Kamala Harris Made Joe Biden's Rough Week Even Worse

The past week was tough for President Joe Biden. Vice President Kamala Harris didn't make it any easier.

Biden's legislative agenda, including a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill and a sprawling $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation package, stalled after Democrats failed to reach an agreement on the larger piece of legislation, which includes funding for a variety of social programs.

Earlier in the week, lawmakers grilled military leaders over the U.S. evacuation of Afghanistan, and one contradicted a statement the president made last month claiming that advisers did not tell him to keep a small military presence in the country.

Polls in recent weeks have shown Biden struggling. Last month in a Harvard CAPS-Harris poll, 51 percent of registered voters said Donald Trump was a better president than Biden. A survey released by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research Friday showed Biden's approval dropping among Democrats.

Harris, for her part, inadvertently added to the president's problems on Tuesday with her response to a George Mason University student's comment accusing Israel of "ethnic genocide."

Harris Under Fire After Israel Comment Response
Vice President Kamala Harris made a difficult week for the Biden administration even harder after she appeared to agree with a student accusing Israel of “ethnic genocide.” Above, she speaks during a virtual COVID summit in the White House on September 22. Drew Angerer

"You brought up how the power of the people and demonstrations and organizing is very valuable in America," the student said, "but I see that over the summer there have been protests and demonstrations in astronomical numbers standing with Palestine. But then just a few days ago there were funds allocated to continue backing Israel, which hurts my heart because it's ethnic genocide and displacement of people, the same that happened in America, and I'm sure you're aware of this."

In response, Harris said: "This is about the fact that your voice, your perspective, your experience, your truth should not be suppressed, and it must be heard."

The Israeli press jumped on the story. "VP Harris to student who accused Israel of 'genocide:' Your truth must be heard," read a headline in the Jerusalem Post on September 29. "Harris praises student for expressing 'your truth' after anti-Israel rant," Israel Hayom wrote.

Republicans quickly criticized Harris for her reaction, which some took to be agreement with the student.

"Kamala Harris doesn't have time to go the border, but she apparently has plenty of time to encourage anti-Israel, anti-Semitic falsehoods," Republican Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri tweeted Tuesday, responding to a video of the exchange posted by the Republican National Committee.

Kamala Harris doesn’t have time to go the border, but she apparently has plenty of time to encourage anti-Israel, anti-Semitic falsehoods https://t.co/wY4T6rjdGX

— Josh Hawley (@HawleyMO) September 29, 2021

Harris's office released a statement noting that the vice president has been "unwavering in her commitment to Israel and to Israel's security," and that she "strongly disagrees with the student's characterization of Israel." Politico reported that Harris was working to mend relationships with pro-Israel Democrats; her office was also in touch with Jewish groups, including the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

"Just spoke with@VP office. Glad to hear her confirm she is proud of her record supporting #Israel, and knows claim it is committing 'ethnic genocide' is patently false. Looking fwd to a clearing of the record so there's no ambiguity that what that student said was hateful/wrong," ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt wrote on Twitter Thursday.

Just spoke with @VP office. Glad to hear her confirm she is proud of her record supporting #Israel, and knows claim it is committing 'ethnic genocide' is patently false. Looking fwd to a clearing of the record so there's no ambiguity that what that student said was hateful/wrong.

— Jonathan Greenblatt (@JGreenblattADL) September 30, 2021

The White House sent Newsweek a statement from Harris spokesperson Symone Sanders on Sunday saying that "throughout her career, the Vice President has been unwavering in her commitment to Israel and to Israel's security. While visiting George Mason University to discuss voting rights, a student voiced a personal opinion during a political science class. The Vice President strongly disagrees with the student's characterization of Israel."

It wasn't the first time Harris opened the Biden administration to criticism.

Republicans went after her earlier this year with questions about why she hadn't visited the U.S.-Mexico border as part of her role in addressing the sharp rise in illegal immigration, and for laughing while being questioned about the matter during an interview with Lester Holt on NBC News.

Guatemala's president, Alejandro Giammattei, who has been in talks with Harris about the migrant crisis, this summer criticized the Biden administration's messaging around immigration. Harris was also criticized by the left for comments she made in Guatemala in June when she said "do not come" to people in the region thinking about traveling to the U.S. border.

"First, seeking asylum at any US border is a 100% legal method of arrival," Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Twitter at the time. "Second, the US spent decades contributing to regime change and destabilization in Latin America. We can't help set someone's house on fire and then blame them for fleeing."

"Kamala Harris is still not ready for primetime (much less 2024)," said a headline in The Hill in June.

The pileup of problems explains why many Democrats were so relieved by Governor Gavin Newsom's emphatic win in California's recall election last month. Harris's difficulty in staying on message or connecting with voters (her 2020 campaign ended before Iowa because she was polling so poorly) doesn't fill Democrats with confidence. If Biden should decide not to run for re-election in 2024, Harris—the sitting vice president, a former California senator and attorney general, and a history-making woman of color—would be the obvious candidate to succeed him. But it's not clear that she would be the best.