President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris’ strained relationship was subtly communicated through their ‘awkward’ interactions at yesterday’s joint White House engagement amid reports of a rift, body language experts have claimed.
Biden and Harris determinedly put on an outwards show of unity and strode out onto the South Lawn with wide smiles plastered across their faces before signing a trillion-dollar infrastructure bill in front of some 800 guests.
It came hours after a string of insiders told CNN Biden was distancing himself from Harris because of her sliding poll numbers, while the VP felt isolated. The White House last night dismissed the claims, with Mr Biden’s spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, saying Ms Harris was a ‘vital partner’ to the President.
But a close analysis of their interactions reveals a level of unease between the two, with Harris looking like she was attending ‘a family event she didn’t want to be at’, according to UK body language expert Darren Stanton.
‘Harris’s smile is forced and contrived,’ Stanton explained in an exclusive interview with FEMAIL. ‘There are no crows feet at the side of her face, which show us whether or not the smile is genuine. In my opinion this smile is just purely for press and perception purposes.’
Author and body language expert Judi James agreed, saying their gestures were an example of ‘political power jostling’.
She drew attention to one particularly ‘awkward’ moment when Biden put his arm around Harris while they crossed the lawn in a gesture known as a ‘power pat’. While intended to communicate a familiarity, it had the opposite effect.
‘The pair look incredibly awkward walking locked together towards the press,’ Ms James continued. ‘There are no signs of reciprocal affection or empathy here to make the ritual look relaxed or natural.’
THE ‘AWKWARD’ WALK ACROSS THE SOUTH LAWN
KAMALA HARRIS’ FORCED SMILE: The Vice President plastered a wide smile on her face as she and Joe Biden strode out onto the South Lawn for yesterday’s engagement, but a closer look at her eyes reveals it was all put on for the cameras, according to body language expert Darren Stanton. The President also raises his left arm to create a ‘barrier’ between them, it is claimed
Biden and Harris walked out side-by-side, but a closer look at their behaviour signals a divide.
Ms James explained: ‘Biden has to angle his body to allow her to walk out ahead of him and he keeps his left arm up in a partial barrier as he does so.
‘If there were some form or recognition from her or an ushering gesture from him this could look like old-fashioned manners, but there isn’t.’
Noting Harris’s forced smile, Mr Stanton added: ‘This I call the typical cheese photograph it’s the kind of photograph that you pose for at a wedding or some other family event you don’t want to be at.’
BIDEN’S ‘BARRIER’ AND HARRIS’ MOVE TO DISTANCE HERSELF
BIDEN’S ‘EMPTY’ EMBRACE OF THE AUDIENCE: Making his way across the lawn, the President raised both arms up in an ’empty’ embrace, Ms James noted, at the same time as Harris veered away from him and towards their guest. In this moment, the Vice President’s controlled gesture makes her look more ‘Presidential’ than Biden, Ms James suggested
‘It’s quite an odd posture to stand there with your hands to the side like Biden is,’ noted Mr Stanton. ‘Most people would adopt a gesture where they are holding their hands to the front but this just seems to be a very strange posture and not really that genuine.
‘Biden is usually a very tactile man and he and Harris generally touch each other’s arms or shoulders [at moments like this], which is an example of a deep rapport. It seems as though Biden has almost been briefed not to do that.
‘His level of physical contact has been reduced which would seem to signify a split in their level of rapport and original deep connection. Eleven months in office and cracks beginning to show between their unity?’
Ms James said Harris looks more ‘Presidential’ than Biden in this moment because she walks ‘straight towards the press with he arms at her sides’, while the President is focused on his ’empty embrace of the audience’.
‘She then moves away from Biden to talk to the woman on her left,’ Ms James continued. ‘By moving away from Biden, Harris makes him look rather ignored when you might expect her attention to be on the President.’
A SMILE DISCONNECT BETWEEN BIDEN AND HARRIS
THE ‘POWER PAT’: Biden and Harris’ body language signaled ‘power jostling’ as they struggled for attention, according to Ms James. In one notable moment, President Biden reached his hand across Harris’ back in a gesture known as a ‘power pat’
HARRIS IS UNCOMFORTABLE: Both body language experts noted Harris did not return Biden’s spontaneous gesture and appeared to be ‘surprised and uncomfortable’. The lack of a reciprocal gesture makes this looks forced and put-on
As they walked across the lawn, Biden spontaneously put his arm across Harris’ back. ‘Harris walks ahead towards the rostrum, again looking less “Veep” and more “Potus” and this is when Biden power-pats her,’ Ms James noted.
