Kamala Devi Harris ( KAH-mə-lə; born October 20, 1964) is an American lawyer and politician serving as the junior United States Senator from California since 2017. A member of the Democratic Party, she previously served as the 27th District Attorney of San Francisco from 2004 to 2011 and 32nd Attorney General of California from 2011 until 2017. She ran as a candidate for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States in the 2020 election, before dropping out on December 3, 2019.Harris was born in Oakland, California, and is a graduate of Howard University and University of California, Hastings College of the Law.
Following the primary, Harris faced Congresswoman, and fellow Democrat, Loretta Sanchez, in the general election. It was the first time a Republican did not appear in a general election for the Senate since California began directly electing senators in 1914.
Kamala Devi Harris was born on October 20, 1964 in Oakland, California. Her mother, Shyamala Gopalan, was a Tamil Indian breast-cancer scientist who immigrated to the United States from Madras, India, in 1960 to pursue a doctorate in endocrinology at the University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley). Her father, Donald Harris, is a Stanford University economics professor who emigrated from Jamaica in 1961 for graduate study in economics at UC Berkeley. Harris has one younger sister, Maya Harris. Her mother insisted on giving them both Sanskrit names derived from Hindu mythology to help preserve their cultural identity. She is also a descendant of a slave owner from Jamaica.
Harris graduated from high school in 1981. She went on to Howard University in Washington, D.C. where she double-majored in political science and economics, was elected to the liberal-arts student council, was on the debate team, organized mentor programs for local youth, demonstrated against apartheid, and joined Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.
Harris returned to California, where in 1989 she earned her Juris Doctor (J.D.) from the University of California, Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco. She was admitted to the State Bar of California in 1990. Believing the world needed "more socially aware prosecutors," Harris decided to seek a career in law enforcement because she wanted to be "at the table where decisions are made".
In 1990, Harris was hired as a deputy district attorney in Alameda County, California where she was noted as being "an able prosecutor on the way up." She specialized in child sexual abuse trials, which she observed were a difficult type of prosecution, given juries are more inclined to accept the word of an adult over the word of a child.
In 1994, Harris took leave of her position in Alameda County when Brown appointed her to the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board. The position paid $100,000 per year. Harris served on the board for six months. Then, during a lame-duck session, Brown appointed her to a three-year term on the California Medical Assistance Commission, overseeing Medi-Cal service contracts. The Commission reportedly met about once per month and paid commission members over $70,000 per year. Regarding these patronage positions, Harris has said:
In February 1998, San Francisco District Attorney, Terence Hallinan, appointed Harris as an Assistant District Attorney. She became the chief of the Career Criminal Division, supervising five other attorneys, where she prosecuted homicide, burglary, robbery and sexual assault cases –– particularly Three-Strikes cases. Harris was noted as having been "an excellent mentor" in the office, and had been active in Hallinan's 1999 re-election campaign through his December election. However, eight months later, Harris quit.
In August 2000, Harris took a new job at San Francisco City Hall, working for elected City Attorney, Louise Renne. Renne hired Harris to take the place of Katherine Feinstein, after Feinstein was appointed as a Superior Court Judge. Harris ran the Family and Children's Services Division representing child abuse and neglect cases, domestic violence, building code enforcement, and public health matters. Renne said of Harris:
Piscitelli had previously gone to the District Attorney's office when Terrance Hallinan was the D.A. and received the assistance he requested. Hallinan's office provided Piscitelli with access to files it had obtained in 2002 after Hallinan directed investigators to try to build a case against the archdiocese and forced the archdiocese to turn over 75 years of its own records. The files implicated high-level church officials and detailed how they internally handled pedophile priests. The files had been successfully used to indict a priest, Father Austin Peter Keegan.
Gardener confronted Harris and inquired if she was planning to run in 2003. She reportedly replied that it would be "unprofessional" to run against Hallinan if he decided to run for a third term. Gardener relayed Harris' response to Hallinan. However, Gardner stated that Hallinan "did not believe her." Hallinan then ordered that all calls from reporters, not only those pertaining to Prop 21, go directly to him: "I'm the elected official. I'm the D.A. It's my office. Except for my spokesman, I don't want anybody going to the media."
Harris ended her relationship with Brown shortly after his mayoral inauguration. In 2003, she expressed frustration at being linked to Brown in the media; referring to him as an "albatross hanging around my neck," she said, "I have no doubt that I am independent of him [Brown] –– and that he would probably right now express some fright about the fact that he cannot control me. His career is over; I will be alive and kicking for the next 40 years. I do not owe him a thing". In 2015 she referred to Brown as "a mentor and friend."
Harris opposed the measure, as did Hallinan, who was the only District Attorney in the state to oppose the measure. However, Harris, concerned about the possibility of nearly 40,000 kids per year –– mostly minority –– being tried in adult court, became very involved in campaigning against the measure, including attending rallies as a speaker, writing position papers and volunteering for the "No-On-21" campaign on weekends. Her knowledge and commitment to the issue was such that the District Attorney's Public Information Officer at the time, Fred Gardner, would give reporters the option to interview both Harris and Hallinan. However, doing so reportedly made Hallinan suspicious that Harris was trying to usurp him in preparation of challenging him for the next election (in 2003). Salomon approached Gardner and allegedly accused him of helping Harris: "You're trying to make a star out of Kamala Harris." Gardener dismissed the accusation, noting that "she [Harris] is already a star," and was then reportedly told by Salomon to stop directing Prop 21 media inquiries to Harris as he believed Harris had "an agenda" given she was "Willie Brown's protege."
