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With Biden cloistered in debate prep, Harris, Cabinet push agenda

Events focused on abortion rights, housing costs could be prebuttal to debate criticism

Supporters wave signs as Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at Ritchie Coliseum on the campus of the University of Maryland in College Park on Monday, the second anniversary of the Supreme Court ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade.
Supporters wave signs as Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at Ritchie Coliseum on the campus of the University of Maryland in College Park on Monday, the second anniversary of the Supreme Court ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

ANALYSIS — The White House and President Joe Biden’s reelection campaign were working this week to keep the administration’s agenda front and center ahead of Thursday’s presidential debate on CNN, even with the president out of public view.

The incumbent’s extended stay at Camp David for debate prep left Vice President Kamala Harris and other members of the administration serving as the team’s public most visible advocates this week.

Harris kicked things off with events Monday in Maryland and Arizona for the second anniversary of the Supreme Court overturning the Roe v. Wade precedent that defined national abortion rights.

“The former president, Donald Trump, hand-selected three members of the United States Supreme Court with the intention that they would undo the protections of Roe v. Wade, and they did as he intended,” Harris said Monday at a campaign event in Phoenix.

The event followed one also headlined by Harris clear across the country in College Park, Md., where she blamed Trump not only for new restrictions on abortion in some states but also efforts to bar contraception and in vitro fertilization.

Beyond abortion rights, much of the White House’s prelude to debate day focused on a recurring theme of efforts to lower costs.

Janet L. Yellen, the Treasury secretary, was in Minneapolis Monday and Tuesday for announcements related to the cost of housing. She sought to put some of the onus for action on Congress, highlighting a Biden proposal to help defray home ownership costs.

“We need Congress to act. The President’s tax plan would cut taxes for middle- and low-income Americans to put more money in people’s pockets. On housing specifically, the president has called on Congress to provide a tax credit for first-time homebuyers, which would help more than 3.5 million families purchase their first home in the next two years,” Yellen said Monday. “President Biden has also focused on expanding housing supply, putting forward a plan to build over 2 million homes and supporting legislation like the bipartisan tax bill that would expand the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit. The Senate should pass this bill.”

Harris on Tuesday headlined a call to announce funding that’s designed to help communities build more affordable housing, including in Milwaukee, the battleground state host city for the Republican National Convention that starts in less than three weeks.

“Throughout my career, I’ve worked to protect homeowners and renters and help more Americans take advantage of the wealth-building power, the intergenerational wealth-building power, of home ownership,” Harris told reporters.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, meanwhile, appeared on Tuesday with the head of the Justice Department’s antitrust division to highlight administration actions aimed at addressing food supply challenges that have contributed to higher prices. He announced a new proposed rule on enforcement of laws related to unfair competition in the meat and poultry industries.

“Today’s proposed rule stands for clear, transparent standards so that markets function fairly and competitively for consumers and producers alike. With our whole-of-government approach to competition and resiliency, the Biden-Harris administration is fighting every day to lower costs for American families and give farmers a fairer shake,” Vilsack said at a Center for American Progress event.

The messaging in a way served as a prebuttal of sorts to Thursday’s debate, where Trump will undoubtedly go after Biden for the inflation that has partially defined his administration. 

They’re all examples of answers Biden could give if pressed by debate moderators Dana Bash and Jake Tapper, or by Trump himself, about the state of the economy, a subject that polls suggest Biden gets little credit for handling despite a surging stock market and continued low unemployment, even as interest rates and prices have increased.

Another major economic campaign plank for the administration hit a setback Monday, when federal courts in Kansas and Missouri ruled against portions of plans to forgive student debt. Republicans have railed against the efforts, calling it unfair to people who paid off their student loans or never took them out. The administration has argued the programs would relieve a burden hindering the economic growth of a younger generation that their predecessors didn’t face, and showed no sign of backing down.

“Today’s rulings won’t stop our Administration from using every tool available to give students and borrowers the relief they need,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement. “That’s why the Department of Education will continue to enroll more Americans in SAVE and help more students and borrowers access the benefits of the plan that remain available, including $0 payments for anyone making $16 an hour or less, lower monthly payments for millions more borrowers, and protecting borrowers from runaway interest if they are making their monthly payments.”