As the Rev. William J. Barber II pressed his case for a $15 minimum wage recently, the civil rights leader proclaimed that one elected official faced a defining moment straight out of scripture: Vice President Kamala Harris.
Just as the biblical Queen Esther saved her people, Barber argued, Harris was uniquely positioned to rescue struggling Americans by disregarding an arcane Senate ruling that disqualified the wage increase from a sweeping pandemic relief bill. The vice president, he and other activists contended, had extraordinary power as the constitutional president of the Senate to overrule the parliamentarian’s ruling on the matter.
“She will be remembered in history one way or the other,” Barber, who delivered the homily at the inaugural prayer service for Harris and President Biden in January, warned in an interview. Later he voiced frustration that his call went unheeded, saying, “You know one thing, you’re not going to win if you don’t fight.”
What he proposed was regarded by Democratic leaders and White House officials, including on Harris’s team, as an extreme and futile gesture, and most Democrats said it was untenable for the vice president to flout her boss’s wishes. As the bill nears the finish line, it is unlikely a wage hike will be in the final version.
But the long-shot push from liberal lawmakers, activists and clergy exposed the conundrum confronting Harris, who is caught between a restive party base crucial to her political future and the more cautious administration in which she serves.
The outside pressure was not lost on senior Harris advisers, and Vincent Evans, a top Harris aide, contacted Barber to say Harris wanted to “have a direct line of communication” with him, Barber said, a prospect he welcomed. “The ball is in their court now,” Barber said Friday.
Harris broke dramatic ground when she became the first woman to win a nationally elected office and the first African American and Asian American to serve as vice president. She is widely seen as a future presidential candidate and a potential heir to Biden, particularly if the 78-year-old decides not to seek reelection in 2024.
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SOURCE: San Francisco Gate; The Washington Post, Sean Sullivan and Cleve R. Wootson Jr.