Kamala Harris traveled to El Paso, Texas Friday for her first visit as vice president to the U.S.-Mexico border following mounting criticism from Republicans and the mainstream media alike, with some observers feeling she conceded to pressure and others calling it a political photo-op hundreds of miles from the crisis’ epicenter.
“The Biden administration made a major blunder early on by assigning Harris to oversee the border problems without first preparing a rhetorical and optics strategy. That left them having to settle into a ‘run-out-the-clock’ strategy that clearly failed as the crisis shows no sign of going away,” DePauw University professor and media critic Jeffrey McCall told Fox News.
It took Harris three months from the time she was tapped by President Biden to be his point person on the migrant surge at the border to actually visit the border. The odd decision to physically stay away from the crisis resulted in probing questions from reporters, disapproval from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, and an onslaught of social media hot takes. The GOP has mocked Harris along the way and tweeted a map indicating how far Harris was from the crisis to mark her 90th day as border czar.
Harris chief spokeswoman Symone Sanders insisted that Republican pressure did not influence the administration’s decision to send Harris to the border, but many media watchdogs think she only did after former President Donald Trump announced he planned to visit.
“Kamala is only headed to the border because of a certain former president saying he would head there before she would and she realizes how bad that would look, so she’s decided to rush there to do what I’m sure will amount to a photo op with migrant children as a backdrop,” political satirist Tim Young told Fox News.
“If she’s in a good mood, maybe she’ll even wear all white and stare at a fence for some AOC-style photos,” Young added, referring to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., who was accused of staging a dramatic photo shoot along the border in 2018.
Cornell Law School professor and media critic William A. Jacobson also feels Harris visited “reluctantly only after it was announced that Trump would do so” but doesn’t expect much to be accomplished anyway.
“We can expect highly controlled photo ops, and no serious discussion of how Biden-Harris policies created the current crisis,” Jacobson told Fox News.
While some feel Trump’s upcoming visit motivated Harris to finally make the trip, “NBC Nightly News” anchor Lester Holt recently suggested that it was his interview with the vice president that finally pushed her to the border.
“The White House announced Vice President Kamala Harris will visit the southern border … it comes after our interview in Guatemala earlier this month when we asked her about criticism that she had not gone yet,” Holt said Wednesday.
Holt previously interviewed Harris and repeatedly asked if she had any plans to visit the crisis she’s supposed to oversee. When Holt reminded Harris that she had not specifically visited the border, Harris replied with a laugh, “And I haven’t been to Europe. I mean, I don’t understand the point you are making.”
But Holt is hardly the only high-profile media member to criticize Harris’ slow-footed response. The vice president even had a tense exchange with Univision anchor Ilia Calderón over the elusive border visit.
Earlier this month, Calderón pressed Harris on when a trip would happen but the vice president appeared to get frustrated during the interview and eventually chuckled while promising to eventually visit the border without ever announcing a concrete plan. The bizarre response to Calderón’s question went viral on social media days after her similarly odd response to Holt.
Countless critics have since questioned Harris’ delayed visit on social media and cable news hosts have mocked her at every turn.
“She doesn’t want to go to the border, she doesn’t want photographs of her with border agents, at a wall, praising border patrol agents. She wants to run for president one day and that will just be an ad against her by someone like AOC that can say, ‘You know, she’s tough on immigrants, she’s mean, she’s nasty, she’s pro-border patrol. She doesn’t want those images out there so she’s tap-dancing and avoiding the problem,” Fox News host Jesse Watters said on “The Brian Kilmeade Show” on June 10.
Despite the backlash she has received from the press, McCall feels Harris didn’t necessarily cave because of media criticism and simply made a calculated political move to make the trip.
“The establishment media have played along for the administration by minimizing the border chaos, and she surely doesn’t want to appease right-leaning media,” McCall said.
“That she finally saw fit to visit the border reflects growing concern that immigration policy could play a role in midterm elections and beyond,” McCall added. “In spite of the administration’s efforts to look the other way on border management, the American citizenry has enough gumption to know the border is in chaos.”
However, the decision could backfire on Harris as the trip has its risks politically, according to McCall.
“If she shows up for photo ops but doesn’t take decisive steps to fix the problem, she will look weak and ineffective. She also needs to come up with a rhetorical message that goes beyond the flimsy ‘root causes’ distraction she used in her recent trip to Central America,” McCall said. “That rhetorical strategy simply says the administration has no intention to address the immediate problem.”
Harris chief spokeswoman and senior adviser Symone Sanders said Thursday El Paso is “important” and “represents larger border dynamics and it is a critical part of understanding the human experience of migration.”
Fox News’ Brooke Singman, Adam Shaw and Lindsay Kornick contributed to this report.