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What Kamala Harris has gotten done in her 1st year as vice president

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Tomorrow marks one year since Kamala Harris became vice president. There were a lot of weighty expectations on her - the first woman, not to mention the first Black and Asian woman in this job. And Harris also has had a very wide-ranging portfolio, covering everything from broadband to migration to voting rights.

NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid has been watching the vice president, and she joins us now with more. Hey, Asma.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.

CHANG: So I know that you've been talking with a wide range of people who met with Harris in this first year. Can you just tell us what did they tell you about how she operates?

KHALID: Well, Ailsa, perhaps the most consistent theme I've heard from people who've met with her is that she's a good listener. You know, they described meetings that went on longer than they were planned, with follow-ups from her staff.

Ai-jen Poo is the co-founder of the National Domestic Workers Alliance. She told me she's met with the vice president on four different occasions to discuss issues that concern women in the workforce, the care economy and the fallout from the pandemic.

AI-JEN POO: She was really interested in hearing about the direct experiences of women who, frankly, have been really invisible to other administrations and in general in politics.

KHALID: She says these roundtables don't get a lot of attention, but the VP is inviting people to the White House who historically aren't. And that in and of itself is important. You know, for Ai-jen Poo, it's not just about the policies.

CHANG: OK, but let's talk about the policies because one of her first assignments was to address the root causes of migration, which is a huge, complicated challenge. How has that assignment gone so far?

KHALID: Well, immigration advocates feel like this White House is trying to separate two problems that just cannot be separated - immigration at the U.S.-Mexico border and then the root causes of why people are leaving Central America. The VP's assignment is technically only the latter one.

But last summer, she visited El Paso, Texas, and while she was there, she met with Dylan Corbett. He's the executive director of the Hope Border Institute. He told me he's had good communication with the VP's staff, and she's taken some important steps - you know, visiting Guatemala and Mexico, meeting with key political leaders, obtaining these concrete commitments from the business community to invest in the region. But he is still frustrated.

DYLAN CORBETT: It's not enough. We have to overturn the notion that addressing root causes gives us a pass on human rights at the border. And I think that's probably one of the most troubling things that we're going to take away from the first year of this administration.

KHALID: He told me the situation at the border has actually gotten worse since the VP's visit.

CHANG: But to be fair, I mean, some of the vice president's assignments seem almost politically impossible to solve. What do her allies say about that?

KHALID: You know, it is important to note, Ailsa, that the VP wanted to take on some of these challenges, say, you know, like voting rights, for example. She's had a couple of meetings on the issue with Black women leaders, and Melanie Campbell has been at those meetings. She told me that they gave the VP specific suggestions at their first meeting on how to deal with voting rights access beyond legislation, making sure, for example, that when people leave prison, they have info on how they can regain access to the ballot if they had lost their right to vote. And when the group met again in December, Campbell said the VP had some results.

MELANIE CAMPBELL: And she pulled out this, you know, binder and went through some of the recommendations and tell us where they - what they had actually done.

KHALID: You know, one of Campbell's frustrations, though, is when she hears this drumbeat about the VP's portfolio. She says that framing that makes it sound like the burden to fix some of these problems is solely Harris' responsibility when, in her view, Harris and Biden are either successful together or not, and she feels that Harris' assignments are tied to the president.

CHANG: That is NPR's Asma Khalid. Thank you, Asma.

KHALID: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.
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