After Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar humiliated herself by throwing cold water on the idea during an MSNBC appearance, Democratic lawmakers from across the country seem to have finally woken up and realized that there’s an economic emergency unfolding and that “let them eat Federal Reserve lending facilities” is not a compelling message.
But one unique and much-needed voice is bizarrely muted: Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.
Before we get to the California lawmaker, it’s worth noting that her boss, President-elect Joe Biden, seems to have completely checked out of the current debate, after helping create a debacle.
He reportedly convinced congressional Democrats to get steamrolled by Mitch McConnell and agree to provide just $600 in direct aid — which Georgia Democratic senate candidate Jon Ossoff rightly called “a joke.” Biden has vaguely promised to push more aid in 2021, but he is not weighing in forcefully on the budget showdown that is unfolding right now. An austerian to the core, Biden took a dump in the middle of the process, and is now running away from the mess he helped create.
Harris’s absence is more notable and perplexing considering that she is in a position to play a direct role in the legislative standoff. She isn’t just the vice president–elect and she isn’t just any old member of the US Senate that could ultimately decide the fate of the stimulus bill. Harris also happens to be the lead author of legislation to provide $2,000 a month to individuals during the pandemic.
This wasn’t some small initiative — this was Harris’s big headline-grabbing idea she was pushing during the veepstakes. This was supposed to be a proof point illustrating her progressive credentials and her appreciation of the magnitude of the crisis America now faces.
A one-time payment is not enough. https://t.co/YBHTxMbZ3D
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) May 8, 2020
So where is Harris now?
It’s hard to know what’s happening behind the scenes, but at least in public, she’s been quiet on the issue. Indeed, while she has made some generic comments about Congress needing to pass some form of stimulus, she has not been an aggressive leader on the question of direct aid in the current legislative package. Take a look at her social media feeds and peruse Google News for her mentions — there doesn’t seem to be much of anything from her in the middle of the central budget controversy of the entire crisis.
Perhaps she is just following Biden’s lead. Or maybe she believes some ridiculous seventeen-dimensional-chess theory that staying out of the fray will help secure a good outcome, in the same way Democrats always come up with rationales to live to never fight another day. Or maybe there’s a more innocent explanation — maybe she just hasn’t gotten around to it but is about to weigh in.
Whether or not she does will tell us a lot about what we can expect from her in the Biden administration. More specifically, it will tell us a lot about whether she plans to be an envoy for the progressive causes she purported to support during her presidential run — remember when she laudably said it was time to end the private health insurance system? — or whether she will just appropriate Biden’s austerity ideology as her own.
The significance of this moment for Harris cannot be overstated. As the incoming vice president, a sitting senator, and the author of a much more expansive version of the $2,000 proposal right now in front of Congress, she can play a singularly significant role in galvanizing her party behind a desperately needed policy that polling data shows is wildly popular.
This is her chance to lead Democrats to a big win over McConnell in support of a policy that will help millions of people. Let’s hope she seizes the moment and doesn’t decide to just disappear.