This is the first installment of a series called 20 for 20, where the goal is to take a careful look at each of the 2020 candidates for president. First, we’re going to spend some time with California Senator Kamala Harris.
Kamala Harris is one of the biggest names in the Democratic 2020 race. Half-jamaican and half-Indian, Harris was born in Oakland and has spent a majority of her public service career as a prosecutor in California. She served as the District Attorney for San Francisco from 2004 to 2011, Attorney General for the state of California from 2011 to 2016, and has been a Senator since 2016.
While she’s only been in the Senate for a couple years, she’s taken a few stances that separate her from other Democrats in the chamber. Here are the five most notable votes of Senator Harris’ career, and what we can learn from them.
1. Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018
Passed Senate with a vote of (71–28), signed into law February 2018
The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 was a budget agreement that was signed into law February of 2018, funding the government for about six weeks. The bill included a combination of liberal and conservative accomplishments. At the risk of oversimplifying each parties priorities, I’ll add an “R” or a “D” to note whether the provision might be considered a Republican or Democratic concession.
- The bill assigned $90 billion of dollars for disaster relief for Puerto Rico, Florida, and the U.S. Virgin islands impacted by Hurricanes Maria and Irma — as well as for victims of California Wildfires. [D]
- Extended funding for CHIP Children’s Health insurance for 4 years into 2027
- Suspended the debt ceiling for another year [neither]
- Eliminated a Medicare cost-reduction committee known as the Independent Payment Advisory Board. This was also known as the famous “death panels” created by the Affordable Care Act. [R]
- Increased the spending cap for military spending by 15 percent. For context, the White House’s proposed budget for that year asked for a 10% increase. [R]
Harris was one of 28 Senators to vote no for this bill, including: 16 Republicans such as Jeff Flake, Rand Paul, Bob Corker, Mike Lee and Democrats Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Bernie Sanders. The primary reason for the no vote from these Democratic Senators was the lack of a provision to protect Dreamers.
This election season, pay just as much attention to the Democrats who are not running for president. What they do will be just as important.
Harris’ decision not to support this bill was particularly surprising to the Democratic caucus, where apparently there were audible gasps in the chamber when she cast her no vote. Accusations of 2020 posturing could be heard from anonymous staffers. Harris’ spokeswoman Lily Adams said the following about her vote: “Sen. Harris voted her conscience on an issue she’s worked on for years, and that impacts California more than any other state in the country. Dreamers have been and remain her №1 priority.”
2. FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act of 2017
Passed the Senate (65–34), signed into law January 2018
This bill renewed the controversial Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Section 702 gives U.S. Intelligence Agencies like the CIA and NSA the authority to target the emails of foreign individuals who these agencies believe to be connected to terrorist threats. However, in the process of gathering this foreign surveillance, agencies are also often able to incidentally gain access to the email accounts of Americans, which some say is a privacy violation protected by the Fourth Amendment.
Once again, Harris was joined in the “nay” column by a majority of her fellow 2020 nominees in the Senate: Sanders, Booker, Gillibrand, Warren, and Sherrod Brown of Ohio. Presidential Nominee Amy Klobuchar, Senate Leader Chuck Schumer, and former Vice-Presidential Nominee Tim Kaine all voted yes.
3. Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018
Passed the Senate (65–32), signed into law March 2018
This bill was the budget agreement to fund the government for the rest of the 2018 fiscal year, picking up where the Bipartisan Budget Act left off. It featured an increase in defense spending as well domestic programs. Once again, this bill did nothing to address the issue of DACA recipients, and it was almost vetoed by President Trump because it did not provide enough funding for his wall, although it did allocate $1.6 billion for fencing.
What’s most interesting about Harris here is that she and Doug Jones of Alabama successfully lobbied for a 14% increase in funding for historically black colleges and universities. However, Harris still voted no on the bill, while Doug Jones voted yes.
4. National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019
Passed the Senate (87–10), signed into law August 2018
This bill approved $717 billion in defense spending for 2019, a number that is roughly inline with previous years’ numbers with an increase about the level of inflation. Harris was only one of ten no votes on both sides of the aisle. She was joined by Dianne Feinstein (the other Californian Senator), Warren, Gillibrand, Sanders, as well as Republicans Mike Lee and Marco Rubio. Senators Sherrod Brown and Cory Booker voted yes.
5. Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act of 2019.
Passed the Senate (77–23) in February 2019, has to receive a vote in the House
This was the first bill passed by the Senate in the 2019 congressional term. Sponsored by former presidential nominee Marco Rubio, this act would reauthorize a defense agreement with the nation of Jordan. It would also impose sanctions on the Syrian government for their humanitarian violations.
Perhaps most controversially, the bill would make it easier for local governments to refuse to work with companies that boycott Israel. Civil liberties group like the ACLU believe this last set of provisions infringe on the rights of private individuals to decide for themselves who they can do business with without punishment from the government.
Roughly half the Democrats in the caucus voted yes for this bill including Chuck Schumer, Tammy Duckworth, Sheldon Whitehouse, and Amy Klobuchar. Harris and most of her fellow presidential contenders voted no, with Rand Paul being the only Republican to vote no.
Making Sense of The Harris Votes
Okay so, what can we take away from all these votes? Well, there are a few ways in which Harris’s opposition differs from the typical Democrat. Her unwillingness to support the Bipartisan Budget Act despite clear pressure from leadership to do so was an especially powerful stance for Dreamers, especially considering that the bill also provided wildfire relief for her home state of California.
Also keep in mind that Harris has been in DC for a few years less than the other Senators running for president — Warren & Booker were elected to the Senate in 2013, Gillibrand in 2009, Sanders, Brown, and Klobuchar in 2007. And still, Harris, who was elected in 2016, has been relatively quick to break from the party when necessary. Perhaps this comes from the fact that despite her newness in Washington, Harris is well experienced in national politics through her work as prosecutor.
While it may be too early to tell, it would be interesting to see how Harris’s campaign would handle having a lack of party support, especially for being a frontrunner. One thing that is under-discussed about Hillary Clinton’s path to the nomination is how her years of collaborative work— as first lady, senator, and secretary of state — all lead to a seemingly effortless hold over superdelegates and endorsements at large. Clinton’s nomination was set in stone not by the quality of her 2-year campaign, but by the relationship building that happened in the decades prior.
So, as we make our way backwards from Harris work as a senator to her time as a prosecutor, here is one takeaway to think about: this election season, pay just as much attention to the Democrats who are not running for president. In a crowded primary with no single frontrunner, the players on the outside looking in will end up shaping a lot more than you think.
In our current political climate, people spend way too much time giving hot takes about who is likeable or stupid, and spend too little time focused on the actual ideas our politicians will try to change the world with. 20 for 20 is your personal, policy based breakdown of the 2020 presidential candidates.