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While Many Cheer Kamala Harris as Biden’s VP Pick, Others Scrutinize Her Past as California’s AG

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  • After Joe Biden named Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Ca.) as his running mate, many celebrities and Democrats cheered the decision.
  • On the other side of the aisle, President Donald Trump immediately attacked Harris, sharing an ad that called her part of the radical left and “phony Kamala.” That phrase was then echoed by Fox News and trended on Twitter.
  • Some who identify as Democrats or liberals have also questioned Biden’s pick, noting that Harris’ time as attorney general has proved to be controversial.
  • Still, some analysts have argued that a vice presidential pick will likely not substantially affect an election, and many already planning to vote for the Democratic candidate have said despite reservations, they don’t plan on changing their vote. 

Celebrities and Major Democrats Cheer Harris Pick

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden announced Tuesday that he has selected Kamala Harris (D-CA.) as his running mate. Immediately, the response to that decision was strong and widely varied, even within the Democratic party. 

Many congratulated Harris for being both the first Black and first Asian-American women to run as vice president on a major political party’s ticket. 

“Was there ever more of an exciting day?” actress Mindy Kaling tweeted.

“For our entire country of course, but especially for my Black and Indian sisters, many of us who have gone our entire lives thinking that someone who looks like us may never hold high office? We work so hard and contribute to the fabric of our lives in America, & now to see @SenKamalaHarris rise to the top like this? It’s thrilling!! I am filled with hope and excitement. Thank you @JoeBiden. Let’s do this!⁣” 

Kaling was also joined by numerous other celebrities, including Kerry Washington, LeBron James, Chrissy Teigen, and John Legend.

Alongside celebrities, a number of major Democrats have backed Harris, including some who are seen as possible candidates to join Biden’s administration should he win the November election.

Trump Denounces Harris as “Phony”

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump immediately took aim at Harris, tweeting an ad that called her part of the “radical left” and “phony Kamala. 

The same night, similar sentiments made their way to Fox News, where commentator Jesse Watters said, “She’s kind of a phony who never caught on.” Alongside that, “Phony Kamala” trended on Twitter Tuesday night. 

Ronna McDaniel, the Republican National Committee Chair, has also blasted Biden for picking Harris, saying he “chose the person who would actually be in charge the next four years if he is somehow able to win.”

“Kamala Harris’ extreme positions, from raising taxes to abolishing private health insurance to comparing law enforcement officials to the KKK, show that the left-wing mob is controlling Biden’s candidacy, just like they would control him as president,” McDaniel said. “These radical policies might be popular among liberals, but they are well outside the mainstream for most Americans.”

She added that Harris should expect “an unprecedented level of scrutiny and attention.”

Scrutiny Into Harris’ Time as California AG

Regardless of political views, McDaniel’s prediction has proved right: scrutiny has already been widespread since Tuesday. 

Most of that stems from Harris’ time as the “top cop” attorney general of California, and it’s come from both sides of the aisle. The difference? While many conservatives have painted Harris as too extreme for America, some liberals have argued that she is simply too moderate and that her actions as attorney general don’t align with the current cultural flashpoint America is in — especially for what they want to see out of the Democratic Party.

For example, many online have taken issue with the fact that Harris used to be a police officer, a career that has become increasingly polarized as calls to defund police departments are receiving more support than ever.

Some hoping to oust Trump have feared that Biden’s choosing of her could cause a split in the party, leading to Trump’s re-election. Many experts have shut that idea down, saying that a vice presidential candidate isn’t likely to make or break the election. Others online have echoed that sentiment, saying that even if they aren’t enthused, they still plan to vote for Biden and Harris.

Many have also attempted to ease concerns from liberals by pointing to a Propublica report that shows Harris voting alongside the much more progressive Bernie Sanders 93% of the time in 2017 and 2018. 

Police Shootings in San Francisco

Harris was first elected as California’s attorney general in 2011, and she served in that role until 2017 when she won her current Senate seat. 

