Kamala Harris

Kamala Devi Harris (/ˈkɑːmələ/ KAH-mə-lə; born October 20, 1964) is an American attorney and politician who has served as the junior United States Senator from California since 2017. A member of the Democratic Party, she previously served as the 32nd Attorney General of California from 2011 to 2017, and as the 27th District Attorney of San Francisco from 2004 to 2011. On January 21, 2019, she officially announced her campaign to run for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States in the 2020 United States presidential election.

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Kamala Harris
United States Senator
from California
Assumed office
January 3, 2017
Serving with Dianne Feinstein
Preceded byBarbara Boxer
32nd Attorney General of California
In office
January 3, 2011  January 3, 2017
GovernorJerry Brown
Preceded byJerry Brown
Succeeded byXavier Becerra
27th District Attorney of San Francisco
In office
January 8, 2004  January 3, 2011
Preceded byTerence Hallinan
Succeeded byGeorge Gascón
Personal details
Born
Kamala Devi Harris

(1964-10-20) October 20, 1964 (age 54)
Oakland, California, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)
Douglas Emhoff (m. 2014)
ParentsShyamala Gopalan (mother)
Donald Harris (father)
RelativesMaya Harris (sister)
EducationHoward University (BA)
University of California, Hastings (JD)
WebsiteSenate website

Kamala Devi Harris (/ˈkɑːmələ/ KAH-mə-lə;[1] born October 20, 1964) is an American attorney and politician who has served as the junior United States Senator from California since 2017. A member of the Democratic Party, she previously served as the 32nd Attorney General of California from 2011 to 2017, and as the 27th District Attorney of San Francisco from 2004 to 2011. On January 21, 2019, she officially announced her campaign to run for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States in the 2020 United States presidential election.

Harris was born in Oakland, California, and is a graduate of Howard University and University of California, Hastings College of the Law. In the 1990s, she worked in the San Francisco District Attorney's Office and the City Attorney of San Francisco's office. In 2004, she was elected District attorney of San Francisco.

Harris was narrowly elected as California's Attorney General in 2010 and was reelected in 2014 by a wide margin. On November 8, 2016, she defeated Loretta Sanchez in the 2016 Senate election to succeed outgoing Senator Barbara Boxer, becoming California's third female U.S. Senator, and the first of Jamaican or Indian ancestry.[2]

Since becoming a Senator, Harris has supported Medicare-for-all, legalization of recreational marijuana, sanctuary cities, passing a DREAM Act, and lowering taxes for the working and middle classes while raising taxes on corporations and the wealthiest top 1% of Americans.

Harris launched her presidential campaign on January 27, 2019,[3][4][5] where she vowed to fight for the "largest middle class tax cut in a generation."

Early life and education

Harris (right) with her sister Maya at San Francisco City Hall, in February 2014.

Kamala Harris was born on October 20, 1964, in Oakland, California, to a Tamil Indian mother and a Jamaican father. Her mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, was a breast cancer scientist who immigrated to the United States from Madras (now Chennai) in 1960.[6][7] Her father, Donald Harris, is a Stanford University economics professor who emigrated from Jamaica in 1961 for graduate study in economics at University of California, Berkeley.[8][9] Despite this, Kamala Harris is most often referred to as African American rather than Caribbean American. CNN's April Ryan has suggested that due to the history of slavery in Jamaica, Harris may indeed be of partially African descent.[10] Recalling the lives of his grandmothers, Donald Harris wrote that one was related to a plantation owner while the other had unknown ancestry.[11]

Her name, Kamala, comes from the Sanskrit word for the lotus flower. Her family lived in Berkeley, California, where both of her parents attended graduate school.[12] She was close to her maternal grandfather, P. V. Gopalan, an Indian diplomat.[7][13] As a child, she frequently visited her extended family in the Besant Nagar neighborhood of Chennai, Tamil Nadu.[14] Harris grew up going to both a black Baptist church and a Hindu temple.[15] She has one younger sister, Maya Harris.[16][17] They both sang in a Baptist choir.[18]

Harris's parents divorced when she was seven, and her mother was granted custody of the children by court-ordered settlement.[12][11] After the divorce, when Harris was 12,[19] her mother moved with the children to Montreal, Québec, Canada, where Shyamala accepted a position doing research at Jewish General Hospital and teaching at McGill University.[20][21]

After graduating from Westmount High School in the Westmount suburb near downtown Montreal in 1981,[22][23] Harris attended Howard University in Washington, D.C., where she majored in political science and economics.[24][25] At Howard, Harris was elected to the liberal arts student council as freshman class representative, was a member of the debate team, and joined the Alpha Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.[24]

Harris returned to California, where she earned her Juris Doctor (J.D.) from the University of California, Hastings College of the Law, in 1989.[9][26] She was admitted to the State Bar of California in 1990.[27]

Early career

Harris served as a deputy district attorney in Alameda County, California, from 1990 to 1998. Harris says she sought a career in law enforcement because she wanted to be "at the table where decisions are made".[9] During this time she was appointed to several state boards.[28] In 2000, San Francisco's elected City Attorney, Louise Renne, recruited Harris to join her office, where she was chief of the Community and Neighborhood Division, which oversees civil code enforcement matters.[29]

District Attorney of the City and County of San Francisco

Congresswoman Pelosi meets San Francisco's new District Attorney, Kamala Harris, March 30, 2004.

