Har­ris’ thin Se­nate record may not mat­ter in Cal­i­for­nia

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Insight - BY EMILY CADEI AND KATE IRBY [email protected]­clatchydc.com [email protected] Emily Cadei: 202-383-6153, @emi­ly­cadei Kate Irby: 202-383-6071, @KateIrby

Min­utes af­ter an­nounc­ing she wanted to be pres­i­dent Mon­day, Cal­i­for­nia Sen. Ka­mala Har­ris started fac­ing a ques­tion likely to dog her through­out her White House run.

“What qual­i­fies you to be com­man­der-in-chief?” “Good Morn­ing Amer­ica” co-an­chor Ge­orge Stephanopo­u­los asked.

Fel­low co-an­chor Robin Roberts quickly fol­lowed up, ob­serv­ing that the Demo­cratic law­maker, had “only two years in Wash­ing­ton.”

“What I be­lieve the Amer­i­can peo­ple want in their next com­man­der-inchief is some­one who has lead­er­ship skills, who has ex­pe­ri­ence and who has in­tegrity and will fight on their be­half,” Har­ris re­sponded. She also noted that she has served as “a leader in lo­cal gov­ern­ment, state gov­ern­ment and fed­eral gov­ern­ment.”

But while Har­ris spent years as a lo­cal prose­cu­tor in the Bay Area and eight years as Cal­i­for­nia at­tor­ney gen­eral, she is en­ter­ing just her third year in Con­gress. She hasn’t com­piled much of a list of leg­isla­tive achieve­ments.

“Her most vis­i­ble role in the Se­nate has been be­ing out­raged,” said Dan Schnur, a for­mer me­dia ad­viser to Re­pub­li­can Gov. Pete Wil­son, not­ing Har­ris’ con­tentious, highly-pub­li­cized ex­changes with Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials such as for­mer At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions and Supreme Court nom­i­nee Brett Ka­vanaugh.

Yet those con­fronta­tions with an ad­min­is­tra­tion highly un­pop­u­lar in her state, more than any sig­na­ture Se­nate pol­icy achieve­ment, are likely to gal­va­nize pri­mary vot­ers in Cal­i­for­nia and around the coun­try, said Schnur, who teaches po­lit­i­cal com­mu­ni­ca­tions at the Univer­sity of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia and U.C. Berke­ley.

“For ev­ery Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat who votes for her be­cause of a par­tic­u­lar bill she spon­sored, there are 100 who are go­ing to vote for her be­cause of her ques­tion­ing of Brett Ka­vanaugh,” he said.

In­deed, Har­ris’ ap­proval rat­ing among the state’s likely vot­ers rose to 55 per­cent shortly af­ter the Ka­vanaugh hear­ings con­cluded, ac­cord­ing to a Septem­ber poll con­ducted by the Pub­lic Pol­icy In­sti­tute of Cal­i­for­nia. Sev­enty per­cent of Democrats ap­proved, while 14 per­cent dis­ap­proved and 17 per­cent were un­sure.

Com­bined with what many con­stituents de­scribe as an en­er­getic in-state op­er­a­tion that has cul­ti­vated ties with ev­ery­one from al­mond grow­ers to tech in­dus­try be­he­moths to im­mi­gra­tion reformers, Har­ris has some of the crit­i­cal build­ing blocks al­ready in place to com­pete in Cal­i­for­nia’s pri­mary next year, which was moved up to March 3, a.k.a. Su­per Tues­day.

The state’s early vot­ing is now set to be­gin in Fe­bru­ary, at the same time Iowa vot­ers con­duct the na­tion’s first pres­i­den­tial cau­cuses, giv­ing Cal­i­for­nia sig­nif­i­cant in­flu­ence over who Democrats will pick as their nom­i­nee.

Lead­ers of nearly a dozen key in­dus­try groups and ad­vo­cacy or­ga­ni­za­tions as well as elected of­fi­cials from Cal­i­for­nia cred­ited Har­ris for her hands-on ap­proach to what’s known as “case­work” for con­stituents and in­ter­ests in her home state.

“She ap­pears to me to be very en­gaged, open-minded,” said for­mer Cal­i­for­nia Sec­re­tary of Food and Agri­cul­ture Bill Lyons. And “she was help­ful on sev­eral ma­jor is­sues with the (statewide trade group) Al­mond Al­liance re­gard­ing trade tar­iff is­sues,” he said, in­clud­ing act­ing as a li­ai­son with the U.S. De­part­ment of Agri­cul­ture.

That type of en­gage­ment, they said, makes up for any lack of leg­isla­tive ac­com­plish­ments in the Se­nate. Many said they rec­og­nized that be­ing one of the most ju­nior mem­bers in the Repub­li­can­con­trolled Se­nate has lim­ited what the 54-yearold sen­a­tor can do.

“Ev­ery­body knows the mo­ment we’re in DC. It’s just a time of block­ing progress,” said Mary Creas­man, CEO of the Cal­i­for­nia League of Con­ser­va­tion Vot­ers. Creas­man noted that Pres­i­dent Obama had a sim­i­lar level of ex­pe­ri­ence when the then-Illi­nois sen­a­tor launched his pres­i­den­tial cam­paign af­ter only two years in the Se­nate.