For her part, Harris has described herself as a “progressive prosecutor” who’s tough on crime but also addresses inequities in the criminal justice system. She has long-claimed that she became a prosecutor because she wanted to change that system from within.

But her role as attorney general carries a significant amount of baggage. For example, after Michael Brown was shot and killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014, many urged her to launch an investigation into a series of police shootings in San Francisco.

Despite this, Harris said that her office did not have the power to initiate those types of investigations except in extreme circumstances. In 2015, she refused to back a bill that would have required her office to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate cases involving police misconduct.

In 2016, Harris proposed what The New York Times described as a “modest” expansion of her office’s powers to investigate police use of force. By that time, she had also begun reviewing two municipal police departments and backed a Justice Department investigation in San Francisco.

“Critics saw her taking baby steps when bold reform was needed — a microcosm of a career in which she developed a reputation for taking cautious, incremental action on criminal justice and, more often than not, yielding to the status quo,” The New York Times reported. 

Critics have similarly held Harris accountable for saying in her 2009 book, “Smart on Crime,” “If we take a show of hands of those who would like to see more police officers on the street, mine would shoot up.”

“Virtually all law-abiding citizens feel safer when they see officers walking a beat,” she added. “This is as true in economically poor areas as in wealthy ones.”

However, earlier this summer following the death of George Floyd, she said, “It is status-quo thinking to believe that putting more police on the streets creates more safety. That’s wrong. It’s just wrong.”

Likely, this plays into the reason why Trump and other conservatives have attacked Harris as being “phony.” For liberals, the opposing comments (along with other controversies) have similarly raised questions about whether she is a “pragmatic progressive” or if she has genuinely shifted ideology over the last 11 years. 

Prison Labor

One of the most notable concerns surrounding Harris stems from 2011 when the Supreme Court ordered California to reduce prison crowding. In that decision, justices ruled that conditions in state prisons were so bad they violated the 8th Amendment ban against cruel and unusual punishment. 

Then-justice Anthony Kennedy further wrote that the prison system in the state had failed to deliver the minimum level of care to prisoners with serious medical and mental health problems, producing “needless suffering and death.”

At the time, Harris created a division in her office to help counties devise alternatives to incarceration, and in February 2014, the state agreed to reduce its prison population by releasing nonviolent prisoners with only two felonies after serving half of their sentences.

However, by November 2014, Harris’ office unsuccessfully argued in court against releasing too many prisoners eligible for parole — prisoners it had agreed to release — because “if forced to release these inmates early, prisons would lose an important labor pool.”

At the time, Deputy Attorney General Patrick McKinney also argued against releasing those prisoners because many were being used as firefighters to combat California’s fire season.

According to The Los Angeles Times, most of those prisoners were earning only between 8 and 37 cents an hour. 

Harris later denied that she ever knew such an argument was being used in court and later directed her lawyers not to make that argument in the future. 

“The way that argument played out in court does not reflect my priorities,” she told the website ThinkProgress. “The idea that we incarcerate people to have indentured servitude is one of the worst possible perceptions. I feel very strongly about that. It evokes images of chain gangs.”

Mass Incarceration

Also related to prisons, Harris has faced criticism involving her arrest record regarding marijuana offenses. 

In fact, on Tuesday, a clip of Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hi.) from a presidential debate last year resurfaced. In that clip, Gabbard attacks Harris’ policing of marijuana offenses. 

“There are too many examples to cite, but she put over 1,500 people in jail for marijuana violations and then laughed about it when she was asked if she ever smoked marijuana,” Gabbard said. 

Gabbard’s claims are a little misleading. It appears Gabbard was citing an article from the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative outlet that ran the headline: Kamala Harris Packed California Prisons With Pot Peddlers.”

However, during Harris’ time as attorney general, around 1,900 marijuana and hashish offenses were recorded. Though that’s actually higher than what Gabbard claimed, a few points should be clarified.

