Did Joe Biden Push Kamala Harris to a Glass Cliff?

White House watchers have been waiting for President Biden to give Vice President Harris her own portfolio. To bestow on her a particular policy area for which she would assume complete, direct, responsibility.

Well, he just did. He put her in charge of efforts to slow what is widely perceived the rush, the crush, of migrants along America’s southern border. Her task is twofold, along “two tracks” as one senior administration official put it. First, the immediate task: to stem the current flow of migrants into the U.S.; second, the long-term task, to develop, and implement a strategy to address the root causes of the migrant surge.  Hence the question: did Harris get pushed to a place where no woman should ever want to be?

“Glass cliff” is a term that was coined decades ago as women were starting in somewhat larger numbers to assume leadership roles. It refers to situations in which they ascend to positions of authority – but only those, or at least especially those, in which the risk of failure is clearly high. Women in such positions – women on the glass cliff – are, then, being set up.  Because they are given a task that is perilously close to being no-win, they are saddled with situations in which their prospects for effective leadership have been reduced rather than enhanced.  

Biden has a full plate. Nevertheless, it can safely be said that no single item or issue on his plate is more politically fraught than immigration, especially along the U.S. border with Mexico. It has bedeviled even the well-intentioned for years, with no solution in sight, certainly not an easy one that, in this harsh political climate, comes remotely close to being cost-free.

On the surface Biden has given Harris a chance to shine. She will be, heaven knows, in the national spotlight. And Biden has made clear that “When [Harris] speaks, she speaks for me.”

Still, the position in which the president has put his vice president is perilous. She will be a target. Slings and arrows will be shot at her every day from every direction. She will go against a tide that is not descending but ascending. And, so long as she holds her present portfolio, she will be at the precipice of a glass cliff from which she will have to fight not to fall.  

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