Feb 1, 2023
Kamala Harris Heads to Tyre Nichols Funeral as Biden's Ambassador to Black Voters
(Bloomberg) -- Kamala Harris will lead a delegation to attend Tyre Nichols’ funeral in Memphis on Wednesday, the latest example of how the first Black and Asian-American vice president is leveraging her background to act as a conduit to a key constituency.
Still, the visit runs the risk of spotlighting the White House’s inability to deliver on police reform legislation that’s a top priority for Black voters, whose support will be crucial to President Joe Biden’s planned reelection bid.
The White House announced Tuesday that Harris would attend the funeral in Memphis, Tennessee, alongside Reverend Al Sharpton and other civil rights leaders. Nichols’s parents invited her when she spoke to them by phone earlier in the day, according to a statement from attorney Ben Crump, who represents the family. Four other White House officials are also attending.
“Tyre Nichols should have made it home to his family,” Harris said in a statement Friday.
The vice president is not scheduled to speak Wednesday, but her presence is meant to assure prominent civil rights leaders that Biden — who relied heavily on support from Black voters in his 2020 win — will do more on the issues important to them, including police reform.
Earlier: Biden Says Nichols Video Left Him ‘Outraged and Deeply Pained’
The funeral also comes at a critical juncture in Harris’s political career. The vice president has at times struggled to find her footing. She’s been weighed down by gaffes and low visibility, prompting even some fellow Democrats to question her political skills.
In a radio interview Friday, Senator Elizabeth Warren shied away from endorsing Harris as Biden’s 2024 running mate.
Harris’s supporters have dismissed the criticism often leveled at her, saying that she faces more scrutiny as a woman and as the first to hold so many prominent roles.
The president also tasked Harris with thorny issues, including voting rights and addressing the root causes of the migrant surge on the US-Mexico border.
In the run-up to the midterms, though, Harris seized on abortion rights after the Supreme Court ruling reversing Roe v. Wade, meeting with state officials and activists to galvanize voters on an issue that helped Democrats limit GOP gains in November.
Harris will be crucial to helping Biden shore up support with Black voters during his planned 2024 reelection bid.
A January Economist/YouGov poll showed Harris has her highest favorability among Black voters at 67% — above even Biden, who similarly polls highest with that constituency at 64%.
Biden in recent weeks has been touting his legislative victories, particularly the bipartisan infrastructure bill, but Nichols’s killing thrusts the issue of police reform back into the spotlight.
Biden campaigned on the issue in 2020 amid the most intense protests around race since the 1960s, spurred by the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers.
While the administration delivered on some issues important to Black voters — such as student debt relief — civil rights leaders say the White House and Democrats have failed to live up to expectations on policing, criminal justice reform and voting rights.
The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, a comprehensive package of reforms named in Floyd’s honor, passed the House in the last Congress before stalling in the Senate. Biden signed an executive order in May 2022 that directed federal law enforcement to end the use of no-knock warrants and revise use-of-force standards, but those actions did not extend to state and local level.
Civil rights groups expressed dismay at the lack of legislative action on an issue they say should have been a priority when Democrats controlled Congress.
“We discussed that more may be necessary,” Sharpton said after a meeting he and fellow civil rights leaders had with Biden in September. “We’re shooting for the law.”
The president will meet Thursday with members of the Congressional Black Caucus to “discuss police reform legislation and other shared priorities,” White House spokeswoman Olivia Dalton said Tuesday.
But Biden has acknowledged his ability to act is limited and urged lawmakers to again take up the George Floyd Act, which has little chance of passing now that Republicans control the US House. In the Democratic-controlled Senate though, lawmakers are considering restarting talks on policing bills.
Read more: Tyre Nichols’s Death Pushes Senators to Weigh Policing Bill
“I can only do so much on an executive order at the federal level,” Biden told reporters Friday.
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