Kamala Harris’s Very Open Secret

The senator from California seems like the obvious choice to be Joe Biden’s running mate. So why is she keeping mum about her thinking?

A few weeks ago, an adviser to Kamala Harris called me to talk through some polling data. “We understand that Joe Biden’s the nominee, but the party is so much different than a septuagenarian white male,” the adviser said. “Kamala Harris is more symbolic of that changing America—America coming together—than some of the other potential candidates” for vice president.

The adviser spoke on the condition of anonymity because, officially, Harris is pretending that she’s not campaigning to be Biden’s running mate.

In public, Harris has repeatedly insisted that she’s not talking about or thinking about her prospects of being picked. But judging from my conversations with people around Harris, she and her team use her prospects to book events and television hits that aim to show she’s neither overeager nor overambitious. She and her team are avoiding situations that could create stumbles. They’re hoping that her résumé, her background, and the force of her personality propel her. They’re picking specific moments for her to grab attention on the Senate floor or send a calibrated tweet. They’re tuning out political reporters who are stuck on their couches, looking to drum up content during the pandemic. They’re trying to ease concerns in Biden’s orbit that if she’s picked and they win, she’ll start running for president the morning after the inauguration. They want her on the ticket, and positioned to be the Democratic nominee in 2024.

“She’s literally the antidote,” says Stockton, California, Mayor Michael Tubbs, who endorsed Michael Bloomberg in the presidential race a few weeks after Harris dropped out. “She’s the opposite of Trump. She’s someone who believes in the rule of law; she’s not afraid to confront bullies. She’s not afraid to speak to where we need to be.”

The careful campaign appears to be working. Biden advisers have said privately that they’re impressed. Members of Congress who only a few weeks ago were grumbling that she’s been showing up less for legislating and more for TV hits are now worried about getting caught doubting her.

“Not sure anyone who is in Congress would criticize Kamala, given such high odds she could be on the ticket,” said one Democratic member of Congress who’s hoping that Biden picks someone else. Naturally, this member of Congress requested anonymity to discuss how other members of Congress want to stay anonymous.

Harris declined several requests for an in-depth discussion about the state of the country and what specific ideas she has for change going forward, whether or not she’s on the ticket. She likes to approach interviews as a prosecutor who’s thoroughly reviewed a case file, mastering the topic in front of her and fully focused on it, aides who have seen her in action say. And she favors single-topic interviews on TV, where she feels more comfortable deflecting and knows that commercial breaks can help her run out the clock.

But Harris is leaving questions unanswered about what she’d actually aim to do as vice president or why she wants the job. This is typical. With those who know her, she can be thoughtful, funny, engaging, and pragmatic, with little patience for grand theories of governance. She’s focused on what will make a real difference in people’s lives. But the version of Harris the public knows often comes off scripted and indirect, appearing mostly in sound bites and viral videos. Her instinct to parry rather than expound helps her avoid awkward questions, such as during a segment on The View earlier this month, when Meghan McCain asked her if she was in favor of defunding the police. Instead of answering directly, Harris asked what McCain meant, and McCain eventually admitted that she didn’t know herself. Harris successfully avoided taking a potentially controversial position. But she also reinforced her preexisting reputation for evasiveness: I heard from several high-level Democratic operatives that the exchange reminded them of Harris’s habit of dodging critical questions during her presidential campaign.

Among those who’d like to know more about where she stands is Rashad Robinson, the president of the civil-rights group Color of Change. He’s had a number of public and private conversations with Harris over the years—on podcasts, in Facebook chats, alone in her office. He’s been impressed that she’s talked with him without staff in the room to support her, and with the level of consideration she’s brought to conversations about inequities in criminal justice. But when I asked him if he feels like Harris is more substantive than she sometimes appears, he said, “I don’t know. It’s hard, because I feel like I don’t have enough.”

People close to Harris believe that she’s the victim of East Coast bias, unfairly high expectations that always hold her to a front-runner standard, and more subtle bias against her as a black woman. They think she’s never gotten the credit she deserves—like when Twitter announced that it would be fact-checking and curating Donald Trump’s tweets. In October, desperate for a Hail Mary pass to save her campaign, she proposed banning Trump from Twitter. She even got into a back-and-forth with Elizabeth Warren about it at the October debate. Liberal tastemakers sneered that her suggestion made no sense. But by last month, banning Trump had worked its way into the consciousness enough to be the subject of a Maureen Dowd column (which didn’t mention Harris), and Harris defenders felt vindicated.

Harris has now been able to lean on her past as a prosecutor as a strength. During the primary, supporters of other candidates turned it into a liability in the name of progressivism. But these days she’s stepping up as the national debate has turned to police reform, leading the Senate Democrats’ fight against Republican legislation and helping write their own bill, delivering a searing speech on the Senate floor responding to Rand Paul’s resistance to anti-lynching legislation. She’s been firmer on and more expansive about her record than she ever was as a presidential candidate, to the point that the law professor Lara Bazelon told NPR this week, “Her record has been consistent, and it’s been good.” Bazelon wrote a New York Times op-ed in January 2019 with the headline “Kamala Harris Was Not a ‘Progressive Prosecutor.’” But Harris “did champion progressive causes,” Bazelon said on NPR.