In 2003, Harris entered the election, running against two-term incumbent and former boss, Terence Hallinan, and defense attorney, Bill Fazio. Harris was the least known candidate among the three, but noted to be "whip-smart, hard-working, and well-credentialed."
Piscitelli intended to use the files in a similar manner, seeking any information that could be helpful in his civil suit against the church that oversaw his high school. At the time, a civil trial was the only avenue for restitution available to victims following a Supreme Court decision overturning a California law that retroactively eliminated the statute of limitations for criminal prosecution of child molestation cases. Many sexual abusers who were facing criminal charges prior to the ruling were set free, including Keegan. However, in 2003, California passed a state law that allowed victims to file civil lawsuits against their alleged abusers if they could prove that the employers of the abusers knew of the misconduct and did nothing to stop it. Piscitelli's civil suit was already underway when he contacted Harris, shortly after she defeated Hallinan.
While Harris was the San Francisco District Attorney, the overall felony conviction rate rose from 52% in 2003 to 67% in 2006, the highest in a decade; there was an 85% conviction rate for homicides, and convictions of drug dealers increased from 56% in 2003 to 74% in 2006. In addition to trial convictions, she also closed many cases via plea bargains.
In 2004, Harris pushed for higher bail for criminal defendants involved in gun-related crimes. She argued that low bail encouraged outsiders to commit crimes in San Francisco.
In 2004, The National Urban League honored Harris as a "Woman of Power". In 2005, she received the Thurgood Marshall Award from the National Black Prosecutors Association. In her campaign for California Attorney General, she received the endorsements of many groups including EMILY's List, California Legislative Black Caucus, Asian American Action Fund, Black Women Organized for Political Action, the National Women's Political Caucus, Mexican American Bar Association, and South Asians for Opportunity.
In 2004, as district attorney, Harris started the Back On Track initiative, a reentry program. Initiative participants (who are nonviolent, first-time drug offenders whose crimes were not weapon- or gang-related) plead guilty in exchange for a deferral of sentencing and regular appearances before a judge over a year-long period. Participants who succeed in obtaining a high-school-equivalency diploma, maintaining steady employment, taking parenting classes, and passing drug tests have their records cleared. Over eight years, the program produced fewer than 300 graduates, but achieved a very low recidivism rate. In 2009, a state law (the Back on Track Reentry Act, Assembly Bill 750) was enacted, encouraging other counties to start programs around a similar model. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the bill into law. The program met some controversy because it initially included illegal immigrants, including one, Alexander Izaguirre, who was later arrested for assault. She later said allowing persons not eligible to work in the United States was a mistake, and modified the program to bar anyone who could not legally be employed in the United States.
In the 1970s, Joey Piscitelli was repeatedly raped by the principal of his Catholic High School, Father Stephen Whelan. In 2004, he was pursuing a civil case against the church that oversaw his high school and seeking help to strengthen his case.
Harris is opposed to the death penalty, but has said that she would review each case individually. Her position was questioned in April 2004, when SFPD Officer Isaac Espinoza was murdered in the Bayview district. She announced that she would not seek the death penalty for the man accused of his killing. The decision evoked protests from the San Francisco Police Officers Association, Senator Dianne Feinstein, and others. Those who supported her decision not to seek the death penalty included San Francisco Supervisors Tom Ammiano and Sophie Maxwell, in whose district the murder occurred. The jury found the convicted killer, David Hill, guilty of second-degree murder, although the prosecutor, Harry Dorfman, had sought a first-degree murder conviction. The defense had argued that Hill thought Espinoza was a member of a rival gang, and that the murder was not premeditated. Hill was given the maximum sentence for the conviction, life without the possibility of parole.
In April 2004, San Francisco Police Department Officer Isaac Espinoza was shot and killed in the line of duty. Three days later, Harris announced she would not seek the death penalty, angering the San Francisco Police Officers Association. During Espinoza's funeral at St. Mary's Cathedral, U.S. Senator and former San Francisco mayor Dianne Feinstein rose to the pulpit and called on Harris, who was sitting in the front pew, to secure the death penalty, prompting a standing ovation from the 2,000 uniformed police officers in attendance. Harris still refused. Espinoza's killer was convicted of the murder and sentenced to life in prison.
Piscitelli says Harris's office did not respond to his letters or calls, and would not allow him to access the files. In response, Piscitelli and his family and friends began mounting posters across the city to force Harris to respond. He sought help from the media, which requested access to the files under California's Public Records Act, but Harris's deputy, Paul Henderson, denied the request, stating that Harris's investigative files "were not subject to California's government transparency laws." In 2005, when San Francisco Weekly writer Ron Russell attempted the request again, a Harris spokesperson told him:
In 2006, Piscitelli won his civil case, doing so without the help of Harris's office. During her seven years as District Attorney, Harris did not bring charges or proactively assist in civil cases against any sexual abusers in the church. Critics charge that her failure to do so conflicts with her campaign promise to make the sexual abuse of children her top issue.
Harris was re-elected in 2007 when she ran unopposed. A 2008 New York Times article listing women who might have the potential to become president of the United States listed then-District Attorney Harris, suggesting she had a reputation as a "tough fighter."
On November 12, 2008, Harris announced her candidacy for California Attorney General. Both of California's United States Senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, as well as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, endorsed her during the Democratic Party primary. In the June 8, 2010, primary, she was nominated with 33.6% of the vote, defeating Alberto Torrico (who received 15.6% of the vote) and Chris Kelly (who received 15.5%).
In 2009, Harris' prosecutors won a lower percentage of their felony jury trials than their counterparts at district attorneys' offices covering the 10 largest cities in California. Her at-trial felony conviction rate that year was 76 percent, down 12 percent from the previous year, was more than 5 percent under the statewide average.
