Jan 19, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Meena Harris business creates optics issue for Biden White House

Meena Harris is seen addressing the 2020 Democratic National Convention.

Meena Harris addresses the 2020 Democratic National Convention. Photo: DNCC via Getty Images

Biden's transition team lawyers have reminded Vice President-elect Kamala Harris' niece, Meena, that she can't profit off her famous aunt's image, after she unveiled a collaboration between her company and Beats By Dre.

Why it matters: Following Republican attacks, President-elect Joe Biden pledged that neither his family nor Harris' would profit from their service as president and vice president.

  • While Meena Harris did nothing illegal, it underscored the challenge of keeping relatives in line, and of adhering to the higher ethical standards that the incoming administration has pledged.

The backdrop: The specially curated products come in a black box and include a black hoodie emblazoned with the word AMBITIOUS on the front; a Bluetooth speaker with the word PHENOMENAL across it; and the over-ear headphones.

  • Ambitious refers to the criticism some leveled against Harris — who was a first-term senator — as Biden weighed a variety of female candidates to be his running mate.
  • Phenomenal is a female-powered lifestyle brand of which Meena Harris is CEO.

The spine connecting the two earpieces reads, "The First But Not The Last," an apparent reference to Kamala Harris' becoming the first female vice president.

  • While the products are not for sale, they were gifted to influencers and celebrities ahead of the inauguration.

The team surrounding the incoming vice president was not made aware of the collaboration in advance, people familiar with the situation told Axios. The lawyers followed up and told Meena Harris that she — like anyone else — cannot profit off of Harris' image or likeness once she becomes vice president.

  • Meena Harris's team did not respond to a request for comment.
  • Meena is the daughter of Kamala Harris' sister, Maya.

Between the lines: The optics of Meena Harris' business ventures are especially challenging after Democrats spent four years criticizing business deals involving President Trump and his children, and after Biden's public pledge to avoid any influence-peddling.

  • “My son, my family will not be involved in any business, any enterprise that is in conflict with or appears to be in conflict,” he said last year.
  • In December, lawyers for the presidential transition team started "drafting new rules for the Biden White House that are likely to be more restrictive than the rules that governed the Obama administration," per the Washington Post. 

The bottom line: Phenomenal has sold several other items inspired by Kamala Harris since Biden announced her as his running mate.

  • They include a sweatshirt with "MVP" on it, standing for "Madam Vice President," and another with the phrase "I'm speaking" on the front — a nod to a moment when Kamala Harris complained about being interrupted during a vice-presidential debate.
  • After Kamala Harris received the "too-ambitious" criticism, her niece created and sold a pink sweatshirt with "AMBITIOUS" written on the front.
  • “I look at her as another figure in history and someone to be celebrated,” she said of her aunt during an interview with the New York Times.
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