Harris defined by prosecutor past
Senator lays groundwork for likely 2020 run after asserting herself with Trump nominees
WASHINGTON — Sen. Kamala Harris’ communications director has a note in all capital letters stuck on her office computer: “Show the math.”
It’s a quote from her boss — one the senator uses frequently.
“There’s, I think, a running joke in the office about certain phrases I use all the time,” the California Democrat said. “This is how I would train lawyers, prosecutors about trial techniques: I’d say, ‘When you’re standing before the jury, in your closing argument ... show them the math.’ Instead of saying, ‘You must find 8,’ show them 2 plus 2 plus 2 plus 2.”
The “Kamalism,” as one former staffer called it, is far from the only remnant of her prosecutor past that followed her to Washington. That background has helped define Harris’ time in the Senate — which will draw intensive scrutiny if,
as expected, she declares her candidacy for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
Harris’ Senate colleagues frequently refer to her prosecutorial approach to the job, noting in particular her propensity for sharp questioning of Trump administration officials during committee hearings.
Harris foreshadowed that approach in her election night speech in which she emphasized her intention to “fight” in Washington. But she said she’s trying to use her bully pulpit to fight “not against something, (but) for something” — which has turned out to include issues as broad as immigration and income disparity and as specific as honoring historic victims of lynchings.
The emphasis on her lawyer past is also evidence of her adjustment to being a freshman legislator. Harris’ two years in the Senate have been the only ones of her career in a legislative body, and her impact has been more visible in public face-offs than in policy.
Harris’ tussles with President Trump’s nominees have earned her the most attention. Her interrogation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh during his August confirmation hearing about whether he had discussed the investigation into Russian election interference with anyone at a law firm connected to Trump gave C-SPAN one of its mostwatched YouTube videos of the year.
Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions told Harris during a 2017 hearing that her rapid-fire questions made him “nervous . ... If I don’t qualify it, you’ll accuse me of lying. I’m not able to be rushed this fast.”
During a tense, interruption-filled exchange with John Kelly in 2017, the then-homeland security secretary asked, “Would you let me finish once?”
“Excuse me, I’m asking the questions,” Harris said, pressing on.
“It’s a constant pursuit of the truth. You know, ‘What happened?’ ” Harris, 54, said in an interview. “It’s not about me giving a beautiful speech in those hearings. It’s about finding out: Is our government doing its job? Are we being accountable? Are we being transparent? Are we conducting ourselves consistent with the mores and the values of our country?”
That style has been polarizing. Her supporters praise it as a no-nonsense form of oversight. Her detractors describe it as inappropriate or grandstanding.
Former Trump campaign adviser Jason Miller set off a firestorm when he said her questioning of Sessions was “hysterical.” After Harris pressured Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in an Intelligence Committee hearing about Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s independence, panel Chairman Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., cut her off and said she wasn’t giving Rosenstein “the courtesy ... for questions to get answered.”
The episode prompted a tweet from Sen. Elizabeth
Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., hugs a staff member after a Congressional Black Caucus event in Washington.