Harris’ past as prosecutor defines her
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.”