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Kamala Harris highlights Biden’s Middle East trip, abortion rights battle during Florida visit

Vice President Harris also received a briefing from military leadership at Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base.
Vice President Kamala Harris is seen with U.S. Special Operations Command Commander General Richard Clarke, right, and U.S. Central Command Commander General Michael Kurilla, left, after a meeting during her visit to U.S. Central Command and the Joint Special Operations Command at MacDill Air Force Base Thursday in Tampa.
Vice President Kamala Harris is seen with U.S. Special Operations Command Commander General Richard Clarke, right, and U.S. Central Command Commander General Michael Kurilla, left, after a meeting during her visit to U.S. Central Command and the Joint Special Operations Command at MacDill Air Force Base Thursday in Tampa. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Jul. 14|Updated Jul. 15

Air Force Two touched down in Tampa on Thursday afternoon, marking the second stop on Vice President Kamala Harris’ first visit to Florida since April 2021.

Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base was Harris’ second destination on a two-city swing through Central Florida, which began in Orlando with an event hosted by her college sorority and a roundtable with Florida lawmakers on reproductive rights.

Straight off the plane, Harris, flanked by military leadership, crossed the tarmac past a herd of more than a dozen local and national journalists. She greeted airmen assembled in an adjacent hangar.

Related: Vice President Kamala Harris is coming to Tampa. Here are the details.

Harris’ trip came amid reports of President Joe Biden’s plummeting support among Democrats. According to a New York Times/Siena College poll released this week, a majority of those in his own party — 64% — don’t want Biden to run for reelection, a stunning loss of support for an incumbent president.

Those polls have raised speculation about who may seek the nomination should Biden not go for a second term.

Harris isn’t necessarily Biden’s clear successor, despite her occupying a job that would ordinarily cast her as the heir apparent. According to an aggregation of polls by polling analysis website FiveThirtyEight, an average of 52.6% of Americans disapprove of Harris while an average of 37.9% approve.

Florida Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book, who met with Harris in Orlando, said it’s too early to speculate on what a visit to Florida might signify about Harris’ potential presidential ambitions.

Instead, she said the visit may signal that the Biden administration is looking to make inroads in states like Florida that have controversial abortion restrictions or bans. She expressed hope that support from the White House could give Florida Democrats the boost they need to flip some key seats in the Legislature in the midterm elections.

Vice President Kamala Harris is seen with U.S. Special Operations Command Commander General Richard Clarke Thursday at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.
Vice President Kamala Harris is seen with U.S. Special Operations Command Commander General Richard Clarke Thursday at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

“I think they’re going to continue to focus on it and hopefully allow Florida to be the focal point of that battle,” Book said.

Harris — the first woman to serve as vice president — is the right person to carry the Democrats’ message on abortion rights, said Rep. Fentrice Driskell, Florida House minority policy chairperson and incoming minority leader.

“I’m glad to see, and I think women are glad to see, Vice President Harris stepping into the spotlight on this issue because she certainly is the trusted voice that America needs,” said Driskell, D-Tampa, who also joined Harris in Orlando. “So I’m glad to see that the administration must think the same, and that they’re putting her front and center.”

During her visit in Orlando, the vice president called out Florida’s 15-week abortion ban, which has become the focal point in a battle over reproductive and privacy rights after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

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“We need two additional United States senators to protect a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body,” Harris said to a group of 12,000 members of her historically Black sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha. “And we need to elect people who will defend these rights up and down the ballot, from district attorneys to state attorneys general to local sheriffs to governors.”

Harris also encouraged her sorority sisters to vote for representatives who would support policy priorities like gun control, voting rights and reproductive rights.

In Tampa, Harris received a briefing from the leadership of U.S. Central Command and Special Operations Command, which are both headquartered at MacDill.

In remarks before her briefing, Harris, seated alongside military personnel, highlighted Biden’s ongoing trip to the Middle East and emphasized both units’ role in reinforcing U.S. partnerships in the region — including its “enduring relationship and support” of Israel.

Vice President Kamala Harris boards Air Force 2 after a meeting with staff at U.S. Central Command and the Joint Special Operations Command at MacDill Air Force Base Thursday in Tampa.
Vice President Kamala Harris boards Air Force 2 after a meeting with staff at U.S. Central Command and the Joint Special Operations Command at MacDill Air Force Base Thursday in Tampa. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
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