‘She returns the gesture and the pair look incredibly awkward walking locked together towards the press. There are no signs of reciprocal affection or empathy here to make the ritual look relaxed or natural.’
Mr Stanton agreed there is a clear disconnect between the two in this moment, saying: ‘Biden is adopting a very genuine smile. We can see is whole face is engaged and we see the total crows feet at the side of his eyes, a in a display of true happiness.
‘Harris, by comparison, has an expression that is a combination of being uncomfortable and surprised. She has a hand reciprocating the gesture with Biden, however the President’s hand looks to be inappropriately placed from this photograph. This could explain Harris is displaying a very uncomfortable gesture.’
BIDEN ‘UPSTAGING’ HARRIS DURING HER SPEECH
BIDEN STEALS THE LIMELIGHT: While Vice President Harris was speaking, Biden was busy gesturing and talking, in the body language equivalent of ‘talking over someone’, according to body language expert Judi James. Meanwhile Harris failed to match her body language to her unequivocal words of support for Biden, and instead looked ‘grim-faced’ during her speech
Harris showered Biden with praise in her speech, saying: ‘From the very start you welcomed Democrats, independents and Republicans to meet with us in the Oval Office. You welcomed ideas. You welcomed debate, all in the service of getting this bill done,’ said Harris before Biden signed the bill into law.
‘And here is what I know to be true, Mr. President, you are equal parts believer and builder. And because you are, we are all better off. On behalf of our nation, thank you Mr. President.’
However Ms James noted Biden was not focused on her words, and was instead using his body language to steal the attention.
‘He is talking and pointing, which is the non-verbal equivalent of talking over her and ignoring her message,’ the expert explained.
She pointed the subtle signals Harris might not have believed everything she said, adding: ‘Harris’ message to Biden only involves backward glances and she is frowning and grim-faced as she honours him.’
A SURPRISE HUG THAT LEFT HARRIS FEELING ‘UNCOMFORTABLE’
A DELAYED SMILE FROM HARRIS: When Harris finished Biden clapped and pushed his hand out in an intentional gesture to shake hands, Ms James noted. Harris missed a beat before arranging her face in a wide smile, as seen in the photo above
PULLED IN FOR A HUG: Biden then pulled the Vice President for a hug ahead of his address. But the intimacy was not reciprocated by Harris. ‘She responds with a distracted ritual, turning her head to look down and away,’ Ms James noted
A QUICK ‘BACK PAT’: Harris signaled to Biden that she wanted the embrace to end by raising her hand for a ‘back pat’. ‘Quick pats like this are a signal to end a hug or embrace, making this a cursory and one-sided gesture of affection,’ Ms James said
A CHILLIER EMBRACE: Mr Stanton pointed out the exchange is a far cry from the genuine displays of warmth seen earlier this year. He said the ‘partial hug’, as seen by one hand remaining in a handshake position, shows a diminished rapport
‘When Harris finishes, Biden claps and pushes his hand out in an intentional gesture to shake hands,’ Ms James continued. ‘Her smile starts as a mouth-shrug that normally recognizes a lack of bonding; it is a few seconds before her lips open to perform a smile.’
Biden then pulled the Vice President for a hug ahead of his address. But the intimacy was not reciprocated by Harris.
‘She responds with a distracted ritual, turning her head to look down and away as they hug rather than focusing on and celebrating the moment,’ Ms James noted.
‘Her left hand is already held up and out in another intentional gesture and this time it is to perform two quick pats on his arm. Quick pats like this are a signal to end a hug or embrace, making this a cursory and one-sided gesture of affection.
‘Harris moves away quickly and appears to vanish from sight. It’s only when Biden is sitting signing that we see her return to join him and here she looks like an afterthought, having to push her way through the group to get to his side.’
Mr Stanton pointed out the exchange is a far cry from the genuine displays of warmth seen earlier this year.
‘In previous footage they are both very tactile. However this is a partial hug which means that that Harris is now less comfortable having Biden in a very close proximity. I don’t feel Harris and Biden have the same level of rapport that they once had.’
He added: ‘It is going to be very interesting to see how this reflects in the coming weeks and months from a political point of view.’