WINDSOR TERRACE — Kamala Harris, who was named last week by Joe Biden as his pick for vice president, is a staunch champion of abortion but she also opposes capital punishment. With such contrasts, voters on Nov. 3 may turn to Harris’s record on many issues to decide if they feel she’s qualified to hold the second-highest office in the land.
Brian Browne, professor of political science at St. John’s University, assessed Harris just hours before the start of the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee.
Harris was a prosecutor in San Francisco who also served as California’s attorney general before her election to the U.S. Senate in 2016. Browne said she “had a pretty good relationship with law enforcement” while fighting gang activity, sex trafficking, and other crimes in California.
In January 2019, Harris announced her candidacy for president and even clashed with Biden on some issues. Browne said her tough-on-crime image became “not so much part of her personal story.” Instead, she emphasized support for more progressive platforms, like an endorsement of the Green New Deal but by December 2019, fundraising had dwindled, so Harris left the primary race.
Browne noted, however, that her campaign positions on immigration reform, aid to refugees, and poverty, are in step with Democrat platforms and closely align with the (U.S.) Conference of Catholic Bishops “but some issues are non-negotiable, like abortion and the sanctity of marriage.”
Another stickler might be a perception among advocates of religious freedom who claim Harris has been openly hostile to their beliefs.
Browne recalled the 2018 Senate confirmation hearing of Brian Buescher, who went on to become a U.S. District Judge in Nebraska. Harris made headlines when she questioned Buescher’s membership in the Knights of Columbus, the Catholic fraternal organization. She called the group “an all-male society comprised primarily of Catholic men” who oppose abortion and same-sex marriage.
Consequently, Harris herself was criticized by some senators who said she shamefully applied a religious test into the process.
“I think that demonstrated she had a limited understanding of the Knights of Columbus as a religious organization,” Browne said. “A simple Google search would’ve set her straight on that.
“But we just don’t have religious tests in this country, and I think that gave a lot of people pause.”
Religious advocates also point to Harris’s efforts last year to reintroduce the “Do No Harm Act” as an amendment to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) of 1993.
Harris, in February 2019, said RFRA was originally passed to protect the rights of religious minorities. But since then, she claimed, a few states passed similar religious freedom laws.
She said the some of the state laws “have been used to defend employment discrimination against LGBTQ individuals, deny health care coverage for employees, claim exemptions to civil rights law, and complicate justice in child labor and abuse cases.”
She said the Do No Harm amendment, awaiting debate in Congress, would prevent civil and legal rights violations.
However, critics say it would force business owners to provide a wide range of contraceptives as part of their health care plans even if it contradicts their religious convictions.
Browne said this election might become less about social issues and more about President Donald Trump’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is unknown if a Biden-Harris ticket will do any shifting on issues to lure swing votes from incumbent Trump but Browne noted that Harris already did some pivoting to shore up progressive support during her year-long presidential campaign, proving she could be “malleable.”
“So now,” Browne said, “she almost has to reintroduce herself to all the voters and this convention gives her the opportunity to do that. Not many people get a second chance in politics.”
Here are some of Harris’s positions on key issues.
As the junior senator for California, Harris has not wavered from the pro-choice platform that helped her get elected in 2016. In June, for example, Harris praised a Supreme Court ruling that overturned a Louisiana law. The law would have required abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at state-authorized hospitals within 30 miles of an abortion clinic.
Alexis McGill-Johnson, president of Planned Parenthood, praised Harris’s candidacy for vice president.
“With this selection, Joe Biden has made it clear that he is deeply committed to not only protecting reproductive rights but also advancing and expanding them,” she said.
Conversely, the National Right to Life Committee said Harris has a “zero percent” pro-life voting record.
“Joe Biden could not have picked a more extreme pro-abortion running mate,” said Carol Tobias, president of the committee. “Sadly, both Joe Biden and Kamala Harris see the lives of precious unborn babies as expendable.”
In April, Harris demanded an investigation to learn whether “political expediency rather than the country’s urgent public health needs have driven the Trump Administration’s distribution of life-saving medical supplies and equipment.”
She has also expressed concerns about the potential for the COVID-19 disease to race through prisons, federal immigration holding centers at the border, and military installations.
Crimes, Guns and Policing
Harris has supported some gun-control measures, including a law that would ban firearms for people with misdemeanor hate crime convictions in their records.
Harris also believes drug crimes should draw a “war on addiction” and less focus on pursuing high-level traffickers and low-level street dealers. She also supports the legalization of marijuana.
Harris joined nationwide outrage over the death last May of an African-American man while in the custody of Minneapolis police. She is a Senate co-sponsor of the “George Floyd Justice in Police Act.” In part, this law would set a national standard for the use of force and a mechanism to report police misconduct to the U.S. Department of Justice.
The bill passed the House with bipartisan support in June but stalled in the Senate.
Harris warned that further delay would be a disservice “to the memory of George Floyd and the countless other Black Americans killed by law enforcement.”
Harris has been on both sides of capital punishment; she eschewed it as a state prosecutor in San Francisco. Later, as attorney general, she chose not to support efforts to abolish it in California. However, as a U.S. senator, she said executions are “discriminatory, irreversible, ineffective, and a gross misuse of taxpayer dollars.”
“There must be swift and serious consequences for those who murder another human being, but the death penalty will not make our country safer,” Harris said in 2019.
Harris believes global warming is real and dangerous. Last year, she supported the “Green New Deal,” development of zero-emission vehicles, and a ban on Arctic drilling.
In July, Harris announced her co-sponsorship of the “Environmental Justice for All Act,” to reverse pollution that harms “underserved communities and communities of color.” Such pollution makes these areas unfit for economic development.
“Confronting generations of systemic racism to achieve true justice will require us to recognize the role of environmental racism,” Harris said.
Throughout her time in the Senate, Harris had defended and promoted the Affordable Care Act. Biden, a former Senator from Delaware, helped create the ACA when he was the vice president in the Obama Administration.
In July, she co-sponsored a resolution declaring “racism (is) a public health crisis.” Harris said the COVID-19 pandemic has caused “a public health crisis that is disproportionately impacting people of color.” She added, “This is, in part, due to long-standing barriers to care that are rooted in generations of systemic racism.”
The resolution calls for “concrete action” to stop “inequity across all sectors of society.”
Harris’s record on immigration includes calls to stop Trump Administration travel bans. She also opposes the separation of family members stopped at the border and the detaining of unattended children or pregnant women at the border.
She also favors enhanced support for people covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Act and the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act.
National Defense and Foreign Affairs
Harris has stated support for U.S. service members, their families, and veterans. Additionally, Harris has acknowledged potential dangers from Russia, China, and North Korea and voiced support for Israel’s right to defend itself.