Harris defeated two-term incumbent Terence Hallinan in the 2003 election to become District Attorney of the City and County of San Francisco.[30]

In April 2004, San Francisco Police Department Officer Isaac Espinoza was shot and killed in the line of duty. Three days later, Harris announced she would not seek the death penalty, infuriating the San Francisco Police Officers Association. During Officer Espinoza's funeral at St. Mary's Cathedral, U.S. Senator and former San Francisco mayor Dianne Feinstein rose to the pulpit and called on Harris, who was sitting in the front pew, to secure the death penalty, prompting a standing ovation from the 2,000 uniformed police officers in attendance. Harris still refused. Officer Espinoza's killer was convicted of the murder and sentenced to life in prison.[9] Shortly thereafter, Harris demoted veteran career prosecutor Paul Cummins, the chief assistant to her predecessor from the 80-person felony prosecution unit to Harris's former position in the DA's office.[31]

In 2004, as District Attorney, Harris started the Back On Track initiative, a reentry program.[9] Initiative participants (who are nonviolent, first-time drug offenders whose crimes were not weapon- or gang-related) plead guilty in exchange for a deferral of sentencing and regular appearances before a judge over a year-long period. Participants who succeed in obtaining a high-school-equivalency diploma, maintaining steady employment, taking parenting classes, and passing drug tests have their records cleared.[32][33] Over eight years, the program produced fewer than 300 graduates, but achieved a very low recidivism rate.[9] In 2009, a state law (the Back on Track Reentry Act, Assembly Bill 750) was enacted, encouraging other counties to start programs around a similar model. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the bill into law.[34][35] The program encountered some controversy because it initially included illegal immigrants, including one, Alexander Izaguirre, who was later arrested for assault.[36] Harris said allowing persons not eligible to work in the United States was a mistake,[36] and subsequently modified the program to bar anyone who could not legally be employed in the United States.[37]

Harris was re-elected in 2007 when she ran unopposed.[38]

In 2008, Harris was seen as one of a number of women who could become president of the United States.[39]

In 2009, Harris's book Smart on Crime: A Career Prosecutor's Plan to Make Us Safer was published by Chronicle Books.[32] In the book, Harris touted her Back On Track initiative and argued for what she referred to as "a smarter approach when it comes to combating nonviolent crime" emphasizing crime prevention, truancy prevention, and the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder in children.[32][33] The book discusses a series of "myths" surrounding the criminal justice system and presents proposals to reduce and prevent crime.[33] Recognized by The Los Angeles Daily Journal as one of the top 100 lawyers in California, Harris served on the board of the California District Attorney's Association and was vice president of the National District Attorneys Association.[40]

In 2013, a report by the San Francisco Weekly reported that the San Francisco Police Department and Harris's office shielded Abraham H. Guerra Sr., a high-ranking member of the Norteño gang, from returning to prison due to parole violations because Guerra was an informant who provided authorities with information.[41]

Violent crimes, felons, incarceration, and conviction rate

While Harris was the San Francisco District Attorney, the overall felony conviction rate rose from 52% in 2003 to 67% in 2006, the highest in a decade; there was an 85% conviction rate for homicides, and convictions of drug dealers increased from 56% in 2003 to 74% in 2006.[42] While these statistics represent only trial convictions, Harris also closed many cases via plea bargains.[43] When she took office, she took a special interest in clearing part of the murder caseload from the previous administration. Harris stated that the records from that administration were less than optimal, and worked to get convictions on what she could. Out of the 73 homicide cases backlogged, 32 cases took deals for lesser charges such as manslaughter or took pleas to other crimes such as assault or burglary while the murder charges were dismissed.[44]

Harris holding a press conference with law enforcement agents

Officers within the SFPD credited Harris with tightening loopholes in bail and drug programs that defendants had exploited in the past. They also accused her of being too deliberate in her prosecution of murder suspects.[45] Additionally, in 2009, San Francisco prosecutors won a lower percentage of their felony jury trials than their counterparts at district attorneys' offices covering the 10 largest cities in California, according to data on case outcomes compiled by officials at the San Francisco Superior Court as well as by other county courts and prosecutors. (Officials in Sacramento, the sixth-largest city in California, did not provide data.) Harris's at-trial felony conviction rate that year was 76%, down 12 points from the previous year. The then-most recent recorded statewide average was 83%, according to statistics from the California Judicial Council.[46] In a small sample, a report computed that the conviction rate for felony trials in San Francisco County in the first three months of 2010 was 53%.[46] San Francisco has historically had one of the lowest conviction rates in the state; the county is known for a defendant-friendly jury pool.[47][46]

In 2012, Superior Court Judge Anne-Christine Massullo ruled that San Francisco District Attorney Harris's office violated defendants' rights by hiding damaging information about a police crime lab technician, and was indifferent to demands that it account for its failings.[48]

Hate crimes and civil rights

Harris at the San Francisco Pride Parade, 2013

As San Francisco District Attorney, Harris created a special Hate Crimes Unit, focusing on hate crimes against LGBT children and teens in schools. She convened a national conference to confront the "gay-transgender panic defense", which has been used to justify violent hate crimes.[49] Harris supports same-sex marriage in California and opposed both Proposition 22 and Proposition 8.[50]

In 2004, The National Urban League honored Harris as a "Woman of Power". In 2005, she received the Thurgood Marshall Award from the National Black Prosecutors Association. In her campaign for California Attorney General, she received the endorsements of numerous groups including EMILY's List, California Legislative Black Caucus, Asian American Action Fund, Black Women Organized for Political Action, the National Women's Political Caucus, Mexican American Bar Association, and South Asians for Opportunity.[51]

