Har­ris’ past as prose­cu­tor de­fines her

San Francisco Chronicle - Late Edition (Sunday) - - FROM THE COVER - Sen. Ka­mala Har­ris, on ques­tion­ing Trump nom­i­nees

War­ren with the “#Nev­er­the­lessShePer­sisted” hash­tag that the Mas­sachusetts Demo­crat her­self in­spired.

But even her Repub­li­can col­leagues who sparred with her dur­ing those hear­ings say they re­spect Har­ris’ sharp­ness.

“She’s quite a fighter, and you saw that be­tween me and her on the Ka­vanaugh hear­ings,” said GOP Sen. Chuck Grass­ley of Iowa, who chaired the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee. “She’s al­ways treated me fairly and ... if I were in the mi­nor­ity and I didn’t want some­one like Ka­vanaugh on the Supreme Court, I prob­a­bly would have taken the same ap­proach.”

“I’m not sure I’d nec­es­sar­ily want to be a wit­ness in front of her,” said Repub­li­can Sen.

Ron John­son of Wisconsin, who chairs the home­land se­cu­rity com­mit­tee.

“Some Ka­vanaugh stuff wasn’t my cup of tea, but I think she’s very bright, has a good per­son­al­ity,” said Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham, R-S.C., the new chair of the Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee. “Any­body who un­der­es­ti­mates her will do so at their own peril.”

Har­ris’ leg­isla­tive record is thin, not a sur­prise for a first­term se­na­tor in the mi­nor­ity party, but al­ready a po­ten­tial talk­ing point for those tak­ing aim at her am­bi­tions.

“She’s pretty new at it, as we all were at one time,” said Texas GOP Sen. John Cornyn. “But I guess Pres­i­dent (Barack) Obama demon­strated you didn’t have to stay here and de­velop much of a record in or­der to run for pres­i­dent.”

A pres­i­den­tial run would in­vite close ex­am­i­na­tion of Har­ris’ work in the Se­nate for clues about how she might gov­ern. Much of that work speaks to the Democrats’ pro­gres­sive base.

She was the first Demo­cratic se­na­tor to an­nounce she would co-spon­sor Medi­care for All leg­is­la­tion from Sen. Bernie San­ders, in­de­pen­den­tVt. She was one of just three Democrats to vote against com­pro­mise leg­is­la­tion that would have pro­tected young un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants who came to the U.S. as chil­dren from de­por­ta­tion, in ex­change for other cuts to le­gal im­mi­gra­tion visas and $25 bil­lion for Trump’s wall and other bor­der se­cu­rity mea­sures. Har­ris called the wall money a waste and said the over­all bill would have ad­vanced Trump’s “anti-im­mi­grant” agenda.

In late 2018, Har­ris in­tro­duced her ap­proach to help­ing work­ing fam­i­lies through tax cred­its to al­le­vi­ate the strain of rising hous­ing prices and other cost-of-liv­ing in­creases. Har­ris said she was “so damn ex­cited” about the leg­is­la­tion and that she had spent nearly her en­tire two years in of­fice work­ing on it, try­ing to achieve some­thing “mean­ing­ful and rel­e­vant and sub­stan­tial.” Per­haps her most-rec­og­nized leg­isla­tive achieve­ment came in the fi­nal week of the last con­gres­sional term, when a bill she co-spon­sored with the only other African Amer­i­cans in the Se­nate, Demo­crat Cory Booker of New Jersey and Repub­li­can Tim Scott of South Carolina, to make lynch­ing a fed­eral crime passed the Se­nate unan­i­mously. Har­ris noted that Congress has re­peat­edly failed to pass such leg­is­la­tion since 1882 and said the Se­nate vote “of­fered some long-over­due jus­tice and recog­ni­tion to the vic­tims of lynch­ing crimes.”

The bill, how­ever, still hasn’t be­come law: The House failed to take it up be­fore Congress ad­journed, mean­ing it would have to be rein­tro­duced and pass both cham­bers again.

Har­ris has also part­nered with Repub­li­cans on other pieces of ul­ti­mately un­suc­cess­ful leg­is­la­tion, in­clud­ing a bail re­form bill with Sen. Rand Paul of Ken­tucky and an elec­tion se­cu­rity mea­sure with Sen. James Lank­ford of Ok­la­homa.

