Democrats have lost support among Americans. Kamala Harris is no exception

January 20, 2022, 1:54 PM UTC

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Women’s political organizations reevaluate their endorsement of Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, the University of Michigan agrees to a record settlement with sexual abuse victims, and Kamala Harris enters year two of her historic vice presidency. Have a lovely Thursday.

– One-year check-up. A year ago, U.S. President Joe Biden took office, as did Vice President Kamala Harris, whose swearing in made her the first woman, first Black woman, and first Asian-American to hold the office.

This time last year, The Broadsheet wrote about the historic nature of Harris’s election, her entry into uncharted waters, and the four-headed monster of crises—plus questions about her own legacy—that she’d face immediately.

As Biden’s agenda stalls, inflation soars, and the unrelenting pandemic drags on, the optimism (almost exclusively among Democrats) that marked Jan. 20, 2021 has certainly faded. Harris’s own approval rating has tumbled with it. Just over a third of Americans approve of Harris, while 47.2% disapprove, according to FiveThirtyEight.

For Harris to have logged a successful first year in office, she would have had to make significant progress toward solving some of Washington’s most intractable problems. That didn’t happen. The migration crisis at the U.S.’s southern border and voting rights both landed on Harris’s plate, and she hasn’t made meaningful headway on either. Just last night, Democrats failed to unite behind a change to Senate filibuster rules that would have made it easier to pass voting rights legislation.

Harris has also been dinged by the kind of gendered media reports that are now so common among female politicians that they are almost trite: reports of a bullying management style, staff turmoil, and overseas shopping sprees.

Harris is hardly alone in losing public support. Fortune‘s Nicole Goodkind reports that “empirically speaking, the president’s party almost always loses ground in Congress during midterms.” But Democrats’ shellacking over the past 12 months is unprecedented. The nine-point lead they held over Republicans in the first quarter of 2021 has turned into a five-point deficit—the biggest swing Gallop polling has ever recorded in a single year.

There is some good news about Harris going into year two. She remains a hugely inspirational figure for Americans who were desperate to see a woman and person of color rise to the top of U.S. politics.

Supporters say she is listening to Americans who have been ignored in the past.

“She was really interested in hearing about the direct experiences of women who, frankly, have been really invisible to other administrations and in general in politics,” Ai-jen Poo, co-founder of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, told NPR.

Her office also seems to be undertaking a public relations reset to improve the VP’s public persona.

And Harris remains the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2024, if Biden doesn’t seek reelection.

Assessing the success of Harris’s first year also requires context. The vice presidency is one of the oddest jobs in Washington, with few codified duties. The VP is the tie-breaker in the Senate, and, ideally, the commander-in-chief’s close confidant. The veep must be good enough at the job to maintain relevance but not so good that they overshadow the president. They’re expected to publicly support the president’s agenda even if they privately disagree.

It was an almost impossible role for the dozens of white men who preceded Harris, and the stereotypes, double-standards, and inflated expectations that accompanied her history-making ascent certainly haven’t made the No. 2 job any easier.

Claire Zillman

The Broadsheet, Fortune’s newsletter for and about the world’s most powerful women, is coauthored by Kristen Bellstrom, Emma Hinchliffe, and Claire Zillman. Today’s edition was curated by Emma Hinchliffe


- Party politics. Organizations that once backed Sen. Kyrsten Sinema are reevaluating their support of the centrist Arizona senator after she decided not to support Senate rule changes that would have allowed voting rights legislation to advance. EMILY's List, which backs pro-choice women candidates and was Sinema's largest supporter during her campaign, and NARAL, the abortion rights group, both issued warnings to Sinema, but she's not up for reelection until 2024. Bloomberg

- Record settlement. The University of Michigan will pay $490 million to settle allegations of sexual abuse against Robert E. Anderson, a late former doctor in the university's athletic department. The settlement will go to more than 1,000 people who brought forward allegations of sexual abuse and is among the largest such settlement ever paid by a university to sexual abuse victims. NYT

- Consumer's always right? GlaxoSmithKline's consumer health business won't be sold to Unilever after all now that the potential buyer declined to raise its offer above $68 billion. GSK CEO Emma Walmsley's strategy for the British pharmaceutical company has included the spinoff of its consumer unit. WSJ

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: Bonobos CEO Micky Onvural is leaving the brand to become chief marketing and communications officer for retirement investment services firm TIAA. Gregg Renfrew is stepping down as CEO of Beautycounter and will become executive chair and chief brand officer. Katie Haun and Andreessen Horowitz general partner Arianna Simpson join the board of Web3 brand Autograph. Digital sports platform Fanatics hired Shiri Ben-Yishai as general counsel. Maria Cavalcanti is stepping down as CEO of the organization Pro Mujer; her successor is Carmen CorreaCharlotte Deane will be chief scientist of Biologics A.I. for Exscientia. 


- Activision acquisition. The Microsoft-Activision Blizzard deal will net embattled Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick a personal windfall of $375 million. The $68 billion deal arrives after the gaming company faced allegations of sexual harassment, assault, and a hostile work environment. Bloomberg

- How to play politics. According to psychologists and leadership coaches, women tend to dislike office politics more than men do. That can hurt women's careers as they avoid playing politics at work. So how can women get more comfortable with this reality of the workplace? Three coaches offer some tips: Harvard Business Review

- 'I'm a girl and I can fight.' In Uttar Pradesh, India, politician Priyanka Gandhi Vadra is leading an effort to put forward female candidates for at least 40% of the Congress Party's slate for the state assembly, with a slogan that translates as "I'm a girl and I can fight." The assembly has 403 seats, and the party met that 40% goal in its first list of candidates. Election results will be available in mid-March. Time


A possible sex offender doesn't look good on a commemorative tea towel NYT

Cardi B promises to cover funeral costs for Bronx fire victims Bloomberg

Lina Khan is still bursting Big Tech's bubble NYT


"People don’t necessarily have to agree with what she did, but I want to help people try to understand why she did it."

-Actor Julia Garner on playing scammer Anna Delvey in the new Netflix series Inventing Anna

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