Harris, who joined the Senate four years ago, described herself a “progressive prosecutor” in her previous career, but many lefties have never claimed her as one of their own. That’s largely because of her long and complicated record in law enforcement. As California’s attorney general, a position she held from 2011 to 2017, Harris repeatedly declined to investigate officer-involved shootings. Activists in California also criticized her for not supporting reforms that would have increased police accountability; for championing an anti-truancy law that disproportionately affected parents of color; and for aggressively prosecuting misdemeanors and so-called quality-of-life crimes, such as panhandling and graffiti.
Read: When Kamala was a top cop
More recently, during the 2020 primary, lefties argued that she wasn’t sufficiently committed to progressive reforms. After initially backing Medicare for All and the elimination of private health insurance, for example, Harris walked back those commitments and developed her own health-care plan. “A lot of why she floundered in the primary was that it was unclear where she stood on a number of things,” Waleed Shahid, the communications director for the progressive organization Justice Democrats, told me.
But Harris does have some clear progressive bona fides. A GovTrack analysis showed that she had one of the most liberal voting records of any sitting senator in 2019. She announced her support for the Green New Deal early that year, and this month teamed up with Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York on a bill that would require the federal government to consider the effect of any new environmental legislation on marginalized communities. Throughout the summer, as protests against racism and police brutality erupted in cities across the country, Harris advocated for banning choke holds and no-knock warrants, and called for “reimagining how we do public safety in America.”
The progressives I spoke with don’t really care if those moves were genuine or motivated in part by politics. They just want Harris to make more of them. “Her collaboration with AOC on the Climate Equity Act shows that she can take some fairly left-wing and justice-oriented conversations to the highest office in the land, and that’s a good thing,” NoiseCat said.
Others framed her leftward shift more cynically: “While her penchant for taking positions broadly palatable to the corporate donor class raises concerns about her dedication to progressive principles, her habit of aligning her stance with the prevailing political winds gives us some hope,” the leaders of RootsAction.org and Progressive Democrats of America said in a statement yesterday.
Harris’s potentially pliable ideology, in other words, could prove useful to progressives. It’s also something that she has in common with her running mate. When I asked him to define Harris’s politics, Larry Cohen, the chairman of Our Revolution, the political-action committee spun out of Bernie Sanders’s 2016 campaign, described her the same way one might describe Biden: “a centrist Democrat who has shown willingness in the past to consider progressive ideas.”