Vice President Kamala Harris said on Friday that the administration could not anticipate the variants that have prolonged and worsened the COVID-19 pandemic and underestimated the role that misinformation would play in prolonging the disease that has killed 800,000 Americans.
“It simply came to our notice then. I don’t think most scientists, on the advice and direction we’ve relied on, saw Delta coming, “he said.” We didn’t see Omicron coming. And that’s the nature of this horrible virus, which has mutations and variants. “
Harris made the remarks during an extensive interview with The Times in his ceremonial office, talking about immigration, women’s health, the criticism he has received for his management style, and his role as a leader in history. But the vice president has repeatedly returned to the Biden administration’s main challenge: fighting a pandemic that, thanks to a new fast-spreading variant, Omicron, has led many Americans to suspend travel plans, cancel parties vacation and refuel. masks.
“I get it. I get it. I totally get it,” he said. “I mean, you know, one of the concerns I have is the undiagnosed and untreated trauma to varying degrees that everyone has experienced.”
President Biden celebrated the “independence” of the virus in an optimistic speech on July 4, saying: “Even though the virus has not been defeated, we know this: it no longer controls our lives. It no longer paralyzes our nation. And it’s up to us to make sure he never does it again. ”
At the time, some public health experts warned that their optimism was premature, as the Delta variant was already a major threat.
Harris denied that the administration had declared victory prematurely, or never.
“We haven’t been victorious,” he said. “I don’t think anyone can claim victory when, as you know, 800,000 people have died from this virus.”
Many Americans, especially conservatives, resisted Biden’s call to be vaccinated against COVID-19, a measure that public health officials say is critical to preventing hospitalization and death from the disease. Harris cited as a singular regret his failure to appreciate the power of misinformation to deter people from trusting the vaccine.
“I would take it more seriously,” he said of the misinformation. “The biggest threat to the American people is the threat of unvaccinated people. And most people who believe in the effectiveness of the vaccine and the severity of the virus have been vaccinated. deeply “.
But it could hardly have been a surprise to Harris. He spent much of his time in the early months of the administration trying to overcome the hesitations among some blacks, who have suffered a history of mistreatment by the medical community. Former President Trump has repeatedly promoted misinformation while in office, especially when the pandemic wreaked havoc. He remains active in promoting the false claim that the election was stolen, a conspiracy theory shared by many who refuse to get vaccinated.
More than 70% of Americans have received at least one vaccine. But statewide polls and data suggest that Democrats are much more likely to have done so than Republicans. An NPR investigation found that the higher a county’s total vote for Trump, the lower the vaccination rate against COVID-19.
Some conservatives have accused Harris of contributing to the politicization of the pandemic response, which he denied in the interview.
Harris covered up when asked in September 2020 if he would get a vaccine if it was approved before the election, and said it would be “a problem for all of us” because “he wouldn’t trust Donald Trump.” He added, however, that he would trust “a credible source of information that speaks of efficiency and reliability. … I will not take his word for it.
“He wants us to inject bleach,” he added, referring to Trump’s widely mocked suggestion in April 2020 that injecting disinfectant into people could kill the virus.
Harris cited the pandemic in response to questions about his role in the administration and the challenges it faces. Some Americans and political experts expected Harris to have an unusual level of strength and visibility. Biden, 79, is not only the oldest president in history, but has served as vice president and talked about the importance of the role.
Although Harris has received high-profile assignments, including overseeing the administration’s efforts to address the root causes of Central American migration, he has not been influenced by some of his predecessors. As vice president, Biden was one of the top dealers with Congress, led negotiations on a new government in Iraq, and oversaw the Obama administration’s 2009 stimulus spending plan.
Harris said it was not a fair comparison because of what the Biden administration has faced in trying to curb the all-consuming pandemic.
Harris did not say if she thought her race and gender had contributed to the criticism she has faced as vice president.
“I’ll let other people evaluate it,” he said.
The issue is complicated for Harris. She said she believes that her representation as a black woman has been important in many of the issues the White House has addressed, but was reluctant to highlight some, such as maternal health and the reduction in mortality rates. mothers during childbirth, for fear of labeling them as causes of special interest. .
“It shouldn’t be a priority based on race or gender when black women are three to four times more likely to die in childbirth, native women are twice as likely to die in childbirth, rural women are 60% more likely to die in part, “he said. “It simply came to our notice then. And so I resist attributing it to my race or gender, so that no one decides that if you’re not that race or gender, it shouldn’t be a priority. “
Harris ‘most prominent work involves stepping up Republican efforts at the state level to limit voting rights and try to reduce migration by addressing poverty, corruption, and crime in immigrants’ home countries.
It hasn’t been easy either. Two voting rights bills do not have votes in the Senate to overcome Republican obstructionism. The number of unemployed migrants near the border reached record levels this year.
Harris did not respond directly to whether he should take responsibility for the migration numbers on the registry or commit to a schedule to reduce them. Instead, he noted his work to attract more private investment to Central America, which this week reached $ 1.2 billion in commitments from dozens of private companies.
The commission has made Harris a magnet for criticism. The right has tried to put it in trouble at the border. The left, meanwhile, was furious when it went to Guatemala during the summer and told migrants “Don’t come.”
The administration suffered a blow in its efforts to address the challenges of immigration on Thursday, when the Senate MP ruled that a number of changes to the law, including new work visas for some immigrants here illegally , could not be included in the administration’s social and environmental services bill. . Biden and Harris have traveled the country looking to sell the proposal, which is being pushed by Democrats in a way that does not require them to overcome a filibuster.
Harris expressed frustration with the sentence, but offered no alternative plan.
“We must continue to appeal to the American people because they expect Congress and its elected representatives to act on the issue,” he said in the 20-minute interview. “We can’t give up, that’s for sure.”
Clearly, some of Harris’s supporters felt that his election has given way to exasperation, as he continues to suffer little approval and sustained criticism from Republicans and some Democrats. He faced a recent wave of stories about high-level staff departures and his staff turnover history dating back to his time as California Attorney General.
Harris said she is the toughest with herself, and that many employees and former employees “would talk about how they have been guided, nurtured and supported” by her.
When asked to remember moments when she was surprised by the story she was making, Harris said it happens all the time, especially when she is at an event and parents show her photos of their children watching her swear as vice president. .