Attorney General of California

2010 election

Harris being sworn-in as Attorney General

On November 12, 2008, Harris announced her candidacy for California Attorney General. Both of California's United States Senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, as well as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, endorsed Harris during the Democratic Party primary.[52] In the June 8, 2010, primary, she was nominated with 33.6% of the vote, defeating Alberto Torrico (who received had 15.6% of the vote) and Chris Kelly (who received 15.5%).[53]

In her campaign for California Attorney General, Harris received the endorsements of United Farm Workers cofounder Dolores Huerta, United Educators of San Francisco, and San Francisco Firefighters Local 798.[51] She also received the endorsement of Antonio Villaraigosa, Mayor of Los Angeles.[54] In the general election, she faced Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley. On election night, November 2, 2010, Cooley prematurely declared victory, but many ballots remained uncounted. On November 24, as the count advanced, Harris was leading by more than 55,000 votes, and Cooley conceded.[55] On January 3, 2011, Harris became the first female,[40] Jamaican-American,[54][56] and Indian-American attorney general in California.[57][58]

2014 election

Harris announced her intention to run for re-election in February 2014 and filed paperwork to run on February 12. According to the office of California Secretary of State Debra Bowen, Harris had raised the money for her campaign during the previous year in 2013.[59] The Sacramento Bee,[60] Los Angeles Daily News,[61] and The Los Angeles Times endorsed Harris for reelection.[62]

On November 4, 2014, Harris was re-elected against Republican Ronald Gold.[63]

Tenure as California Attorney General

Harris's official portrait as Attorney General

Housing

When Harris took office in 2011, California was still reeling from the effects of the subprime mortgage crisis. In 2012, she participated in the National Mortgage Settlement against five banks, securing $12 billion of debt reduction for the state's homeowners and $26 billion overall.[64][65]

She introduced the California Homeowner's Bill of Rights in the California State Legislature, a set of laws which took effect on January 1, 2013, banning the practices of "dual-tracking" (processing a modification and foreclosure at the same time) and robo-signing, and provided homeowners with a single point of contact at their lending institution. It also gave the California Attorney General more power to investigate and prosecute financial fraud and to convene special grand juries to prosecute multi-county crimes instead of prosecuting a single crime county by county.[66][67]

Prison conditions and sentencing reform

After the United States Supreme Court in Brown v. Plata (2011) declared California's prisons so overcrowded they inflicted cruel and unusual punishment, Harris fought federal court supervision, explaining "I have a client, and I don't get to choose my client."[9] After California failed to fully implement the court's order to reduce crowding, and was ordered to implement new parole programs, the State of California appealed the decision, and in court filings the AG's office argued that if forced to release these inmates early, prisons would lose an important source of labor,[68] such as for fighting wildfires.[69] Prisoners in California earn between 8 and 37 cents per hour in maintenance and kitchen jobs;[68] prisoner firefighters receive higher pay, at $1 per hour.[69] Harris later backed away from her office's argument in the prison-litigation case, telling the website ThinkProgress: "The way that argument played out in court does not reflect my priorities... The idea that we incarcerate people to have indentured servants is one of the worst possible perceptions. I feel very strongly about that. It evokes images of chain gangs."[69][70]

Harris announced the arrest of 101 Nuestra Familia gang leaders, members on June 8, 2011.

Harris refused to take any position on criminal sentencing-reform initiatives Proposition 36 (2012) and Proposition 47 (2014), arguing it would be improper because her office prepares the ballot booklets.[9] Former California Attorney General John Van de Kamp considered her explanation "baloney."[9]

Michelle-Lael Norsworthy case

In February 2014, Michelle-Lael Norsworthy, a transgender woman incarcerated at California's Mule Creek State Prison, filed a federal lawsuit based on the state's failure to provide her with what she argued was medically necessary sex reassignment surgery (SRS).[71] In April 2015, a federal judge ordered the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to provide Norsworthy with SRS, finding that prison officials had been "deliberately indifferent to her serious medical need."[72][73] Harris, representing CDCR, challenged the order in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.[74] Harris argued that "Norsworthy has been receiving hormone therapy for her gender dysphoria since 2000, and continues to receive hormone therapy and other forms of treatment" and that "there is no evidence that Norsworthy is in serious, immediate physical or emotional danger."[75]

In August 2015, while the state's appeal was pending, Norsworthy was released on parole, obviating the state's duty to provide her with inmate medical care[76] and rendering the case moot.[77] Harris maintained that the parole review process was independent of Norsworthy's legal case against CDCR, although the Ninth Circuit, in its opinion, said it was possible that Norsworthy's release on parole, ahead of her scheduled SRS, may have been influenced by CDCR officials.[77]

Prosecuting financial crimes

Harris announcing the creation of a Mortgage Fraud Strike Force to Protect Homeowners, May 23, 2011

Harris has prosecuted numerous financial crimes, such as predatory lending.[78] In 2011, while serving as Attorney General of California, she created the Mortgage Fraud Strike Force which had a mandate to eliminate mortgage foreclosure fraud. The task force has been criticized for not filing as many foreclosure cases as in states with smaller populations.[79]

In 2013, Harris did not prosecute Steve Mnuchin's bank OneWest despite evidence "suggestive of widespread misconduct" according to a leaked memo from the Department of Justice.[80][81] In 2017, Harris said that her office's decision not to prosecute Mnuchin was based on "following the facts and the evidence...like any other case".[82] In 2016, Mnuchin donated $2,000 to Harris's campaign,[83] making her the only 2016 Senate Democratic candidate to get cash from Mnuchin,[84] but as senator, Harris voted against the confirmation of Mnuchin as Secretary of the Treasury.[84][85]