In 2009, Harris's book Smart on Crime: A Career Prosecutor's Plan to Make Us Safer was published by Chronicle Books. In the book, she touted her Back On Track initiative and argued for what she referred to as "a smarter approach when it comes to combating nonviolent crime" emphasizing crime prevention, truancy prevention, and the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder in children. The book discusses a series of "myths" surrounding the criminal justice system and presents proposals to reduce and prevent crime. Recognized by The Los Angeles Daily Journal as one of the top 100 lawyers in California, she served on the board of the California District Attorneys Association and was vice president of the National District Attorneys Association.
Harris's position against the death penalty was tested again in the case of Edwin Ramos, an illegal immigrant and alleged MS-13 gang member who was accused of murdering Tony Bologna and his sons Michael and Matthew. On September 10, 2009, she announced she would seek life in prison without the possibility of parole rather than the death penalty in the Ramos case.
Harris did not initially support the legalization of recreational marijuana, but later moved to support legalization. In 2010, while campaigning for Attorney General of California, she opposed Proposition 19, the first failed attempt to legalize recreational marijuana in California, on the grounds that selling drugs harms communities. In 2015, she called for an end on the federal prohibition of medical marijuana.
Repeated attempts by reporters to access the files were similarly denied over the years, with Harris's spokesperson, Erica Derryck, not responding to calls or emails from reporters. Eventually, in 2010, Harris's office released a statement:
In her campaign for California Attorney General, Harris received the endorsements of United Farm Workers cofounder Dolores Huerta, United Educators of San Francisco, and San Francisco Firefighters Local 798. She also received the endorsement of Antonio Villaraigosa, Mayor of Los Angeles. In the general election, she faced Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley. On election night, November 2, 2010, Cooley prematurely declared victory, but many ballots remained uncounted. On November 24, as the count advanced, Harris was leading by more than 55,000 votes, and Cooley conceded. On January 3, 2011, she became the first female, Jamaican-American, and Indian-American attorney general in California.
During her run for Senate, Harris was endorsed by former U.S. Representative Gabby Giffords, who had been shot in Tucson in 2011. She was also endorsed by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
Harris has prosecuted many financial crimes, such as predatory lending. In 2011, while serving as Attorney General of California, she created the Mortgage Fraud Strike Force which had a mandate to eliminate mortgage foreclosure fraud. The task force has been criticized for not filing as many foreclosure cases as in states with smaller populations.
In 2012, Harris participated in the National Mortgage Settlement against five banks, securing $12 billion of debt reduction for the state's homeowners and $26 billion overall.
In 2012, Superior Court Judge Anne-Christine Massullo ruled that Harris's office violated defendants' rights by hiding damaging information about a San Francisco Police Department crime lab technician, that Harris' office had ignored a constitutional obligation to turn over to defense attorneys the criminal histories of police testifying at trial, and that Harris' office was indifferent to demands that it account for its failings.
Harris announced her intention to run for re-election in February 2014 and filed paperwork to run on February 12. According to the office of California Secretary of State Debra Bowen, Harris had raised the money for her campaign during the previous year in 2013. The Sacramento Bee, Los Angeles Daily News, and Los Angeles Times endorsed her for reelection.
In 2013, Harris did not prosecute Steve Mnuchin's bank OneWest despite evidence "suggestive of widespread misconduct" according to a leaked memo from the Department of Justice. In 2017, she said that her office's decision not to prosecute Mnuchin was based on "following the facts and the evidence...like any other case". In 2016, Mnuchin donated $2,000 to her campaign, making her the only 2016 Senate Democratic candidate to get cash from Mnuchin, but as senator, she voted against the confirmation of Mnuchin as Secretary of the Treasury.
In 2013, the San Francisco Weekly reported that the San Francisco Police Department and Harris's office shielded Abraham H. Guerra Sr., a high-ranking member of the Norteño gang, from returning to prison due to parole violations because Guerra was an informant who provided authorities with information.
In 2013, when she was California Attorney General, Harris allowed the Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian to cease the availability of elective abortions, after it entered a partnership with Catholic chain, St. Joseph Health System. The ban was made due to St. Joseph's "sensitivity" about abortion. As the Attorney General, Harris had legal authority to decide on any such change, as a condition of her approving a major transaction involving any non-profit medical institution in the state. The ban would not be able to go into affect without her knowledge or approval. Harris did set conditions on the ban, requiring the hospital to "take steps to ensure that alternative providers are available and accessible to all women, especially low-income women for direct abortions" in the hospital's serviceable area.
She introduced the California Homeowner's Bill of Rights in the California State Legislature, a set of laws which took effect on January 1, 2013, banning the practices of "dual-tracking" (processing a modification and foreclosure at the same time) and robo-signing, and provided homeowners with a single point of contact at their lending institution. It also gave the California Attorney General more power to investigate and prosecute financial fraud and to convene special grand juries to prosecute multi-county crimes instead of prosecuting a single crime county by county.
When in 2014, U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney declared capital punishment in California unconstitutional, Harris appealed the case.
In February 2014, Michelle-Lael Norsworthy, a transgender woman incarcerated at California's Mule Creek State Prison, filed a federal lawsuit based on the state's failure to provide her with what she argued was medically necessary sex reassignment surgery (SRS). In April 2015, a federal judge ordered the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to provide Norsworthy with SRS, finding that prison officials had been "deliberately indifferent to her serious medical need." Harris, representing CDCR, challenged the order in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. She argued that "Norsworthy has been receiving hormone therapy for her gender dysphoria since 2000, and continues to receive hormone therapy and other forms of treatment" and that "there is no evidence that Norsworthy is in serious, immediate physical or emotional danger."
