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Kamala Harris goes to Washington

U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-California, questions a witness at a June 7 hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee. (Photo: AP/Susan Walsh)

Getting interrupted on two occasions during nationally televised Senate hearings has proved to be a political boon for Sen. Kamala Harris.

California’s junior U.S. senator has drawn positive headlines and support on social media for what some perceive as sexist treatment by her Republican male colleagues. Media outlets across the country have identified Harris, a Democrat, as a possible presidential candidate in 2020, though she has said it is too early to think about that.

Harris was again in the spotlight less than a week later when she was once more interrupted by the same two senators over her questioning of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

“She was very early labeled the female Barack Obama,” said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, University of Southern California public policy professor. “She’s articulate, she’s bright and she’s hungry.”

However, Jeffe thinks the hype for Harris as Trump’s possible successor is overblown and is driven by East Coast media. At this point, Jeffe doesn’t see evidence that Harris can follow in Obama’s footsteps and win a Presidential election. But she said anything can happen in the next three years.

Harris received national media attention June 7 when Harris, a junior member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, was interrupted by Senators John McCain and Richard Burr during her pointed questioning of Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein over the role he played in the firing of FBI director James Comey.

McCain, R-Arizona, and Burr, R-North Carolina, singled her out, asking her to be more respectful to the witness even though other male senators asked tough questions.

Harris was again in the spotlight less than a week later when she was once more interrupted by the same two senators over her questioning of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.  Sessions, a Republican, said her rapid-fire questioning was unsettling “I’m not able to be rushed this fast, it makes me nervous,” Sessions said.

She came to prominence in 2003 when she defeated two-term incumbent Terence Hallinan in the election to become San Francisco District Attorney.

Later, a former Trump  campaign adviser said on CNN that Harris’ questioning style amounted to “hysteria.” In a later letter to the editor in the L.A. Times, one reader responded that “Educated, successful and assertive women have faced this same accusation for ages.”

Harris, 52, was born in Oakland to an Indian mother and a black Jamaican-American father.  Her parents divorced when she was a young child. Her mother eventually moved Harris and her sister to Montreal, where Harris graduated from high school.

Harris then headed to Howard University, a historically black college in Washington, D.C., where she studied political science and economics. After graduation, she returned back to the Bay Area, getting her law degree from the University of California, Hastings College of Law in San Francisco.

In 2004, she angered the San Francisco Police Officers Association when she announced she would not seek the death penalty for the killer of police officer Isaac Espinoza, who was shot in the line of duty.

She launched her law career in the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office prosecuting child sexual abuse cases.  She came to prominence in 2003 when she defeated two-term incumbent Terence Hallinan in the election to become San Francisco District Attorney.

In 2004, she angered the San Francisco Police Officers Association when she announced she would not seek the death penalty for the killer of police officer Isaac Espinoza, who was shot in the line of duty. In 2009, she wrote the book “Smart on Crime: A Career Prosecutor’s Plan to Make Us Safer,” about alternatives to severe sentencing and mass incarceration.

Harris made the leap to statewide office in 2011 when she won the election for California Attorney General.  During her stint in the job, she introduced the California Homeowner’s Bill of Rights, which offered anti-foreclosure protections.

“She’s left a trapdoor in her background,” he said. “It’s going to be up to her successor [as state attorney general].

In her last years in office, she was criticized for not following through on an investigation into backdoor dealing between the California Public Utilities Commission and Southern California Edison regarding the shutdown of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.

Investigators found handwritten notes showing that then CPUC president Michael Peevey had met secretly in Poland with an Edison executive to workout a shutdown deal after the plant had a radioactive leak and had to be closed.

Michael Aguirre, a San Diego consumer attorney, said Harris, who then became a Senate candidate, never followed up on the investigation. Then, he said, she later blocked giving access to the public of the governor’s office’s communications to the utility company.

“She’s left a trapdoor in her background,” he said. “It’s going to be up to her successor [as state attorney general]. If he doesn’t clean it up and prosecute the wrongdoers, this is something that is going to be a real liability.”

Harris did not respond to two email requests for an interview.

“She knows that California has so much to lose,” he said. “She knows that California has benefitted the most from the Affordable Care Act.” — Anthony Wright.

Harris went on to easily win the Senate election, becoming the first Indian-American woman and second African-American woman to hold a Senate seat (the first was Carol Mosley Braun of Illinois).

An aggressive user of social media, she has 745,000 followers on two Twitter accounts and regularly posts her thoughts on the happenings of the day. Lately, she has been using the accounts to express her strong opposition to the Senate health bill to overturn Obama’s Affordable Care Act.  She has also posted brief statements from people who have benefitted from the Affordable Care Act.

Anthony Wright, executive director of consumer advocacy group Health Access California, said he has appreciated Harris’ consistent support on spotlighting threats to healthcare.

“She knows that California has so much to lose,” he said. “She knows that California has benefitted the most from the Affordable Care Act.”

A few weeks ago, she participated in a conference call with 100 groups of health advocates, giving them a pep talk to keep up the fight.

“We appreciate that this has been a priority issue on our statements, social media feeds and on her activity schedule,” he said.

Jeffe, the public policy professor, said Harris pushes all of the right buttons for the Democratic base for California.  Whether that will be good for her career on a national level, only time will tell.


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