Kamala Harris

Opinion writer Caleb Powell argues that Kamala Harris could hurt Joe Biden come the election in November.

Over a year ago, Senator Kamala Harris described herself as “obviously a top-tier candidate” in the 2020 Democratic Presidential Primary. That top-tier candidate then ran out of money and dropped out of the race before 2019 ended. I thought Harris would drop off the radar for a while, so I was stunned when Joe Biden announced her as his running mate. However, she helped Biden raise $26 million in the 24 hours after the latter’s announcement and appears to be a strong vice presidential pick. Still, Harris has a checkered history as a prosecutor that may undermine the Biden campaign.

Harris has fashioned herself as a “progressive prosecutor,” but her past decisions as an attorney spell trouble for November. As San Francisco's District Attorney in 2010, Harris concealed information about a lab technician who sabotaged the drug analysis unit. A memo indicated that Harris’s office knew about the technician’s misconduct yet failed to notify defense lawyers, resulting in over 600 cases being dismissed. This scandal implies Harris has a history of corruption, something that opponents could weaponize to reduce Biden’s support.

As California’s Attorney General, Harris refused to prosecute then-CEO Steve Mnuchin when his company, OneWest Bank, was accused of misconduct when foreclosing on homes in 2012. Although Harris secured a $25 million settlement for homeowners in California, she ignored the state Department of Justice’s recommendation to prosecute Mnuchin. He then donated $2,000 to her 2016 senate campaign. Although Harris voted against Mnuchin’s confirmation as the Treasury Secretary, her refusal to prosecute him against her office’s recommendation is problematic.

More concerning to the left than Harris’ corruption is her willingness to flip on several issues. For example, Harris said she would never seek the death penalty as San Fransisco’s District Attorney. Strangely, she opposed a Californian court’s 2014 ruling that the death penalty was unconstitutional. Harris stated abolishing capital punishment in the state, “undermines important protections our court provides to defendants.” I’m not sure how ending a defendant’s life protects them, and it seems strange that someone who is arguing for a federal moratorium on the death penalty was so eager to defend it. 

For progressives, however, Harris’s hypocrisy on healthcare overshadows her record with capital punishment.

In the span of a few months, Harris shifted from supporting the abolishment of the private healthcare industry to proposing her own plan – even after signing on to Bernie Sanders’ Medicare For All bill. As such, the Biden campaign will have a harder time securing progressive vote in November.

Most significant is Harris’ record on criminal justice reform. Protesters and rioters still take to the streets to demand change, but they will not find a champion in Harris. She has a history of opposing popular law enforcement reform.

When pushed to support state-mandated police body cameras, Harris declined, instead arguing that localities are better equipped to implement those policies. While I agree municipalities should implement new reforms, the state can still require all cities to change their law enforcement policies.

Harris also opposed legislation requiring her office to conduct independent investigations for lethal police shootings even as skepticism around local prosecutors’ impartiality grew. Around the same time, 79 percent of Americans supported outside law enforcement agencies investigating police misconduct. As a result, the progressive base in the Democratic party may be more hesitant to support Harris.

However, 84 percent of Democrats and 44 percent of independents approve of Biden’s choice – perhaps Harris can unite the base long enough to win the White House in November.

It is entirely possible that Biden will still win the election. Still, the Trump campaign can use Harris’ history of corruption, hypocrisy and opposition to criminal justice reform to suppress the left-leaning Democratic base or undecided independents. The potential of being the first female, Black and Asian-American vice president may not be enough for Harris to escape her past.

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