The Biden-Harris Administration

A curious bit of branding.

Quite frequently during the rollout of nominations for major posts, the President-elect’s news releases have noted that it was he and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris making the choice. I’m now seeing news reports about Day 1 initiatives that carry both names. Unless my memory is foggier than I think, that’s highly unusual, if not unprecedented.

I seldom recall Vice President Pence’s name being mentioned in any similar context. Ditto any previous Vice President.

Generally speaking, there are two times when we see the pairing:

  • Vice Presidents trying to claim the mantle of the President under whom they served. So, it was “the Obama-Biden” administration throughout Biden’s 2020 campaign and the “Reagan-Bush” administration throughout George H. W. Bush’s 1988 campaign.
  • Others trying to tie a Vice President to an unpopular President, or at least one disfavored by a particular crowd. So, we had a lot of “Clinton-Gore administration” references by Republicans during the 2000 race and one suspects we’d see the same with “the Trump-Pence administration” if Mike Pence ever runs for the big seat.

That the Biden team is doing so from the outset is highly unorthodox and suggests one of two things:

  • Biden intends from the outset to be a one-termer given his advanced age and is deliberately (and unprecedentedly in the modern era) trying to anoint Harris as his successor
  • Biden sees Harris as something of a co-president and is genuinely consulting her on policy and personnel choices in a way not seen since at least Dick Cheney’s tenure, if ever

Those are, of course, not mutually exclusive.

FILED UNDER: US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Lounsbury says:

    Curious?
    It seems rather entirely expected. One term or not, it’s clearly positioning intelligently for multiple purposes including a dual purpose white-side for Harris and black American side for Biden (in continuation from his Obama situ).

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  2. James Joyner says:

    @Lounsbury: Going back to Walter Mondale, modern Vice Presidents have had a much more substantive policy role (possibly excluding Dan Quayle). But none of the Presidents co-branded their administrations.

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  3. Liberal Capitalist says:

    While no one wants it, we all know that it will likely happen.

    Biden is… of advanced age. Harris will likely become president. Having the “Biden Harris” message there will ensure a smoother transition.

    Call me what you will, but I see myself as a pragmatist. Hope it won’t happen, but prepare for it.

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  4. gVOR08 says:

    I think the precedent is not Cheney, but Biden himself. Although Obama didn’t tag it Obama-Biden, Biden is mindful that Obama gave him substantive roles and allowed him a share of the limelight, facilitating Biden’s own successful presidential run. He also knows he has a lot to do and will need all the help he can get, especially from Harris. Biden is also, of course, well aware of his own age and the possibility that he may choose not to run in 2024 or be forced to otherwise hand off to Harris, and should the worst happen, wants the handoff to proceed smoothly. He is also, of course, aware of the need to keep the Black electorate closely tied to Democrats. And likely grateful for Harris’ support in the election. Perhaps this seems newsworthy because we are unaccustomed to seeing generosity of spirit, or planning, in the WH.

    It has been a meme in the fever swamp that Harris is the real power. I think this is so common because they want to tag the admin as far lefty, commie, cancel culture, extremist, and that’s hard to do with old, sleepy Joe at the helm. Everybody knows, because everybody knows, that Joe is Kamala’s puppet and she will depose him with the 25th, or worse, as soon as the dust settles. Realistic acknowledgement of Harris stepping in as a contingency may, I fear, be seen as supporting the RW fantasies about Harris.

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  5. KM says:

    A third option – given how prominent the VP will be this term due to the 50-50 Senate, they are emphasizing her importance now. The VP is usually not that important because their official Constitutional duties won’t come into play often; Harris is going to be the tiebreaker often and thus they want to prime the public to see her as a valid authority figure doing her official job.

    Like it or not, sexism is real in this country. Folks, even ostensibly liberal ones, are going to balk that the legislative branch is essentially female-lead for the next two years. It’s “Biden-Harris” because she’s in power because *he’s* in power…. but her normal Constitutional power is going to be exercised to a far greater extent than normal so it helps ground that concept.