Har­ris’ col­leagues from both par­ties de­scribe her as af­fa­ble and fo­cused, with a com­mand of key is­sues and an abil­ity to ask skilled ques­tions. They also cite her prepa­ra­tion and her friend­li­ness with all law­mak­ers.

Booker, a close friend of the se­na­tor’s who like Har­ris is a prob­a­ble 2020 pres­i­den­tial con­tender, said she brings much to Wash­ing­ton by virtue of who she is — only the sec­ond African Amer­i­can woman ever to serve in the Se­nate.

“I hear her voice, I see her in pri­vate, I see her in cau­cus, I see her in a lot of the meet­ings we have be­hind closed doors, and I’m telling you right now, she brings some­thing pow­er­ful and unique to this body,” Booker said.

But Har­ris is not with­out her Demo­cratic crit­ics — and many of them fo­cus on her prose­cu­tor past as their con­cern. The Twit­ter hash­tag “#Ka­malaHar­risIsACop” is pop­u­lar among her pro­gres­sive de­trac­tors, who point to her work in law en­force­ment that they say dis­pro­por­tion­ately af­fected peo­ple of color.

“Ka­mala Har­ris is en­ti­tled to no scru­tiny, just like ev­ery other Demo­cratic politi­cian who is loved by Clin­ton donors. Also, war is peace,” pro­gres­sive com­men­ta­tor David Sirota, a one-time con­gres­sional staffer for San­ders, tweeted sar­cas­ti­cally in 2017. It came dur­ing a time he high­lighted her role as Cal­i­for­nia at­tor­ney gen­eral in the ap­proval of a Cal­i­for­nia hospi­tal merger crit­i­cized by nurses and abor­tion rights ac­tivists, as well as mis­con­duct in a crime lab dur­ing her ten­ure as San Fran­cisco district at­tor­ney.

Har­ris seem­ingly tries to de­flect pro­gres­sive crit­i­cism in her new mem­oir, writ­ing that it’s “a false choice to sug­gest you must ei­ther be for the po­lice or for po­lice ac­count­abil­ity.” Given racial dis­par­i­ties in ar­rest rates that harm “black and brown peo­ple,” “egre­gious” po­lice shoot­ings and out­fit­ting of po­lice de­part­ments like “military reg­i­ments,” she wrote, “is it any won­der that the very cred­i­bil­ity of th­ese pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions is on the line?”

Har­ris is the daugh­ter of two im­mi­grants — her mother is from In­dia and her fa­ther is from Ja­maica — who met at UC Berke­ley and fell in love dur­ing the height of the civil rights move­ment. She said a “duty to serve” was non­nego­tiable grow­ing up.

The dual im­por­tance of the move­ment and her law en­force­ment past is ev­i­dent in her sparsely dec­o­rated Se­nate of­fice. A bust of for­mer U.S. Supreme Court Jus­tice Thur­good Mar­shall, an award, sits on a cre­denza with a lawen­force­ment-heavy chal­lenge coin col­lec­tion. There is a photo of Har­ris on the Ed­mund Pet­tus Bridge in Selma, Ala., with civil rights great Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga. An­other pic­ture shows Har­ris, her hus­band, Dou­glas Emhoff, and their two chil­dren from Emhoff ’s pre­vi­ous mar­riage march­ing in a Martin Luther King Jr. Day pa­rade.

And there’s her prized pos­ses­sion, a pho­to­graph of her mother and a close friend as young women on the UC Berke­ley cam­pus in the early 1960s. In the back­ground are peo­ple wear­ing black arm­bands, of­ten a sym­bol of protest and mourn­ing for ’60s ac­tivists. A sign refers to Birm­ing­ham, Ala., a fo­cal point of the civil rights move­ment.

Har­ris’ mother, a breast can­cer re­searcher, raised her af­ter di­vorc­ing her fa­ther when Har­ris was 7. Her mother died in 2009.

“I talk a lot about my mother,” Har­ris said as she held the pic­ture. “So this is, I think, my

“It’s a con­stant pur­suit of the truth.

You know, ‘What hap­pened?’ It’s not about me giv­ing a beau­ti­ful

speech in those hear­ings.”

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