The Veep Comes to Town


The U.S. Senate was deadlocked at 50-50 last year on the Inflation Reduction Act, a key part of the Biden Administration agenda and, at $369 billion over 10 years, the first big meaningful U.S. investment in clean energy technologies . Republicans in both chambers of Congress stood unanimous in their opposition.

Vice President Kamala Harris was cast in a frequent role, ushered into the president’s chair and casting the tie-breaking vote. A year later, visiting the McKinstry Co. in Seattle, the Veep was extolling what she described as “the largest climate investment in American.”

The investment has come none too soon. “Every day around the world,” said Harris, “the impact of the climate crisis is stark and it is vivid.” The country has been “choked by drought, washed out by flood, and decimated by hurricanes . . . Here is Washington state, you have endured deadly heat waves and devastating wildfires.”

Harris has rarely ventured far from Pennsylvania Avenue during her first 30 months as the first woman to serve as Vice President. She cast a record number of tie-breaking votes in an evenly divided Senate, a factor keeping her close to the Potomac. And she needed to work into a tight-knit Joe Biden political operations whose key players date back to the 1980s. She has become a target of the acid tongues of right-wing media.

With the 2024 election approaching, Harris has been set loose. “Vice President Harris remains uniquely popular with the key constituencies that make up the Biden-Harris coalition,” the president’s campaign managers Julie Chavez Rodriguez and Becca Siegel said in a memo last month.

“Over the past few weeks alone, Americans have watched her be a powerful and effective messenger, calling out the extremist MAGA agenda and lifting up the issues that Americans care about: Reproductive freedom, voting rights, economic opportunity, gun safety reform, and climate change with clean energy.”

Washington is a good place to display the message and messenger.  Climate is a big deal here, and the Inflation Reduction Act commits real resources and tax credits, underwriting clean energy technologies and allowing generous tax deductions to people who purchase electric cars. After Harris’, visit, State Rep. Alex Ramel, D-Bellingham, tweeted: “I’m feeling energized after hearing from Vice President Harris and so many great leaders about the investment in Climate Justice. We can turn the tide . . .”

Harris is also skilled at big-time fundraising, having run statewide for Senate and state attorney in California. After her McKinstry speech, Harris was driven across Lake Washington – creating big traffic jams – to a luncheon at the Medina home of Beth McCaw and Yahn Bernier, with Microsoft’s Brad Smith as host. The tab to attend started at $5,000.

“She is formidable,” said one Medina attendee.  Harris had her start as a prosecutor in San Francisco, went on to win election (narrowly) as California’s attorney general, and was sent to the U.S. Senate in 2016. She delighted in roughing up Trump cabinet appointees from her seat on the Senate Judiciary Committee. But Harris was unable to offer a coherent health care program and flamed out early as a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate. 

The Inflation Reduction Act broke a decades-long impasse in committing the U.S. to reduce its carbon footprint, and fully engage a 21st Century economy that moves away from the burning of fossil fuels. It is the marquee achievement of the Biden-Harris administration, notable because the Republicans, 50 in the Senate and 207 in the House of Representatives, stood unanimously in opposition.

The investment is coming none too soon. “It is clear the clock is not just ticking, it is banging,” Harris told a crowd at McKinstry, a Seattle-based firm that has been a national leader in energy-efficient building construction.

The arrival of visiting Democratic presidents and vice presidents has become an opportunity for local politicians to market their wares, and sometimes to show an attachment to sound bites over substance. The Veep’s visit brought Harris together with an equally no-nonsense former Senate colleague, Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.

Cantwell has promoted a clean-energy economy as a boon to jobs as well as the planet. She was early to point out, after trips to Beijing early in this century, that China was forging ahead on such fronts as solar panels and wind energy and semi-conductor manufacturing. Cantwell argued that the United States needed to catch up in a way good for the planet and the economy.  She found an Exhibit A: Turbines for wind energy farms in Eastern Washington were built in Denmark and Germany.

The Inflation Reduction Act has changed all that. “The IRA is 10 years of predictable investment so that companies like McKinstry and others can do the innovation that is going to give consumers a choice,” Cantwell said on her Tuesday visit.

Harris was just off a trip to Dalton, Georgia, and a solar panel manufacturer that will be employing 2,500 people.  All told, she added, “175,000 new clean energy jobs” have flowed from that tie-breaking Senate vote last year.  Touching on another long-time Cantwell cause, the Veep said “thousands of miles of new high voltage transmission lines” are under construction to carry green energy from source to market.

“We are rebuilding America’s manufacturing, we are rebuilding American innovation,” Harris declared. Of Cantwell, her former Senate colleague, Harris allowed: “She is truly one of our nation’s great climate leaders.”

Gov. Jay Inslee, whose brief 2020 presidential bid helped supply President Biden with a climate platform, spoke excitedly of clean energy projects in Eastern Washington. He was recently at the ground-breaking for a sustainable jet fuel production plant in Moses Lake. Inslee has described the Eastern Washington city as “the new Kitty Hawk.”

Both Harris and U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm gave a nod to clean energy development in the Inland Empire. And not by accident.  Republican U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers led House floor opposition to the Inflation Reduction Act. McMorris Rodgers has championed continued subsidies for the petroleum industry, coal mining on public lands, and expedited permitting for new power plants – despite summers of drought and wildfires in her Eastern Washington district.

