The legislative record of Kamala Harris shows a loyal Democrat and Trump counterpuncher
Californian has voted with fellow Democrats 99 percent of the time
Kamala Harris’ arrival in the Senate coincided with the start of the Trump administration in 2017, and the Democratic vice presidential candidate’s legislative record shows her to be a reliable soldier of the opposition party.
Because of that reality, there’s been limited opportunity for crossover voting for Joe Biden’s choice of running mate, but that doesn’t mean there’s been none. Her party unity score, calculated by CQ Roll Call as the percentage of votes cast in which a lawmaker votes the same way as a majority of the members of their caucus, is north of 99 percent.
Notable times that she has dissented with the party include her 2019 vote against a Middle East security package that warned against “precipitous withdrawal” of U.S. military forces in Syria and Afghanistan. She was one of 22 Democratic caucus members to cast a no vote.
She was one of eight Democrats this past January to vote against the passage of a trade agreement between the United States, Mexico and Canada that would replace the North American Free-Trade Agreement.
On votes in which President Donald Trump clearly articulated a position — mainly nominations to executive branch positions and the federal bench — she has voted with the president just about 16 percent of the time.
Harris has introduced and cosponsored an assortment of legislation, and her own presidential campaign had policy blueprints of its own, some of which may point in the direction she may attempt to pull the campaign of Democratic presidential nominee-in-waiting Biden.
Harris went back and forth on her support for “Medicare for All” last year during her presidential run, which was a key policy debate throughout the Democratic primary.
While she said she supported the policy and remains a co-sponsor of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ single-payer bill (S 1129), she put forward a plan that envisioned a 10-year transition to “Medicare for All” and allowed consumers to choose a public or private insurance plan. Under her plan, private plans would have to meet certain cost and benefit requirements.
“There will be a public plan under my plan for Medicare and a private plan under my plan for Medicare because the bottom line is this, we must agree that access to health care must be a right and not just a privilege of those who can afford it,” she said during a debate in July of 2019.
During the campaign, Biden and Harris sparred over health care. Harris criticized Biden’s proposal to create a government-run public option because not all Americans would be covered, while he said in a July debate last year her plan would take too long to execute.
Harris also proposed a prescription drug plan that would allow the Secretary of Health and Human Services to set a “fair price” no higher than 100 percent of the average price for that drug in other developed countries that are members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Consumers would ultimately receive a rebate for any costs higher than that set price.
Trump has also proposed tying drug prices to what foreign countries pay. His administration has proposed an international pricing index, although he has said the industry has until later this month to offer an alternative plan to lower drug costs.
Harris also outlined executive actions she would take to investigate drug companies that were price-gouging consumers. Like other Democrats, she said she would use so-called “march-in rights” that are existing authorities to license a drug company’s patent to another manufacturer who would sell the drug at a lower cost.
As California’s attorney general, Harris won more than $230 million in settlements with pharmaceutical companies.
In recent months, she has signed onto bills to address maternal mortality during the health crisis; expand what Medicaid covers for uninsured individuals receiving treatment related to COVID-19; and eliminate out-of-pocket health care costs during the pandemic.
Harris has also sought to put a greater emphasis on women’s reproductive health care, criticizing state laws seeking to limit abortion services.
Communications and technology
Following a primary that featured candidates from the party’s liberal wing pledging to break up Facebook, Google and other large technology companies, Biden’s selection of Harris as his running mate solidifies a far more palatable Democratic ticket for Silicon Valley.
Harris’ tenure as California attorney general, and her time as the San Francisco district attorney before that, coincided with the meteoric rise of tech companies that now find themselves the target of lawmakers from both parties. Numerous executives donated to those campaigns, and Harris held fundraisers in the tech-fueled Bay Area during her presidential run.
Since arriving in Washington, Harris has worked on tech issues including net neutrality (S 682) and data privacy, though she is not a co-sponsor of privacy proposals introduced by other Democrats (S 2968, S 1214). In 2018, she was noted for her questioning of Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg about Cambridge Analytica’s role in the 2016 election at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.