County prosecutors' misconduct

In 2015, Harris defended convictions obtained by county prosecutors who had inserted a false confession into an interrogation transcript, committed perjury, and withheld evidence.[9] Federal appeals court Judge Alex Kozinski threw out the convictions, telling Harris's lawyers, "Talk to the attorney general and make sure she understands the gravity of the situation."[9]

In March 2015, a California superior courts judge ordered Harris to take over a criminal case after Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas was revealed to have illegally employed jailhouse informants and concealed evidence.[9] Harris refused, appealing the order and defending Rackauckas.[9]

Harris appealed the dismissal of an indictment when it was discovered a Kern County prosecutor perjured in submitting a falsified confession as court evidence. Harris asserted that prosecutorial perjury was not sufficient to demonstrate prosecutorial misconduct. In the case,[86] Harris argued that only abject physical brutality would warrant a finding of prosecutorial misconduct and the dismissal of an indictment, and that perjury was not sufficient.[87]

Bureau of Children's Justice

On February 12, 2015, Harris announced that she would start a new agency called the Bureau of Children's Justice. The bureau would work on issues such as foster care, the juvenile justice system, school truancy, and childhood trauma. Harris appointed special assistant attorney general Jill Habig to head the agency.[88]

Oil and gas companies

Harris touring the clean-up efforts at a beach affected by a 2015 oil spill

After an oil spill from a pipeline caused damage to the California coastline in May 2015, Harris toured the coastline and directed her office's resources and attorneys to investigate possible criminal violations.[89] The investigations led to dozens of indictments.[90] In June 2016, Harris issued subpoenas to Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell, Phillips 66, Valero Energy, and Tesoro relating to an investigation into possible price-fixing.[91]

Mitrice Richardson case

Mitrice Richardson was a 24-year-old African American woman who was released from the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department in the middle of the night without any means of fending for herself. Her body was later found in an isolated canyon, leaving the family with many unanswered questions. In 2016, the Attorney General opened a criminal investigation into the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department's handling of the Mitrice Richardson case. The AG's Office had originally declined the request of the Richardson family to investigate the case, but reversed course after the family and supporters submitted almost 500 pages of evidence to Harris's office in the hope of prompting an investigation.[92][93] [94] In December 2016, the California Attorney General's Office closed the investigation, concluding that there was insufficient evidence to support criminal prosecution of anyone involved in the handling of the Richardson case.[95]

Backpage cases

On October 6, 2016, Harris announced the arrest of Backpage CEO Carl Ferrer on felony charges of pimping a minor, pimping, and conspiracy to commit pimping. The arrest warrant alleged that 99% of Backpage's revenue was directly attributable to prostitution-related ads, many of which involved victims of sex trafficking, including children under the age of 18.[96]

On December 9, 2016, a superior court judge dismissed all charges in the complaint.[97] On December 23, 2016, Harris filed new charges against Ferrer and former Backpage owners Mike Lacey and Jim Larkin for pimping and money laundering.[98] In January 2017, Backpage announced that it was removing its adult section from all of its sites in the United States due what it claimed were many years of harassment and extralegal tactics.[99][100] The investigations continued after Harris became a senator, and on April 6, 2018, Backpage and affiliated sites were seized in an enforcement action by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, United States Department of Justice,[101] and Internal Revenue Service. Ferrer subsequently pleaded guilty to charges of facilitating prostitution and money laundering.[102]

Mobile-app user privacy

In 2012, Harris sent a letter to 100 mobile-app developers, asking them to comply with California law with respect to privacy issues.[103] If any developer of an application that could be used by a Californian does not display a privacy policy statement when the application is installed, California law is broken, with a possible fine of $2500 for every download. The law affects any developer anywhere in the world if the app is used by a Californian.[104]

Supreme Court and U.S. Attorney General speculation

Harris speaking at a U.S. Department of Justice event

During Obama's presidency, Harris was mentioned as a possible nominee for the United States Supreme Court[105][106] or U.S. Attorney General,[107] but she was not nominated to either office.[108][additional citation(s) needed]

U.S. Senate

Harris's campaign logo during the United States Senate election in California, 2016

2016 election

After Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) announced her intention to retire from the United States Senate at the end of her term in 2016, after which she would have served as California's junior senator for 24 years, Harris was the first candidate to declare her intention to run for Boxer's senate seat. Media outlets reported that Harris would run for senate on the same day that Gavin Newsom, California's Lieutenant Governor and a close political ally of Harris, announced he would not seek to succeed Boxer.[109] Harris officially announced the launch of her campaign on January 13, 2015.[110]

After holding a flurry of fundraisers in both California and Washington, D.C., Harris was reported to have raised $2.5 million for her campaign.[111] In December, the National Journal released a story describing Harris's use of funds on hotels, the laying off of campaign staff and the inordinate totals, which had contributed to her money on hand being closer to that of another candidate, Loretta Sanchez, who had $1.6 million.[112][113]

Harris was a frontrunner from the beginning of her campaign. In January 2015, weeks after Harris announced her campaign, a survey by Public Policy Polling showed Harris leading by 41% to former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's 16%, who was seen as a potential candidate.[114] In May, a Field Poll was released, showing that although 58% of likely voters did not have a favored candidate, Harris was most preferred out of the field, with 19%.[115] October saw the release of a Field Poll with Harris at 30%, and fellow Democratic candidate Loretta Sanchez in second place at 17%, the former having increased her support by 11% since the Field Poll in May despite being noted by The Sacramento Bee as not being active in campaigning since appearing at the California Democratic Party's convention.[116]