Harris is married to California attorney Douglas Emhoff, who was at one time partner-in-charge at Venable LLP's Los Angeles office. Emhoff is Jewish. They married on August 22, 2014, in Santa Barbara, California. The couple do not have children together, but Harris is stepmother to Cole and Ella, Emhoff's two children from his previous marriage.
On November 4, 2014, Harris was re-elected against Republican Ronald Gold.
During her tenure as California Attorney General, Harris declined to defend the state's ban on same-sex marriage in court. She supported the Obama administration's guidance supporting transgender students. Following the Supreme Court's overturning of the ban on same-sex marriage, she proceeded to conduct California's first same-sex marriage. Later on in 2015, she argued in court to withhold gender reassignment surgery from two transgender inmates who were prescribed the procedure while serving the sentences. This stance disappointed some LGBT rights advocates; she later stated that she only took that stance in court because her job required her to do so.
In 2015, Harris defended convictions obtained by county prosecutors who had inserted a false confession into an interrogation transcript, committed perjury, and withheld evidence. Federal appeals court Judge Alex Kozinski threw out the convictions, telling lawyers, "Talk to the attorney general and make sure she understands the gravity of the situation."
Since her election to the Senate, Harris has maintained a 100% rating by the abortion rights advocacy group, Planned Parenthood Action Fund, and a 0% rating by the anti-abortion group, National Right to Life Committee. She was also endorsed by Emily's List in 2015 during her Senatorial Campaign.
In January 2015, weeks after she announced her campaign, a survey by Public Policy Polling showed her leading in a hypothetical match-up against Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, 41% to 16%, respectively. Four months later, a Field Poll showed that though nearly 60% of likely voters did not have a favored candidate, at nearly 20%, she was most preferred candidate of the field. Five months later, she led another Field Poll, at 30%, besting fellow Democratic candidate, Loretta Sanchez, by nearly 15 percentage points. Harris increased her support despite The Sacramento Bee noting she had not been active in campaigning since appearing at the California Democratic Party's convention.
After 24 years as California's junior senator, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) announced her intention to retire from the United States Senate at the end of her term in 2016. Harris was the first candidate to declare her intention to run for Boxer's senate seat. Media outlets reported that she would run for senate on the same day that Gavin Newsom, California's Lieutenant Governor and a close political ally of Harris, announced he would not seek to succeed Boxer. Harris officially announced the launch of her campaign on January 13, 2015.
On February 12, 2015, Harris announced that she would start a new agency called the Bureau of Children's Justice. The bureau would work on issues such as foster care, the juvenile justice system, school truancy, and childhood trauma. She appointed special assistant attorney general Jill Habig to head the agency.
In March 2015, a California superior courts judge ordered Harris to take over a criminal case after Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas was revealed to have illegally employed jailhouse informants and concealed evidence. She refused, appealing the order and defending Rackauckas.
After an oil spill from a pipeline caused damage to the California coastline in May 2015, Harris toured the coastline and directed her office's resources and attorneys to investigate possible criminal violations. The investigations led to dozens of indictments. In June 2016, she issued subpoenas to Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell, Phillips 66, Valero Energy, and Tesoro relating to an investigation into possible price-fixing.
In July 2015, an organization called "The Center for Medical Progress" (dba "Biomax"), a registered California non-profit corporation posted five videos, shot in Texas, as evidence of proof that Planned Parenthood was "illegally trafficking aborted fetal parts." The videos were found to be manipulated –– propaganda produced by anti-abortion activists who used fake California identification to establish a ghost California non-profit corporation. Within two months of the videos' posting, a Texas grand jury indicted the two activists responsible for producing them. However, as of March 2016, Harris had yet to make any determination on the matter:
In August 2015, while the state's appeal was pending, Norsworthy was released on parole, obviating the state's duty to provide her with inmate medical care and rendering the case moot. Harris maintained that the parole review process was independent of Norsworthy's legal case against CDCR, although the Ninth Circuit, in its opinion, said it was possible that Norsworthy's release on parole, ahead of her scheduled SRS, may have been influenced by CDCR officials.
In December 2015, the National Journal reported that Harris' campaign spending rate contributed to her cash on hand being closer to that of another candidate, Loretta Sanchez, who had just $1.6 million.
In 2016, Harris was the only Democratic candidate for the Senate to receive a campaign contribution from Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin. Mnuchin donated $2,000 to Harris' campaign. Harris was criticized for accepting the donation because Mnuchin profited from the subprime mortgage crisis and when Harris was the Attorney General of California, she declined, without explanation, to prosecute OneWest Bank –– which Mnuchin founded and ran –– over foreclosures the bank executed while incurring over 1,000 violations to California foreclosure laws (and despite the recommendations of investigators in her own office to file a civil enforcement action against the bank), and because Harris was afforded a vote in Mnuchin's 2017 confirmation to become United States Secretary of the Treasury. The Intercept said of Harris' fundraising:
Mitrice Richardson was a 24-year-old African American woman who was released from the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department in the middle of the night without any means of fending for herself. Her body was later found in an isolated canyon, leaving the family with many unanswered questions. In 2016, the Attorney General opened a criminal investigation into the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department's handling of the Mitrice Richardson case. The AG's Office had originally declined the request of the Richardson family to investigate the case, but reversed course after the family and supporters submitted almost 500 pages of evidence to Harris's office in the hope of prompting an investigation. In December 2016, the California Attorney General's Office closed the investigation, concluding that there was insufficient evidence to support criminal prosecution of anyone involved in the handling of the Richardson case.
