Essential Politics: On dueling trips to Eastern Europe, Harris and Pence shine a light on their aspirations

As Vice President Kamala Harris met Polish leaders and refugees in Warsaw on Thursday, his predecessor, former Vice President Mike Pencehas been on the Ukraine-Poland border on a humanitarian mission.

Hello and welcome to Essential Politics: Kamala Harris Edition. Today I will discuss what brought the two vice presidents within 250 miles of each other near a war zone and what their travels reveal about their political aspirations.

The political wave of the invasion

Harris was in Poland and Romania, a hastily organized trip aimed at reassuring NATO’s newest and most vulnerable members bordering Ukraine. The former Soviet satellites are most at risk if the Russian invasion intensifies. They are also absorbing many of the roughly 3 million refugees in what has quickly become a crisis.

President Biden is expected to travel to Poland next week. But Harris, so far, is the highest-ranking American to visit the region since war broke out. His presence, more than his actions, was an important symbolic gesture of support.

Not far away was Pence. The timing of his visit was pure coincidence, said Marc Short, who served as Pence’s chief of staff. Pence traveled to Ukraine after a three-day visit to Israel with Samaritan’s Purse, an evangelical Christian relief group led by Franklin Grahamson of Billy GrahamCourt said.

A senior administration official traveling with Harris said the two teams had not been in contact, despite their close proximity.

Short said ‘there was an awareness’ in the Biden administration that Pence would be at the border for a day, but he did not provide details on who was told and what they were told. said. A U.S. official said he was unaware of any contact Pence’s team had with the administration before his trip began.

Still, the dueling visits served as a reminder that Pence and Harris see themselves as potential future presidents.

And Russia’s invasion of Ukraine changed both of their trajectories. This is especially true for Pence, who is slowly drifting away from the former president. donald trump after four years of undisputed loyalty.

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Supervised by their presidents

Pence parted ways with Trump by refusing to help him cancel the 2020 election, which made Pence a target of the Jan. 6 mob. Even so, Pence was hesitant to venture on Trump’s side, given Trump’s hold on the party and his penchant for tearing down critics. It’s not like Trump and the party he built are known for their nuances, and the former president didn’t release Pence, even though the former vice president’s life was undoubtedly in danger. January 6th.

Earlier this month, Pence distanced himself further from Trump, criticizing Putin’s “apologists” in his party at a closed GOP event. Short insists that Pence was not directing this blow at Trump, whose long-standing praise of Putin has called him, among other things, a “savant” and a “genius” during the build-up to the invasion of Ukraine.

Hmm, of course.

Pence is clearly banking on the Republican Party returning to its traditional skepticism of Russia and Putin as the brutal invasion of Ukraine escalates. Sounds like an easy bet, despite Trump’s Teflon quality with Republicans. A Wall Street Journal poll released on Friday showed just 4% of voters had a favorable opinion of Putin.

Pence’s nonprofit political organization recently announced a $10 million media campaign aimed at urging American energy independence in the face of Russian aggression, another mainstream Republican stance.

The trip to Ukraine adds a visual to those positions for Pence.

But Pence has only ventured so far from Trump. For example, Pence has not wavered in his public defense of Trump against his first impeachment, in 2019, after Trump suspended military aid to Ukraine while urging President Volodymyr Zelensky harm Biden politically.

The effort to calibrate his criticism of Trump, even when it comes to Ukraine, shows how difficult his path is to walk.

Harris and Pence have nothing to do with politics or style.

But like Pence, Harris’ aspirations are framed by his relationship with a unique president. In his case, the burden comes from serving with Biden, who at 79 is the oldest American to hold the top job. Harris’ role as a potential successor and her status as a black and South Asian woman made her the subject of unusual expectation and scrutiny.

I wrote this weekend about how Harris’ last three trips to Europe suggested a new role for him after a tough first year on the job. Harris struggled to show results in her first major overseas mission, curbing Central American migration by tackling the root of poverty, corruption and violence in the region.

Foreign policy experts said Harris did what she needed to do in Poland and Romania, mostly by showing up. She provided high-level reassurance to two countries bearing the brunt of the refugee crisis while facing the very real threat of a Russian invasion.

But she did not come out without criticism. In Warsaw, she was ridiculed for laughing awkwardly at a joint press conference with Poles President Andrzej Duda after reporters asked him a serious question about refugees.

I was in the room and I didn’t think she was making fun of the refugees themselves. The questions were tough, and she and Duda were depending on who should answer. But the laughter, while not meant to undermine the serious tone, hurt it.

The longer-term problem for Harris is the feeling that she is carefully scripted and that she is not allowed or unwilling to go beyond the talking points.

At the Munich security conference last month, she answered questions from journalists traveling with her for 16 minutes instead of a longer, more formal press conference.

She held two official press conferences in Poland and Romania, but came close to her talking points. She made headlines in response to a question, calling for a war crimes investigation into a Russian attack on a Ukrainian hospital.

But hours after Harris pleaded, an administration official who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity played down his remarks.

“Yeah, she was passionate about it,” the manager said. “But what she said is something that we in the administration have been saying for some time, it’s just that the deliberate targeting of civilians would be defined as a war crime, and that should be looked at. .”

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Washington’s View

– In the first virtual presentation of a foreign leader to Congress, Zelensky on Wednesday made a moving appeal to the United States for urgent financial support and more weapons to help his country stave off an invasion by Russia, writes Jennifer Haberkorn.

– The evidence from the January 6 inquests is overwhelming – literally, writes Sarah D. Wire. The amount of posts, videos and other material on social media rivals what the Hubble Telescope has amassed in its three-decade orbit, and sorting it all out has put an end to certain criminal cases.

—Biden told House Democrats on Friday that the party needed to better communicate their achievements to the American people, warning that Republican majorities in the next Congress would leave him only a veto, reports Nolan D. McCaskill.

– Also from McCaskill: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell openly acknowledges the judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is qualified to sit on the Supreme Court, but he criticizes the liberal activists who defend his cause. The message highlights the difficulty his party faces as it seeks to stir up opposition to Biden’s historic nomination of Jackson, who would be the first black woman to serve on the nation’s highest court.

– Biden’s $1.9 trillion US bailout was stuffed with rent assistance, tax refunds, direct payments and money to distribute COVID-19 vaccines that had just become available. One year later, his legacy is mixed.

– A new survey by the Brennan Center for Justice found that one in six election officials nationwide said they had been threatened, part of a dramatic rise in tensions sparked by Trump’s baseless efforts to void the election of 2020. Even more troubling: some of these officials resignwrites columnist Mark Z. Barabak.

The view from California

Karen Bass is running for mayor of Los Angeles as a progressive. But some L.A. leftists are frustrated with her stances on homelessness and crime, and even some of Bass’s longtime supporters have begun publicly warning that her more moderate stances put her off. at the risk of dampening the enthusiasm among the city’s progressive voters, write Julia Wick and David Zahniser.

— Govt. Gavin Newsom signed legislation on Monday that will save UC Berkeley a court-ordered enrollment freeze over housing issues and allow the university to resume plans to enroll more than 5,000 California freshmen, reports Colleen Shalby.

— From Phil Willon: Newsom plans to follow through on his recent promise to put cash “into the pockets” of Californians as high gas prices remain murky. Suspend or lower the highest gas tax in the state now seems less and less likely.

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