Kamala Harris’ unfortunate week came to a depressing end on Sunday, when her trip to Guatemala and Mexico – the first foreign visit as vice president – was classed as a deep disappointment by a CNN panel.
Harris, tasked by President Joe Biden with working to stem soaring migration levels, found herself mocked for being unable to answer the obvious question as to when she would visit the U.S.-Mexico border. To her visible irritation, she was asked multiple times when she would go and see for herself – and each time, she stumbled over an answer.
‘It’s just a little cringeworthy, and I know that her allies in the White House and elsewhere are watching it and just kind of wondering what is going on,’ said Abby Phillip, host of CNN’s Inside Politics Sunday show.
Abby Phillip, host of CNN’s Inside Politics Sunday show, said that Harris’ response to repeated questions about when she would visit the border was ‘cringeworthy’
CNN’s panel on Sunday agreed that Harris’ trip had not been a success, and was overshadowed by repeated questions as to when she would visit the U.S.-Mexico border
CNN’s Abby Phillip on Kamala Harris’ first foreign trip: “Cringeworthy,” Harris allies are “wondering what is going on?” pic.twitter.com/vkfotrzN0r
— RNC Research (@RNCResearch) June 13, 2021
Panelist Laura Barron-Lopez, a CNN Political Analyst, agreed that it was a failure.
‘It didn’t go the way the White House wanted it to go,’ she said.
‘Again, immigration, as you mention, is a hot potato no one wants to touch, and Harris has been dealt it and so she has to handle now what Biden had to handle when he was VP which is relationships with the northern triangle.’
In particular, the panel were dismayed at Harris’ interview with Lester Holt of NBC.
‘At some point, you know, we are going to the border,’ she told Holt. ‘We’ve been to the border. So this whole thing about the border. We’ve been to the border. We’ve been to the border.’
Kamala Harris lashed out during an interview on Monday when asked again why she hasn’t visited the southern border. ‘I haven’t been to Europe,’ the vice president snapped at interviewer Lester Holt. ‘And I mean, I don’t understand the point that you’re making’
He replied: ‘You haven’t been to the border.’
‘And I haven’t been to Europe,’ Harris snapped, then quickly laughed.
‘And I mean, I don’t understand the point that you’re making. I’m not discounting the importance of the border.’
Migrant numbers are on track this year to reach highs not seen since 2006.
Washington Post reporter Olivier Knox said it was baffling that she was not better prepared.
‘To be clear, she was going to be asked this question,’ he said.
‘And the fact that they didn’t have something better than ‘I haven’t been to Europe’ is fairly notable.’
Harris has faced strong criticism for her performance on Monday and Tuesday in Latin America.
Harris and Guatemalan President Alejandro Giamattei (right) held a bilateral meeting in Guatemala on Monday as part of talks to deal with ‘root causes’ of mass migration from Latin America to the U.S.
Harris doubled-down that she will not be visiting the border during her trip – or any time soon. ‘I will continue to be focused on [addressing root causes of migration and corruption] as opposed to grand gestures’
Axios on Sunday evening reported that part of the problem was that there were issues with how she prepares.
Harris is ‘intensely intellectually curious,’ one former aide told the site, which often sends briefings into a ‘rabbit hole’ on topics that may not necessarily be relevant to the appearance or interview at hand.
The source also said she only listens to a select group of people, most prominently her sister, Maya.
‘If somebody doesn’t knock it out of the park their first time, then they will always have a tough time,’ a former aide said.
‘And so that often leads to the people who she relies on the most being in charge of leading prep on everything, which is impossible to do well, regardless of who you are.’
Harris’ trip came amid mounting concern about the number of arrivals along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Border crossings have exploded, rising 674 per cent in May 2021 compared to May 2020.
Authorities recorded 180,034 migrants crossing into the U.S. last month.
That represented a slight increase over the approximately 178,000 migrants encountered in April, and the 172,000 encountered in March.
In February, roughly 100,000 migrants illegally crossed the U.S.-Mexico border into the United States.
This graph shows the number of migrants caught by the Office of Field Operation (OFO) and US Border Patrol agents in April and May
Border Patrol agents in Texas look on as migrants are processed. This year is on track to have the highest level of arrivals since 2006
Border Patrol agents in Laredo, Texas, are seen rescuing migrants from the back of a truck
Central American migrants sit on the ground while waiting to be transported by U.S. Border Patrol agents after crossing the Rio Grande river into the United States
Chanel, 7, and her sister Adriana, 10, both unaccompanied minors traveling alone from Honduras, sits among other asylum-seeking children as they await to be transported to a U.S. border patrol processing facility
Cruz Estuardo Tunpumay (L), a 32-year-old migrant from Guatemala, stands with other asylum seekers while waiting to enter a Mexican government facility in Tijuana. There, they will be examined before being taken to the border by UNHCR and Mexican authorities. The Biden-Harris administration has promised a more ‘humane’ approach to the border
Single adults still represented the majority of border-crossers, data from the U.S. Border Patrol showed.