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  6. Neil Hudelson says:

    Heh. At the ACLU-IN we’ve been branding it the “Trump-Pence” administration because so many Hoosiers are OK with Trump but absolutely hate Pence.

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  7. CSK says:

    @Neil Hudelson:
    Oh, Pence is a traitor and a backstabber as far as the Trumpkins are concerned.

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  8. Michael Reynolds says:

    It’s not at all surprising, it’s just very 2021. It’s in keeping with the current sense of graciousness and inclusion. Woke culture isn’t all dragging and name-calling.

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  9. Sleeping Dog says:

    Let’s face it, Pence would never get mention in Trump world, there was no room for anyone but The Donald. That Pence finally carved a place for himself in the administration it was a public servant faithfully executing his duties and turning on his president.

  10. Scott says:

    @Neil Hudelson: Pence was considered bad governor and unlikely to be reelected until he failed upward and became VP.

  11. R. Dave says:

    I think it’s purely about throwing a bone to young progressives to keep them engaged for the next couple of elections (2022 and 2024), regardless of who the candidate in 2024 ends up being. They don’t like and won’t be as enthusiastic about showing up for another old, white, man, but they’re more likely to do so for the first black, female VP.

  12. Jen says:

    Harris is positioned to become one of the most consequential VP’s in the modern era; I don’t think this is that surprising.

    I think sharing the limelight, so to speak, is a smart move. It demonstrates yet again that Biden is emotionally mature enough to share the stage, which is a stark contrast to the egomaniac we’re getting rid of tomorrow.

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  13. Michael Cain says:

    In light of the Georgia election results, it will seem very fitting. When most of the stories about the administration’s legislative agenda are written, the phrase “Vice-President Harris cast the deciding vote” will be prominent.

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  14. Teve says:

    @Jen:

    I think sharing the limelight, so to speak, is a smart move. It demonstrates yet again that Biden is emotionally mature enough to share the stage, which is a stark contrast to the egomaniac we’re getting rid of tomorrow.

    “After a fat Pope, a thin one.”

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  15. Scott F. says:

    @gVOR08:

    Perhaps this seems newsworthy because we are unaccustomed to seeing generosity of spirit, or planning, in the WH.

    Joe really is a mensch. I suspect the press will struggle mightily with that after 4 years of the ultimate narcissist Trump.

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  16. Kathy says:

    I’ve often thought the executive branch being centralized and widespread, should have a figure like a second in command. Someone who is up to date on the doings and goals of the president/PM, but has limited authority beyond making sure the president’s orders, policies, etc. are implemented. And who can take over a moment’s notice in case of death, or some incapacitating injury.

    In the US, that should be the natural role of the VP, rather than the current ceremonial figure, tie-breaker in the Senate, and whatever the sitting president decides to give them. But the Constitution does not specify any role past replacement part.

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  17. dazedandconfused says:

    Third possibility: He doubts he will stay POTUS for the whole four years. Perhaps only if Harris proves unable.

  18. Gustopher says:

    @Kathy:

    In the US, that should be the natural role of the VP, rather than the current ceremonial figure, tie-breaker in the Senate, and whatever the sitting president decides to give them. But the Constitution does not specify any role past replacement part.

    Yes, but they get to invoke that through trial by combat, so that’s pretty cool.

    And they get to throw out votes when the Electoral College votes are to be counted. There are probably more unenumerated powers of the Vice President. VP is basically a dictator.

  19. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Been thinking about this all day. Truth is? I don’t find it curious at all. It sounds perfectly normal to me. But then, I just don’t have that much of an ego.

  20. Franklin says:

    I don’t have anything to add other than it just feels right. Old white guy works professionally alongside a young woman of color.

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  21. al Ameda says:

    I notice it as a change until you pointed it out here.

    For the past ten weeks or so I’ve been referring to the incoming/new administration as ‘the Biden-Harris administration. It just seems modern and it reflects the reality that some recent vice-presidents have been influential to varying degrees – e.g. Dick Cheney, Joe Biden, Al Gore. The position of vice president is no longer (Pence being a recent exception) relegated/vanquished to ceremonial duties.