Vice President Harris Travels To France To Mend Fences : The NPR Politics Podcast Vice President Kamala Harris is in France for several days, helping to mend the U.S. relationship with that country after a recent drama involving a military submarine contract with Australia. The visit also gives her an opportunity to expand her foreign policy resume.

This episode: White House correspondent Scott Detrow, White House correspondent Asma Khalid, and international correspondent Eleanor Beardsley.

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Vice President Harris Travels To France To Mend Fences

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DANA: Hi. This is Dana (ph), Drew (ph) and Amos (ph) in San Francisco. We've already had dinner and changed into our jammies. And now we're just trying to kill time, keeping our 9-month-old baby awake to get adjusted to daylight savings. This podcast was recorded at...


Oh, man.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: I have been there (laughter).

DETROW: It's a nightmare. Good luck. I hope you made it through. It is 1:22 Eastern on Tuesday, November 9, which means, hopefully for you and everyone else, daylight savings time change disaster is in the rearview mirror.

DANA: Things may have changed by the time you hear it, but hopefully Amos will be adjusted to the new time. OK. Enjoy the show.


DETROW: Hey there. It's the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I'm Scott Detrow. I cover the White House

KHALID: And I'm Asma Khalid. I also cover the White House.

DETROW: And Asma, I should say, bonjour to you because you are in France right now.

KHALID: Oh, bonjour. I am in France.

DETROW: Bonjour.

KHALID: I am in France. And I will say, I just ventured out to try to go find a quick dinner. And you know what I came back with? A bread. It's a cake, but apparently it's like a chocolate bread. Who knew they made such a thing?

DETROW: Well, you know who would know whether they make such a thing? Our international correspondent Eleanor Beardsley, who covers France for us...


DETROW: ...And is joining us on the podcast. Eleanor, you are an iconic NPR voice.

BEARDSLEY: (Laughter).

DETROW: And I'm thrilled you're on the podcast with us.

BEARDSLEY: Well, thank you. It's great to be here. And Asma, that's called a pain au chocolat, probably. And they're delicious. So enjoy it.


KHALID: I'm nibbling on it still.

BEARDSLEY: (Laughter).

KHALID: Trying not to eat it all in one go.

DETROW: In addition to pain au chocolat, we are talking about the fact that Asma is in France with Vice President Kamala Harris. Asma, she's got a lot of things on her plate. What are the main goals of this diplomatic trip for Harris?

KHALID: So this is the third international trip that Kamala Harris has taken. And I would say I think it's distinct for a couple of reasons. You know, one is that it's just different from the first two trips and that those focused on really bilateral relationships. And in this setting, she's going to be at a couple of very large conferences where there will be a number of world leaders.

You know, her staff says that they expect some two dozen world leaders will be here and that she'll have face time with a whole bunch of folks. So that is just distinctly different. She will be the top U.S. official, the top person representing the United States of America, at this - you know, sort of on the international stage.

But to get to your point of, you know, also substantively what there is to discuss, there is a lot of meaningful dialogue to be had between the United States and France on that specific relationship. I'm sure that Eleanor can tell us a lot more details about this. But the U.S.-France relationship, while it is very historic and old, it has gone through a really rough patch since September.

DETROW: Yeah. Eleanor, I think we've talked about the top lines of this a few times. The U.S., the United Kingdom and Australia struck a deal to share nuclear-propelled sub technology. Can you explain why this enraged France so much to the point where Emmanuel Macron recalled the ambassador to the U.S. for a little bit?


DETROW: What was it about this deal that made France so angry?

BEARDSLEY: The main reason was France was completely blindsided by it. I mean, they literally had no idea. Apparently, Macron was - had a heads-up call, like, half an hour before, you know, Biden announced it on television. So France felt completely betrayed by this...


BEARDSLEY: ...Just not being in the loop, not being told nothing. And so it was kind of - it was a huge shock. And actually, you know, these kind of things are usually talked about by politicians and in government, but people on the street were talking about this. I mean, everybody knew that France had gotten totally dissed.

DETROW: And I have to imagine that in this moment, where Macron is under pressure from multiple far-right challengers in next year's presidential election, was - this seems like something that would probably play into that narrative - right?


DETROW: ...Of France looking more weak on the world stage.

