Senator Kamala Harris made history as Joe Biden's 2020 vice presidential pick, but Harris has an impressive track record in her own right. A former presidential candidate herself, not to mention a former prosecutor, San Francisco's district attorney, California attorney general, and current senator, Harris has had plenty of opportunities to demonstrate where she stands on key issues and policies. These will absolutely come into play as the Biden-Harris platform continues to develop, particularly in regard to where their plans and policies differ. Consider this your guide to Harris' views on the biggest issues facing the nation today, including policing, immigration, the climate crisis, and more.
In July of this year Harris, along with 13 other senators, asked Senate leaders to consider including fixes to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program in the next COVID-19 relief package. If you need a refresher, PSLF offers public service workers loan forgiveness after working full-time for 10 years in a federal, state, local, or tribal government organization or certain nonprofit organizations.
According to the letter, 99 percent of people who apply for this aid don't receive it due to "donut holes" in the system. Fixing these holes, as stated in the letter, ensure "that all types of federal loans and federal repayment plans would qualify, require clearer information and better guidance to borrowers, and simplify the application process so that all eligible borrowers are able to work towards and receive the loan forgiveness they have earned."
During her presidential run, Harris' also unveiled a $315 billion plan that would increase teacher pay by an average of $13,500 nationally over 10 years in an attempt to close the "teacher pay gap." "The people who are going to educate our children are our teachers, and for too long, they have been paid substandard wages," said Harris in an interview on CBS News. "Let's pay them their value."
As for the subject of student debt, Harris has backed Hawaii Senator Brian Schartz's 2019 Debt-Free College Act. This bill would allow participating students who attend state schools would receive grants from their college to cover the costs and stay out of debt. Participating states would then get a dollar-for-dollar match from the federal government for the funding they disburse for state schools.
Harris has long been an advocate for reproductive rights. She's supported by Planned Parenthood and numerous other pro-choice organizations. (You can read more about where she stands on abortion, here.)
At one of the 2020 Democratic primary debates, she voiced the importance of reproductive healthcare and how it's presence was lacking in the debates. "This is the sixth debate we have had in this presidential cycle," she said. "And not nearly one word, with all of these discussions about healthcare, on women's access to reproductive healthcare, which is under full-on attack in America today. And it's outrageous."
She's publicly spoken out against President Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Judge Amy Coney Barett, who has the backing of many conservatives and anti-abortion groups. "Judge Barrett has a long record of opposing abortion and reproductive rights," said Harris. There is no other issue that so disrespects and dishonors the work of Justice Ginsburg's life than undoing the seminal decision in the court's history that made it clear a woman has a right to make decisions about her own body."
In an interview with The Root last year, Harris said she supported the decriminalization of sex work.
"There is an ecosystem around that that includes crimes that harm people, and for those issues, I do not believe that anybody who hurts another human being or profits off of their exploitation should be free of criminal prosecution," said Harris. "But when you're talking about consenting adults, we should consider that we can't criminalize consensual behavior."
She didn't always think this, though. According to Rolling Stone, she was considered "an antagonist of sex workers" during her time as district attorney. Harris opposed Prop K, which set out to decriminalize prostitution in San Francisco, and she led the charge to get the classified-based website used by sex workers, Backpage.com, taken down.
In the early stages of Harris' presidential run, she proposed a tax legislation that would provide relief to middle-class citizens and their families. The proposed tax credit looked a little something like this:
- Single filers who made up to $30,000 and single parents who earned up to $80,000 would get a refundable tax credit of $3,000 per year.
- Married couples who earned up to $60,000 a year would get a refundable tax credit of $6,000 a year.
After a while, the program would phase out. According to the proposal, it would help families not to take out payday loans to cover rising living expenses cost. To pay for it, Harris suggests repealing the part of the 2017 GOP tax law that benefits those who make more than $100,000 while also placing a fee on financial institutions. Experts who spoke to CNN say that's not enough, though, for the price tag for something like this would be over $3 trillion for just 10 years of the plan.