For one, marijuana offenses dramatically dropped after Harris’ first year in office. 

The vast majority of those cases also weren’t directly prosecuted by her office. Instead, lower-level attorneys prosecuted those cases.

Both former lawyers in her office and defense attorneys who’ve worked on drug cases have also argued that most of those people were never locked up. In fact, they contend that only a few dozen were sent to state prison for marijuana convictions while Harris was in office.

Blocking DNA Evidence

In the resurfaced Gabbard clip, the Hawaii rep. also claims that Harris “blocked evidence that would have freed an innocent man from death row until the courts forced her to do so.” 

Gabbard is likely referring to a Black man by the name of Kevin Cooper, who was convicted of hacking and murdering four people in a family in 1983. In 1985, he was then placed on death row but has continued to maintain his innocence ever since.

Along with his claims, there have been serious concerns over his conviction. For example, an 8-year-old witness described the perpetrators as three white men.

According to an investigative column from The New York Times, brown and blond hairs were found in the victims’ hands, yet Cooper had black hair and an afro at the time. In fact, sheriff’s deputies never found Cooper’s hair or even his fingerprints at the scene.

One woman even called police and told them that she believed the murderer was her boyfriend — a man who was already a convicted murder — after she found his bloody overalls and noticed that a hatchet had gone missing.

Still, police proceeded to investigate Cooper, who had been found hiding near the family’s home after escaping from a prison on a burglary conviction.

Decades later, in 2016, Cooper’s attorneys filed a clemency petition insisting that newly available DNA testing would exonerate him; however, Harris’ office refused to allow that DNA testing.

It wasn’t until 2018 when Harris — now in the Senate — said in a Facebook post that she hoped the state would allow DNA testing for Cooper’s case. That finally moved forward last year after Gavin Newsom (D) was elected governor of California.

While Harris was never forced to lift the block on that evidence like Gabbard claimed, her office did still block it all the same.

Following the attack from Gabbard last year, Harris’ campaign spokesperson denied that she was ever directly involved in that decision.

“Senator Harris ran an office of 5,000 people and takes responsibility for all the actions of the [California] Department of Justice during her tenure,” he said.

“Most of the legal activity around this case occurred before her terms in office, but this specific request was made to and decided by lower level attorneys. When the case was brought to her attention, she publicly called for further DNA testing. She has always been a strong proponent of DNA testing and again, an opponent of the death penalty.”

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (SF Weekly) (CNN)

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Campaign Season Gets Rolling This Month With Primaries in 13 States

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Several of the contests taking place this month will serve as important tests for Trump-backed candidates and how much power the former president still has over the GOP.


May Primaries Start With Key Race in Ohio

The 2022 midterm season is officially heating up this month with 13 states heading to the polls.

Voters in Indiana and Ohio will kick off the busy month on Tuesday with several highly anticipated races, including one closely watched contest for the seat being vacated by long-time Senator Rob Portman (R-Oh.)

The fight for Portman’s seat has been a heated one: candidates have spent tens of millions of dollars, held numerous debates and forums, and at one point, two of them even got into a physical confrontation. 

The main reason there are so many eyes on this race is because it will prove to be a key test for former President Donald Trump and the influence he has over the party. While Portman has generally been moderate and, at times, more readily critical of Trump than many others in his party, the Republican primary campaign has basically been a fight to see who is the most in line with Trump.

According to FiveThirtyEight, all but one of the seven Republican senate candidates embraced the former president’s election fraud lies as they fought for his coveted endorsement in a state he won by eight points in both 2016 and 2020.

Trump, for his part, ultimately ended up endorsing Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance in a move that surprised many, because Vance had previously been vocally opposed to the former leader and his competitors had spent months running ads noting that fact.

However, the fight for Trump’s backing appears to have been worth it. Last week, a Fox News poll found that support for Vance has surged by double-digits since Trump’s endorsement, making him the front-runner.

