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Analysis: The political risks of Kamala Harris' mission on immigration

Since becoming the first female Vice President in January, Harris has done what number twos are supposed to do: avoiding one-upping the commander-in-chief during his crucial first few months in office. But now, Harris is on a high profile and politically risky first foreign trip to Guatemala and Mexico, seeking to ease a tide of immigration at the US border.
She is tackling an issue critical to America’s foreign and domestic policy, and one laced with traps for a politician expected to run for the presidency in years to come. Harris will focus on problems that spur the vulnerable to attempt undocumented migration, including the effects of climate change, crippled economies and crime, and is promising “frank and honest” conversations with the presidents of Mexico and Guatemala about corruption and violence.
Any missteps will be seized upon by Republicans who are targeting the VP relentlessly as part of a long-term strategy to weaken a potential future Democratic presidential nominee. Immigration is an issue ripe for demagoguery, as exemplified by ex-President Donald Trump. The Biden Administration offered the GOP an opening after it was caught flat-footed on a surge of child migrants earlier this year. Harris aides — trying to avoid a damaging political banana skin — have repeatedly stressed her mandate is international and does not encompass border issues.
For much of the last four months, Harris has been literally in Biden’s wake — standing behind him in almost every formal public appearance as he sends a message of a unified team and enhances her status as his first lieutenant. The President has also given his unspoken successor another tough job, organizing the Democratic fight against a raft of Republican attempts to restrict voting in upcoming elections.
Neither the immigration nor the voting rights assignments offer much promise for success. But they are an opportunity for Harris to create her own White House legacy — and will test her skills and qualifications for the one executive office higher than the one she already holds.

‘They’ve always looked at us like their backyard. That’s the mistake’

Ahead of Harris’ visit, Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei on Sunday praised her, telling CBS News, “She doesn’t hold back, which is good.” But he also emphasized that the US and Guatemala don’t agree on all aspects of the immigration crisis, blaming increased border crossings in part on the new Biden administration’s messaging. The White House “message changed to ‘we are going to reunite families. And we are going to reunite children’,” he said, and “the very next day, the coyotes were here organizing groups of children to take them to the United States.”
Giammattei also suggested that the US needed to change its perspective on countries in Central America. “There is a mistake being made in the United States. They’ve always looked at us like their backyard. That’s the mistake. We’re the front yard. And if the front yard is bad, how will the house be? You don’t take care of your front yard, how will your house be?”

‘I’m not the one trying to undermine American democracy’

Former U.S. President Donald Trump on June 5, 2021 in Greenville, North Carolina. Former U.S. President Donald Trump on June 5, 2021 in Greenville, North Carolina.
“I’m not the one trying to undermine American democracy. I’m the one that’s trying to save it,” Trump said in a speech in North Carolina on Saturday. Classic Trump, creating a new and false reality in which his millions of supporters can live.
The former president has been whitewashing his own culpability in the deadly January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol, and is also endorsing scores of efforts by Republican state legislators to erect an infrastructure that could be used to steal future elections. Now, with his endorsement of North Carolina Senate candidate Ted Budd at Saturday’s event, Trump is making an embrace of his flagrant lies a ticket to entry for future Republican races.
It’s not just on the election that Trump is moving to cover up the damage dealt by his presidency. As he plots a comeback, he is leading fellow Republicans and conservative talking heads in an assault on the nation’s chief medical officer Anthony Fauci. Conspiracy theories are rife that Fauci covered up or was even involved in China’s developing of the Covid-19 virus. US intelligence is looking at the origins of the virus. But the fact there’s no evidence to prove wild claims about Fauci is immaterial; baseless speculation helps Trump deflect attention from his own pandemic denialism and the ensuing deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans.
The idea that Trump is trying to save democracy is laughable. He shattered the barrier of independence between the Justice Department and the White House. He was impeached twice: once for trying to get Ukraine to interfere in an election and again for inciting a mob attack on Congress. He has convinced tens of millions of Americans that the 2020 election was a scam. And he ordered Republican leaders in Washington to scupper an independent probe into the January insurrection.
Far from saving US democracy, Trump is driving it closer to destruction.

‘Our founders were wise to see the temptation of absolute power’

Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin on Sunday said he would vote against a sweeping voting rights bill and reiterated his opposition to gutting the filibuster, declaring in the strongest terms yet that he is not willing to change Senate rules to help his party push through much of President Joe Biden’s agenda. Current filibuster rules allow Republicans to hold up many of the progressive bills the administration supports, including infrastructure spending, federal voting legislation and climate change legislation.
“I believe that partisan voting legislation will destroy the already weakening binds of our democracy, and for that reason, I will vote against the For the People Act. Furthermore, I will not vote to weaken or eliminate the filibuster,” Manchin, a moderate Democrat from West Virginia, wrote in an op-ed published in the Charleston Gazette-Mail.
“What I’ve seen during my time in Washington is that every party in power will always want to exercise absolute power, absolutely. Our founders were wise to see the temptation of absolute power and built in specific checks and balances to force compromise that serves to preserve our fragile democracy. The Senate, its processes and rules, have evolved over time to make absolute power difficult while still delivering solutions to the issues facing our country and I believe that’s the Senate’s best quality.”
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