Biden himself has said more than once that he expects Harris to be ready to step up to the Oval office if required, and that she will be the last person in the room after everyone has left who will have the ear of the President. He once joked about a Harris-Biden administration, much to the alarm of “Trumpublicans” who have demonized her and suggested she is a “socialist Trojan horse” who will soon replace him.
On evidence of their first (half) day in office, there is nothing hidden or furtive about the power she will wield — with or without Biden’s consent.
Harris’ power was also on full display in the US Senate, where she was welcomed with applause by her former colleagues as she walked in to chair a session in her capacity as the constitutionally-designated President of the Senate — the first woman to become one.
She swore in three Senators, one of them California’s Alex Padilla, who will replace her as for the two remaining years of her term, before seeking a re-election in 2022. After reading out her own name in third-person as the senator that Padilla would replace, she chucked. “That was very weird.”
Beneath the laughter there is also expected to an iron fist, since she is expected to preside over impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump. Although the chief justice of the Supreme Court typically chairs the Senate trial of a President, since Trump had demitted office and is now the ex-president, the mantle is expected to fall on Harris, particularly since Chief Justice John Roberts is said to have expressed reluctance to preside over a second Trump impeachment.
The three new Democratic inductees has also resulted in a 50-50 tie in the Senate, which means that Harris will be called on to cast a tie-breaking vote in the chamber on legislation that hews to party lines, virtually making her a 51st Senator in addition to her duties as vice-president. What is remarkable is she served only part (four years) of one six-year term as Senator. Only Barack Obama, who served only two years of a six-year term as Senator before leaping into the White House, made a faster transition.
Democratic control of the Senate with Harris’ tie-breaking vote also means the powerful chairmanship of various committees, including those tasked with confirmations and budgeting, will pass into Democratic hands. For instance, in a nightmare scenario for Republicans (and much to the delight of liberal and progressive Democrats), the budget committee chairmanship is expected to go to Bernie Sanders, who is the highest ranking Democrat on the committee.
The ethnic and racial background of Kamala Harris and the three new Democratic Senators — a Black, a Jew, and a Latino — itself augurs a power shift in a chamber that has long been dominated by old white men with nativist visions of America. Padilla is the first Hispanic Senator from California. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnoff, both from Georgia, which has long been a crucible of racial discrimination, are the first Jewish and first Black Senators respectively from the state.