Vice President Kamala Harris embarked Monday on a five-day visit to France, a diplomatic trip intended in part to raise her rock-bottom profile, with a new poll showing her approval rating at an abysmal 28%.
In her third excursion overseas, Ms. Harris will focus on the plight of migrants and refugees in a meeting on Libya with other world leaders, aides said. She also is scheduled to meet with French President Emmanuel Macron, speak at the Paris Peace Forum and participate in an Armistice Day ceremony.
Aides said the vice president’s trip is important for U.S. alliances and crucial to addressing sex equality and “rising inequality” around the world. She will be accompanied by second gentleman Doug Emhoff.
But given Ms. Harris’ unpopularity and the administration’s damaged record on foreign policy since the military withdrawal from Afghanistan, critics say the vice president has little to offer U.S. allies.
“Kamala Harris brings practically nothing with her to Europe in terms of credibility and standing,” said Nile Gardiner, a foreign policy specialist at the conservative Heritage Foundation.
“She is the most unpopular vice president in modern times, according to Gallup polling, with good reason. She has been a hugely ineffective vice president serving in a deeply unpopular presidency. That is the feeling both at home and abroad. It’s hard to see how in any way Kamala Harris is going to be advancing U.S. interests on the European stage,” he said.
In a statement as she departed Monday evening, Ms. Harris said she was traveling at Mr. Macron’s invitation “to build on our administration’s progress strengthening our alliances and partnerships in Europe and around the world.”
“I look forward to building on our progress here at home by working with our allies and partners to advance this administration’s agenda — and our country’s interests — around the world,” she said.
Ms. Harris will participate in the Libya conference after criticism at home this year for failing to adequately address the migrant crisis at the southern U.S. border, or even to visit the region.
The vice president will “be expressing a deep concern for human rights and the situation of migrants and refugees, and reinforce the imperative of protecting vulnerable people, including those fleeing conflict,” a senior administration official said.
Another effort is to revive Ms. Harris’ public image, which has plummeted to a historic low after less than one year in office. Not even Republican Vice President Dan Quayle, often the butt of liberals’ jokes, was as unpopular as Ms. Harris at this point in his tenure. He had an approval rating of 43% in 1989.
Senior administration officials repeatedly described the vice president’s trip as momentous. They said Ms. Harris will carry an important message to the Libya conference and that the U.S. alliance with France is “more important now than it has ever been.”
“This trip is extremely important,” an adviser told reporters.
In the same USA Today/Suffolk University poll that showed Ms. Harris’ dismal approval rating Monday, 64% of respondents, including 28% of Democrats, said they don’t want President Biden to run for reelection in 2024.
Considering Ms. Harris’ sinking popularity, many Democrats say the party needs a new plan.
“The vice president’s job is always a tough job,” said former Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who served as secretary of the Democratic National Committee during President Obama’s second term.
“The president asked her to do some pretty challenging things right off the bat, things that haven’t been resolved. So I think people are frustrated with so much that’s going on, and she’s one of the people that has a target on her,” she said.
Noting that officials in both parties have failed to devise a solution to immigration for the past decade or more, Ms. Rawlings-Blake said it is unfair to judge Ms. Harris as a failure on the issue after a few months.
“The vice president seems like in some sectors of even our own party she’s in a no-win situation,” Ms. Blake-Rawlings said. “In some ways, it almost feels like an unfortunate setup.”
She applauded Ms. Harris’ effort to raise her profile internationally but said the vice president also needs “to have her profile lifted on kitchen-table issues” at home.
“We have so much work to do to repair our international image, she should be out there raising her profile and raising the country’s profile,” Ms. Rawlings-Blake said. “But she needs to show everyone that she is as concerned or more concerned about the issues that we’re facing every day.”
Suffolk University Director of Political Research David Paleologos said the share of poll respondents who were undecided about Ms. Harris, 21%, was “notably high, perhaps due to her lack of visibility in recent weeks.”
He said the exception was her remarks about the importance of Virginia’s elections, which Republicans ended up winning.
“What happens in Virginia will, in large part, determine what happens in 2022, 2024 and on,” she told voters before Election Day.
Hip-hop artist Kanye West referred dismissively to the vice president in a TV interview last week as “a woman we ain’t seen since the election.”
Mr. Gardiner, the Heritage scholar, said expectations are “exceedingly low” for Ms. Harris on this trip.
“I think her knowledge of the trans-Atlantic alliance and the political situation in Europe is extremely limited,” he said. “She is not someone with much experience dealing with European leaders. She’s a foreign policy novice in a highly amateurish U.S. administration, one that is sinking very rapidly in the eyes of U.S. allies and partners, especially in the wake of the Afghanistan debacle.”
A senior administration official said there is a “common thread” to Ms. Harris’ trip: “The vice president is exercising American leadership on consequential global challenges and issues.”
“This trip is about building on President Biden’s and Vice President Harris’ work since Day One of this administration to deepen cooperation with close allies, partners and really to reestablish American leadership on the world stage,” the official said. “This visit from the vice president really signals the strength of our alliance as our nations work together to advance prosperity, security and stability as we take on multiple existential threats and seize new opportunities.”