BEARDSLEY: Looking weak, and also, why are we hanging out with the Americans? You know, a lot of the far-right, they want to get out of NATO. There's a far-right character right now, Eric Zemmour, who's to the right of Marine Le Pen, and he wants to get out of NATO. He says...

KHALID: Oh, wow.

BEARDSLEY: Oh, absolutely. They don't want France to be dependent on America at all, and this sort of backs it up. Look, they don't care about us, so why are we, you know, kowtowing to them? Let's get out of this. Let's have our own defense.

And this is bolstering all that, you know, nationalism. Let's do it ourselves, and let's leave the U.S. I mean, they don't care about us. So yeah, it doesn't look good for Macron.

KHALID: I mean, this does seem like a part of a broader charm offensive that the Biden administration has put forward, I would say, for the last month and a half, right? You've had a whole number of administration officials - President Biden himself met with Macron just less than two weeks ago.


KHALID: And so it feels like they are clearly trying to mend the relationship and make it clear to the French that the United States does really value this relationship. And Scott, you were there, actually, for that meeting that the president had just the other week.

DETROW: Yeah. It was in Rome. It was the end of a day of long meetings. And there was the - I was so glad that I was covering it in person because, to me, the body language said everything, you know?

BEARDSLEY: Oh, really?

DETROW: Biden came to meet Macron at the - it was at France's embassy to the Vatican, so he clearly - like, there was some sort of negotiation. Biden came to France in a sense, right? He came to the French Embassy. Macron is standing there on the steps to greet him. And they go upstairs, and Biden - I mean, it's a big deal when the American president apologizes because it doesn't happen that often. And Biden did not say, I'm sorry, but he was clearly contrite. He was clearly embarrassed. He said - you know, he conceded that there were communication mistakes.

And it seemed to me like he was there to give Macron the favor of saying, look, I messed up. You are so valued. I'm sitting here with you. I'm contrite. We care about you. We are on equal footing. It seemed like it was, like, hey, you need this boost. I'm here to give you this boost. We are here to fix things. That was the takeaway I had at least.

BEARDSLEY: Yeah. I think that that's right. And this is, like, the last gesture to appease France, to make France forget the betrayal. I think the U.S. was embarrassed.

John Kerry was here recently, you know, and he actually had an interview on French television and said - he basically said Biden never really even realized this, which - I don't know - that could maybe even be worse. We didn't even think about France, you know? It was sort of like that. So it didn't really help things, but you could tell that the U.S. didn't do it out of spite.

So this does say something. This visit absolutely - the French realize that. She's staying for five days. I mean, what world leaders go to a country and stay that long?

DETROW: Yeah. That's a great point. And Eleanor, I was pretty jealous. That means Asma is in France for five days as well.


DETROW: But there's a lot more to talk about with the rest of the trip. I will set my jealousy aside. We will take a quick break. And we will come back, and Asma will talk about everything else Vice President Harris is doing on this trip.

And we're back. So we have covered just part of the ground of the relationship-mending. Asma, what else - you mentioned that there are several meetings where she'll be with other world leaders. What else is on the itinerary?

KHALID: That's right. She'll be speaking at the Paris Peace Forum. And my understanding of the Paris Peace Forum - I was speaking to, you know, a French expert actually about this - is that this forum was created a couple of years into Donald Trump's presidency. It was created by Emmanuel Macron as a kind of boost for multilateralism.

And my understanding - and Eleanor, correct me if I'm wrong here - is that the French see this as their focus to sort of combat nationalism. And, you know, President Trump never attended this. President Trump never sent anyone to attend any of these. And the French feel, from my understanding - is that they were the ones who were at the vanguard trying to protect multilateralism during the Trump years...

BEARDSLEY: Absolutely.

KHALID: ...And that, you know, now, here that President Biden is in charge, that they should value what France was doing over the last couple of years. And it seems like the Biden administration gets that by having the vice president come and speak here.

BEARDSLEY: Yeah, absolutely. And this is Macron's forum, you know, the Paris Peace Forum. It's world leadership, global governance, all those things that Trump hated. So it's perfect that Kamala Harris is speaking there for the French. That's a big gesture. Yeah.

DETROW: So Asma, given that context, this conference sounds like it'll carry a lot of weight - at least the organizers hope. What else is going on?

