Kamala Harris is likely to get a unique chance to question a Supreme Court nominee uninterrupted before a national audience as Americans head to the polls — an opportunity supporters see as an important boost for the Democrats’ presidential ticket.
“It will help get people to the polls,” Avis Jones-DeWeever, policy analyst at the Black Women’s Roundtable, told The Bee. In particular, she said, “It will help among the far left who may not have been as enthusiastic about a Biden-Harris ticket.”
Independent analysts tend to agree, though they do see some political risks. “She’s a polarizing figure as soon as she enters the room,” said Timothy Walch, Iowa-based author of “At the President’s Side: The Vice Presidency in the Twentieth Century.”
Harris, a former San Francisco prosecutor and California attorney general, first burst into national prominence in 2018 with her tough questioning of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
President Donald Trump said he’ll announce a replacement this week for Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died Friday. Republicans who run the Senate are aiming to hold Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings before the Nov. 3 election.
That would give the California Democrat , one of the 22 committee members, a forum unprecedented in modern presidential political campaigns — as well as a national audience at a time when she and presidential candidate Joe Biden have avoided the sort of big, momentum-building rallies they regard as risky during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Her visible role might help the Biden-Harris ticket reach and energize some constituencies with a lot at stake including young women and minorities and promote their turnout in the election,” said Joel Goldstein, a St. Louis-based expert on vice presidential campaigns.
And, said Fernando Guerra, professor of political science at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, “Democrats will make sure they tee it up for her.”
There are potential pitfalls.
So far, Harris’ campaign has followed the traditional vice presidential candidate path — a burst of attention when chosen and at the convention, then barely noticed as attention focuses on the presidential candidate. She’ll debate Vice President Mike Pence Oct. 7.
Trump has occasionally blasted her — earlier this month he said it would be an “insult” for Harris to be the first woman president — but the volleys aimed at her in August have largely ended. Her judiciary committee role makes her an attractive target again.
The setting will be unique for a presidential campaign. Harris, like the other nine Democrats and 12 Republicans on the committee, will get a bloc of time to ask whatever she wants. Goldstein thought it could be a way for Harris to spotlight how Obamacare could be affected.
Jones-DeWeever saw this as a chance to remind people of the stakes for abortion rights, and Guerra thought that drawing a sharp contrast on abortion could be meaningful, particularly for centrist women.
Abortion and health care are expected to be major issues the court will decide in the coming months and years, and supporters of Obamacare and abortion rights fear a more conservative court will dilute, if not end, those laws and policies.
But Harris needs to be careful, said Guerra, that “she’s too much of an attack dog.”
At times, said analysts, women are held to a different standard. “A woman who gets too aggressive is perceived by some as unhinged,” said Walch.
Harris entered the Senate in 2017, and became a conservative target with her questioning of Kavanaugh.
Social media erupted, for instance, after she asked him during a discussion of abortion rights, “Can you think of any laws that give government the power to make decisions about the male body?” Kavanaugh looked perplexed.
Asked for more specifics, Harris said, “Male versus female.” Kavanaugh finally said he was “not thinking of any right now.”
Also getting lots of attention was their exchange over special counsel Robert Mueller’s look at the last presidential election. Harris wanted to know if Kavanaugh had had discussions about the investigation with anyone at the New York law firm begun by Trump’s personal attorney.
Kavanaugh tried to get Harris to be more specific.
Harris pounced. “Are you certain you’ve not had a conversation with anyone at that law firm?” she asked. She repeated the name of the firm.
“Yes or no?” she asked, adding, “I’m asking you a very direct question, yes or no?”
When Kavanaugh would not do that, Harris persisted.
“You have an impeccable memory, you’ve been speaking for almost eight hours, I think more to this committee about all sorts of things you remember. How can you not remember whether or not you had a conversation about Robert Mueller or his investigation with anyone at that law firm?” she asked.
The back and forth continued. “I think you’re thinking of someone and you don’t want to tell us,” Harris said.
Conservatives were and still are furious. Trump last month told Fox Business “She was so angry and [demonstrated] so much hatred with Justice Kavanaugh.” Democrats were highly supportive of Harris’ questioning.
Analysts thought another tough round of tough Harris questioning would not fire up the conservative base all that much.
“You can’t energize the Republican base more than it already is,” said Guerra.
Democrats hear that sort of talk and relish the idea of Harris firing away before a national audience.
The committee hearing “can be a reminder we need people who know how to fight,” said Antjuan Seawright, a South Carolina-based Democratic strategist. “It only helps.”