Still, as FiveThirtyEight reports, “other factions of the party haven’t given up the fight either — which means the primary will be a direct test of how much clout Trump has when other Republican elites dare to defy him.” 

Meanwhile, there are also concerns regarding the ongoing legal battle over Ohio’s congressional map and the confusion that has caused for the state’s election calendar. For weeks, it was widely believed the state’s primaries would be pushed back after the Ohio Supreme Court ordered GOP lawmakers to redraw their map.

The map had been gerrymandered to give Republicans 12 out of the 15 congressional seats in the state even though they had only won around 55% of the popular vote. Ohio voters also previously passed a constitutional amendment in 2018 that effectively banned partisan gerrymandering.

The election, however, is still going forward anyway, even as early voting was down a whopping 40% from the last election, and the legislative races will not be on the ballot Tuesday, meaning there will have to be a second primary, which will likely drive down turnout even more.

Other Major Races This Month

There are also other notable contests scheduled for later this month. On May 17, there will be two additional races for seats vacated by Republican senators in North Carolina and Pennsylvania that will serve as important indicators of the former president’s sway over the party.

Meanwhile, in Georgia, the main Trump test focuses on two statewide races for the positions currently held by Gov. Brian Kemp (R) and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R). The two infamously angered Trump after they refused to help him overturn the election, and as a result, many are watching to see if the former president’s full-fledged pressure campaign against them will work.

In Georgia and other battlegrounds voting this month, Democrats are also hoping they can make inroads — particularly in Pennsylvania. But recent polls have not painted a good picture for the party. Last week, an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll found that 47% of voters said they were more likely to vote for the Republican in their district, while just 44% said they would back Democrats. 

The poll marked the first time in eight years that a Marist survey found the GOP with an advantage for congressional ballot tests. 

See what others are saying: (NPR) (FiveThirtyEight) (PennLive)

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New York’s Highest Court Strikes Down Democrat-Gerrymandered Map

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The move represents a major blow to Democrats, who stood to gain as many as three seats in Congress if their map had been accepted.


Appeals Court Ruling

The New York State Court of Appeals struck down a congressional map drawn by the state’s Democrats Wednesday, dealing the party a major blow.

In the decision, the state’s highest court agreed with Republicans who had argued that the map was unconstitutionally gerrymandered to benefit Democrats. The justices called the map “substantively unconstitutional as drawn with impermissible partisan purpose.”

The court also condemned the Democrats for ignoring a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2014 that aimed to limit political influence in redistricting, which included the creation of an independent entity to draw maps that the legislature would then vote on. However, the commission created to prevent partisan gerrymandering was unable to decide on a map because of its own partisan stalemate. As a result, Democrats in the legislature took it upon themselves to draw a final map.

But the version that the legislature passed and New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) signed into law re-drew lines so that Democrats could have gained as many as three new seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. 

Such gains would be highly significant in the upcoming 2022 midterm elections, where Republicans are expected to make substantial gains and may very well take back the House. Unsurprisingly, Republicans sued, and a lower court struck down the map.

In their order, the Appeals Court justices took away the legislature’s ability to make the map and instead delegated that power to a court-appointed “neutral expert.” 

While the judges did say there was enough time to finish the map before the primary elections in June, they also added that the Congressional contests would likely need to be moved to August. Races for governor and other statewide officials, however, would stay the same.

Broader Trends

The Appeals Court ruling is unique in that it targets Democrats, but it also comes as part of the broader trend of state courts cracking down on gerrymandering — though most other instances have stemmed from GOP-drawn maps.

In just the first four months of 2022, state courts in Ohio, North Carolina, Kansas, and Maryland have all struck down redistricting plans crafted by lawmakers.

Unlike the New York ruling, some of those other courts have implied that they will still allow those maps to be used in the 2022 elections. Such a decision would very likely disadvantage Democrats even more.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)

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McCarthy Warned Far-Right Lawmakers Could Incite Violence After Jan. 6 in New Audio of Leaked Call

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The conversations represent a marked difference from the public efforts of McCarthy and other Republican leaders to downplay their members actions.