On January 21, 2019, Harris officially announced her candidacy for President of the United States in the 2020 United States presidential election. In the first 24 hours after her candidacy announcement, she tied a record set by Bernie Sanders in 2016 for the most donations raised in the day following announcement. However, Sanders later broke this record after announcing his own 2020 presidential campaign. Over 20,000 people attended her formal campaign launch event in her hometown of Oakland, California on January 27, according to a police estimate.
The pimping charge against Ferrer was dismissed by the California courts in 2016 on the grounds of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, but in 2018 Ferrer ultimately pleaded guilty in California to money laundering and agreed to give evidence against the former co-owners of Backpage, Mike Lacey and Jim Larkin. Ferrer simultaneously pleaded guilty to charges of money laundering and conspiracy to facilitate prostitution in Texas state court and Arizona federal court.
In February 2016, the California Democratic Party voted at its convention to endorse Harris, who received nearly 80% of the vote, with only 60% needed to secure the endorsement. Three months later, Governor Jerry Brown endorsed her.
All candidates participated in a primary election in June 2016, after which the top two candidates from any party would advance to the general election.
However, in September 2016, Governor Jerry Brown signed "Assembly Bill 1671" into law, which was reportedly drafted by Harris, with input from Planned Parenthood –– which sponsored the bill –– making it a criminal offense to intentionally distribute, or to help with the dissemination of, unlawfully obtained confidential communications. Libertarians, filmmakers and news organizations vehemently opposed the bill which was signed into law after late amendments were added to it.
In October 2016, Harris announced the arrest of Backpage CEO Carl Ferrer on felony charges of pimping a minor, pimping, and conspiracy to commit pimping. The arrest warrant alleged that 99% of Backpage's revenue was directly attributable to prostitution-related ads, many of which involved victims of sex trafficking, including children under the age of 18.
In the November 2016 election, Harris defeated Sanchez, capturing over 60% of the vote, carrying all but four counties. Following her victory, she promised to protect immigrants from the policies of President-elect Donald Trump.
In 2017, Harris gave a public address to AIPAC attendees. She said: "I believe Israel should never be a partisan issue, and as long as I'm a United States senator, I will do everything in my power to ensure broad and bipartisan support for Israel's security and right to self-defense." She has opposed the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement targeting Israel. She was a co-sponsor of a Senate resolution expressing objection to the UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which condemned Israeli settlement building in the occupied Palestinian territories as a violation of international law. At the AIPAC conference, she said that "the first resolution I co-sponsored as a United States senator was to combat anti-Israel bias at the United Nations". She also supported a Senate resolution celebrating the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem. In late 2017, she traveled to Israel, where she met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
In 2017, she introduced legislation to "reform or replace the practice of money bail."
In January 2017, following government pressure, Backpage announced that it was removing its adult section from all of its sites in the United States. Harris welcomed the move, saying "I look forward to them shutting down completely." The investigations continued after she became a senator and in April 2018, Backpage and affiliated sites were seized by federal law enforcement around the same time as Ferrer's guilty plea.
Following her election to the United States Senate, Harris announced her intention to remain California's Attorney General through the end of 2016 and resign shortly before being sworn in as Senator on January 3, 2017. Governor Jerry Brown announced his intention to nominate Congressman Xavier Becerra as her successor.
In April 2017, responding to the Khan Shaykhun chemical attack, Harris charged Syrian president Bashar al-Assad with attacking Syrian children, and stated "the clear fact that president Assad is not only a ruthless dictator brutalizing his own people – he is a war criminal the international community cannot ignore." She called on President Trump to work with Congress on his administration's "lack of clear objectives in Syria and articulate a detailed strategy and path forward in partnership with our allies."
On June 7, 2017, Harris garnered media attention for her questioning of Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General, over the role he played in the May 2017 firing of James Comey, the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The prosecutorial nature of her questioning caused Senator John McCain, an ex officio member of the Intelligence Committee, and Senator Richard Burr, the committee chairman, to interrupt her and request that she be more respectful of the witness; other Democrats on the committee pointed out that they had asked similarly tough questions, but had not been interrupted. On June 13, she questioned Jeff Sessions, the Attorney General, on the same topic; She was again interrupted by McCain and Burr. Sessions stated that her mode of questioning "makes me nervous"; other Democratic members of the committee again pointed out that she was the only senator whose questioning was interrupted with an admonishment from the chairman. Burr's singling out of Harris sparked suggestion in the news media that his behavior was sexist, with commentators arguing that Burr would not treat a male Senate colleague in a similar manner. In addition, when CNN pundit Jason Miller described her as "hysterical", Kirsten Powers, who was taking part in the same on-air segment, told Miller that his use of the term to describe Harris was sexist, and that he would not describe male senators in the same manner.
In July 2017, Harris voted in favor of the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act that grouped together sanctions against Iran, Russia and North Korea.
In May 2018, Harris announced she would co-sponsor the Marijuana Justice Act, which Senator Cory Booker introduced in August 2017. The legislation would eliminate marijuana's status as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substance Act. The move would also require federal courts to automatically expunge earlier federal marijuana convictions related to use or possession and would establish a grant program aimed at incentivizing the expungement and sealing of state convictions for marijuana possession.
On August 30, 2017, Harris announced at a town hall in Oakland that she would co-sponsor fellow Senator Bernie Sanders' "Medicare for All" bill, supporting single-payer healthcare.
In September 2017, Harris was one of nine senators to sign a letter to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai that charged the FCC with failing "to provide stakeholders with an opportunity to comment on the tens of thousands of filed complaints that directly shed light on proposed changes to existing net neutrality protections."
