Republican strategists have struggled to agree on a line of attack against Kamala Harris, Joe Biden’s running mate on the Democratic presidential ticket, branding her both a “radical leftist” and not progressive enough. We take a look at where she stands on the key issues as she prepares to square off with Vice President Mike Pence in their only debate on Wednesday.
California’s junior senator and former attorney general, Harris, 55, is the first Black woman to appear on a major party’s presidential ticket. Democrats are hoping that her Jamaican and Indian heritage might energise a broad spectrum of voters – including people of colour, women and immigrants – to turn out for Biden.
Harris fell on the centre of the spectrum of left-leaning candidates for the 2020 Democratic nomination. She said she wanted to keep an option for private health insurance on the table while her left-of-centre rivals, Senator Bernie Sanders and Senator Elizabeth Warren, pushed for a government-run system. She said she regretted that a 2011 California anti-truancy law she had supported later led to the arrests of parents whose children had missed school; she announced support for independent probes into police misconduct, a position she opposed as a Senate candidate in 2016.
Harris’s past record as a prosecutor and in the Senate are coming under particular scrutiny as she runs alongside Biden, who at 77 would become the oldest US president ever sworn into office if he wins in November.
FRANCE 24 takes a look at where Senator Harris stands on the issues.
Policing and criminal justice reform
Harris cites her experience as a California prosecutor to support her ability to pursue criminal justice reform. Her 2020 presidential campaign website outlines her intent to end the mass incarceration of Americans and particularly Black Americans, and begin a shift from policies that punish drug use by legalising cannabis and expunging prior marijuana convictions. Her website also said she planned to end mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes, eliminate private prisons and detention centres, and open a Bureau of Children and Family Justice that would protect the civil rights of minors in the justice system.
Four days after George Floyd died while being detained by police, Senator Harris issued a statement calling the deaths of Black Americans in encounters with police and would-be vigilantes “the result of broader systematic racism". She co-introduced the Justice in Policing Act of 2020 to train police to eschew racial profiling and ban the federal use of chokeholds and no-knock warrants, which allow police to enter suspects’ homes without first announcing their presence. The act would also create a national registry to ensure that officers who are fired for misconduct cannot join police departments in other jurisdictions.
But Harris’s record as a “reformer” when she served as California’s attorney general and San Francisco district attorney is the subject of debate. She turned down requests as attorney general to investigate police shootings in San Francisco in 2014 but supported a Department of Justice probe there in 2016, the New York Times reported. When police unions spoke out to prevent public access to disciplinary hearings in 2007, she also held her tongue, the Times reported.
Climate change and the environment
Harris issued a statement in 2019 describing herself as a “proud co-sponsor” of Democratic Senate colleague Ed Markey’s Green New Deal resolution, proponents of which say it would fight global warming while creating millions of jobs and helping communities that have borne the brunt of pollution.
International environmental nonprofit Greenpeace noted that Harris introduced the Climate Equity Act in 2019, which would ensure that environmental measures are evaluated for their effect on poorer communities, and would create an Office of Climate and Environmental Justice Accountability. Harris said in a June debate while running for president that she would rejoin the Paris Agreement to fight climate change “on day one” should she win.
Harris criticised Chevron’s plans to expand an oil refinery in the San Francisco Bay Area as California attorney general and supported a group of 17 state attorneys general, AGs United for Clean Power, that was established to pressure fossil fuel companies to stop misrepresenting climate science.
Greenpeace gave Harris a B+ on its #Climate2020 presidential scorecard, the same grade (with a slightly higher numeric score) it gave Biden.
Senator Harris published an essay on Medium last July explaining her support for Medicare for All – a policy that would extend the federal health insurance now available only to those above age 65, with disabilities or with kidney disease to all Americans. Harris wrote she would examine prescription drug costs to bring them into line with foreign prices, and create “a comprehensive maternal health programme to dramatically reduce deaths” among women and infants of colour. She proposed phasing in this system over 10 years and allowing private insurers to continue offering plans, provided they were in line with federal rules.
In 2019 Harris unveiled a plan that would require states with a history of seeking to restrict abortion rights to obtain federal approval before any such law took effect, citing a new Alabama law that allows doctors performing abortions to be sentenced to up to 99 years in prison.
“We cannot tolerate a perspective that is about going backward and not understanding women have agency, women have value, women have authority to make decisions about their own lives and their own bodies,” she said in an interview with MSNBC.
Harris proposed on her campaign website that gun sellers who sell five or more firearms per year carry out background checks on all buyers and supported banning the import of AR-15-style assault weapons that perpetrators have used in at least five recent US mass shootings, including the 2018 murder of 17 people at a high school in Parkland, Florida. She also wants the US Congress to repeal the Protection of Commerce in Arms Act, a 2005 law that keeps law-violating gun manufacturers and sellers from being held accountable for gun violence. Harris said during her presidential campaign that, if elected, she would punish and fine gunmakers and vendors for “willful and serious” violations of US and state law, including making assault weapons attractive to children via video games. She has also proposed allocating money collected from fines for mental health treatment and local “violence intervention” programmes.
Harris supports the passage of the Equality Act, legislation that would expand landmark civil rights laws including the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Fair Housing Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected categories. She co-introduced the Census Equality Act, which would have allowed LGBTQ people to identify as such when responding to the 2020 US Census but the bill did not advance for a Senate vote. Harris has cited her creation of one of the nation’s early LGBTQ hate crimes units as San Francisco DA, and her opposition to the legal idea of “panic defence” used by alleged perpetrators of hate crimes against LGBTQ people as California AG. She also declined to enforce a ban on same-sex marriage that California voters approved on a 2008 referendum while serving as AG, a stance she took several years before a Supreme Court ruling made same-sex marriage legal throughout the US.
The president of LGBTQ rights organisation Human Rights Campaign, Alphonso David, called Harris “an exceptional choice” for VP.
Income inequality and the economy
In 2018 Senator Harris announced a proposal called the LIFT (Livable Incomes for Families Today) the Middle Class Act, which would give tax credits to families earning less than $100,000 and single people earning less than $50,000; her campaign website cited a study that said more than half of American households could not cover an unforeseen $500 expense. She has also supported a tax credit for tenants whose rent and utility bills exceed 30 percent of their gross income.
Harris has called for $100 billion to help potential homeowners in communities in which government agencies and banks once systemically refused home loans to Blacks and other minorities, an illegal practice known as redlining. She has also called for a $60 billion investment in science and technology education at institutions of higher learning that have historically served minority students.
Harris has argued that investing a total of $1 trillion in infrastructure would create more than 15 million jobs.
During her presidential run, she proposed spending $385 billion on repairing and upgrading public transportation networks such as roads and rails, and $250 billion on safe drinking water infrastructure, citing a report that noted racially and ethnically diverse US communities had lower-quality drinking water.
“What happened to the people of Flint, Michigan was unbelievable,” Harris tweeted in March 2018, referring to the majority-Black city where a 2014 government decision to save money by sourcing drinking water from a local river led to unsafe lead levels, complaints of hair loss and rashes, and an increase in miscarriages and fetal deaths.
“A shocking example of government irresponsibility and systemic racism,” Harris wrote. “Nearly four years later, we cannot forget about them.”