But on the hot-button issue of antitrust limitations, which has animated Democrats in Congress this year and led some, including Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, to call for the companies to be broken up, Silicon Valley may have an ally in Harris. She has taken a less aggressive approach than her colleagues and dodged the question on the campaign trail by pivoting to data privacy.
Harris has already been criticized by the president for her support for banning hydraulic fracking, but that’s far from her only energy or environment proposal.
“There’s no question I’m in favor of banning fracking,” Harris said during her presidential campaign at a CNN Town Hall.
And beyond that, Harris has co-sponsored a bill to prohibit offshore drilling in federal waters off her home state of California, as well as to the north in waters off Oregon and Washington. She has also backed legislation to ban drilling in the Atlantic Ocean.
She is the lead Senate author on legislation spearheaded in the House by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., that would require environmental regulations to be scored to see the costs and effects on frontline communities — localities that are expected to bear the early brunt of consequences of climate change.
Advocates and supporters also point to her work as attorney general when California joined with other states to investigate fossil fuel companies, and she supported the Clean Power Plan during the Obama-Biden administration.
Harris has advocated for expanded use of presidential powers to address the legal status of undocumented immigrants.
“Harris will take executive action to keep immigrant families together and eliminate barriers that prevent Dreamers from accessing a path to U.S. citizenship,” a proposal from her campaign said, saying protections would provide a shield from deportation for 6 million immigrants or more.
Her campaign said she would eliminate the age cap for people to apply for protections under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program from the Obama administration. Like Biden, she wants to restore DACA.
More recently on Capitol Hill, she led a letter along with Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois and other Democratic caucus members pushing the Department of Homeland Security to comply with the Supreme Court’s opinion on the legality of DACA.
“There is no indication that your agency has taken any steps to fully reinstate DACA protections, as the Court’s decision unequivocally requires,” the senators wrote in a July 14 letter to acting Secretary Chad Wolf. “We have not located a single statement by you or any other Department of Homeland Security (DHS) official notifying the public that your agency is complying with the Supreme Court’s decision.”
Her first bill introduced as a senator was designed to make sure that people detained by Customs and Border Protection at ports of entry into the United States have access to legal representation. Harris applauded the House passing similar legislation just last month.
Harris was always expected to use her spot on the Senate Judiciary Committee to boost her profile in a run for president. But along the way she made splashes with policy proposals on racial issues and pointed questions during hearings that made Trump officials and judicial nominees squirm.
The former prosecutor played a central role in crafting the broad Democratic bill to address deadly police force in the wake of nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd at the knee of a Minneapolis police officer.
At a committee hearing on that issue in June, and amid the talk of her as a potential vice presidential pick, Harris pointed to her familiarity with the proposals in the bill such as data on police use-of-force and investigations of police departments for discriminatory practices.
But she also spoke to broader social issues and attacks on the Trump administration, including characterizing Attorney General William Barr’s track record on holding police accountable as “shameful.”
“Colleagues please understand, please understand tonight, and every night, there are Black parents in America and grandparents who will be on their knees praying that their sons and daughters will be safe. Every night in America,” Harris said.
Harris also sponsored a bill to make a lynching a civil criminal rights crime, and used a floor speech to chide Congress for failing for far too long to take a moral stand to do so.
Just before the Senate passed the bill by voice vote in February 2019, Harris said that the legislation finally gives Congress “a chance to speak the truth about our past and make clear that these hateful acts should never happen again and, God forbid, they do, we are making clear there will be swift, serious and severe consequences.”
The House passed an identical version of her bill a year later except for the title, which meant the Senate would have to pass it again. Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul has blocked that from happening.
Stephanie Akin, Dean DeChiaro, Ryan Kelly, George LeVines, Mary Ellen McIntire and Todd Ruger contributed to this report.