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Harris faces the pressure at public appearances after Biden's poor debate performance

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

President Joe Biden insists he's staying in the race. There are still calls for him to step down from some within his own party who think another Democrat would have a better chance of beating Donald Trump. This has put Vice President Kamala Harris in the spotlight. Yesterday, she was on stage at the Essence Festival in New Orleans, which celebrates Black culture. NPR White House correspondent Deepa Shivaram has been covering Harris, and she joins us now. Good morning, Deepa.

DEEPA SHIVARAM, BYLINE: Hey, Ayesha.

RASCOE: So, tell us what Harris had to say last night.

SHIVARAM: Well, her event was, honestly, really a bit of storytelling. Harris' remarks yesterday and in a lot of her speeches recently have been more biographic. There's more explanations in her speeches about her own life, growing up going to protests, how that impacts how she thinks about issues in a certain way, particularly issues of reproductive rights, which is something she's been the lead on for this campaign. And at Essence, yesterday, at the end of her remarks, I thought it was really interesting that she actually reiterated a lot of her stump speech from 2019 when she herself was running for president. Here she is in conversation with Essence editor Caroline Wanga.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KAMALA HARRIS: People in your life will tell you, it's not your time. It's not your turn. Nobody like you has done it before. One of the things I love is they'll say, oh, it's going to be a lot of hard work. Don't you ever listen to that. I like to say, I eat no for breakfast. I don't hear no.

SHIVARAM: And she was saying that yesterday as advice for young Black women in the crowd. But it stood out to me given the conversation swirling around the Democratic Party on Joe Biden's staying in the race, and if Harris would be ready and able to take on former President Donald Trump.

RASCOE: And what did the vice president have to say about Biden or the debate?

SHIVARAM: You know, she said nothing. She wasn't asked about it. She didn't say anything about the state of the campaign at this point or speak to any of the doubts about Biden remaining in the race. Her remarks were really focused. And honestly, on a lot of the things Biden was supposed to stay - was supposed to say on the debate stage the other week, but, you know, he flubbed doing it.

RASCOE: Well, speaking about that, Biden has been adamant about staying in the race. He did an interview on Friday with ABC, where he repeatedly emphasized that. What's Harris been saying this past week, especially when it comes to calls from some Democrats for her to take the No. 1 spot?

SHIVARAM: Well, you know, as consistently as Biden has been saying he's going to stay in the race, Harris has been just as consistent in saying that Joe Biden is the nominee and that she supports him. You know, this was her speaking to CBS news last week.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HARRIS: Joe Biden is our nominee. We beat Trump once, and we're going to beat him again - period.

SHIVARAM: So we've heard that from her over and over again. She's also ignored the comments from leaders in the Democratic Party who have said that they would support her if Biden were to step aside, and that includes Congressman Jim Clyburn from South Carolina, who is a close Biden ally. And Harris has been traveling a lot, and that will keep going into this week. She's doing events with Asian American voters in Las Vegas and more engagements with Black voters later this month.

RASCOE: And it's not just Democrats who are pointing to Harris lately. Like, Republicans are talking about her a lot more, too. What have they been saying?

SHIVARAM: Yeah, you know, with all these questions about Biden's age and fitness for office, Republicans have started running ads making Harris the focus, essentially saying that a vote for, Ayesha, this strategy for Republicans isn't exactly new. You know, when former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley was in the race and the GOP primary, she really made Harris a center point with that same exact argument. So this rhetoric isn't entirely new, but it is, kind of coming back in fuller force since the debate, and since questions over Biden's age have picked back up.

RASCOE: That's NPR White House correspondent Deepa Shivaram. Deepa, thank you so much for joining us.

SHIVARAM: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Deepa Shivaram
Deepa Shivaram is a multi-platform political reporter on NPR's Washington Desk.
Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
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