Vice President Kamala Harris is traveling to Europe on a critical, face-to-face diplomatic mission over the potentially explosive situation between Russia and the Ukraine.
The White House confirmed on Wednesday that Harris was flying to Munich to meet with the leaders of 13 European nations. Her status as the second-in-command of the federal government makes her in-person meetings with heads-of-state the highest level diplomatic meeting over the Russia-Ukraine crisis. According to NPR, it underscores her quietly expanding footprint inside the Biden White House.
Harris plans to meet with about 13 heads of state over the course of the weekend in Munich, and also will give an address to an annual conference of the world’s top national security officials.
Harris spent most of the earlier part of her political career focused on domestic issues, and has worked to carve out a role in the Biden administration’s foreign policy during her first year as vice president. But the heightened tensions about Russia’s intentions makes this trip her highest-profile opportunity thus far to make her mark.
“The vice president’s schedule is going to be very intense, and it will include a series of high-stakes, high-level diplomatic talks,” a senior administration official told reporters on Wednesday evening.
The Biden Administration has been repositioning troops in Europe for weeks as the world watches for a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine, which was once part of the former Soviet Union. The situation is tense because, though Ukraine isn’t part of NATO–an alliance which calls for all other members to come to the defense of another if attacked–it sits in close proximity to other NATO countries.
Vice President Harris has reportedly been intentional about stretching into foreign policy since shortly after taking office last year, acting as a liaison between the administration on issues from basic diplomacy to Covid-19 response. But she’s also been the object of criticism—some loaded with racism and misogyny—over her role in the White House ever since becoming the first woman and first nonwhite person elected to the vice presidency.