Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) on Monday morning became the latest Democrat to announce a 2020 presidential run, choosing Martin Luther King Jr. Day to tell the country that "we know America can be better than this" and call on potential supporters to come "together" in order to "fight for our American values."
"Let's do this, together. Let's claim our future. For ourselves, for our children, and for our country," Harris declares in a campaign video shared on social media and posted to her campaign website at KamalaHarris.org.
Harris also appeared on "Good Morning America" on Monday to discuss her candidacy and talked about the "moral authority" of U.S. power she believes has been lost under President Donald Trump:
The announcement, not unexpected, was welcomed by many:
Thrilled to see @KamalaHarris enter the 2020 field. She's a champion of civil rights and women's rights and can use her amazing prosecutor skills to poke holes in all of Trump's lies just as she did with Kavanaugh. #2020 #womenlead— ilyse hogue (@ilyseh) January 21, 2019
Dem field incredibly strong. Kamala Harris is top-tier. Smart, fearless, ready. Thrilled such a talented leader and committed fighter is in the race. https://t.co/A8IeE4pkp4— Frank Sharry (@FrankSharry) January 21, 2019
Despite the applause, other progressive voices have expressed skepticism that a former prosecutor with a mixed record on criminal justice and holding powerful interests to account can galvanize and inspire a Democratic Party shifting decisively to the left on those issues and others. Harris, though, appears ready to embrace the challenge. As Politico reports Monday, "amid an early wave of scrutiny of her career as a prosecutor," Harris and her team believe they "can turn the criticism on its head."
“Kamala Harris: For the people,” is not just her campaign slogan, it’s how she used to announce herself as a prosecutor, in the courtroom. She’s leaning into the experience that’s become a target of critics on the left.— Dave Weigel (@daveweigel) January 21, 2019
Harris, reports the Guardian,
began her career as a deputy district attorney in Alameda county, California, before becoming district attorney of San Francisco, where she focused on crime prevention. In 2010, she narrowly beat her Republican opponent to become California's attorney general. Six years later she was easily elected to the Senate, where she became the second black woman ever to serve in the chamber.
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Since arriving in the Senate, she has built a reputation for bringing a prosecutorial style of questioning to hearings with Trump nominees. In a combative exchange with the former attorney general Jeff Sessions, he said her rushed questions were making him "nervous."
While the skills she honed in the courtroom have served her well in the Senate—and helped to elevate her to the forefront of the anti-Trump resistance movement—progressives have lingering and serious questions about her career as California's "top cop.”
According to Politico's reporting, based on interviews with "a half-dozen confidants and strategists," the belief is that her "background will allow [Harris] to project toughness against Donald Trump, and contrast what they call her evidence-based approach to law and politics with the president's carelessness with facts and legal troubles with the special prosecutor."
In the mind of Harris skeptics, however, the hurdles for Harris might be higher than she knows.
Last week, a widely-circulated New York Times op-ed written by Lara Bazelon, a law professor and the former director of the Loyola Law School Project for the Innocent in Los Angeles, argued that Harris cannot be considered a "progressive prosecutor" given her record as attorney general in California.
"Time after time, when progressives urged her to embrace criminal justice reforms as a district attorney and then the state's attorney general, Ms. Harris opposed them or stayed silent," wrote Bazelon.
On Sunday, Briahna Gray, columnist and senior politics editor for The Intercept, wrote a lengthy piece on Harris which asked whether or not a career prosecutor can "become president in the age of Black Lives Matter."
That specific question cannot be answered at this point, but Gray argues that while an examination of Harris' record—mixed as it is—can be revealing, the fact that she became a prosecutor in the first place might be a demerit she cannot escape.
"The problem isn't that Harris was an especially bad prosecutor. She made positive contributions as well—encouraging education and reentry programs for ex-offenders, for instance," writes Gray. "The problem, more precisely, is that she was ever a prosecutor at all. To become a prosecutor is to make a choice to align oneself with a powerful and fundamentally biased system."
On the other hand, Harris will be far from alone in a crowded Democratic field and, as Gray notes, every candidate will rightly face questions about their previous positions and political record.
"The more deft among the candidates—and we'll see if Harris is among them—will figure out how to distance themselves from their records with sincere apologies and, even better, actions that manifest a commitment to change," she wrote. "Not everyone will successfully rehabilitate themselves. And that's not necessarily a bad thing."
Harris will hold a formal campaign launch in Oakland next week.