New Cal­i­for­nia sen­a­tor brazenly copies Obama po­lit­i­cal play­book.

Fresh­man from Cal­i­for­nia eyed for White House

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY SETH MCLAUGHLIN

In Cal­i­for­nia, she at times was known for be­ing too cau­tious dur­ing her ten­ure as at­tor­ney gen­eral. Now in Wash­ing­ton, Sen. Ka­mala D. Har­ris is quickly shed­ding that rep­u­ta­tion.

Since tak­ing the oath of of­fice in Jan­uary, she has emerged as one of the Capi­tol’s most out­spo­ken lib­er­als, par­tic­u­larly for a fresh­man. She has gone toe-to-toe with Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary John F. Kelly over the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s crack­down on il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion, de­fended Pres­i­dent Obama’s legacy and be­come one of the most adamant op­po­nents of Pres­i­dent Trump’s Cab­i­net picks.

In a city full of anti-Trump law­mak­ers, Ms. Har­ris has man­aged to stand out by build­ing on her de­cid­edly pro­gres­sive record with a driven, de­lib­er­ate ap­proach to Wash­ing­ton pol­i­tics.

“You saw it with Obama. It is a very rare mix­ture of pas­sion and pro­fes­sion­al­ism that is hard to come across in pol­i­tics,” said Robert Salazar, a vet­eran po­lit­i­cal con­sul­tant in Cal­i­for­nia.

How far that ap­proach can take her re­mains to be seen, but Ms. Har­ris, 52, is al­ready spark­ing some buzz — in­clud­ing in Repub­li­can cir­cles — as a po­ten­tial Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date.

Mike McKenna, a Repub­li­can Party strate­gist, said Ms. Har­ris has much in com­mon with Barack Obama — “in­clud­ing the weird name.” She’s a bira­cial mi­nor­ity from donor-rich Cal­i­for­nia and “far enough to the left to make all the true be­liev­ers in the Demo­cratic Party happy.”

“So she is like El­iz­a­beth War­ren with a bet­ter cash sit­u­a­tion, a bet­ter de­mo­graphic sit­u­a­tion and prob­a­bly a slightly more pleas­ant per­son­al­ity in a party that is un­likely to ever nom­i­nate a white man again at the top of its ticket,” Mr. McKenna said. “It is a pretty pow­er­ful com­bi­na­tion. It is just a mat­ter of time be­fore every­body dis­cov­ers her.”

Ms. Har­ris, though, down­plays talk of a 2020 pres­i­den­tial bid.

“I am not giv­ing that any con­sid­er­a­tion,” she said at the Code Con­fer­ence on dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy last week in Ran­cho Pa­los Verdes, Cal­i­for­nia. “I’ve got to stay fo­cused. There is so much hap­pen­ing right now. That is what I am fo­cused on.”

Still, lib­eral ac­tivists say they like what they see on the pol­icy front and sug­gest she work on out­reach to grass­roots lead­ers at the na­tional level.

“Now that she has got­ten ad­justed to her new job, her power will be max­i­mized if she takes the time to build re­la­tion­ships and gen­uine part­ner­ships with na­tional pro­gres­sive groups and in­tel­lec­tual lead­ers — and merges her strengths with the strengths of oth­ers to move big ideas for­ward,” said Adam Green, co-founder of the Pro­gres­sive Change Cam­paign Com­mit­tee.

He said Ms. Har­ris has “a pow­er­ful voice, a big bully pul­pit” and a his­tory of tak­ing on the right op­po­nents as at­tor­ney gen­eral.

Those op­po­nents in­cluded the banks at the cen­ter of the state’s fore­clo­sure cri­sis that ended up pay­ing Cal­i­for­nia $20 bil­lion as part of a set­tle­ment. Ms. Har­ris also went af­ter hu­man traf­fick­ers and de­fended the state’s law to ad­dress global warm­ing.

In Wash­ing­ton, her chief tar­get has ar­guably been Mr. Trump and his changes to im­mi­gra­tion en­force­ment, in­clud­ing his de­mands that fed­eral agents and of­fi­cers en­force the laws on the books by de­port­ing peo­ple who have bro­ken im­mi­gra­tion laws.

She op­posed the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pro­posed travel ban, and her first piece of leg­is­la­tion sought to guar­an­tee ac­cess to le­gal coun­sel for peo­ple de­tained while try­ing to en­ter the United States.

All told, Ms. Har­ris has op­posed 32 of Mr. Trump’s 38 nom­i­nees in roll call votes. That puts her in an ex­clu­sive group of anti-Trumpers along with Ms. War­ren and Sen. Bernard San­ders, as well as Sen. Corey A. Booker of New Jersey and Sen. Kirsten E. Gil­li­brand of New York.

Ms. Har­ris painted haunt­ing images of the Trump nom­i­nees, ar­gu­ing that Betsy DeVos lacked the ba­sic com­pe­tency to lead the De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion and say­ing Jeff Ses­sions — a Se­nate col­league at the time — would not fight for the civil rights of all peo­ple as at­tor­ney gen­eral.