KHALID: She'll be here on Veterans Day, Armistice Day. So tomorrow, she's going to be visiting the cemetery. It's a cemetery that President Trump did visit, but, you know, there was a whole big back and forth with President Trump when he was here during Veterans Day.

BEARDSLEY: Let me just add, Asma, that he went to that cemetery very quickly the day after he missed the big visit to Belleau Wood, which is probably an hour and a half outside of Paris. He didn't go because it was raining. And - I don't know - somebody maybe didn't tell him that that was, like, ground zero of the holy ground for the U.S. Marines, and he just missed it.

And so the next day, he went to Suresnes, this cemetery, and sort of tried to make up for it, but doesn't really make up for it. This is a beautiful cemetery, but it's not Belleau Wood. It doesn't have the same meaning for the Marines. It's mostly World War I, and it's the only American cemetery in Europe where it has World War I and World War II graves.

KHALID: Yeah, and then she's going to be at an Armistice Day event as well, at the Arc de Triomphe as well, you know, to mark the end of World War I. But, you know, I guess I'm sort of struck by - the entire trip itself feels like there are elements at which we will see the vice president for the first time, I think, really on the international stage. We will see how she engages bilaterally with the French president.

But we'll also just see, in my view - and maybe, Eleanor, you have thoughts on this - of just how the French public perceives her. You know, I have been surprised, I will say. Not to say that, like, when you're out in a motorcade, people don't just stop and start videotaping. Sometimes they do just because they're kind of curious of who's coming through.

But I was surprised to see that with the vice president; people stopping to just take photos. They're kind of curious as to who she was. It's not everywhere, but just the fact that you see it was out of the ordinary to me.

BEARDSLEY: Oh, yeah. That's nice. You know, it's not a huge deal with the public. Everybody knows she's here. And I think they'd love to hear her be interviewed by - you know, on French television or somewhere. But I don't think she's doing any media coverage with French media. So people don't know her, and I think they're interested.

And a lot of reason they're interested is because she's a woman. I mean, that's huge. America hasn't had - and a woman of color. And you're right. She's doing some beautiful events that are very dear to the French, you know, European hearts. I mean, this ceremony on Armistice Day - you know, Armistice Day is only World War I. We forget that. It's, you know, on the 11th minute of the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, the guns fell silent of World War I. And that's what this is for.

And every year, you know, the president goes under the Arc de Triomphe and lays, you know, a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. And Macron's been there with Angela Merkel, and it's very symbolic. So the fact that she's going to be there is a big deal. Yeah.

DETROW: Asma, one other diplomatic question. You know, Eleanor just mentioned, of course, Kamala Harris is the first woman to serve as vice president. That means her husband, Doug Emhoff, is the first man to serve in the spousal role of - he's the first second gentleman.

You know, when I was at the G-20 and then the climate summit, there were all of these different side events where the spouses of world leaders were doing their own diplomacy, like when Macron and Biden made a - Joe Biden and Macron's wife went out and they had chardonnay together. It's kind of like, look, we're friends. But I'm curious, does Doug Emhoff have any events on his own on his schedule?

KHALID: He does have a couple of events on his own. But to your point, Scott, you know, I think there's been a lot of curiosity about the second gentleman, just given gender dynamics. But what has struck me so far - and granted, we're just getting started on this trip - is the degree to which, in some ways, he is the traditional spouse. I mean, I think just what's interesting is at this point in time, it looks like in, some ways, he is an extraordinarily traditional second - what do you call it - second - I guess we never had one before.

DETROW: Second gentleman.

KHALID: Second gentleman - I know, but I feel like a second spouse is what I wanted to say - right? - like, because he's a traditional second spouse. Well, he is the first second gentleman.

DETROW: Yeah. Well, Eleanor, thank you so much for joining us. It was great to talk to you.

BEARDSLEY: It was really fun. Thanks a lot.

DETROW: Asma, have a great trip. I hope you eat as many delicious carbs in Paris as I did in Rome. It sounds like you are off to a good start.

KHALID: Thank you. My pleasure. And I will certainly try to fulfill that goal.

DETROW: All right. We will be back in your feeds tomorrow afternoon. Until then, I'm Scott Detrow. I cover the White House.

KHALID: And I'm Asma Khalid. I also cover the White House.

DETROW: Thank you for listening to THE NPR POLITICS PODCAST.


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