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Kamala Harris Finally Finds Her Voice. Hopefully, Biden Follows.

The vice president has been speaking with a rare moral clarity on Gaza. Let’s hope the president joins her in his State of the Union address.

Kamala Harris and Joe Biden
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

While the Biden administration is extremely disciplined in terms of the foreign policy messages delivered by the president and the various members of his team, there is no mistaking that on the issue of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, Vice President Kamala Harris has struck a markedly different tone from her colleagues.

She allowed her feelings about the suffering of the people of Gaza and her anger at the deprivation they are suffering at the hands of both Hamas and the Israelis to show. When she spoke in Selma, Alabama, on Sunday, her words resonated very differently from all the other statements made by senior officials, even though her substance was more or less identical to theirs.

She sounded the alarm about the worsening humanitarian crisis by describing it unflinchingly.

She said, “What we are seeing every day in Gaza is devastating. We have seen reports of families eating leaves or animal feed, women giving birth to malnourished babies with little or no medical care, and children dying from malnutrition and dehydration.”

Following a reference to last week’s food truck massacre, she went on to add, “Our hearts break for the victims of that horrific tragedy, and for all the innocent people in Gaza who are suffering from what is clearly a humanitarian catastrophe. People in Gaza are starving. The conditions are inhumane. And our common humanity compels us to act.”

She then went on to enumerate the steps the United States was taking to ameliorate the suffering, and she could not have been more direct in her demand that Israel take further steps to “increase the flow of aid. No excuses.” She then repeated the administration’s oft-cited condemnation of Hamas and concluded with the most impassioned call for a cease-fire we have heard from a top U.S. official.

In meetings Monday with Israeli War Cabinet Minister Benny Gantz, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s principal rival, she reiterated these demands.

There is no light visible between her position and that of the president or other top officials. But what we got from the vice president that has been missing from the president and other officials was heat, compassion, and visible anger at how the conditions have been allowed to deteriorate in Gaza.

Such displays of human emotion are not window dressing at times like these. They are essential. They show that America’s leaders are not approaching the disaster of this war in Gaza as a manifestation of some cold policy calculus. Instead, Harris conveyed that we see and condemn and seek an end to the horror and that we are now committed to using all the tools at our disposal to contain it.

The human dimension she has brought to this debate recognizes that the situation in Gaza is so dire that this crisis has now become a moral test for a U.S. government that wants to show support for the people of Israel in the wake of October 7 but recognizes that its counterparts in the Israeli government have pursued unconscionable policies as they have laid waste to Gaza and unleashed hell upon its residents.

Harris has been a leader in advocating on behalf of the people of Gaza within the councils of the administration and publicly. Her December remarks in Dubai underscoring the importance of a “day after” plan for Gaza helped publicly reframe how the conflict was viewed and demonstrated that the United States sought to take a long-term view when our Israeli allies have steadfastly refused to do so. (Indeed, Netanyahu’s presentation of his own “day after” plan made a mockery of the whole idea, ignoring or flouting both the policy principles enumerated by Harris and others in the U.S. administration and revealing goals that are antithetical to a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

There have been reports that Harris’s Selma remarks were “watered down” by the National Security Council. There’s no news in that. Reviewing and refining such comments is how all administrations work. Rather, what is noteworthy is that the bluntness of her remarks was accepted as the official policy position of the administration and that she, as perhaps the most gifted and passionate public advocate in the ranks of the Biden team, would be given the green light to deliver them.

Harris has taken her fair share of criticism during her tenure. But her Gaza words aren’t the only sign that she is coming into her own, and at a crucial time. In recent months, she has led the administration’s advocacy on women’s reproductive rights and sensible gun control laws, speaking from the heart to audiences of young voters, women, and communities of color. She was effective too in her most recent trip to Germany for the Munich Security Conference, outlining the administration’s commitment to and priorities for Ukraine.

In so doing, she has given voice to the Biden administration’s conscience. That could not be more important in times like these. Nor could it help but contrast the policies of the administration with those of monsters like Putin, out of control and dangerous frenemies like Netanyahu, or amoral political opponents like Donald Trump.

While her cri de coeur in Selma will not erase the errors made by the Biden team in giving too much support too quickly to Netanyahu and in not condemning brutal Israeli policies quickly enough, one hopes it can be fairly seen as a sign of a rapidly shifting set of priorities on the part of the U.S., compellingly articulated by one of the architects of that long-overdue policy evolution. Now it would be an excellent time to hear the president express his views on these issues as forcefully as has his vice president, perhaps starting with his State of the Union address Thursday night.