentence would have kept Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian who had carried an Ebola sufferer back into her home after she was turned away at a hospital, out of Dallas. While he lied on an airport questionnaire about whether he had had contact with anyone suffering the disease, and while hospital workers blundered badly even though they knew he has been in Liberia, the bottom line is Duncan would not have been in America had the president banned visitors from Ebola-stricken countries. Simple. Continue reading
Do congressional Republicans face an impossible choice between being politically used or undermining U.S. prestige in the Mideast? The corner that President Obama has trapped them in is just an illusion.
The most important fact about the president’s decision to ask Congress’ permission before striking Syria is that it is 100% political.
Even the American Enterprise Institute’s hawkish Marc Thiessen warned that Obama’s limited strikes “will likely fail, and he wants Congress on the hook so that Republicans cannot criticize his Syria policy when it implodes.” Therefore, “Republicans should not take the bait” by voting yes.
As former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton told Fox News, the charge that “it’ll cause a huge blow to America’s credibility if Congress doesn’t approve the use of force” begs the question: “a huge blow to America’s credibility compared to what? Compared to the mess the president’s already made of it?” Continue reading