Hearing Inslee, introduced yesterday as “America’s greenest governor,” a question inevitably comes to mind: Is he a policy architect or cheerleader? He speaks in sound bites — “This is not your grandmother’s climate change anymore” — and turns global warming into locker room speak. An example: “There is no acceptable tie with climate change. It must be defeated.” Of the Biden administration, added Inslee: “They are turning the rust belt of the Midwest into a clean energy belt.”

Jennifer Granholm also assumed the role of cheerleader, noting that companies have announced $110 billion in clean energy projects during the year since Harris’ vote broke a tie in the Senate. “The American energy sector has never been more electrifying,” Granholm joked.

She predicted 80 percent of the nation’s electricity will come from clean energy sources by 2030. Biden has set a goal of 100 percent clean electricity by the year 2035.  “We are back in the game, baby,” Granholm joked.

At McKinstry, Harris was on political hallowed ground. Then-Sen. Barack Obama visited the SoDo plant in 2008 for a morning immersion in the potential of clean energy building technology. Obama found his bearings quickly. He then went on to greet a crowd of 17,000 at Key Arena, and a sweep of Washington’s presidential precinct caucuses.  A few months later, he was elected the 44th President of the United States.

Obama was new and fresh at the time, a candidacy defined by the memorable “Hope” poster. Joe Biden, 80, has been around since being elected to the Senate in 1972. Indeed, Harris has some constituency-building to do.

Joel Connelly
Joel Connelly
I worked for Seattle Post-Intelligencer from 1973 until it ceased print publication in 2009, and from 2009 to 6/30/2020. During that time, I wrote about 9 presidential races, 11 Canadian and British Columbia elections‎, four doomed WPPSS nuclear plants, six Washington wilderness battles, creation of two national Monuments (Hanford Reach and San Juan Islands), a 104 million acre Alaska Lands Act, plus the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area.


  1. I gather the Dems are going to enhance the popularity of Kamala Harris, since bumping her off the ticket would be costly for Blacks and women’s votes. Failing that, it may be that an elaborate, three-cushion shot will be necessary for replacing her on the ticket. One that I hear about involves Nancy Pelosi convincing Sen. Feinstein to retire. Gov. Newsome can thus live up to his pledge to name a Black women to the vacancy by appointing Kamala Harris. She thus serves the party and the Biden reelection and moves to a tenured seat. Would she do it?

  2. Sen. Feinstein, 90, has announced she will not seek reelection and resisted all calls to resign her seat. The Senate is known to prop up very elderly members, who are attended to and protected by staff. As one analyst put it some years back, “The Senate is Strom Thurmond’s retirement home.”
    A trio of Democratic House members — Reps. Adam Schiff, Katie Porter and Barbara Lee — are contesting the seat in 2024. Lee and Porter have been recent Seattle visitors. They were raising millions of dollars.
    Why would Harris leave the Vic Presidency and accept what is essentially a year-long return to the Senate. None of the folks contending for DiFi’s seat has shown any inclination to bow out of the race.

  3. Kamala Harris will be key to bringing in younger voters and NOT driving Black voters away. V.Fair has opined that the Biden camp seems to have had a “whoops, never mind” view on Harris as a liability. Said V.F. “Now the Biden campaign is teeing up the VP as an attack dog on GOP extremism.”

    However: I sure would rather Kamala Harris went to downtown Seattle and the Pike Place Market, as candidates used to do. I remember Bill Clinton and before him, Mike Dukakis at the Pike Place Market, both speaking increasingly frenzied crowds. Yes, the dynamics and safety are different today, but combatting Trump’s mystifying popularity will require getting out there where unmotivated or unregistered voters are.

  4. Why — besides sexism or racism — are people not OK contemplating Harris, if needed, stepping up to the presidency? While she may not be a first choice, I can see her managing far, far better than any of the GOP lineup, led by the lying, rapaceous, anti-democracy, criminal frontrunner.
    The notion of Harris accepting a Senate appointment is absurd: been there, done that. At one time an unexpected Supreme Court appointment might have had cachet, but nix on a short-term Senate seat with a looming campaign.

    • Jean and Joel: Maybe a Senate consolation prize with promise of a Supreme Court seat? I agree that my scenario is unlikely and only would pertain if Biden is well back in the polling and if Manchin is running as a third party candidate.

      • One of the reasons I’ve been impressed with Biden as president comes from his mentoring of Harris. The assignments she’s received are tough ones, but put her in a place to build relationships and experience in national and foreign affairs essential to being a successful president. We’ve too often elected leaders without the experience with structures necessary for progress. You don’t get that from being a Senator, member of congress or governor.

      • David, you have been doom and gloom on Biden and Harris for years now. And you have been wrong every time. You insisted Biden couldn’t win, and he did. When did you cross over into the negativity? For someone who was so forward-thinking, so positive, for so long, it is alarming to read your continuing suppositions and superstitions about Biden, Harris, and other Democrats.

  5. If . . .If . . If. The last Vice President to be jettisoned was Henry Wallace in 1944. A duplicitous Franklin Roosevelt sent Wallace on a trip to Siberia early in the year, tipped scales with letter saying he would be pleased to run with Harry Truman or William O. Douglas.
    I can’t see Biden. So fixed with family honor and tactically maladroit, engineering a purge. Why jettison a loyalist and political asset?


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