Kamala Harris positions herself for White House run

Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisDem senator calls on Kavanaugh to withdraw after second allegation Feinstein calls for hold on Kavanaugh consideration Senate Democrats increase pressure for FBI investigation of Kavanaugh MORE is increasingly positioning herself for a what is expected to be a crowded Democratic primary for the White House in 2020. 

The former California attorney general, who is just at the beginning of her second year in the Senate, is taking positions that could endear herself with the Democratic base while allowing her to stand out from a group of Democrats who might seek the progressive mantle.

Harris voted against a Senate immigration bill backed by centrists from both parties earlier this month, waiting until the last minute to break with other liberals such as Sens. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersFive takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke's fiery first debate Ben & Jerry’s co-founders announce effort to help 7 Dem House challengers Dems look to Gillum, Abrams for pathway to victory in tough states MORE (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenDemocrats opposed to Pelosi lack challenger to topple her More Massachusetts Voters Prefer Deval Patrick for President than Elizabeth Warren Trump's trade war — firing all cannons or closing the portholes? MORE (D-Mass.), who both backed the measure. 

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She argued that while the bill would provide a pathway to citizenship for young immigrants who entered the country illegally, she could not support it in good conscience because of the inclusion of money for President TrumpDonald John TrumpGrassley: Dems 'withheld information' on new Kavanaugh allegation Health advocates decry funding transfer over migrant children Groups plan mass walkout in support of Kavanaugh accuser MORE’s proposed wall on the Mexican border.

“While this bill would put Dreamers on a pathway toward citizenship, the appropriation of $25 billion for a border wall is a waste of taxpayer money,” she said. “A wall will not secure our border and I remain concerned those billions of dollars may also be used to implement this Administration’s anti-immigrant agenda — one that targets California and its residents.”

Harris has also sought to highlight her positions on gun control while carving out an identity as a hard-core critic of the National Rifle Association.

On Thursday, she was quick to highlight an attack by the NRA’s chief at the Conservative Political Action Conference.

“I am not going to be silenced by attacks from the NRA or anyone else,” she wrote on Twitter, minutes after NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre labeled Harris and other Democrats “new European-style socialists bearing down upon us.” 

Last week, after the nation began another discussion on gun control following the Feb. 14 shooting at a Florida high school, Harris immediately weighed in on MSNBC.

“We cannot tolerate a society and live in a country with any level of pride when our babies are being slaughtered,” she said in a video that quickly went viral.

Political observers say it is clear that Harris is laying the groundwork and setting herself up to make a run for the White House, if she chooses. 

“She's not only positioning herself to run for president but she is positioning herself to the progressive left, and one of the ways she's been most effective at doing that is to pick a fight with the demons on the right,” said Thad Kousser, a political science professor and department chair at the University of California, San Diego. 

“Taking on Donald Trump as early and often as possible, and now second to Donald Trump is the NRA, and there’s no better foil than the NRA. That’s political gold for someone trying to establish a national reputation as a champion of the left,” he said.

Those close to Harris maintain that the issues are ones that Harris has felt passionately about for years. In particularly, they say protecting so-called Dreamers, or undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children, has been her top priority since she was elected to the Senate.

Chris Lehane, a Democratic strategist who is based in California, said Harris “feels a responsibility and an obligation to stand up on issues she has long been involved with.”

“It’s a natural position for any progressive Democrat from California because they have a record to point to of having engaged on those issues,” Lehane said. “She’s obviously an incredibly effective communicator and has enormous energy, but these are also issues she has rolled her sleeves up on.” 

In the last year, Harris has garnered the national spotlight for standout moments in Senate Intelligence Committee hearings, when she was shushed twice by Republican senators while attempting to question Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsTrump distances himself from Rosenstein by saying Sessions hired him Gowdy: Declassified documents unlikely to change anyone's mind on Russia investigation Pompeo on Rosenstein bombshell: Maybe you just ought to find something else to do if you can't be on the team MORE and former FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyRosenstein report gives GOP new ammo against DOJ Gowdy: Declassified documents unlikely to change anyone's mind on Russia investigation Pompeo on Rosenstein bombshell: Maybe you just ought to find something else to do if you can't be on the team MORE. Democrats rallied behind her, accusing the male senators of sexism. 

“She’s looking to be a champion of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party,” said Jack Pitney, a professor of politics at Claremont McKenna College in California, saying that Harris “has a chance at getting a lot of support.”

“It’s a position that’s not going to hurt her in the state of California and it will endear her to Democratic progressives who are looking for an assertive stance against the NRA,” Pitney added of her comments on guns.

What Harris and other would-be presidential candidates must be careful about is positioning themselves so far to the left that it backfires in a general election against Trump.

“The question, of course, in the longer run is if she were the Democratic Party nominee, how would that position her in the general election?” Pitney said of Harris. “That’s less certain.”