"We should put money back into the pockets of American families to address rising costs of childcare, housing, tuition, and other expenses," Harris said in a statement when announcing the bill. "Our tax code should reflect our values and instead of more tax breaks for the top 1% and corporations, we should be lifting up millions of American families."
While this program hasn't got much off the ground, it was considered a stark difference from other proposals made by other Democratic presidential candidates.
In May, Harris put forth the COVID-19 Racial and Ethnic Disparities Task Force Act, which is a task force to address racial disparities, since Black people are disproportionately affected by the virus and the Black, Hispanic, Native American, and Pacific Islander communities all face barriers to equitable health care. The task force would use data to, in turn, advise on funding and policy decisions in the national response. This is just one of many proposals Harris has either put forth or supported in regard to the coronavirus, including monthly relief for struggling families, a ban on evictions and foreclosures, and grants to small businesses.
In her first joint appearance with Biden as his VP running mate, Harris criticized the current administration's mishandling of the pandemic. "This virus has impacted almost every country, but there’s a reason it has hit America worse than any other advanced nation. It’s because of Trump’s failure to take it seriously from the start...an American dies of COVID-19 every 80 seconds."
Harris has been vocal about Black Lives Matter and supported the movement's call for justice and police reform, including writing about the issue and marching with protesters:
But her stance on "standing up for Black America" dates before that. Her plans as a presidential candidate included "ending mass incarceration, cash bail and the death penalty; creating a national police systems review board; making attending historically Black colleges and universities debt-free for students."
It's worth noting here that Harris' stance has evolved over time. The New York Times piece goes into significant detail, but argues that the changes Harris made were incremental, and that she often “avoided intervening in cases involving killings by the police.” This work will likely come up during the campaign.
When she was a presidential candidate, Harris put forth a comprehensive climate plan:
Harris supports the Green New Deal, the Paris Agreement, and a "clean economy"—calling for $12 trillion in private and public funding to help build a clean economy that creates new jobs, promotes clean energy, and develops climate resilience measures. It also laid out future plans for net-zero carbon emissions (2045) and a carbon-neutral electricity sector (2030).
Along with Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Harris also proposed developing an Office of Climate and Environmental Justice Accountability to ensure low-income communities would benefit from legislation.
Based on her responses at the presidential debates and in later statements, Harris would take direct action: If Congress didn't act within 100 days, her plan would include a ban on assault weapons, mandatory background checks, and closing of loopholes, amongst other things. Harris is herself a gun owner and has said that she believes there's a balance between protection of Second Amendment rights and preventing gun deaths.
Biden also has a strong stance on gun control, and the announcement of Biden-Harris has been met with support from gun control advocates.
Harris is herself the daughter of two immigrant parents, and she was the first Black person and first woman to become San Francisco's attorney general. She's been outspoken on the proposed U.S.-Mexico wall, saying, "Because I was a prosecutor for many years, including the Attorney General of California, I specialize on trans-national criminal organizations. That wall ain’t gonna stop them.”
Harris has been called "the most outspoken ally of immigration activists" and put in place programs in California to protect and empower immigrants in the state. She supports DREAMers and DACA; In 2019, she unveiled an immigration plan that would remove the threat of deportation from undocumented immigrants via executive action and expand deferred action immigration programs.
Beyond her plans for the economy with regards to climate change, and the work she's done in favor of working families and individuals during the pandemic, Harris has been an advocate for increasing child care to six months. This "Children's Agenda" would "put children at the center of her decision-making and treat their needs with the same urgency and importance as we treat any other national priority." It would be available not just to full-time workers and would create a dedicated Office of Paid Family and Medical Leave.
In a larger sense, Harris' proposed the 21st Century SKILLS Act would allow workers to obtain money for training, particularly in specialized fields, to address the increasing challenge of automation in the workforce and the threat that poses to jobs. The program is flexible and covers costs like transportation and child care.