After former Vice President Joe Biden announced California Sen. Kamala Harris as his running mate, critics were quick to label her as far left while some progressives bemoaned her as too much of a moderate.
President Donald Trump led the charge, telling Fox Business on Thursday that Harris was “the most liberal person in the US Senate.”
Facts First: Harris’ voting record in the Senate is certainly one of the most liberal, though her record prior to the Senate is more moderate on some issues.
After six years as California’s attorney general, Harris was elected to the US Senate in 2016. Since then, she has co-sponsored bills aligned with several liberal causes including expanding gun control measures and passing “Medicare for All.” Harris has also voted against many Trump nominees for federal judgeships and top positions inside his administration.
In 2019, GovTrack, a non-partisan organization that tracks bills in Congress, ranked Harris as the “most liberal compared to All Senators.” One measure the organization uses is comparing how many bipartisan bills each senator cosponsors to how many bills they co-sponsored in total. Harris had the lowest at 15% in 2019.
During her primary run, Harris eventually disagreed with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders on whether private health insurance should play a role in Medicare for All, a bill that Harris originally co-sponsored. In a January 2019 town hall, Harris was asked by CNN’s Jake Tapper if she supported eliminating private insurance. The senator answered affirmatively, saying she would be OK with cutting insurers out of the mix. When Harris released her Medicare for All plan months later in July it stopped short of completely eliminating private insurance.
While Trump did say “in the US Senate,” some who argue against the narrative laid out by Trump and others point to Harris’ record as California’s attorney general, which GovTrack’s founder says is “at odds” with her time in the Senate.
Harris has received criticism for some of her actions as attorney general, especially regarding criminal justice reform, which some see as contradictory to more liberal ideals. For example, during the primary, other candidates pushed her to defend policies enacted while she was AG, such as a hardline stance on marijuana, that disproportionately affected communities of color.
Since becoming a senator, Harris has changed her stance on marijuana in particular. In 2019, while announcing a bill to decriminalize the possession of marijuana on a federal level Harris said, “Times have changed – marijuana should not be a crime.”
“Our analysis is at odds with her documented pre-Congress career of being pragmatic or moderate,” Josh Tauberer, GovTrack founder told the Sacramento Bee, “and it remains to be seen which part of her career – her actions as a district attorney and Attorney General or her policy proposals in Congress – would be reflected greater in a Biden administration.”