Leaked Audio

Four days after the Jan. 6 insurrection, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Ca.) expressed concern about far-right Republicans inciting violence and openly voiced support for censoring them on Twitter, according to audio published by The New York Times on Tuesday.

The recordings, which come from a call among party leaders and aides on Jan. 10, are by far the clearest evidence top Republicans acknowledged that their members played a role in stoking violence before the insurrection and threatened to do so after.

They also emphasize the vast difference between what top Republicans, especially McCarthy, said behind closed doors, and how they downplayed and ignored the actions of their members in public. 

One of the most notable elements of these recordings is that McCarthy and the others explicitly identified several individuals by name. They focused mainly on Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fl.) and Mo Brooks (R-Al.) as the primary offenders.

In the audio, McCarthy can be heard flagging Gaetz right off the bat.

“Tension is too high. The country is too crazy,” he added. “I do not want to look back and think we caused something or we missed something and someone got hurt. I don’t want to play politics with any of that.” 

Specifically, McCarthy and the others talked about how Gaetz had gone on TV to attack multiple Republicans for being unsupportive of former President Donald Trump after Jan. 6. They particularly expressed concern over his targeting of Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wy.), who was a member of the leadership team and had already been facing threats.

Others on the call also noted that Brooks had spoken at the rally before the insurrection, where he made incendiary remarks that many have viewed as direct calls to violence. McCarthy said the public comments from his members “have to stop,” adding he would call Gaetz and have others do the same to tell him that this “is serious shit” and “to cut this out.”

Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), the second-ranking House Republican, asserted at one point that Gaetz’s actions were “potentially illegal.” 

“Well, he’s putting people in jeopardy, and he doesn’t need to be doing this,” McCarthy responded. “We saw what people would do in the Capitol, you know, and these people came prepared with rope, with everything else.”

Republicans on the call also mentioned incendiary remarks from other members, including Reps. Louie Gohmert (R-Tx.), Barry Moore (R-Al.), and Lauren Boebert (R-Co.). Cheney pointed to Boebert as a security risk, noting she had tweeted out incredibly sensitive information about the movements of top leaders like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) during the attack on the Capitol.

“Our members have got to start paying attention to what they say, too, and you can’t put up with that shit,” McCarthy added later. “Can’t they take their Twitter accounts away, too?”

McCarthy in Hot Water

The newly published recordings also come just days after The Times reported that McCarthy had told members on a call after the insurrection that he would urge Trump to resign.

McCarthy initially called the reporting “totally false and wrong,” but shortly after his denial, The Times received permission from their source to publish audio where he can be heard saying precisely that.

McCarthy, for his part, has tried to spin the situation, claiming that his remarks were still true because he never actually followed through on the plan to call Trump. 

Still, the situation prompted widespread backlash from the far-right faction of the Republican party. 

Multiple people expressed hesitancy about their support for McCarthy as Speaker of the House if Republicans take control of the chamber in the midterm elections. Some said they could not trust him.

Speaking on his show Tuesday, Foxs News host Tucker Carlson called McCarthy “a puppet of the Democratic Party.”

Gaetz also responded with ire, tweeting out a statement in which he referred to the call as “sniveling” and said of McCarthy and Scalise: “This is the behavior of weak men, not leaders.”

Other members mentioned in the call, however, appeared to brush it off. In a statement to Axios, Moore claimed that the story was engineered by “RINOS” (Republicans in Name Only), and that “Republicans will be more united than ever after taking back the House this November.”

It currently remains unclear whether these revelations with pose any long-term threat to McCarthy, but if Trump is any indication of the far-right party line, the House leader may be in the clear.

After The Times published the audio of McCarthy saying Trump should resign, the former president told The Wall Street Journal that the relationship between the two men was untroubled.

“I think it’s all a big compliment, frankly,” he added. “They realized they were wrong and supported me.”

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Axios) (The Washington Post)

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