In May there was a decrease in the number of unaccompanied minors, from roughly 16,910 to 13,906, Border Patrol found.
CBP also said that a majority of those who crossed the border were already expelled due to Title 42, which allows the U.S. government to quickly remove people using the COVID-19 pandemic.
Of the 180,034 crossers, 112,302 had already been expelled.
CBP also pointed out, according to Fox News, that Title 42 is leading people to try to cross the border more than once, which could also factor into the high numbers.
Axios reported Tuesday that preliminary CBP data from the fiscal year 2021 showed that illegal crossings have been the most since 2006 – with four months still to go.
Additionally on Tuesday the Department of Health and Human Services reported that 16,200 children were still in custody, which is 50 per cent higher than the levels in March.
HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra appeared before the Ways and Means Committee to face questions on the border crisis.
Biden has promised to reunite families separated during the Trump administration and to expedite processing unaccompanied minors who arrived at the border in the last few months.
However, a new report from Biden’s task force on reuniting families indicates that 2,127 children have ‘not yet been reunified’ with their parents.
On March 24, President Joe Biden announced: ‘I’ve asked her, the VP, today — because she’s the most qualified person to do it — to lead our efforts with Mexico and the Northern Triangle and the countries that are going to need help in stemming the movement of so many folks, stemming the migration to our southern border.’
Harris has insisted since then – but especially this week – that her focus is on the root causes of migration, rather than dealing with the crisis at the border.
CNN reported that officials were concerned within the administration that whatever progress Harris had made on the leader-to-leader level might have been undermined by her conflicting answers and PR missteps.
‘It’s left some of the administration officials perplexed, and the vice president’s team frustrated,’ the network reported on Wednesday.
‘There was hope the trip would be a success, and in the end, they feel it may have been overshadowed by some of her answers to these questions.’
On Thursday, she raised further eyebrows during an interview with Univision, snapping at a reporter once again when asked why as ‘border czar’ she hadn’t been to the site.
Harris spoke to Colombian journalist Ilia Calderon, an anchor with the Miami-based network, the day after her return from Mexico and Guatemala, where she spoke to presidents of both countries about ways to curtail soaring arrivals at the border.
‘I’ve said I’m going to the border,’ said Harris, visibly irritated.
‘And I – ‘
Calderon, speaking via video link, interrupted and asked: ‘When are you going?’
Harris continued saying: ‘The administration has asked…’
She paused, hearing Calderon’s question, and replied curtly: ‘I’ve not finished.
‘I’ve said I’m going to the border. And also, if we are going to deal with the problems at the border, we have to deal with the problems that cause people to go to the border – to flee to the border.
‘And that is the root causes.
‘So my first trip, as vice president of the United States, was to go – in terms of a foreign trip – to Guatemala.
‘To be on the ground there. To address, and to be informed of, the root causes – why are the people of Guatemala leaving.’
Harris on Thursday spoke to Univision reporter Ilia Calderon, who grilled her about when she would be visiting the U.S.-Mexico border to see the migrant situation with her own eyes. A visibly irritated Harris snapped at her for interrupting her, to press her on the question
Harris told Calderon that she had not finished speaking, accusing the reporter of interrupting her. She then explained that she had not yet visited because she wanted her first foreign trip – to Guatemala and Mexico – to be about addressing the root causes of migration
Harris wagged her finger at Calderon, telling her: ‘I’ve not finished’ – as the Spanish subtitles show. She laughed awkwardly as she reprimanded the reporter
Calderon asked: ‘Do you have a date for your trip to the border, to see the situation with your own eyes?’
Harris replied: ‘I will keep you posted.’
Her rebuke of Calderon, with a terse ‘I’ve not finished’, bore echoes of her dismissal of Mike Pence, when he attempted to interrupt her during their vice presidential debate last October.
‘I’m speaking,’ she reprimanded him, with a smile, before continuing her point.
The moment became a meme, and ‘I’m speaking’ was emblazed on t-shirts worn by Biden-Harris supporters.
This time round, the put down was less celebrated.
On Tuesday, in Mexico City, she had been asked the same question, and responded that it was ‘short-sighted’ to focus on the border when dealing with migration.
‘I think it’s short-sighted, for any of us who are in the business of problem solving to suggest we’re only going to respond to the reaction as opposed to addressing the cause,’ she said.
It echoed her earlier comments in Guatemala, where she characterized such a visit as being for show.
‘I came here to be here on the ground, to speak with the leader of this nation around what we can do in a way that is significant, is tangible and has real results,’ she said.
‘And I will continue to be focused on that kind of work as opposed to grand gestures.’