In her first two years in Wash­ing­ton, Har­ris has seen one stand-alone piece of leg­is­la­tion be­come law: A bill to ex­pand the John Muir Na­tional His­toric Site in Martinez, Cal­i­for­nia.

She also suc­ceeded in adding sev­eral non­con­tro­ver­sial mea­sures into a 2018 fed­eral avi­a­tion bill to re­quire re­views of fed­eral dis­as­ter re­sponse and pro­vide re­lief for some dis­as­ter vic­tims. And Har­ris’ pro­posal to up­date the na­tional emer­gency alert sys­tem was in­cluded in a 2018 home­land se­cu­rity de­part­ment pol­icy bill.

Those mea­sures ad­dress is­sues Cal­i­for­nia has had to grap­ple with in re­cent years thanks to the calami­tous wild­fires that have burned through the state, but they hardly amount to a ma­jor pol­icy break­through.

Har­ris has also worked be­hind the scenes to bro­ker pol­icy com­pro­mises that are par­tic­u­larly rel­e­vant to Cal­i­for­nia. In 2017, she served as the point per­son for a hand­ful of Democrats and some of the coun­try’s most pow­er­ful tech com­pa­nies, in­clud­ing Google and Face­book, ne­go­ti­at­ing on a bi­par­ti­san hu­man traf­fick­ing bill tar­get­ing Back­page.com.

Cal­i­for­nia-based tech com­pa­nies, in­clud­ing Google and Face­book, wor­ried the bill could un­der­mine in­ter­net free­dom.

But some anti-traf­fick­ing ac­tivists were con­cerned she wasn’t a more force­ful sup­porter of the bill, af­ter go­ing af­ter Back­page.com as at­tor­ney gen­eral. “She’s con­spic­u­ously ab­sent from be­ing a spon­sor” of the bi­par­ti­san leg­is­la­tion, known as the Stop En­abling Sex Traf­fick­ers Act, vice pres­i­dent of the Na­tional Cen­ter on Sex­ual Ex­ploita­tion Lisa Thomp­son noted at the time. “That raises eye­brows.”

Ul­ti­mately, the ne­go­ti­a­tions led to a tweak in the lan­guage that both sides ac­cepted. The pres­i­dent signed leg­is­la­tion in April 2018, and it promptly drew a le­gal chal­lenge.

On many is­sues, how­ever, Har­ris has not been at the ne­go­ti­at­ing table, opt­ing in­stead to work from the out­side. As Demo­cratic Rep. Ro Khanna of Fre­mont ob­served, there is a po­lit­i­cal ben­e­fit in that. For Har­ris, “It’s al­most an ad­van­tage to not be as­so­ci­ated with be­ing part of the grid­lock” in Wash­ing­ton, Khanna pointed out.

Har­ris has been par­tic­u­larly vo­cal on im­mi­gra­tion, draw­ing praise from ad­vo­cates of un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants.

Kerri Tal­bot, pol­icy di­rec­tor for D.C. Im­mi­gra­tion Hub, an um­brella or­ga­ni­za­tion help­ing co­or­di­nate pro-im­mi­gra­tion ac­tivists, told The Bee last year that Har­ris has earned a rep­u­ta­tion as “the cham­pion for this on the left.”

As Har­ris pointed out then, Cal­i­for­nia is home to the na­tion’s largest num­ber of DACA re­cip­i­ents or “Dream­ers” — un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants brought to the coun­try as chil­dren who were granted le­gal sta­tus by the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion. Pres­i­dent Trump has tried to end the pro­gram.

“They must be seen and heard, and I feel a very strong sense of re­spon­si­bil­ity to use ev­ery com­po­nent of power that I have ... to ed­u­cate the pub­lic to make sure they are seen and not vil­i­fied,” she told The Bee.

Har­ris’ cru­sad­ing style, in hear­ing rooms and at protests, has drawn ac­cu­sa­tions from Re­pub­li­cans of grand­stand­ing.

But in Cal­i­for­nia, the epi­cen­ter of the so-called ‘re­sis­tance’ to Pres­i­dent Trump, that ap­proach plays well with many vot­ers and ad­vo­cacy groups.

Steve Smith, spokesman for the Cal­i­for­nia La­bor Fed­er­a­tion, one of the state’s most in­flu­en­tial unions, said Har­ris has been “ac­tive on the things we care about,” ad­vo­cat­ing for poli­cies like a $15 min­i­mum wage and uni­ver­sal health­care.

While those pro­pos­als don’t have a prayer of be­com­ing law un­der Pres­i­dent Trump, Cal­i­for­ni­ans “re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate that as a ju­nior sen­a­tor she has re­ally stepped up and be­come one of the (ad­min­is­tra­tion’s) vo­cal crit­ics,” Smith said.

LYNNE SLADKY AP file

Sen. Ka­mala Har­ris’ high-pro­file con­fronta­tions with the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion may win her more sup­port from Cal­i­for­ni­ans than any Se­nate pol­icy achieve­ment.

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