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Kamala Harris goes unnoticed in Paris

by editor

PARIS — A closed-door dinner, no local media interviews and mostly formal events: Kamala Harris’ visit to Paris was meant to launch her on the international scene but has offered the U.S. vice president little opportunity so far to connect with the French people.

At the opening ceremony of the Paris Peace Forum Thursday, Harris invoked her mother Shyamala Gopalan Harris, who conducted breast cancer research with scientists from the Pasteur medical institute — a rare personal touch in an otherwise tightly controlled visit.

Three days into her five-day stay in France, the vice president’s visit to France has not garnered the kind of popular or media interest that visits by Presidents Barack Obama or Donald Trump did.

Granted vice presidents don’t get the same billing, but Harris’ unique profile as the first woman and first Black and Indian vice president could have attracted more curiosity.

Instead, French media coverage has been minimal. Her bilateral meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday evening did not get prime billing on newscasts or in newspapers, and her presence at the Armistice Day commemoration was mentioned in passing.

This year’s commemoration honored Hubert Germain, the last surviving member of the Order of Liberation that fought under General de Gaulle’s command to free France from Nazi occupation. Germain died in October aged 101. As a result, Harris’ presence was overshadowed even though she was the only foreign dignitary present at the commemoration.

Macron warmly greeted Harris when he arrived at the Arc de Triomphe where she was standing with French officials for the ceremony. French Junior Minister for Citizenship Marlène Schiappa thanked her for her presence in a tweet, and Socialist Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, who is running for president of France, also paid tribute to the U.S. vice president.

“France and the United States are unfailing allies and share a common history, the memory of the two world wars of the twentieth century. What a beautiful symbol the presence of VP Kamala Harris is for this commemoration today,” Hidalgo tweeted.

After the lackluster reception of her previous foreign trips to Mexico, Guatemala and Singapore, senior U.S. officials went to great lengths to repeatedly underline to reporters the importance of her visit and the “leadership” role she was exercising on the world stage as a result.

Harris was one of the VIP guests at the opening ceremony of the Paris Peace Forum, Macron’s yearly marquee event on global multilateralism.

But her speech fell a bit flat, with Harris offering little by way of concrete solutions or new game-changing proposals to fight inequalities.

Instead, the U.S. vice president called on world leaders to “refuse to accept the status quo” and fight the “dramatic rise” in inequalities.

The political battles playing out in Washington D.C. over the social safety net and climate bills the Biden administration is trying to get passed in Congress spilled into Harris’ visit when right-wing political operatives like Abigail Marone, the press secretary for Republican Missouri Senator Josh Hawley, erroneously accused her of putting on a French accent during a short speech to the Pasteur institute.

“Is she using a FRENCH ACCENT?! I love this episode of Veep,” Marone tweeted in reference to a TV comedy show about a gaffe-prone female vice president.

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