WASHINGTON — It should have been the safest of political appearances — a group of kids gushing about their love of science and space exploration with Vice President Kamala Harris.
But for Harris, it became a controversy.
The children, it turned out, were paid actors. And the video, filmed on location at the White House and the vice president’s official residence at the Naval Observatory, was promoted on NASA’s YouTube Channel and Harris’ Twitter account last week without making that clear.
The fallout over the video, produced for YouTube’s original programming platform, is the second in recent weeks where a seemingly innocuous appearance by Harris has become modestly troublesome.
Late last month, Harris generated more serious consternation and criticism from pro-Israel Democrats and media for not pushing back when a student at a classroom encounter at George Mason University in Virginia accused Israel of “ethnic genocide.” Harris spent the next several days clarifying her longstanding support for Israel and reaching out to pro-Israel organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League.
Such stumbles have been featured extensively in conservative media, where Harris is a regular target. But they also reinforce concerns among Democrats that Harris has not yet found her political footing since taking office amid high expectations. The presumed front-runner to succeed President Biden on the Democratic ticket in 2024 or 2028, Harris recently enlisted two veteran Democrats to help stabilize her communications efforts.
Harris’ office and NASA would not discuss the decision-making process that led to her participation in the YouTube Original or the administration’s marketing of the special, which was produced by a Canada-based company called Sinking Ship Entertainment.
Harris’s office did not select the children who participated in the YouTube Originals special, a White House official said. A YouTube spokesperson said that “the casting process for this show was no different from typical unscripted kids’ shows across other networks and streaming platforms.”
The special debuted during World Space Week. It features NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough giving five children the clues for a scavenger hunt that takes them to the U.S. Naval Observatory, where they not-so casually run into Harris, who welcomes them onto the porch of the vice presidential residence.
While sitting in a white chair alongside the children, Harris reminisces about going to the lab with her scientist mother during her childhood and says she is excited to chair the National Space Council. She offers advice to the children about showing their true selves.