The field of 2020 presidential candidates is growing by the week, but no one has declared their intention to take on President Trump with more gusto than Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA). The former prosecutor held a rousing kickoff event in front of 20,000 supporters in her native Oakland on Sunday. A day later, she gave a master class on how to conduct a town hall, fielding questions with aplomb and empathy at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.
But there’s going to be more to landing the Democratic nomination — and ultimately, defeating Trump — than appearing presidential. On Monday night, Harris staked out positions on several key issues that figure to shape the debate around which candidate Democratic voters should choose to represent the party two years from now and, possibly, for four-to-eight years after that.
“I’m not going to vote for a wall under any circumstances.” Kamala Harris says she won’t support funding for what she calls Trump’s “medieval vanity project,” even in exchange for funding for permanent protections for DACA recipients. #HarrisTownHall https://t.co/0EMGUsz45T pic.twitter.com/jAjL8l5nwP
— CNN (@CNN) January 29, 2019
There was a point last year when Democrats agreed to provide funding for a wall along the southern border in exchange for protection to recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program introduced by President Obama. Harris doesn’t see this as a fair exchange. “Let me be clear, I’m not going to vote for a wall under any circumstances,” she said.
“We promised [DACA recipients], and it is in writing, that if you give us this information about who you are we will not share it will ICE and we will not use it as a basis for deporting you,” Harris explained. “We promised you that. Then this administration came in and broke that promise.” She added that the lives of DACA recipients shouldn’t be traded “for the sake of the political games that this president is playing in trying to vilify young people like you who are doing nothing except being productive and believing in and living the American dream.”
Senator @KamalaHarris on ending gun violence: "You can be in favor of the 2nd Amendment and also understand there is no reason in a civil society that we have assault weapons around communities that can kill babies and police officers." #CNNTownHall pic.twitter.com/ZRvEkj494x
— Josh Campbell (@joshscampbell) January 29, 2019
“We have got to have smart gun safety laws in this country,” Harris said when asked what she would do to curb gun violence. “We’ve got to stop buying this false choice. You can be in favor of the Second Amendment and also understand that there is no reason in a civil society that we have assault weapons around communities that can kill babies and police officers.”
Health care will be a core issue in the Democratic primary, and it’s going to be difficult for a candidate to advocate for anything other than universal coverage or a single-payer system, especially considering that the vast majority of Americans support Medicare-for-All. So does Harris. “Access to health care should not be thought of as a privilege, it should be understood to be a right,” she said. “It should be understood to be something that all people can be entitled to, so they can live a productive life, so they can have dignity.”
I feel strongly about this — we need to have Medicare for All. pic.twitter.com/snZeyYruCq
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) January 29, 2019
When Tapper followed up and asked her if this means eliminating privatized health care, Harris said it does.
Harris announced on Monday that she supports the Green New Deal, an ambitious plan to combat the effects of climate change popularized by young progressives like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. “I support a Green New Deal and I will tell you why: climate change is an existential threat and we have got to deal with the reality of it,” Harris said. “We have got to deal with the reality of the fact that there are people trying to peddle some ideas that we should deny it. They are peddling science fiction instead of what we should do, which is rely on science fact.”
I support a Green New Deal. Climate change is an existential threat to all of us, and we have got to deal with the reality of it.
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) January 29, 2019
Harris didn’t, however, offer any specifics. Nor, for that matter, does the Green New Deal, which at this point is more of a nebulous promise to invest in clean energy and reduce carbon emissions. Shortly before Harris announced her support for the Green New Deal, President Trump cited cold temperatures in the Midwest as proof that climate change is a hoax.
In the beautiful Midwest, windchill temperatures are reaching minus 60 degrees, the coldest ever recorded. In coming days, expected to get even colder. People can’t last outside even for minutes. What the hell is going on with Global Waming? Please come back fast, we need you!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 29, 2019
When asked about taking on the president, Harris raised the issue of leadership. “It’s very important that anyone who presents themselves as a leader, and wants to be a leader, will speak like a leader, and that means speaking with integrity, speaking the truth,” she said. “And speaking in a way that expresses and indicates some level of interest and concern in people other than one’s self.”
There was nothing radical about the sentiments Harris expressed on Monday — advocating for gun control, endorsing legislation to stem the effects of climate change and supporting a single-payer health care system are all going to be baseline positions for Democrats in 2020 — and her candidacy isn’t without its issues. Harris has stopped short of calling for a tax on the wealthy similar to Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s proposed “ultra-millionaire” tax, which would include a two-percent tax on Americans with a net worth of over $50 million and a three-percent tax on those with a net worth above $1 billion.
As Rolling Stone‘s Jamil Smith wrote on Monday, questions have also been raised about her approach toward law enforcement. “Critics allege that her past support of harsh state truancy laws and prosecution of sex workers means that she has been part of the machine of mass incarceration that disproportionately targets black and Hispanic people — and that she didn’t do enough to reform the system when she had a chance, wrote Smith.
For now, though, Harris certainly looks to be a key contender, and not only has she held the top spot on Rolling Stone‘s 2020 Democratic Primary Leaderboard since it debuted last month, a Washington Post-ABC poll released Tuesday found that 8 percent of Democrats would vote for her in a 2020 primary, trailing only Joe Biden (9 percent).
Plenty can happen in a year, though. The same poll found that 56 percent of Democrats don’t yet have a preference.