Harris's path on police reform littered with land mines

Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisKamala Harris engages with heckler during New York speech Biden's safe-space CNN town hall attracts small audience, as poll numbers plummet I voted for Trump in 2020 — he proved to be the ultimate RINO in 2021 MORE (D-Calif.), the front-runner to be former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenHow 'Buy American', other pro-US policies can help advocates pass ambitious climate policies Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by Raytheon Technologies — Biden backtracks on Taiwan Photos of the Week: Manchin protestor, Paris Hilton and a mirror room MORE’s running mate, will be a major influence on deciding whether Democrats decide to cut a deal with Senate Republicans on police reform next week.

Harris, along with Sen. Cory BookerCory BookerSenate Democrats call for diversity among new Federal Reserve Bank presidents Progressives push back on decision to shrink Biden's paid family leave program Emanuel to take hot seat in Senate confirmation hearing MORE (D-N.J.), is a lead sponsor of a joint Senate-House Democratic police reform proposal, which would ban chokeholds, no-knock drug warrants for federal drug cases and reform the doctrine of qualified immunity that shields police officers from lawsuits.

For anything to get done in Congress on police reform, Harris will have to sign off on a deal with Sen. Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottTim Scott takes in .3 million in third quarter Nikki Haley gets lifetime post on Clemson Board of Trustees First senator formally endorses Bass in LA mayoral bid MORE (R-S.C.), who is the lead sponsor of Republican legislation that would incentivize police departments to abandon chokeholds but not mandate it. His bill would only collect data on no-knock warrants and let qualified immunity stand.


Booker and Scott have talked regularly in recent days on finding middle ground, but Harris, as of Friday, had not had any direct conversations with Scott. They’ve traded voicemails, a sign of Harris’s lack of enthusiasm for the GOP proposal.

“He and I have been playing phone tag since I think the first time I called him was Friday of last week,” Harris said.

She said Scott’s bill “doesn’t meet the moment, and I urge him to adopt our bill as a much more relevant opportunity to correct what’s wrong with the system.”

Booker indicated Thursday that he’s unlikely to cut a deal without Harris.

“Kamala’s my full partner on this and so we are locked in,” he said. “Kamala and I are open and communicating and we are doing this together.”

If Harris agrees to a compromise bill that civil rights advocates view as too weak, she risks getting criticized by groups on the left, something that could hurt her chances of being named to the presidential ticket.


Harris also has to tread carefully as a former prosecutor who had to defend her record earlier this year during the Democratic presidential primary.

Lara Bazelon, a law professor and the former director of the Loyola Law School Project for the Innocent, opined in The New York Times in January of last year that Harris “was not a ‘progressive prosecutor.’”

Bazelon criticized Harris ahead of the primary for fighting “tooth and nail to uphold wrongful convictions” that the professor said “had been secured through official misconduct.”

She reiterated some of her criticisms of Harris’s record from 2004 to 2015 in an article published in The Appeal in December after Harris ended her presidential campaign

But Bazelon told Politico this month that Harris in recent years has positioned herself “on the right side” of law enforcement issues.

“I don’t think there’s the interest or the oxygen to re-litigate it,” she said of Harris’s work as a prosecutor. “She’s positioned herself in the last couple of years as someone who really is on the right side of these issues and that carries weight.”

She called Harris’s law enforcement record a “net neutral.”

Any bill Harris supports must counter the negative narrative that emerged during the primary and not give critics more ammunition, said Democratic strategist Steve Jarding.

Jarding says Harris needs to “be bold.”

“This is a chance for her to show that she can take the lead and she can be an asset on the ticket,” he said.

“When you’re attorney general and effectively a prosecutor, there’s a chance in this climate that could hurt you. We saw it with [Sen.] Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharGOP blocks Senate Democrats' revised elections bill Progressives push back on decision to shrink Biden's paid family leave program The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Altria - Biden holds meetings to resurrect his spending plan MORE,” he said.

Jarding said if he were Harris, “I would be less concerned about getting it passed,” warning that if Harris agrees to water down Democratic reforms to get a bill through the Senate, “then I think she would look worse.”


“It would play into the critics who said she was too harsh as attorney general when it came to people of color,” he said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden says he's open to altering, eliminating filibuster to advance voting rights Pelosi says GOP senators 'voted to aid and abet' voter suppression for blocking revised elections bill Manchin insists he hasn't threatened to leave Democrats MORE (R-Ky.) made clear last week that he has little interest in moving much more in the direction of Booker and Harris’s police reform bill.

“They want to basically ... federalize all of these issues,” he said, vowing the Senate-House Democratic proposal “is going nowhere in the Senate.”

The other thing Harris has to be wary of is the likelihood that any legislation passed by Congress, even if it falls short of what advocates of police reform on the left are calling for, would be seized by President TrumpDonald TrumpHillicon Valley — Presented by Xerox — Twitter's algorithm boosts right-leaning content, internal study finds Ohio Democrat calls Vance an 'ass----' over Baldwin tweet Matt Taibbi says Trump's rhetoric caused public perception of US intelligence services to shift MORE as a major accomplishment and touted during his race against Biden.

Trump in recent days has trumpeted his signing of the First Step Act criminal justice reform bill in 2018, legislation that according to one of its lead sponsors, Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinManchin: Negotiators to miss Friday target for deal on reconciliation bill Democrats look for plan B on filibuster The Memo: Cuts to big bill vex Democrats MORE (D-Ill.), Trump had little interest in moving until his son-in-law and White House adviser Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerTrump attacks Meghan McCain and her family McCain: Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner had 'no goddamn business' attending father's funeral Hillicon Valley — Presented by LookingGlass — Hackers are making big money MORE stepped in and championed.

Robert Borosage, the co-founder of Campaign for America’s Future, a liberal advocacy group, said Harris “has to walk a line.”


“She has to make it clear that if there is a bill that emerges it’s only the beginning and it is simply, not even a down payment, but a first step,” he said.

But Borosage noted that Harris is also under some pressure to get something moving. Simply nixing the legislation Scott and his GOP colleagues introduced last week may leave fellow Democrats disappointed.

“I do think people are ready for things to move,” he said.

Borosage said if Harris can move a modest bill with bipartisan Senate support and makes it clear that it was all she could get from Republicans but that she had a broader multipoint reform bill, "I think she can navigate it.”

“But it’s tricky,” he cautioned.

One such Democrat is Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiJudge to hear Trump's case against Jan. 6 committee in November Kamala Harris engages with heckler during New York speech GOP lawmaker calls for Meghan, Harry to lose royal titles over paid leave push MORE (Calif.), who told reporters that she would like to enter into a bicameral negotiation on any police reform bill that emerges from the Senate.


Borosage cautioned that Harris still has to prove herself to the party’s liberal base.

“She’s seen as somebody who ran out of the Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonI voted for Trump in 2020 — he proved to be the ultimate RINO in 2021 Neera Tanden tapped as White House staff secretary Meghan McCain: 'SNL' parodies made me feel like 'laughing stock of the country' MORE posture and made a few gestures to the left early and then backed away from them,” he said, citing Harris’s evolution to the center on the issue of “Medicare for All.”

“I don’t think anyone on the left sees her as a progressive in the Sanders-Warren tradition,” he added, referring to Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersOvernight Health Care — Presented by Carequest — Study finds Pfizer vaccine almost 91 percent effective for 5 to 11 year olds The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Uber - Manchin, Sanders in budget feud; Biden still upbeat Democratic frustration with Sinema rises MORE (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who ran the best with progressives in the primary. 

This story was updated at 11:37 to reflect Lara Bazelon's more recent remarks about Harris.