In late February 2016, the California Democratic Party voted at its state convention to endorse Harris, who received 78% of the vote – 18% more than the 60% needed to secure the endorsement.[117][118] The party endorsement did not secure any candidate a place in the general election, as all candidates would participate in one primary election in June, after which the top two candidates from any party would advance to the general election.[118] Harris participated in debates with the other major candidates for the seat, her front-runner status causing her to be at the center of discussion.[119][120] Governor Jerry Brown endorsed Harris on May 23.[121] Harris came in first place on primary day, June 7, with 40% of the votes, entering a runoff with fellow Democratic candidate Loretta Sanchez.[122] On July 19, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden endorsed Harris.[123]

In the June 2016 primary election, with results detailed at the county level, Harris won 48 of 58 counties. Harris won seven counties with more than 50% of the vote: Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Cruz, and Sonoma. The highest percentage was San Francisco, with 70.4% of the vote.[124][125] She faced Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, also a Democrat, in the general election. This assured that the seat would stay in Democratic hands; it was the first time a Republican did not appear in a general election for the Senate since California began directly electing senators in 1914.[126]

In the November 2016 election, Harris defeated Sanchez with 62 percent of the vote, carrying all but four counties.[127] Following her victory, Harris promised to protect immigrants from the policies of President-elect Donald Trump.[128]

Following her election to the United States Senate, Harris announced her intention to remain California's Attorney General through the end of 2016 and resign shortly before being sworn in as Senator on January 3, 2017.[129] Governor Jerry Brown announced his intention to nominate Congressman Xavier Becerra as her successor.[130]

Tenure

On January 21, 2017, a day after President Trump was sworn into office, Harris called the message of Trump's inaugural address "dark" when speaking during the Women's March on Washington.[131] On January 28, following Trump signing the Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States executive order, which saw citizens from several countries with Muslim majorities barred from entering the US for 90 days, Harris was one of many to describe it as a "Muslim ban".[132][133] When John F. Kelly was White House Chief of Staff, she called him at home to gather information and push back against the contentious executive order.[134]

In early February, Harris spoke in opposition to Trump's cabinet picks Betsy DeVos, for Secretary of Education,[135] and Jeff Sessions, for United States Attorney General.[136] Later that month, in her first speech on the senate floor, Harris spent 12 minutes critiquing Trump's immigration policies.[137] In early March, Harris called on Attorney General Sessions to resign, after it was reported that Sessions spoke twice with Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak.[138] On March 14, Harris claimed repealing the Affordable Care Act would send the message of health care's being a "privilege" rather than a "civil right".[139]

Welcoming several of the new female CBC members in January 2019

In a May 2017 interview, Harris criticized Republican representative Raul Labrador for saying that no one dies due to lack of access to health care.[140]

On June 7, 2017, Harris garnered media attention for her questioning of Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General, over the role he played in the May 2017 firing of James Comey, the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.[141] The prosecutorial nature of her questioning caused Senator John McCain, an ex officio member of the Intelligence Committee, and Senator Richard Burr, the committee chairman, to interrupt Harris and request that she be more respectful of the witness;[142] other Democrats on the committee pointed out that they had asked similarly tough questions, but had not been interrupted.[142] On June 13, Harris questioned Jeff Sessions, the Attorney General, on the same topic;[143] Harris was again interrupted by McCain and Burr.[144] Sessions stated that Harris's mode of questioning "makes me nervous";[144] other Democratic members of the committee again pointed out that Harris was the only senator whose questioning was interrupted with an admonishment from the chairman.[144] Burr's singling out of Harris sparked suggestion in the news media that his behavior was sexist, with commentators arguing that Burr would not treat a male Senate colleague in a similar manner.[145] The website True Pundit suggested that treating Harris differently from other members of the Intelligence Committee is evidence of racism.[146] In addition, when CNN pundit Jason Miller described Harris as "hysterical", Kirsten Powers, who was taking part in the same on-air segment, told Miller that his use of the term to describe Harris was sexist, and that he would not describe male senators in the same manner.[147]

In a January 2018 hearing, Harris questioned Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen for favoring Norwegian immigrants over others and claiming to be unaware that Norway is a predominantly white country.[148]

In an April 2018 hearing, Harris questioned Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg for Facebook's misuse of users' data.[149]

In response to the administration's family separation policy, Harris visited one of the detention facilities near the border in June 2018.[150]

In the September and October 2018 Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation hearings, Harris participated in questioning the FBI Director's limited scope of the investigation on Kavanaugh.[151]

Harris was one of the targets of the October 2018 United States mail bombing attempts.[152]

Committee assignments

Source: Los Angeles Times

Caucus memberships

2020 presidential candidacy

Harris's presidential campaign logo.

