POLITICS

GOP Pushes Conspiracy Theory That Kamala Harris, Not Joe Biden, Runs The White House

Right-wing media figures have tried to suggest that the president is senile and Harris is the person actually pulling the strings.
Some conservatives have tried to imply that Vice President Kamala Harris is the one truly in charge at the White House.
Some conservatives have tried to imply that Vice President Kamala Harris is the one truly in charge at the White House.

There’s a conspiracy theory trickling through conservative circles that President Joe Biden isn’t actually in charge at the White House. 

The person with the real power is Kamala Harris, his vice president.

“Are we still pretending this is the guy in charge?” Donald Trump, Jr. tweeted on April 27 after Biden joked that he could take only one more question from the press or he was “going to be in trouble.” 

“Who will the ‘leader’ of the free world be in trouble with? Kamala? Xi???” he added conspiratorially. 

It’s not clear whom Biden was talking about, but for what it’s worth, politicians often make comments like this when they want to seem like they’re doing reporters a favor by sticking around and taking questions, joking that their staff will be upset with them for not staying on schedule. 

On April 12, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) pointed to Biden’s press strategy, which is far more scripted than Donald Trump’s was. For Cornyn, that meant something nefarious must be going on. 

“The president is not doing cable news interviews. Tweets from his account are limited and, when they come, unimaginably conventional. The public comments are largely scripted. Biden has opted for fewer sit down interviews with mainstream outlets and reporters,” Cornyn tweeted. “Invites the question: is he really in charge?”

A couple months earlier, Fox News host Sean Hannity suggested that Harris was the one controlling foreign policy. His evidence was that Biden was “encouraging his vice president to engage directly with world leaders,” “develop her own rapport with U.S. allies” and meet with the secretary of state.

“If Joe Biden is not up to the task, well, we know that he rarely appears in public, we know that he takes very few questions. ... We can all see with our own eyes that Joe is frail, he is weak, and yes, he’s struggling cognitively,” Hannity said, adding, “So what’s really going on here? Who’s in charge?”

And on May 7, Emerald Robinson ― a reporter for the right-wing publication Newsmax ― threw a similar question at White House press secretary Jen Psaki, saying there were “lots of questions” and “many people found [it] odd” when Harris greeted the Japanese prime minister during his visit to the United States. 

“She’s already taking independent, one-on-one calls with key allies, like Prime Minister Morrison and Justin Trudeau. So I just want to get your reaction to people who question that,” Robinson added. 

“Well, it’s hard to react when I don’t know what people you’re talking about,” Psaki replied. 

This theory goes back to the campaign, when Trump and his allies tried to portray Biden, 78, as senile. It was tougher to make Biden, an older white man with a moderate reputation who liked to talk about unity, seem like a radical, so the GOP tied him to progressives in his party who were often younger women of color — like Harris and Reps. Maxine Waters (Calif.), Ilhan Omar (Minn.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.) — to suggest that he was under their control. Trump Campaign Manager Bill Stepien said the goal was to make him seem like “a hapless tool of the extreme left.” 

Right-wing media outlets “are attempting to stop the power of the Democratic Party by attacking the most visible leader representing the voting strength of women of color and the changing landscape of the electoral map,” said Aimee Allison, founder of She the People, which advocates for women of color in politics.

“Rather than offering policies to the electorate to make their case, they are riling up their base by saying it’s actually a woman of color — a Black woman — calling the shots,” she added. “But what they don’t realize is that being a woman of color isn’t a weakness in the White House and in future elections — it’s a strength. As more and more Democrats realize this, the GOP won’t be able to touch them.”

Conservatives may also be trying to get in attacks on Harris now, anticipating that she has a long future in Democratic politics and is likely to be a frontrunner should she decide to run for president after Biden.

“We saw Republicans try these attacks last year and they didn’t work and they will continue to fail,” a White House official told HuffPost.

Even aside from the conspiracy theory that she runs the White House, Republicans have been turning up the heat on Harris, focusing on her immigration role. 

In March, Biden tapped Harris to lead the administration’s efforts with the “Northern Triangle” countries (El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras) and work with them on both short- and long-term solutions to reduce migration to the United States. Officials have tried to emphasize that she is not in charge of taking care of the current build-up of undocumented migrants at the southern border. 

Republicans have largely ignored that distinction and dubbed her the “border czar,” going after her for not visiting the border and not paying enough attention to the increase in migrants. Immigration has long been an issue where Republicans see Biden as vulnerable, and now that Harris is playing a key role, the issue is a prime way to go after both of them.

“The terrible Joe Biden and Kamala Harris tag team has brought crisis after crisis,” said Tommy Pigott, rapid response director of the Republican National Committee. “The problem: Almost every time they say something new, it’s bad news for the American people.”

Biden himself has seemed to acknowledge the trickiness of immigration, which has, at times, taken the focus off of his administration’s efforts to battle the coronavirus and his economic relief packages. Biden backtracked on a pledge to lift a Trump-imposed cap on refugees allowed to come into the United States, believing it was bad timing as he was simultaneously getting hammered on the migrant increase. 

But the backlash from his allies was swift, and the Biden administration quickly retreated and promised to raise the limit once again. 

Last month, Republicans pounced on a New York Post story that claimed migrant children at a facility in California were receiving “welcome kits” containing copies of Harris’ 2019 book “Superheroes Are Everywhere.” The story was completely false, which the reporter who wrote the piece admitted. (She also resigned from her job, citing disgust at what she was asked to do.)

A number of GOP politicians tweeted the article, arguing that Harris was trying to profit off the border crisis. Despite the inaccuracy of the story, most of those tweets remain up.