5 Major Accomplishments From Kamala Harris In Her First Year as Vice President
Since taking office in Jan. 2021, Harris has done much to advance the administration’s agenda.
January 20, 2022 at 5:04 pm
Thursday marks the first anniversary of the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, presenting a useful moment to analyze their first year in office. As vice president, Harris does not generally directly make policy, but she is often a leading face for important initiatives of the administration. Presidents often also take advantage of the expertise of their vice presidents for advice and coordination, as has been the case with Harris, a former California attorney general and senator. Additionally, the Constitution grants the vice president a few rarely used but important powers that became relevant in 2021. With all this in mind, here are five of the biggest achievements of Harris during her first year in office.
1. Addressing the southern border “crisis”
One of the early challenges for the Biden-Harris administration was a reported “surge” in migrants from Mexico and Central America attempting unauthorized entry into the U.S. via its southern border. Though policing the border technically falls under the Department of Homeland Security, Biden tasked Harris with addressing the underlying causes of the migration surge from Central America. Harris has been routinely criticized by conservative and liberal media for her handling of the so-called border crisis, despite several experts arguing that the seeming increase in border crossings was in line with past seasonal fluctuations combined with the after-effects of the 2020 border closure due to COVID.
Criticisms aside, the vice president launched a “Call to Action” initiative to address the economic hardships driving emigration from Central America to the United States. The Call to Action initiative has been working with American corporations to improve economic conditions in countries that have been the source of migrants. In December, Harris announced that a variety of private businesses had pledged more than $1 billion to invest in Central American countries in order to create economic opportunities.
2. Confirming Biden administration nominees
As outlined by the U.S. Constitution, one of the few direct powers of the vice president is to serve as president of the Senate and to break any ties in Senate voting. The Senate website states that vice presidents have cast 283 tie-breaking votes since 1789, which averages to a little more than one tie-breaker per year. However, because of the even split between Democrats and Republicans in the current Senate, Harris cast 15 tie-breaking votes in 2021, more than Mike Pence cast during his entire time as vice president. To give further context, Biden never had to be a tie-breaker during his eight years as vice president.
Most of the votes Harris has cast as vice president have been for officials nominated to various roles within the Biden administration. Senate Republicans have purposely blocked many of Biden’s nominations, holding up the administration’s appointments to a degree not before seen in Washington. Faced with such opposition, Harris has used her vote to push through a number of key appointments. These include Rachael Rollins, who is now the first Black woman to serve as U.S. attorney for Massachusetts. Harris also broke a tie to appoint Catherine Lhamon as assistant secretary for Civil Rights at the Department of Education, a position Lhamon previously held during the Obama administration.
3. Helping pass the American Rescue Plan
The few times that Harris has broken a Senate tie on something other than a nomination have been in service of a major part of the administration’s agenda: COVID-19 relief. On Feb. 5, only a few weeks after being sworn in, Harris returned to the Senate floor at around 5 a.m. to overcome Republican objection to Democrats’ proposed budget resolution, which would allow them to pass a nearly $2 trillion COVID relief stimulus bill. Harris had to return to the Senate floor in March to pass an additional vote to move forward with the plan, known as the American Rescue Plan.
“Checks in pockets. Kids back in school. Americans back at work. Small businesses open. Rent paid. A better night’s sleep,” Harris tweeted about the plan.
Checks in pockets. Kids back in school. Americans back at work. Small businesses open. Rent paid. A better night’s sleep. This is the American Rescue Plan.
— Vice President Kamala Harris (@VP) March 27, 2021
Harris, who is on pace to cast the most tie-breaking votes in Senate history, recognizes the importance of her role. “Every time I vote, we win,” she once joked about her tie-breaking power.
“Every time I vote, we win.”
-Vice President Kamala Harris
She is breaking ties and the spirit of her haters. https://t.co/yehHKqwSZy
— josecanyousee (@josecanyousee_) December 8, 2021
4. Briefly became the first woman to be (Acting) President of the United States
When President Biden had to go under anesthesia as part of a physical examination in November, he temporarily transferred his authority to Harris. Though not making Harris the official president of the United States, she was legally the acting president for 85 minutes, making her the first woman and the first person of Asian descent to act in that role.
The process of a president handing over power to the vice president is outlined in the 25th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1967. Other than the Biden-Harris power transfer, the amendment has only officially been invoked twice before, when President George W. Bush made Dick Cheney acting president while Bush underwent colonoscopies in 2002 and 2007.
5. Achieving progress, though not victory, on voting rights
Harris has been heavily involved in the fight for voting rights legislation. She spoke forcefully of the need to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act during high-profile appearances, such as the speech she delivered to December’s international Summit for Democracy and the remarks she gave during her recent visit with Biden to Atlanta.
It seems that Harris was even more involved than most of us knew. Politico reports that she has spent the last six months acting behind the scenes, working with legislators, voting rights activists and Black leaders to support a coalition of voting rights proponents. And even though voting rights protections predictably failed in the U.S. Senate, the Politico article argues that Harris accomplished significant progress, such as near-universal support among Senate Democrats for filibuster reform, a position that was much less popular only one year ago. And voting rights activists, including those who fault Biden for not doing enough, have expressed approval for the efforts made by Harris.
Overall, despite the usual thanklessness of the vice president’s role and the unusual criticism that has been directed at the country’s first woman and first Black and Asian vice president, Harris has racked up notable accomplishments during her first year in office. As she gears up for another year and looks ahead to fighting for reelection in 2024 alongside Biden, this groundbreaking vice president can already say that she has accomplished quite a bit.