Harris had been considered a top contender and potential frontrunner for the 2020 Democratic nomination for President.[156][157][158] In June 2018, she was quoted as "not ruling it out".[159] As of July 2018, she was spending more on Facebook advertising than any other senator.[160] In July 2018, it was announced that she would publish a memoir, another sign of a possible run.[161] She also stumped for candidates in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina.[162][163][164]

On January 21, 2019, Harris officially announced her candidacy for President of the United States in the 2020 United States presidential election.[165] During the first 24 hours following Harris announcing her candidacy, she tied a record set by Bernie Sanders in 2016 for the most money raised in the day following announcement.[166]

Over 20,000 people attended her formal campaign launch event at Frank Ogawa Plaza in her hometown of Oakland, California on January 27. Numerous commentators noted that there were more attendees at Harris's kickoff event than Barack Obama's first presidential campaign kickoff in Springfield, Illinois in 2007.[167]

Political positions

Abortion

Since her election to the Senate, Harris has maintained a 100% rating by the abortion rights advocacy group called Planned Parenthood Action Fund and a 0% rating by the anti-abortion group National Right to Life Committee.[168]

Cannabis

Harris did not initially support the legalization of recreational marijuana, but later moved to support legalization.[169] In May 2018, Harris announced she would co-sponsor the Marijuana Justice Act, which Senator Cory Booker introduced in August 2017. The legislation would eliminate marijuana's status as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substance Act. The move would also require federal courts to automatically expunge prior federal marijuana convictions related to use or possession and would establish a grant program aimed at incentivizing the expungement and sealing of state convictions for marijuana possession.[170][171]

Death penalty

Harris is opposed to the death penalty, but has said that she would review each case individually.[172] Her position was questioned in April 2004, when SFPD Officer Isaac Espinoza was murdered in the Bayview district. Harris announced that she would not seek the death penalty for the man accused of his killing. The decision evoked protests from the San Francisco Police Officers Association, Senator Dianne Feinstein, and others.[9] Those who supported her decision not to seek the death penalty included San Francisco Supervisors Tom Ammiano and Sophie Maxwell, in whose district the murder occurred.[173] The jury found the convicted killer, David Hill, guilty of second-degree murder, although the prosecutor, Harry Dorfman, had sought a first-degree murder conviction.[174] The defense had argued that Hill thought Espinoza was a member of a rival gang, and that the murder was not premeditated. Hill was given the maximum sentence for the conviction, life without the possibility of parole.[174]

Harris with Senator Diane Feinstein and Governor Jerry Brown in October 2017

Harris's position against the death penalty was tested again in the case of Edwin Ramos, an undocumented immigrant and alleged MS-13 gang member who was accused of murdering Tony Bologna and his sons Michael and Matthew.[36] On September 10, 2009, Harris announced she would seek life in prison without the possibility of parole rather than the death penalty in the Ramos case.[175]

Harris has expressed the belief that life without possibility of parole is a better, and more cost-effective, punishment.[176] According to the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, the death penalty costs $137 million per year.[177] If the system were changed to life without possibility of parole, the annual costs would be approximately $12 million per year.[177] Harris noted that the resulting surplus could put 1,000 more police officers into service in San Francisco alone.[176]

When in 2014, U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney declared capital punishment in California unconstitutional, Harris appealed the case.[9]

Disaster relief

In August 2018, Harris was one of eight senators to sign a letter to the Federal Emergency Management Agency charging the agency with not assisting displaced homeowners in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria under the Individuals and Households (IHP) program at "alarming rates."[178]

Education

Harris and Malala Yousafzai, Pakistani activist for female education and Nobel Prize laureate.

In interviews with Matt Lauer on The Today Show and local KGO-TV, Harris argued for treating "habitual and chronic truancy" among children in elementary school as a crime committed by the parents of truant children. She argues that there is a direct connection between habitual truancy in elementary school and crime later in life.[179][180] She has received the endorsement of the California Federation of Teachers.[51]

Election security

On December 21, 2017, Harris was one of six senators to introduce the "Secure Elections Act", legislation authorizing block grants for states that would update outdated voting technology. The act would also create a program for an independent panel of experts to develop cybersecurity guidelines for election systems that states could adopt if they choose, along with offering states resources to implement the recommendations.[181]

Environment

During her time as San Francisco District Attorney, Harris created the Environmental Justice Unit in the San Francisco District Attorney's Office[182] and prosecuted several industries and individuals for pollution, most notably U-Haul, Alameda Publishing Corporation, and the Cosco Busan oil spill. She also advocated for strong enforcement of environmental protection laws.[183]

In October 2017, Harris was one of nineteen senators to sign a letter to Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt questioning Pruitt's decision to repeal the Clean Power Plan, asserting that the repeal's proposal used "mathematical sleights of hand to over-state the costs of industry compliance with the 2015 Rule and understate the benefits that will be lost if the 2017 repeal is finalized" and science denying and math fabricating would fail to "satisfy the requirements of the law, nor will it slow the increase in frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, the inexorable rise in sea levels, or the other dire effects of global warming that our planet is already experiencing."[184]

In September 2018, Harris was one of eight senators to sponsor the Climate Risk Disclosure Act, a bill described by cosponsor Elizabeth Warren as using "market forces to speed up the transition from fossil fuels to cleaner energy — reducing the odds of an environmental and financial disaster without spending a dime of taxpayer money."[185] Harris stated that her goal would be achieving 100% of U.S. electricity from renewable energy sources, and that she supports a Green New Deal, an idea made popular by first term Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, because "climate change is an existential threat to all of us."[186]

In November 2018, Harris was one of 25 Democratic senators to cosponsor a resolution specifying key findings of the Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change report and National Climate Assessment. The resolution affirmed the senators' acceptance of the findings and their support for bold action toward addressing climate change.[187]

