Buttigieg, Harris, and the Elephant in the Room

A trip to trumpet infrastructure instead triggers coverage about their political ambitions
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 3, 2021 1:02 PM CST
Buttigieg, Harris, and the Elephant in the Room
Pete Buttigieg and Kamala Harris, on a video screen, in this file photo from December 2020.   (Kevin Lamarque/Pool via AP)

(Newser) – Vice President Kamala Harris and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg traveled to North Carolina together on Thursday to talk up the administration's infrastructure plans. However, coverage of the trip isn't focusing on roads and bridges, but on the political machinations at play—or at least perceived to be at play. Details:

  • The elephant: Noah Bierman at the Los Angeles Times lays things out. "Here is the theory: The pair of bold names in the Biden administration are vying to be next in line for the party’s nomination, either in 2024 should President Biden, the oldest president in U.S. history at 79, step aside, or in 2028 if he runs again." For the record, Bierman begins his analysis by quoting Democratic strategist Donna Brazile calling the idea of a political rivalry between the pair as "manufactured BS."

  • Broad strokes: NPR also digs in, noting that Harris, 57, has been beset by weak poll numbers and unflattering coverage of late, while Buttigieg, 39, has increasingly gained attention as a possible alternative to the VP as heir to Biden. An assessment at MSNBC suggests Buttigieg has an edge because his post as transportation secretary may allow him to avoid being as much of a lightning rod for criticism. That, however, could change if supply chain issues get worse.
  • Public front: During their stop in Charlotte, Harris and Buttigieg spoke highly of each other as their aides tried to tamp down speculation of a political rift, per CNN. "It's 2021," said Buttigieg at one point when asked about his political future. Not that it helped much in regard to coverage: Business Insider even asked a body-language expert to analyze their interactions, including a hug described as "awkward" on an airport tarmac.
  • Ridicule from the right: At the New York Post, Kyle Smith lampoons the trip. "Madame Vice and the Transportation Kid were out to display to the public the fact that they totally aren't fighting even though every other day a leak appears in the Swamptown Gazette about how Democrats are scrambling to offload her somewhere before she becomes their next presidential nominee," he writes. "Don't be surprised if she is sent on an urgent diplomatic fact-finding mission to, say, Jupiter."
(Read more Pete Buttigieg stories.)

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