President Biden has a problem. So does Vice President Kamala Harris. Sen. Dianne Feinstein is a problem. There’s a solution for all of this.
Biden’s problem is Harris. She’s a burden — a drag on his reelection prospects.
Feinstein, 90, is a problem for California because she’s no longer capable of fully representing the nation’s most populous state — a world-class economic power — in the Senate.
A reader emailed me with the remedy: Feinstein could resign from the Senate and Gov. Gavin Newsom could appoint Harris to replace her. Biden then could find a more popular running mate, one more acceptable to voters as a potential successor.
“Addresses multiple problems,” wrote Blaine Cavena of Pasadena, a retired technology consultant and self-described political centrist. “But probably just a dream.”
You’re right on all counts, I responded.
A great idea. But it’ll never happen because it would take all of the president’s persuasive and coercive powers to pull off. And he doesn’t seem the type likely to do that.
Feinstein has made it clear she doesn’t intend to step down voluntarily before her fifth full term expires at the end of next year. Biden would need to invite her into the Oval Office for a heart-to-heart. She has been a terrific senator with lots to be proud of, but it’s time to let go — for the country’s sake, the state’s and her own — he’d urge, speaking as a longtime senator himself and a former colleague.
Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) would need to strongly second the motion.
Then would come an even harder task for Biden.
Harris will never give up the vice presidency voluntarily. She’s one step — the proverbial heartbeat — from the top job, serving an 80-year-old president. Eight of our previous 45 presidents have died in office.
Harris would need to be pushed — dumped, as two great presidents have done. Franklin D. Roosevelt dropped Henry Wallace in 1944 and replaced him, fortunately, with Harry Truman. Abraham Lincoln cast aside Hannibal Hamlin in 1864.
But Biden would need to admit that he erred in choosing Harris in the first place. He felt politically obligated to name a Black woman in 2020. But he could have picked the more likable Karen Bass, the California congresswoman who later was elected Los Angeles mayor.
Biden apparently selected Harris largely because of an expected comfort level based on her close working relationship with his late son, Beau, when they were both state attorneys general.
Biden showed continued support for Harris in a campaign fundraising pitch last week, stating that “picking Kamala as my eventual vice president was one of the best decisions I made as a presidential nominee.” He called Harris “the perfect choice,” asserting he had been impressed by her “fighting tooth and nail for what’s right.”
But that isn’t how many remember Harris as California’s attorney general. She tended to avoid stands on politically tough issues.
An example: Although a career-long opponent of the death penalty, she was publicly neutral on ballot initiatives in 2012 and 2016 to abolish capital punishment. Both measures failed. Neither did she take a stand on a proposition to expedite the death penalty. It narrowly passed.
Harris was elected to the Senate in 2016 and soon began running for president. She ultimately got run over, and dropped out in time to avoid being embarrassed in her own state’s 2020 primary.
As vice president, her approval ratings have fallen. As of last week, 40% of registered voters had a favorable opinion of Harris and 53% viewed her unfavorably, according to Los Angeles Times tracking of polls.
An NBC poll in June found that only 32% of voters had a positive view of Harris, with 49% holding a negative opinion. It was the lowest net-negative rating for a vice president in the poll’s history, the network said.
Because of Biden’s age and speculation about his ability to serve a full second term, Republicans are already targeting Harris in the 2024 presidential race.
“A vote for President Biden, it’s actually a vote for President Harris. We are running against Kamala Harris. Make no bones about it,” former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, a GOP candidate, recently told “Fox and Friends.”
Is Harris the victim of extraordinarily harsh scrutiny and discrimination because she’s female and a person of color? Maybe to some extent. But that’s not her total problem by any measure.
She’d probably be better off back in her old Senate job.
Two problems with that: To keep her seat beyond 2024, she’d need to run against a strong field in next year’s Senate election — and officially file her candidacy by Dec. 13.
And Feinstein isn’t moving anywhere without a strong shove.
It’s too bad. She has arguably been the most effective senator in California history. She’s the longest serving — and along with Barbara Boxer, the first female senator elected from California.
But she’s no longer capable of a Senate performance that meets her own high standards.
Too much has been made of Feinstein’s physical frailties — especially her use of a wheelchair. So what? Franklin D. Roosevelt used one and so does Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott today. The senator’s brief hospitalization last week because of a routine kitchen fall reminded voters of her physical vulnerabilities.
The problems relative to Feinstein’s Senate performance, however, involve declining mental agility and gradual loss of memory. That’s been well reported.
“It’s hard,” Newsom told reporters last week, calling Feinstein an “icon” and mentor. “I wish we were talking about her legacy in a very different way.”
Feinstein’s legacy as a great senator is secured. But discussing her immediate future is warranted — even if it verges on a midsummer night’s fantasy.
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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.