The White House is deliberately keeping Kamala Harris insulated from the Afghanistan withdrawal debacle to clear her way for a future presidential run, sources have told the Daily Telegraph.
The Vice President has been notably low-profile in relation to Afghanistan for the last two weeks, cancelling encounters with journalists and saying little publicly.
Democrat strategists are aiming to give Republicans little ammunition should she be the party’s nominee in either 2024 or 2028.
“It’s the best thing he [Biden] can do, keep the VP away from it as much as possible,” one source told the Telegraph. Another source said that was the intention.
Some 60 per cent of adults questioned said they disapproved of the President’s handling of the situation in Afghanistan, according to a new Washington Post/ABC News survey on Sunday, while only some 30 per cent said they approved.
Biden’s overall approval rating has dropped since June, falling from 50 per cent to 44 per cent.
In April, Harris said she was the “last person in the room” when Biden made his decision to leave Afghanistan.
But she was not by his side when he addressed the nation on August 16, the day after the fall of Kabul.
There was discussion behind the scenes on whether Harris should go ahead with a planned week-long trip to Southeast Asia four days later, or stay in Washington for the unfolding evacuation crisis.
It was decided that the trip should go ahead, and she headed for Singapore on August 20.
As she left from Andrews Air force Base she laughed incongruously as journalists shouted questions about Afghanistan, delivering an answer of less than 15 seconds and saying evacuating Americans would be the “highest priority”.
When the Kabul Airport suicide bombing occurred on August 26 she was in the air on Air Force 2 headed for Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. When she landed she ignored shouted questions from journalists, walking straight to a car.
An event with troops at Pearl Harbor, which was to have been covered by the media, was abruptly changed by the White House so it was held behind closed doors. No explanation was given.
Harris had been scheduled to go on from Hawaii to San Francisco to campaign for Gavin Newsom, the Democrat Governor of California who is facing a recall election.
But amid growing Republican criticism of Harris’ lack of visibility during the Afghanistan crisis the trip was cancelled and Air Force 2 re-routed back to Washington.
However, when she arrived back in the capital on Friday, August 27 the Vice President did not speak to journalists on the runway, and has barely been seen publicly since.
She has been at private national security meetings by Biden’s side, but not when he has made speeches justifying his decisions on Afghanistan.
Nor did she accompany the President to Dover Air Force Base for the repatriation ceremony for the US soldiers killed in Kabul. On August 31 Harris made a rare, and unscheduled, appearance in the Senate to preside over the passing of a bill.
Because the Senate was in recess not enough senators could be found for the session.
One senator said: “We couldn’t find another senator, so she [Harris] volunteered.”
On September 2 Harris swore in the new US ambassador to Mexico.
The White House decision to keep her at a distance from the Afghanistan withdrawal crisis came as strategists sought to prevent her poll numbers falling further.
A USA Today-Suffolk University poll in mid-August found only 35 per cent of Americans approved of Harris’s job performance, with 54 per cent disapproving.
Her average in all polls so far is 41.2 per cent approval and 49.6 per cent disapproval.
The Southeast Asia trip was intended to raise her profile but was overshadowed by the Afghanistan crisis.
Even after the chaotic Afghanistan withdrawal, for which Biden took responsibility, he remains slightly more popular than Harris, according to polls.