A few weeks before Joe Biden selects his vice presidential runningmate, signs are growing strong that the favorite for selection is Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif.
As a woman (a choice Biden vowed to make to share his ticket) and Black (she is the Golden State’s first senator of Jamaican and Indian ancestry), Harris, 55, checks boxes most Democratic operatives consider crucial to a winning ticket.
Her record in the Senate has been decidedly liberal: backing single-payer healthcare and free college tuition for families with an annual income of less than $140,000, offering legislation to delineate the rights of people detained at the U.S. ports of entry, and co-sponsoring bills to raise the federal minimum wage.
"A female Obama," is what the magnetic Californian has been frequently dubbed.
Obama himself reportedly considered Harris to be U.S. attorney general and for nomination to the seat of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
Harris also brings to a ticket, led by longtime senator and former vice president Joe Biden, a resume with emphasis on state and local experience. Harris was district attorney of San Francisco and her state’s two-term attorney general before winning a U.S. Senate seat in 2016.
Says Henry Olsen, nationally-syndicated columnist, and senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, "I think her primary asset to Biden would be to quell intra-party pressure from the African-American community."
However Olsen also says, "She is a standard vice presidential pick with strengths and weaknesses."
The primary weakness cited by Democratic insiders is that, as a presidential hopeful herself this year, Harris often focused intense fire on Biden himself.
"I’m now going to direct this at Vice President Biden," she famously declared in the first Democratic presidential debate (June 27, 2019), "It was actually hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senators who built their reputations and career on the segregation of race in this country. It was not only that but you also worked with them to oppose busing. There was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools. She was bused to school every day. That little girl was me."
Coupled with salvos from New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., about Biden’s long-ago collegiality with segregationist colleagues, Harris’s attack on Biden did much to cause the eventual winner difficulty within the black community.
"I can easily see the Republicans recycling that spot from the debate and saying ‘is this what she really thinks of [Biden]," Robert Juliano, longtime lobbyist for restaurant workers and a friend of Biden since the early 1970’s told Newsmax, "It would be a problem is she were on the ticket." (Juliano is a strong booster of Florida Rep. Val Jennings, a former Orlando police chief).
As one who spent much of her professional career as a prosecutor in California, Harris embraces the modern, left-of-center vision of law enforcement.
She refused to defend in court the Golden State’s Proposition 8 making traditional marriage the law of the state, helped legally defend the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and filed an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief before the U.S. Supreme Court encouraging it to allow public universities to consider race in admissions.
In calling for the end of mass incarcerartions, Harris endorses "legalizing marijuana, sentencing reforms, and abolishing private prisons."
"As president, I’d set a national standard to use deadly force only as a last resort to ensure accountability," she vowed in the second Democratic presidential debate (Sept. 9, 2019), "My criminal justice plan will ensure incarcerated individuals are treated with dignity and aren’t criminalized for poverty. This includes ending money bail and fines that criminalize poor and low-income people, and ending the federal death penalty and solitary confinement."
Speaking to the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco (Jan. 14, 2010), then-Attorney General Harris declared her belief that "a child going without an education is tantamount to a crime” and how she decided "I was going to start prosecuting parents for truancy."
While such actions and opinions are popular with her party’s left, they are not necessarily going to sit well with the centrist and independent voters that are already drawn to Joe Biden.
Harris has come under fire for her law enforcement techniques. In a televised presidential debate July 31, 2019, Hawaii Rep. and then-candidate Tulsi Gabbard hit Harris hard.
"She put over 1,500 people in jail for marijuana violations and laughed about it when she was asked if she ever smoked marijuana," Gabbard charged, "She blocked evidence that would have freed an innocent man from death row. She kept people in prison beyond their sentences to use them as cheap labor for the state of California, and she fought to keep cash bail system in place that impacts poor people in the worst kind of way."
Harris dismissed the criticism of her prosecutorial record by long-shot contender Gabbard.
The leftist website Jacobin slammed Harris for opposing the death penalty rhetorically, '[b]ut despite her vaunted personal opposition, she never challenged the death penalty during her time as attorney general.
— and in fact did the very opposite, actively working to keep it in existence."
Jacobin explained that "[w]hen a federal judge ruled California’s enforcement of the death penalty unconstitutional, Harris appealed what she called a "flawed" decision. She would continue to defend the death penalty as the case wound through the federal courts."
The same publication recalled how "Harris defended California’s uniquely cruel three-strikes law, the only one in the country which imposed life sentences for a third "strike" that was any minor felony. She urged voters to reject Proposition 66, a ballot initiative that would have reformed the harsh law by making only serious or violent felonies trigger life sentences."
(In taking the position she did, Democrat Harris actually ran to the right of her Republican opponent, Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley, who supported Proposition 66).
"Harris has shown the capacity to be moved leftwards when pressured by activism," concluded Jacobin, "Perhaps Harris will end up the 2020 nominee. Then it’s all the more important we understand her inadequacies."
The publication might easily have been speaking of her as the vice presidential nominee with Biden. Should Kamala Harris be on the ticket, it is very likely we will hear about what the left considers her "inadequacies" — and what the center and right consider some highly controversial positions.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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