In October 2017, Harris condemned the genocide of the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar and called for a stronger response to the crisis.
In October 2017, Harris was one of nineteen senators to sign a letter to Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt questioning Pruitt's decision to repeal the Clean Power Plan, asserting that the repeal's proposal used "mathematical sleights of hand to over-state the costs of industry compliance with the 2015 Rule and understate the benefits that will be lost if the 2017 repeal is finalized" and science denying and math fabricating would fail to "satisfy the requirements of the law, nor will it slow the increase in frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, the inexorable rise in sea levels, or the other dire effects of global warming that our planet is already experiencing."
On October 25, 2017, Harris stated she would not support a spending bill until Congress addressed the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in a way that clarified "what we are going to do to protect and take care of our DACA young people in this country." She did not support a February 2018 proposal by some Democrats to provide President Trump with $25 billion in funding for a border wall in exchange for giving DREAMers a pathway to citizenship.
On December 21, 2017, Harris was one of six senators to introduce the "Secure Elections Act", legislation authorizing block grants for states that would update outdated voting technology. The act would also create a program for an independent panel of experts to develop cybersecurity guidelines for election systems that states could adopt if they choose, along with offering states resources to implement the recommendations.
Harris opposed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, and has called for a repeal of the bill's tax cuts for wealthy Americans. In 2018, she proposed a tax cut for the majority of working- and middle-class Americans. An analysis by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center estimated that the bill would reduce federal revenue by $2.8 trillion over a decade. She proposed to pay for the tax cuts by repealing tax cuts for wealthy Americans and by increasing taxes on corporations.
In 2018, after Trump announced the United States was withdrawing from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Harris released a statement saying the decision "jeopardizes our national security and isolates us from our closest allies" while calling the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action "the best existing tool we have to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons and avoid a disastrous military conflict in the Middle East." In late 2018, she voted to withdraw U.S. military aid for Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen. She also backed a resolution blaming Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman for the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul.
In January 2018, Harris and three other Democratic senators were cosponsors of the Border and Port Security Act, legislation that would mandate U.S. Customs and Border Protection "hire, train and assign at least 500 officers per year until the number of needed positions the model identifies is filled" in addition to requiring the commissioner of the Customs and Border Protection to determine potential equipment and infrastructure improvements that could be used for ports of entry.
In a January 2018 hearing, Harris questioned Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen for favoring Norwegian immigrants over others and claiming to be unaware that Norway is a predominantly white country.
In a January 2018 interview, when asked by Hiram Soto about her ideal version of a bipartisan deal on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, Harris stated the need to focus on comprehensive immigration reform and "pass a clean DREAM Act."
In February 2018, Harris was one of 18 Democratic senators to sign a letter to Trump stating that he lacked the authority to launch a preemptive strike against North Korea without authorization from Congress. The letter stated: "Without congressional authority, a preventative or preemptive U.S. military strike would lack either a constitutional basis or legal authority."
In March 2018, Harris was one of ten senators to sign a letter spearheaded by Jeff Merkley lambasting a proposal from FCC Chairman Ajit Pai that would curb the scope of benefits from the Lifeline program during a period where roughly 6.5 million people in poor communities relied on Lifeline to receive access to high-speed internet, citing that it was Pai's "obligation to the American public, as the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, to improve the Lifeline program and ensure that more Americans can afford access, and have means of access, to broadband and phone service." The senators also advocated for insuring "Lifeline reaches more Americans in need of access to communication services."
In April 2018, Harris was one of five senators to send a letter to acting director of ICE Thomas Homan on standards used by the agency when determining how to detain a pregnant woman, requesting that pregnant women not be held in custody unless under extraordinary standards after reports "that ICE has failed to provide critical medical care to pregnant women in immigration detention – resulting in miscarriages and other negative health outcomes".
In April 2018, Harris was one of ten senators to sponsor the Choose Medicare Act, an expanded public option for health insurance that also increased ObamaCare subsidies and rendered individuals with higher income levels eligible for its assistance.
In April 2018, following reports that the Justice Department was blocking the Drug Enforcement Administration from taking action on over two dozen requests to grow marijuana for use in research, Harris and Republican Orrin Hatch sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions on the necessity of marijuana research "for evidence-based decision making" and "to resolve critical questions of public health and safety, such as learning the impacts of marijuana on developing brains and formulating methods to test marijuana impairment in drivers."
In an April 2018 hearing, Harris questioned Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg for Facebook's misuse of users' data.
Harris had been considered a top contender and potential frontrunner for the 2020 Democratic nomination for President. In June 2018, she was quoted as "not ruling it out". As of July 2018, she was spending more on Facebook advertising than any other senator. In July 2018, it was announced that she would publish a memoir, another sign of a possible run. She also stumped for candidates in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina.
In response to the administration's family separation policy, Harris visited one of the detention facilities near the border in June 2018.
In July 2018, Harris was one of 22 senators to sponsor the Stop Shackling and Detaining Pregnant Women Act, which if enacted would prohibit immigration officers from detaining pregnant women in a majority of circumstances and improve conditions of care for individuals in custody.
In July 2018, the Trump administration falsely accused Harris of "supporting the animals of MS-13." She responded, "As a career prosecutor, I actually went after gangs and transnational criminal organizations. That's being a leader on public safety. What is not, is ripping babies from their mothers."
In August 2018, Harris led fifteen Democrats and Bernie Sanders in a letter to United States Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen demanding that the Trump administration take immediate action in attempting to reunite 539 migrant children with their families, citing each passing day of inaction as intensifying "trauma that this administration has needlessly caused for children and their families seeking humanitarian protection."
