August 18, 2022

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks during a listening session on broadband internet at the New Hampshire Electric Co-op in Plymouth, New Hampshire, April 23, 2021 as she travels to the state to promote government economic plans.

Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images

While the White House seeks to sell President Joe Biden’s multi-billion dollar bailout and recovery plans across the country, Vice President Kamala Harris takes on a leadership role as an ambassador for small businesses, especially in under-represented communities.

On Wednesday, she plans to meet with women-run small businesses in Rhode Island and Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo to discuss what Harris has called a “national emergency” for women retiring from the workforce.

Harris has held events with the Black Chamber of Commerce and spoken directly to lenders who work with Native American tribes.

Behind the scenes, Harris urged the country’s largest banks to provide federal aid to the smallest players. Harris called JPMorgan Chase chief Jamie Dimon and Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan in February, urging them to increase Paycheck Protection Program loans and target minority and low-income communities senior administrative officer who asked for anonymity to speak openly about the call.

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“An important part of the solution to moving this needle was to work with JPM and BofA to ensure they got the support they need to advance these priorities,” the official told CNBC. “These will only be big players in the PPP when it comes to achieving these goals based on the exact scope they entail.”

A Bank of America spokesman described the conversation as “productive”.

A JPMorgan representative did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

While JPMorgan played a role in providing government-backed loans to small businesses during the pandemic, Dimon is skeptical of the scope of Biden’s economic proposals.

On Tuesday, Dimon warned of excessive federal spending. Speaking on the Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council, he warned that the government will not fix the economy simply by throwing money on the problem, and accused state regulation of stifling growth.

And while the majority of small businesses support the administration’s infrastructure plan, 59% don’t believe the corporate tax rate should be raised to pay for it, according to the latest CNBC / SurveyMonkey poll.

This week’s White House Getting Back on Track Tour is designed to help address these concerns. Harris is using her public appearances this week to showcase small businesses not only as part of the government’s economic agenda, but also to help reduce the structural racial inequality exposed during the pandemic.

“Recognizing that reaching low- and middle-income communities, reaching sole proprietorships who are disproportionately represented in color communities was the survival of many of those businesses,” Michael Pyle, Harris’ chief economic advisor, told CNBC.

The public and private focus on small businesses is part of Harris’ attempt to define her own portfolio as the White House seeks to use democratic control of Washington to pass a dizzying array of sweeping reforms: Spending roughly $ 4 trillion Dollars for infrastructure, childcare, and childcare education; Revision of the immigration system; Right to vote; and combating police misconduct.

Biden has already asked Harris to monitor diplomatic reach related to the surge in border crossings and the search for universal broadband. Pyle said Harris’ focus on small businesses and lenders was well before she took office: she helped negotiate with Republicans in December to raise $ 12 billion for community development financial institutions as part of the Covid aid package.

“Part of what Americans aspire to is to set their own course and control their own destiny and the ability to build wealth and success. Small businesses are at the heart of that vision,” Pyle said. “All too often, the process of starting a small business and getting the capital to start a small business has not been there for many underserved communities in this country.”

One of Harris’ longtime campaign consultants, Brian Brokaw, said the vice president’s interest in the issue was waning even further. During her first election in California, Harris took “merchant walks” through immigration districts in San Francisco and stopped at each store to speak to the owners. As a district attorney and later attorney general, Harris launched programs to help criminals rejoin the workforce.

“The best way out of a cycle of recidivism for many of these low-ranking offenders was to get them professional training and skills to support themselves,” Brokaw said. “She has always recognized the link between smart criminal justice reform and economic policy.”