“I am go­ing to get mad when we have an at­tor­ney gen­eral who is try­ing to re­in­state the war on drugs, and he thinks the great­est evil that mankind has ever seen is mar­i­juana,” Ms. Har­ris said last week at the Code Con­fer­ence. “Leave Grandma’s med­i­cal mar­i­juana alone,” she added with a chuckle.

She was one of 11 Democrats to op­pose Mr. Kelly. She said Mr. Trump’s pick for home­land se­cu­rity sec­re­tary didn’t give her enough as­sur­ances he would not try to de­port the young adult il­le­gal im­mi­grants known as Dream­ers, and she has crit­i­cized the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s push to build a wall along the bor­der with Mex­ico.

In her maiden speech on the Se­nate floor, she slammed Mr. Trump’s hard-line ap­proach to im­mi­gra­tion.

“In the spirit of my mother, who was al­ways di­rect, I can­not mince words,” she said. “In the early weeks of this ad­min­is­tra­tion, we have seen an un­prece­dented se­ries of ex­ec­u­tive ac­tions that have hit our im­mi­grant and re­li­gious com­mu­ni­ties like a cold front, strik­ing a chill­ing fear in the hearts of mil­lions of good, hard­work­ing peo­ple, all by ex­ec­u­tive fiat.”

Ms. Har­ris took over the seat from Sen. Bar­bara Boxer, who re­tired af­ter 24 years. The Har­ris vic­tory marked a gen­er­a­tional shift on Capi­tol Hill for the state’s huge del­e­ga­tion of Democrats — long ruled by fe­male politi­cians such as Ms. Boxer, House Mi­nor­ity Leader Nancy Pelosi, 77, and Sen. Dianne Fe­in­stein, 83.

Mr. Obama helped raise Ms. Har­ris’ pro­file in 2013 when, while speak­ing at a fundraiser in Cal­i­for­nia, he called her the “best-look­ing at­tor­ney gen­eral.” The pres­i­dent quickly apol­o­gized for what some deemed a sex­ist com­ment.

Ms. Har­ris has drawn com­par­isons to Mr. Obama on sev­eral fronts, in­clud­ing their train­ing as lawyers and their bira­cial­ism. The sen­a­tor is the child of an In­dian mother and a Ja­maican fa­ther.

And, like Mr. Obama, Ms. Har­ris could be eye­ing a pres­i­den­tial run dur­ing her first term in Wash­ing­ton.

Mr. Salazar said her brand of pol­i­tics has broad ap­peal right now to Democrats who are try­ing to fig­ure out how to unify a party still split from the pri­mary bat­tle last year be­tween Hil­lary Clin­ton and Mr. San­ders.

“If there are peo­ple who are able to unify your pro­gres­sive and so-called es­tab­lish­ment mem­bers of the Demo­cratic Party, it is go­ing to be some­one like Ka­mala Har­ris,” he said.

Jim De­mers, a vet­eran Demo­cratic Party con­sul­tant in New Hamp­shire, said Ms. Har­ris is not well-known in the first-in-the-na­tion pri­mary state but a cou­ple of vis­its could change that. He said the early chat­ter among ac­tivists is that they want a can­di­date from the next gen­er­a­tion of Demo­cratic lead­ers.

“I think any le­git­i­mate can­di­date who comes out of Cal­i­for­nia has some ad­van­tages,” Mr. De­mers said. “One is they have the abil­ity to raise sig­nif­i­cant money in their home state that can get them off to start­ing a good cam­paign.

“I think that she has a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing very ar­tic­u­late, an up-and-com­ing star, a fe­male, and I think the vot­ers are re­ally go­ing to be se­ri­ous about dra­matic change af­ter four years of Trump,” he said.

Ty­rone Gayle, a spokesman for Ms. Har­ris, said his boss is ful­fill­ing her pledge to fight for Cal­i­for­ni­ans.

“Whether it’s pro­tect­ing ac­cess to health care, com­bat­ing cli­mate change, shield­ing Dream­ers from de­por­ta­tion or get­ting to the truth of Rus­sia’s in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 elec­tion, Sen. Har­ris be­lieves all Amer­i­cans must speak out when so much is at stake,” Mr. Gayle said.

“So she is like El­iz­a­beth War­ren with a bet­ter cash sit­u­a­tion, a bet­ter de­mo­graphic sit­u­a­tion and prob­a­bly a slightly more pleas­ant per­son­al­ity in a party that is un­likely to ever nom­i­nate a white man again at the top of its ticket. It is a pretty pow­er­ful com­bi­na­tion. It is just a mat­ter of time be­fore every­body dis­cov­ers her.”

— Mike McKenna, Repub­li­can Party strate­gist

Sen. Ka­mala D. Har­ris, Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat, has stood out by build­ing on her de­cid­edly pro­gres­sive record with a driven, de­lib­er­ate ap­proach to Wash­ing­ton pol­i­tics.

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