The junior Senator from California, Kamala Harris had made headlines for more than a decade. She was the first woman appointed District Attorney of San Francisco, the first female and first non-white lawyer elected to the office of Attorney General in California, and the second black woman ever elected to the Senate. If it is possible to go too far with praise, President Barack Obama once had to apologize for calling her good-looking. Elected on the same day Hillary Clinton failed to shatter the presidential glass ceiling, the Sentor has been deemed “the center of the resistance” against President Donald Trump. And this week, during Jeff Sessions’ testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, she was criticized for being too good at her job.
The Washington Post‘s Katie Mettler summed up the situation well:
To those who have observed hearings on Capitol Hill, especially high-visibility televised hearings involving partisan subjects, there has been little or nothing unusual about Harris’s behavior. Members get a small amount of time to ask questions and make their points. Unfriendly witnesses are inclined to string out their answers and let the clock run.
The result, one side rushing, the other stalling, is never pretty. The phrase, “just give me a yes or no answer,” is so often heard it ought to be engraved on the Capitol portico.
But twice now, Harris has been interrupted and chastised by male senators for her style of questioning during the hearings.
For more on the phenomenon of men interrupting women, check out Susan Chira in the New York Times (and this New York Times story, about Uber of course, which notes studies that show men talk far more than women do in meetings).
For more on Harris, here is a reading list with a few deep cuts, including a decade-old profile of the now-Senator as a rising star.
Reston managed to artfully profile Harris without interviewing her, doggedly following her around to public events, highlight comments made in other interviews and seeking insight from Washington insiders.
“I was raised to do,” Harris replied. “I was raised that you do, you don’t talk about yourself, you just do. You don’t talk about it after you’ve done it; you just do the next thing…. I would prefer to talk about what needs to get done, versus talk about myself.”
This short, sweet profile from a local outlet in India is a worthwhile and endearing read.
Recalling Ms. Harris’ childhood when she used to frequently visit her grandfather’s house in Besant Nagar, her aunt said, “Even as a child, she was very kind. She could not bear to see anyone cry. She always wanted to go out there and do a few things.”
Ms. Harris retained the close bond with her grandfather, often writing long letters to him about cases, especially involving Indians, when she became an attorney.
3. “Kamala Harris, a ‘Top Cop’ in the Era of Black Lives Matter” (Emily Bazelon, The New York Times Magazine, May 2016)
Profiles of Harris over the course of the last decade are fairly consistent in their representations of her as both smart and warm, but as she is increasingly framed as the antidote to Donald Trump, insinuations slip in about whether she has what it takes to win. Bazelon’s profile offers a lot of lovely personal insights and anecdotes, but the most interesting parts show Harris as a savvy, driven, and strategic politician who picks battles and wins them handily.
Her closest rival, Representative Loretta Sanchez, pointedly told an audience in January, “I think we need a Latina in the U.S. Senate.” As of that month, Harris had raised far more money than Sanchez and had racked up endorsements from unions and other power brokers, but she was well aware that in a state that is 40 percent Hispanic, she still needed the blessing of Latino leaders.
Now her aide had spotted one in the crowd: Jimmy Gomez, a Democratic state assemblyman from northeast Los Angeles. Heading into the scrum, Harris looked over her shoulder at me with a conspiratorial smile. “Here comes the strong-arming,” she said. “I’m going to be shameless.” She strode up to Gomez, did the forearm clasp and, brisk and direct, asked Gomez to endorse her for Senate. Gomez, a youthful 41-year-old who is a son of Mexican immigrants, seemed a bit taken aback. He mentioned a bill he was sponsoring to ease the financial burden on low-income workers of taking family leave, which was stalled. “Let’s work on it,” Harris said. “Do you have stories of the people who are affected? You need to tell their stories.” Gomez nodded intently.
There are many fun revelations in this 2009 Q&A with Harris, including the fact that the first time anyone asked how to pronounce her name was apparently in 2009 (unless she was being sarcastic).
Q: Who do you live with?
A: Me, myself and I.
Q: Have you ever been married?
A: Not officially.
A: A saying my mother had, “You may be the first, but make sure you’re not the last.”
5. “District Attorney Kamala Harris on working for Jesse Jackson, Barack Obama, and where to get really good Indian food in the city” (Steve Kaplan, Super Lawyers, August 2010)
A random, but fun Q&A with the then-District Attorney, with nice insights into her day-to-day life.
Do you speak any Indian language?
Let me tell you something about the Indian language. I know all the words of love and all the words of dissension and frustration. All the words of strong feelings, one way or the other. When my mother couldn’t come up with any other word, that’s what it was.
One of the earliest profiles of Harris also happens to be beautifully written and full of incredible anecdotes.
The first time I meet Kamala Harris, she’s trying to convince a roomful of low-level drug dealers that they should get themselves to the gym. “I have a job that’s just crazy,” she tells the crowd of 100 or so young men and women, sounding more like a motivational speaker than the city’s chief law enforcement official. It’s the kind of responsibility she can never, ever put aside. “I get calls day and night,” she says. “That’s a lot of stress.”
What helps her cope, she continues, is hopping on the treadmill every morning. She has to wake up early to fit in a workout, and there are plenty of times she’s tempted to skip it, but once she’s at the gym she never regrets it. She used to watch CNN while exercising, but now she’s decided, “My life is like the news, and I don’t need to watch the news. So I watch MTV and VH1. I know every song!”
“It’s about just being happy and healthy and figuring out ways to cope,” she adds, earnest and slightly goofy, aware that this gym idea is a tough sell to this crowd, even though she’s wrangled them free monthlong passes to 24 Hour Fitness. What her listeners care most about is finding a job with a real future that pays better than selling crack. But she wants them to think about broader issues, like the importance of taking care of their bodies and figuring out ways to feel better that don’t involve booze or drugs. I can’t imagine Hallinan or Gavin Newsom, Nancy Pelosi or Dianne Feinstein, talking like this to a crowd of young, mostly male, mostly black and Latino dope dealers. Harris isn’t lecturing them; she’s trying to connect.
This SF Weekly exposé poked holes in then D.A. Harris’ campaign claims while in pursuit of the Attorney General post, with interesting analysis of potentially politically-motivated efforts by a liberal wanting to seem “tough on crime.”
Harris declined repeated requests for an interview through her spokesman, Brian Buckelew. Asked about the recent spate of unsuccessful cases, Buckelew said the past year and a half is an insufficient amount of time to look at when asserting trends in the office’s performance, and that trials represent a small slice — only 2 to 3 percent — of the thousands of felony cases handled annually. The failed trial prosecutions, he said, were “cases we believed in, and still believe in, but sometimes they don’t work out the way we had hoped. But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have been brought to trial in the first place.”
Before Harris was the anti-Trump, she was the anti-Palin. Smith’s profile offers a nice glimpse of the Senator seven years ago, and is a prime example of the consistency to be found in profiles of her.
But like Obama, Harris has sought to avoid being tied to Democratic orthodoxy. Her “ Smart on Crime” approach in San Francisco included cracking down on truancy — including charging the parents of chronically truant children with a misdemeanor punishable by jail time and a fine. Civil libertarians and conservatives alike raised questions about the move, but Harris was unapologetic.
“My staff went bananas” at the policy, Harris said, as did school administrators. Citing statistics linking crime and truancy, she argues that she’s nipping a problem in the bud.
“My bottom line is these children have to be in school,” she said.
“There will be outrage when in 10 years they’re a menace to society hanging out on the corner.”