Second gentleman Douglas Emhoff came to the defense of his oft-maligned wife, Vice President Kamala Harris, during an event in Paris on Thursday, saying her role as a trailblazer is “hard.”
Speaking at a forum on gender equity, Mr. Emhoff, the first man in the U.S. to serve in his position, said Ms. Harris has endured criticism because of her status of being “first” in prominent jobs. She is the first Black person and first woman elected vice president and the first Black woman to serve as California’s attorney general.
“One of things I’ve learned from being married to Kamala Harris is that to be first in so many things is hard,” Mr. Emhoff said. “She said once that breaking barriers involves breaking, and when you break something sometimes you get cut, and when you get cut, sometimes you bleed. … But it’s worth it.”
He didn’t refer to any specific criticisms of the vice president, who has experienced an extremely rocky 10 months in office, from her heavily ridiculed job as immigration czar to her praise for a student who accused Israel of “ethnic genocide.” On the day that the couple left the U.S. for France, a poll showed Ms. Harris’ approval rating at 28%, a historic low.
While Mr. Emhoff was standing up for Ms. Harris at the ornate Hotel de Talleyrand in Paris, a building once owned by the Rothschild family, a new mini-furor was developing back home over the vice president appearing to lapse into a phony French accent at an event earlier in their five-day trip.
Political watchers were scratching their heads after Ms. Harris seemed to deploy a Gallic tint to certain words during a tour of the Pasteur Institute.
“In government, we campaign with ‘The Plan,’” Ms. Harris said. “Uppercase T, uppercase P. ‘The Plan.’ And then the environment is such we’re expected to defend ‘The Plan’ even when the first time we roll it out there may be some glitches and it’s time to reevaluate and then do it again.”
Ms. Harris seemed to awkwardly slip into a French accent each time she said “The Plan” as she turned to French officials at the institute.
GOP operatives made hay with the viral clip.
“Kamala ‘Cringe’ Harris visits a group of French scientists and speaks to them as if they’re toddlers, lamenting that people expect their elected officials to keep their promises,” GOP Rapid Response aide Jake Schneider tweeted.
“Is she using a FRENCH ACCENT?! I love this episode of Veep,” Abigail Marone, press secretary for Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, said on Twitter.
Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also ridiculed Ms. Harris.
“The clip from Vice President Harris is just it’s more than embarrassing on the world stage,” Mr. Pompeo told Fox News Channel host Sean Hannity. “Our adversaries watch that and see weakness. They see people who aren’t serious, they see people who aren’t determined precisely the opposite of what we did for four years. It feels a lot more like the Carter administration in terms of how they view America as a danger to the world and apologize everywhere they go.”
But ABC late-night host Jimmy Kimmel said this week he believes Ms. Harris’ poor approval ratings are driven in part by racism and sexism, and also by her overshadowing President Biden.
“Americans really aren’t happy with his vice president, Kamala Harris,” Mr. Kimmel said during his monologue. “Kamala Harris has an approval rating of 28%, which makes no sense because she basically has nothing to do. I mean, it’s like criticizing a backup quarterback.”
He said, “I think I know why Kamala‘s ratings are low, besides sexism and racism, which are the obvious ones. It’s because whenever she‘s next to Joe Biden, standing near or behind him, she looks like an assassin.”
Administration officials have been hoping that Ms. Harris’ diplomatic foray to France will help to boost her image while she works to smooth over recent tensions with America’s oldest ally.
At an event Thursday with French President Emmanuel Macron and other world leaders, Ms. Harris told a peace forum in Paris that the world faces “a dramatic rise in inequality, and we must rise to meet this moment.”
“Why is it that 1% of the world now owns 45% of the world’s wealth?” she said. “Why is it that one in three women in the world experience sexual or physical violence during her lifetime? Why have we allowed so many of the world’s children to go hungry, when we know that we produce enough food to feed the entire world?”
She said the Biden administration is doing its part to correct “systemic gaps” in social justice in the U.S.
“As we recover from this pandemic, from the crisis, we must challenge the status quo and build something better,” she said. “For our part, the United States is committed to addressing our own systemic gaps. In fact, it has been a priority of our administration.”
She pointed to a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that President Biden will sign into law Monday and said Congress is “poised to pass soon” a $1.75 trillion social-welfare package.
“Together, these bills are designed to lift people out of poverty, to put people to work in good jobs, and to help bridge the gaps that persist in our nation,” Ms. Harris said.
She also praised nations at the Group of 20 summit in Italy last month for approving a global minimum tax on corporations.
“This agreement will ensure that corporations — no matter how large, no matter how global — will no longer be able to avoid paying their fair share,” the vice president said.
She said the U.S. has pledged $1 billion in COVID-19 vaccines worldwide and has committed to doubling its aid to nations most at risk from climate change. But Ms. Harris said other nations need to work together on such goals.
“In the 21st century, addressing inequality is a strategic imperative for each of us, for our security and our health, our shared prosperity and our collective future,” she said.
Earlier in the day, Ms. Harris joined Mr. Macron for an Armistice Day tribute on the Champs Elysees to commemorate how France and the U.S. stood together to force Germany into surrender on Nov. 11, 1918, the conclusion of World War I.
The fence-mending comes after a diplomatic spat over France losing to the U.S. a deal to sell submarines to Australia.
The vice president and Mr. Emhoff wrapped up their third day in France by attending a dinner at Elysee Palace, the official residence of the French president since 1848.