In August 2018, Harris was one of eight senators to sign a letter to the Federal Emergency Management Agency charging the agency with not assisting displaced homeowners in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria under the Individuals and Households program (IHP) at "alarming rates."
In September 2018, Harris was one of eight senators to sponsor the Climate Risk Disclosure Act, a bill described by cosponsor Elizabeth Warren as using "market forces to speed up the transition from fossil fuels to cleaner energy – reducing the odds of an environmental and financial disaster without spending a dime of taxpayer money." She stated that her goal would be achieving 100% of U.S. electricity from renewable energy sources, and that she supports a Green New Deal, an idea made popular by first term Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, because "climate change is an existential threat to all of us."
Harris was one of the targets of the October 2018 United States mail bombing attempts.
In the September and October 2018 Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation hearings, Harris participated in questioning the FBI Director's limited scope of the investigation on Kavanaugh.
In November 2018, Harris was one of 25 Democratic senators to cosponsor a resolution specifying key findings of the Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change report and National Climate Assessment. The resolution affirmed the senators' acceptance of the findings and their support for bold action toward addressing climate change.
In November 2018, Harris was one of eleven senators to sign a letter to United States Secretary of Defense James Mattis concerning "the overt politicization of the military" with the Trump administration's deployment of 5,800 troops to the U.S.–Mexico border, and requesting a briefing and written justification from the U.S. Northern Command for troop deployment, while urging Mattis to "curb the unprecedented escalation of DOD involvement in immigration enforcement."
Harris supported the Iran nuclear deal to prevent Iran from acquiring weapons of mass destruction. In December 2018, after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the Trump administration was suspending its obligations in the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in 60 days in the event that Russia continued to violate the treaty, she was one of 26 senators to sign a letter expressing concern over the administration "now abandoning generations of bipartisan U.S. leadership around the paired goals of reducing the global role and number of nuclear weapons and ensuring strategic stability with America's nuclear-armed adversaries" and calling on Trump to continue arms negotiations.
In December 2018, Harris was one of 42 senators to sign a letter to Trump administration officials Alex Azar, Seema Verma, and Steve Mnuchin arguing that the administration was improperly using Section 1332 of the Affordable Care Act to authorize states to "increase health care costs for millions of consumers while weakening protections for individuals with pre-existing conditions." The senators requested the administration withdraw the policy and "re-engage with stakeholders, states, and Congress."
Harris has written two non-fiction books and one children's book. She also wrote the entry for Christine Blasey Ford when Ford was named one of the Time 100 people in 2019.
In January 2019, Harris was one of twenty senators to sponsor the Dreamer Confidentiality Act, a bill imposing a ban on the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from passing information collected on DACA recipients to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the Department of Justice, or any other law enforcement agency with exceptions in the case of fraudulent claims, national security issues, or non-immigration related felonies being investigated.
Harris voted in favor of a $675 billion defense budget bill for 2019. She said that North Korea is "one of the most serious security threats". In February 2019, after former Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe claimed that President Trump believed the claims of President of Russia Vladimir Putin over U.S. intelligence agencies' reports on the subject of North Korea's missile capabilities, she told reporters, "The idea that the president of the U.S. would take the word of the head of Russia over the intel community is the height of irresponsibility and shameful." In an August 2019 interview with the Council on Foreign Relations, when asked if she as president would sign an agreement with North Korea granting partial sanctions relief in exchange for some denuclearization, Harris replied that President Trump had given "Kim one PR victory after the next, all without securing any real concessions" and that she would "consider targeted sanctions relief to improve the lives of the North Korean people if the regime were to take serious, verifiable steps to roll back its nuclear program."
In February 2019, Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., tweeted, "It's all about the Benjamins baby" in reference to American politicians' support for Israel and invoked the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). A number of Democratic leaders – including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi – condemned the tweet, which was interpreted as implying that money was fueling American politicians' support of Israel. Harris defended Ilhan Omar, saying that "We should be having a sound, respectful discussion about policy. You can both support Israel and be loyal to our country. I also believe there is a difference between criticism of policy or political leaders, and anti-Semitism."
However, in April 2019, after the FEC released donation information, Harris was found to have accepted more donations from registered lobbyists among all the Democratic Presidential Nominees who vowed to not do so, receiving such donations from federal, state, municipal and corporate lobbyists who represent entities such as Verizon, Airbnb, AT&T, Novartis, Visa, Pfizer, Cigna, IBM, Google, along with lobbyists that represent industries such as charter schools, construction, and real estate.
In May 2019, Harris attributed the 2018 gubernatorial losses of Stacey Abrams and Andrew Gillum, in both Georgia and Florida to voter suppression.
In May 2019, Harris stated she would not have voted for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) due to her belief that "we can do a better job to protect American workers" and called for the United States to do "a better job in terms of thinking about the priorities that should be more apparent now than perhaps they were then, which are issues like the climate crisis and what we need to build into these trade agreements."
In May 2019, Harris was a cosponsor of the Protecting American Votes and Elections (PAVE) Act, legislation granting the United States Department of Homeland Security the authority "to set minimum cybersecurity standards for U.S. voting machines, authorize a one-time $500 million grant program for states to buy ballot-scanning machines to count paper ballots and require states to conduct risk-limiting audits of all federal elections in order to detect any cyber hacks."
During the first Democratic presidential debate in June 2019, Harris scolded former vice president Joe Biden for having opposed mandatory school bussing. Her widely quoted comment was, "There was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools and she was bused to school every day. That little girl was me." Harris's support rose by between 6 and 9 points in polls following that debate. In the second debate in August, Harris was confronted by Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard over her record as Attorney General, notably her past positions on marijuana, cash bail, and parole reform. Harris fell in the polls following that debate. Over the next few months her poll numbers fell to the low single digits. On December 3, 2019, Harris withdrew from seeking the 2020 Democratic nomination, citing a shortage of funds to continue her campaign. Following her exit from the race, many other major candidates such as Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren have publicly expressed their openness to selecting Harris as a VP running-mate.
