Kamala Harris issues call to action against Trump in new memoir
Sen. Kamala Harris’ unique biography and unlikely political ascent might have been summed up best by a political strategist who incorrectly predicted her defeat in the 2010 California attorney general’s race.
“There was no way I could win,” Harris writes in her new memoir, recalling the strategist’s stinging words, “because I was ‘a woman running for attorney general, a woman who is a minority, a woman who is a minority who is anti-death penalty who is DA of wacky San Francisco.’ Old stereotypes die hard.”
Harris did win that race (barely) and is now poised for another steep and daunting climb — this time a potential quest for the Democratic presidential nomination in what might become the most diverse and seasoned field of presidential candidates in the party’s history.
In a twist of fate, what one strategist viewed as her vulnerabilities — her gender, her race and the interrogation skills she developed as a prosecutor — may now be what sets her apart in the 2020 crowd.
The California senator’s memoir publishing Tuesday, “The Truths We Hold,” lays the groundwork by chronicling Harris’ journey as the daughter of immigrants from India and Jamaica who grew up with a “stroller-eye” view of the civil rights movement and was educated in the black intellectual circles of Oakland and Berkeley in the 1960s and early 1970s.
The book is a rallying cry against what Harris views as the un-American policies of the Trump administration, alongside her set of policy alternatives. She casts herself as a champion for everyday Americans against the powerful, and she is unsparing in her disdain for the policies of President Donald Trump. She notes that after her own victory speech in 2016, she watched the returns with her husband in a state of shock, eating “an entire family-size bag of classic Doritos. Didn’t share a single chip.”
“I did know this: one campaign was over but another was about to begin,” Harris writes. “This time, a battle for the soul of our nation.”
“In the years since,” she continues, “we’ve seen an administration align itself with white supremacists at home and cozy up to dictators abroad; rip babies from their mothers’ arms in grotesque violation of their human rights; give corporations and the wealthy huge tax cuts while ignoring the middle class; derail our fight against climate change; sabotage health care and imperil a woman’s right to control her own body; all while lashing out at seemingly everything and everyone, including the very idea of a free and independent press. We’re better than this.”
The memoir is also her most personal account to date of her exploration of her own heritage, her path to becoming a “progressive prosecutor” and her brushes with sexism as a woman in the male-dominated spheres of law and politics.
She will launch a media blitz Tuesday with appearances on ABC’s “Good Morning America” and “The View,” followed by a late night interview later this week with CBS’ Stephen Colbert and a series of talks about her book in Washington D.C., New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Her announcement about a presidential run is expected toward the end of this month.
For many years in California, Harris recoiled from questions about her personal life, which helped establish her image as a disciplined and cautious politician. Her first book, “Smart on Crime,” reflected that private veneer with its narrow focus on policy, drawing from her experience prosecuting crimes that ranged from child sexual assault to homicide in Alameda County and San Francisco.
In the new book, Harris delves far more deeply into her upbringing by a single mother who was determined to see that she and her sister Maya “would grow into confident, proud black women.” A mother, Harris writes, who taught them to be tough and rarely offered praise for “behavior or achievements that were expected.”
Harris stitches together touchstones from her childhood — like her mother’s pride in finally saving enough money to buy a home when Harris was in high school — with stories about her work as California’s attorney general pursuing predatory lenders and holding out for a larger settlement from the big banks after the foreclosure crisis.
Noting her self-doubt during that period as California held out for what ultimately became a $20 billion settlement, Harris recalled a tart message from then-Gov. Jerry Brown — “I hope you know what you’re doing” — as well as a tense meeting with top officials at the big banks who “seemed to be under the misimpression that I could be bullied into submission,” she writes.
In one dramatic moment, she describes how she engaged in a shouting match with Jamie Dimon, the chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase.
“I was tired of feeling caged, of talking through lawyers and other intermediaries in endless obfuscation,” Harris writes of her decision to call Dimon directly. “I took off my earrings (the Oakland in me) and picked up the receiver.”
” ‘You’re trying to steal from my shareholders!’ he yelled, almost as soon as he heard my voice. I gave it right back,” Harris writes.
” ‘Your shareholders? Your shareholders? My shareholders are the homeowners of California! You come and see them. Talk to them about who got robbed.’ It stayed at that level for a while. We were like dogs in a fight. A member of my senior team later recalled thinking, ‘This was either a really good or a colossally bad idea.’ ” (The settlement was reached two weeks later).
In a series of stories, Harris explains how the people she met as a prosecutor, and later as attorney general, steered her agenda in the Senate toward criminal justice revisions, legal protections for immigrants, boosting wages for the middle class and advocating for universal health care and for lowering the cost of prescription drugs.
She notes a career high point in performing gay weddings in California after the Supreme Court struck down Proposition 8, the 2008 California ballot measure that prohibited marriages for same-sex couples. (Like Brown, who served as attorney general before her, Harris refused to defend Proposition 8 in the courts).
Walking out of the Supreme Court after watching oral arguments in the case, Harris notes that day underscored her rationale for becoming a lawyer: “It was in the courtroom, I believed, that you could translate that passion into action and precedent and law.”
The most interesting passages of the book often tie back to Harris’ family heritage and the values instilled in her by her mother, who separated from Harris’ father when she was young.
Harris describes her focus on immigration as a senator — including her efforts to drill Trump officials like former Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly on protections for recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and children crossing the border — as being shaped by watching her mother’s experience of being a “target” as an immigrant in America.
“I saw it, and it made me mad,” Harris writes. “I have too many memories of my brilliant mother,” a breast cancer researcher who migrated from India to go to graduate school, “being treated as though she were dumb because of her accent. Memories of her being followed around a department store with suspicion, because surely a brown-skinned woman like her couldn’t afford the dress or the blouse she had chosen.”
At times, Harris reveals a more vulnerable side that she rarely shows in public. She notes, for example, her shock and horror when she failed the California Bar on her first try, and how she almost didn’t notice that her now-husband was proposing marriage because she was so caught up in what she calls the “balancing act of the working woman.”
She describes her nervousness changing into jeans and Chuck Taylors before she was introduced to her stepson and stepdaughter. She explains the “Momala” descriptor on her Twitter handle as the name she and the kids settled on because of their dislike of the word “stepmom.”
There are also relatable moments when she describes her anguish at missing sports matches and family milestones as she tried to balance her home life with her job in Washington.
For now, she writes that her centering ritual is the tradition of a Sunday gathering of friends and family.
“As long as I’m making Sunday family dinner,” she writes, “I know I’m in control of my life.”