Foreign policy

In April 2017, responding to the Khan Shaykhun chemical attack, Harris charged Syrian president Bashar al-Assad with attacking Syrian children, and stated "the clear fact that president Assad is not only a ruthless dictator brutalizing his own people -- he is a war criminal the international community cannot ignore." She called on president Trump to work with Congress on his administration's "lack of clear objectives in Syria and articulate a detailed strategy and path forward in partnership with our allies."[188]

Harris speaks with Palestinian students at the Al-Quds University in the State of Palestine, West Bank, November 12, 2017

In 2017, Harris gave a public address to AIPAC attendees. She said: "I believe Israel should never be a partisan issue, and as long as I’m a United States senator, I will do everything in my power to ensure broad and bipartisan support for Israel’s security and right to self-defense."[189] She has opposed the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement targeting Israel.[190] Harris was a co-sponsor of a Senate resolution expressing objection to the UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which condemned Israeli settlement building in the occupied Palestinian territories as a violation of international law.[191][192][190] At the AIPAC conference, Harris said that "the first resolution I co-sponsored as a United States senator was to combat anti-Israel bias at the United Nations".[191] She also supported Senate resolution celebrating the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem.[193][194] In late 2017, Harris traveled to Israel, where she met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.[191]

In October 2017, Harris condemned the genocide of the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar and called for a stronger response to the crisis.[195]

In February 2018, Harris was one of 18 Democratic senators to sign a letter to Trump stating that he lacked the authority to launch a preemptive strike against North Korea without authorization from Congress. The letter stated: "Without congressional authority, a preventative or preemptive U.S. military strike would lack either a constitutional basis or legal authority."[196]

In 2018, after Trump announced the United States was withdrawing from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Harris released a statement saying the decision "jeopardizes our national security and isolates us from our closest allies" while calling the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action "the best existing tool we have to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons and avoid a disastrous military conflict in the Middle East."[197] In late 2018, she voted to withdraw U.S. military aid for Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen. Harris also backed a resolution blaming Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman for the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul.[198]

Harris supported the Iran nuclear deal to prevent Iran from acquiring weapons of mass destruction.[190] In December 2018, after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the Trump administration was suspending its obligations in the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in 60 days in the event that Russia continued to violate the treaty, Harris was one of 26 senators to sign a letter expressing concern over the administration "now abandoning generations of bipartisan U.S. leadership around the paired goals of reducing the global role and number of nuclear weapons and ensuring strategic stability with America's nuclear-armed adversaries" and calling on Trump to continue arms negotiations.[199]

Harris voted in favor of a $675 billion defense budget bill for the 2019.[200] Harris said that North Korea is "one of the most serious security threats".[201] In February 2019, after former Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe claimed that President Trump believed the claims of President of Russia Vladimir Putin over U.S. intelligence agencies' reports on the subject of North Korea’s missile capabilities, Harris told reporters, "The idea that the president of the U.S. would take the word of the head of Russia over the intel community is the height of irresponsibility and shameful."[202]

Guns

Harris earned an "F" rating from the National Rifle Association for her consistent efforts supporting gun control.[203] While serving as district attorney in San Francisco, Harris, along with other district attorneys, filed an amicus brief in District of Columbia v. Heller, arguing that the Washington, D.C., gun law at issue did not violate the Second Amendment.[204] In her second term as district attorney, she said that getting guns off the streets was a priority.[205]

During her run for Senate, Harris was endorsed by former U.S. Representative Gabby Giffords, shot in Tucson in 2011. She was also endorsed by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.[206]

In response to the 2017 Las Vegas shooting, Harris supported the call for more gun control. Saying that she believed that thoughts and prayers are inadequate answers to the shooting, she stated that "...we must also commit ourselves to action. Another moment of silence won't suffice."[207][208]

Health care

On August 30, 2017, Harris announced at a town hall in Oakland that she would co-sponsor fellow Senator Bernie Sanders' "Medicare for All" bill, supporting single-payer healthcare.[209][169]

In April 2018, Harris was one of ten senators to sponsor the Choose Medicare Act, an expanded public option for health insurance that also increased ObamaCare subsidies and rendered individuals with higher income levels eligible for its assistance.[210]

In December 2018, Harris was one of 42 senators to sign a letter to Trump administration officials Alex Azar, Seema Verma, and Steve Mnuchin arguing that the administration was improperly using Section 1332 of the Affordable Care Act to authorize states to "increase health care costs for millions of consumers while weakening protections for individuals with pre-existing conditions." The senators requested the administration withdraw the policy and "re-engage with stakeholders, states, and Congress."[211]

Immigration

Meeting with DREAMers in December 2017

Harris has expressed support for San Francisco's sanctuary city policy of not inquiring about immigration status in the process of a criminal investigation.[212] Harris argues that it is important that immigrants be able to talk with law enforcement without fear.[213]

On October 25, 2017, Harris stated she would not support a spending bill until Congress addressed the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in a way that clarified "what we are going to do to protect and take care of our DACA young people in this country."[214] She did not support a February 2018 proposal by some Democrats to provide President Trump with $25 billion in funding for a border wall in exchange for giving DREAMers a pathway to citizenship.[215]

In a January 2018 interview, when asked by Hiram Soto about her ideal version of a bipartisan deal on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, Harris stated the need to focus on comprehensive immigration reform and "pass a clean DREAM Act."[216]

In April 2018, Harris was one of five senators to send a letter to acting director of ICE Thomas Homan on standards used by the agency when determining how to detain a pregnant woman, requesting that pregnant women not be held in custody unless under extraordinary standards after reports "that ICE has failed to provide critical medical care to pregnant women in immigration detention — resulting in miscarriages and other negative health outcomes".[217]