In June 2019, following the Housing and Urban Development Department's confirmation that DACA recipients did not meet eligibility for federal backed loans, Harris and eleven other senators introduced The Home Ownership Dreamers Act, legislation that mandated that the federal government was not authorized to deny mortgage loans backed by the Federal Housing Administration, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, or the Agriculture Department solely due to the immigration status of an applicant.
In July 2019, Harris and Representative Jerry Nadler introduced the MORE Act of 2019, legislation that would decriminalize marijuana on the federal level in addition to expunging low-level marijuana possession convictions and authorizing grants to members of communities of color as part of an effort to reverse decades of damage cannabis criminalization had inflicted to those respective communities. In a statement, Harris cited the need to regulate marijuana and ensuring "everyone — especially communities of color that have been disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs — has a real opportunity to participate in this growing industry."
In July 2019, Harris and fifteen other Senate Democrats introduced the Protecting Sensitive Locations Act which mandated that ICE agents get approval from a supervisor ahead of engaging in enforcement actions at sensitive locations with the exception of special circumstances and that agents receive annual training in addition to being required to report annually regarding enforcement actions in those locations.
In July 2019, along with Kirsten Gillibrand and Amy Klobuchar, Harris sent a letter to the Office of Refugee Resettlement asserting that the agency "should be prioritizing reunification of every child as soon as possible, but instead it has been responsible for policies that are forcing longer stays in government custody for children" and that it was mandatory that the office "ensure that the custody and processing of [unaccompanied migrant children] is meeting the minimum standards required by domestic and international law."
On July 29, 2019, Harris and Ocasio-Cortez introduced the Climate Equity Act, a bill that would lay out steps for Congress and the White House on how to go about guaranteeing policies that composed "a future Green New Deal protect the health and economic wellbeing of all Americans for generations to come." Referring to climate change as "an existential threat", Harris noted cutting emissions and ending American reliance on fossil fuels were not enough and cited the need "that communities already contending with unsafe drinking water, toxic air, and lack of economic opportunity are not left behind."
On July 29, 2019, Harris unveiled a health plan that would expand coverage while preserving a role for private insurance companies, the plan calling for transitioning to a Medicare for All system over a period of ten years that would be concurrent with infants and the uninsured automatically being placed into the system while other individuals would have the option to buy into the health care plan backed by the government. The plan has been met with some criticism from both Democrats and Republicans.
On July 31, 2019, following Attorney General William Barr announcing that the United States federal government would resume the use of the death penalty for the first time in over twenty years, Harris was a cosponsor of a bill banning the death penalty.
In August 2019, after the Trump administration released a new regulation imposing the possibility that any green card and visa applicants could be turned down in the event they have low incomes or little education and have used benefits such as food stamps and housing vouchers at some point, Harris referred to the regulation as part of President Trump's ongoing campaign "to vilify a whole group of people" and cited Trump's sending of service members to the southern border and building a border wall as part of his goal to distract "from the fact that he has betrayed so many people and has actually done very little that has been productive in the best interest of American families."
Speaking to Wolf Blitzer in August 2019, Harris stated that congressional action on gun control rested in the hands of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and that she "would hope and pray that he understands that he actually has the power to do the right thing here and that he will do the right thing."
The Washington Post reported the 2018 income of Harris and Emhoff as $1.9 million. As of August 2019, Harris and her husband have a net worth of $5.8 million. They own homes in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and San Francisco.
On August 14, 2019, Harris unveiled a plan that would address domestic terrorism while prioritizing increasing the difficulty for suspected individuals to either obtain or keep firearms through the formation of domestic terrorism prevention orders meant to empower law enforcement officers and family members with the ability to petition federal court for a temporary restriction on a person's access to firearms in the event that they "exhibit clear evidence of dangerousness." Harris stated that in the US "loaded guns should not be a few clicks away for any domestic terrorist with a laptop or smartphone” and cited the "need to take action to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people and stop violent, hate-fueled attacks before they happen."
In a September 2019 letter to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, Harris called for the creation of a task force to investigate allegations against Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh and look into whether Kavanaugh lied to Congress during his testimony the previous year as a Supreme Court nominee. In October 2019, when asked whether she thought a president undergoing impeachment inquiries should be authorized to nominate Supreme Court justices, Harris replied, "That's a great question. I think he should be put on a timeout across the board."
On September 4, 2019, Harris unveiled a $10 trillion climate change plan intended to move the United States to a 100 percent renewable energy-based power grid by 2030 in addition to transitioning all vehicles in America to the same energy sources by 2035. She pledged to rejoin the Paris Agreement and end U.S. support for international oil and natural gas extraction projects, furthering that as president she would "hold polluters accountable for the damage they inflict upon our environment and set us on a path to a 100 percent clean economy that creates millions of good-paying jobs."
On October 7, 2019, Harris unveiled a six months paid family and medical leave plan that included forming a new Office of Paid Family and Medical Leave that would oversee, determine eligibility and authorize benefit payments. Harris's paid leave program would be funded through general revenue and payroll contributions and establish a federal Bureau of Children and Family Justice. In a statement, Harris said the US will be brought "closer to economic justice for workers and ensures newborn children or children who are sick can get the care they need from a parent without thrusting the family into upheaval" via a six-month paid leave guarantee.