In July 2018, the Trump administration falsely accused Harris of "supporting the animals of MS-13."[218][219] Harris responded, "As a career prosecutor, I actually went after gangs and transnational criminal organizations. That's being a leader on public safety. What is not, is ripping babies from their mothers."[218]

In July 2018, Harris was one of 22 senators to sponsor the Stop Shackling and Detaining Pregnant Women Act, which if enacted would prohibit immigration officers from detaining pregnant women in a majority of circumstances and improve conditions of care for individuals in custody.[220]

In August 2018, Harris led fifteen Democrats and Bernie Sanders in a letter to United States Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen demanding that the Trump administration take immediate action in attempting to reunite 539 migrant children with their families, citing each passing day of inaction as intensifying "trauma that this administration has needlessly caused for children and their families seeking humanitarian protection."[221]

In November 2018, Harris was one of eleven senators to sign a letter to United States Secretary of Defense James Mattis concerning "the overt politicization of the military" with the Trump administration's deployment of 5,800 troops to the U.S.-Mexico border, and requesting a briefing and written justification from the U.S. Northern Command for troop deployment, while urging Mattis to "curb the unprecedented escalation of DOD involvement in immigration enforcement."[222]

In January 2019, Harris was one of twenty senators to sponsor the Dreamer Confidentiality Act, a bill imposing a ban on the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from passing information collected on DACA recipients to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the Department of Justice, or any other law enforcement agency with exceptions in the case of fraudulent claims, national security issues, or non-immigration related felonies being investigated.[223]

LGBT rights

Harris has a record of support for LGBT rights. During her tenure as California Attorney General, she declined to defend the state's ban on same-sex marriage in court. She supported the Obama administration's guidance supporting transgender students. Following the Supreme Court's overturning of the ban on same sex marriage, Harris proceeded to conduct California's first same sex marriage.[224] Later on in 2015, Harris argued in court to withhold gender reassignment surgery from two transgender inmates who were prescribed the procedure while serving the sentences. This stance disappointed some LGBT rights advocates; Harris later argued that she only took that stance in court because her job required her to.[225]

As a member of the U.S. Senate, she co-sponsored the Equality Act.[225]

Net neutrality

In September 2017, Harris was one of nine senators to sign a letter to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai that charged the FCC with failing "to provide stakeholders with an opportunity to comment on the tens of thousands of filed complaints that directly shed light on proposed changes to existing net neutrality protections."[226]

In March 2018, Harris was one of ten senators to sign a letter spearheaded by Jeff Merkley lambasting a proposal from FCC Chairman Ajit Pai that would curb the scope of benefits from the Lifeline program during a period where roughly 6.5 million people in poor communities relied on Lifeline to receive access to high-speed internet, citing that it was Pai's "obligation to the American public, as the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, to improve the Lifeline program and ensure that more Americans can afford access, and have means of access, to broadband and phone service." The senators also advocated for insuring "Lifeline reaches more Americans in need of access to communication services."[227]

Taxes

Harris opposed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, and has called for a repeal of the bill's tax cuts for wealthy Americans.[228] In 2018, she proposed a tax cut for the majority of working- and middle-class Americans. An analysis by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center estimated that the bill would reduce federal revenue by $2.8 trillion over a decade. Harris proposed to pay for the tax cuts by repealing tax cuts for wealthy Americans and by increasing taxes on corporations.[228][229][230]

Campaign finance

Harris in 2017 signing the guestbook at Yad Vashem as her husband looks on

Harris' 2020 campaign disavowed most corporate donations, and has committed to rejecting money from corporate political action committees for her presidential campaign.[169][230] Harris, along with Senators Amy Klobuchar, Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, and Kirsten Gillibrand discourage single-candidate Super PACs from operating on their behalf, though they cannot prevent them from doing so.[231]

Personal life

Harris is married to California attorney Douglas Emhoff,[232] who was at one time partner-in-charge at Venable LLP's Los Angeles office.[233] They married on August 22, 2014, in Santa Barbara, California.[234] Harris's sister is Maya Harris, MSNBC political analyst, and her brother-in-law is Tony West, General Counsel of Uber and a former U.S. Justice Department senior official.[16][17] Harris has no children, but through her marriage has two stepchildren, one in college and one in high school.[235] In the mid-1990s, she dated Speaker of the California State Assembly Willie Brown,[28][236] who appointed her to a job at the California Medical Assistance Commission.[237]

Honorary degrees

LocationDateSchoolDegree
 District of Columbia2012Howard UniversityDoctor of Laws (LL.D) [238]
 CaliforniaMay 15, 2015University of Southern CaliforniaDoctor of Humane Letters (DHL) [239]

Book

  • The Truths We Hold: An American Journey Penguin Press, 2019.[240]

See also

References

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Legal offices
Preceded by
Terence Hallinan
District Attorney of San Francisco
2004–2011
Succeeded by
George Gascón
Preceded by
Jerry Brown
Attorney General of California
2011–2017
Succeeded by
Kathleen Kenealy
Acting
Party political offices
Preceded by
Barbara Boxer
Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator from California
(Class 3)

2016
Most recent
U.S. Senate
Preceded by
Barbara Boxer
U.S. Senator (Class 3) from California
2017–present
Served alongside: Dianne Feinstein
Incumbent
U.S. order of precedence (ceremonial)
Preceded by
Maggie Hassan
United States Senators by seniority
86th
Succeeded by
John N. Kennedy
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