Harris was chastened by the failure of her presidential run, which launched like a rocket and ended like a deflated blimp. For the running-mate process, according to several people who’ve spoken with her and her small circle of advisers, she’s determined to seem steadier. She’s also still atoning politically for what became her defining moment of the campaign: taking Biden’s legs out from under him at the first debate. Biden took it personally—especially because Harris was friends with his late son, Beau—and a number of people close to him thought it showed that she wouldn’t hold back. That moment has stuck with a lot of Biden supporters.

“I’m one of these Irish guys that forgives but does not forget. And I’m one of these Irish guys that holds a grudge,” says John Morgan, a major Florida donor who hosted one of the first big fundraising events for Biden. “What she did to him in that debate was treacherous, and she didn’t have to do it. He trusted her. He had helped her before. And she had a relationship with his son. It was, Et tu Kamala?

“With that said,” Morgan joked to me, “she’ll probably be the vice president and I’ll never be invited to the White House.”

Even among those who are more sympathetic, the turnaround feels dizzying. In an interview with Harris last Wednesday, Stephen Colbert said he believed that she is sincerely behind Biden. She might be a good running mate, he said, but how would she get there after all the “haymakers” she landed onstage?

“It was a debate,” Harris said.

“Not everyone landed punches like you did, though,” Colbert said.

“It was a debate,” Harris said, deploying the laugh she often uses to deflect during television interviews.

“So you don’t mean it?”

“It was a debate,” she said again.

Harris’s hesitation in endorsing Biden earlier this year only reinforced some of his supporters’ suspicions about her. Biden advisers called Harris multiple times, urging her to back him, insisting that she could help him consolidate support ahead of the California primary and others on Super Tuesday, people who were clued in to the conversations told me. She thought about how and when to endorse. Some on her side urged her to make a splash and regain Biden’s goodwill. But she decided to wait, in part out of deference to the women who remained in the race, in part because she was hesitant about taking a chance that Biden would win. She finally endorsed Biden six days after California voted, when the primary race was all but over.

Biden has made clear in private conversations that have been relayed to me that he’s focused on beating Trump, not payback, and that he’ll pick whichever woman he believes will most help him win.

Look at what’s happening in this country, Harris supporters say. To them, there’s no way that Biden cannot pick a black woman as his running mate. Some of the Democratic intelligentsia have started swooning over the possibility of Warren as his vice president. But it’s absurd to imagine that Biden would respond to this moment by putting forward two white people in their 70s, Harris backers argue. And if Biden is going to pick a black woman, these supporters say, he’s got to pick Harris. Out of Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Representative Val Demings of Florida, former Georgia Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, and former National Security Adviser Susan Rice—all of whom have been floated as potential vice-president nominees—none has had the experience to understand the scrutiny and pressure of being part of a national campaign.

Tubbs, the mayor of Stockton, isn’t concerned that the Biden team is considering black women who aren’t Harris. “It’s part of the vetting process,” he said. “Everyone should be vetted. But once the vetting plays out, you will see Kamala Harris emerge as the obvious choice.”

Harris fans often compare her with Warren, generally seen as the other leading contender, and the Black Lives Matter protests in front of the White House gave them a direct juxtaposition. Harris arrived the day before Trump took his walk through tear gas to his Bible photo op, clapping and chanting along with the crowd (captured in a video quickly tweeted by her husband). Warren showed up three days later, bringing along her dog and speaking with reporters. The catch: Warren and Harris polled roughly the same among black voters when they were both still running for president. And in a CBS poll released at the beginning of May—before the police killing of George Floyd—72 percent of black voters said Biden should consider Warren for vice president. Just 60 percent said he should consider Harris.

“It would be incredible to have a woman of color,” Mandela Barnes, the Democratic lieutenant governor of Wisconsin, told me. “That would speak volumes for the direction of this country and where our nominee intends to take us.” But he said he’s still drawn to Warren.

Barnes is black himself. In 2018, he helped Tony Evers, his older white running mate, beat an incumbent Republican, aided by high turnout in Milwaukee and among black voters. He’s not convinced that Harris would do the same for Biden. “I don’t know that Kamala’s had the time to develop that familiarity,” he said. “I don’t know that [her being black] automatically translates. In fact, I’m not willing to say that at all. It’s going to be important to corral the energy in the activist community in November—people who’ve made it clear that they don’t have to vote for you.”

If harris is the pick, in retrospect this will probably seem like the longest, most drawn-out lead-up to an obvious conclusion in the history of modern presidential politics. But first, she’ll have to convince Biden’s top advisers that she would be able to deliver younger voters, women, and black voters in numbers that she never did during her own presidential campaign. To some who are talking with Biden, the arguments from people close to Harris that these failures were because Biden had a lock on those voters in the primary are effectively an argument that he doesn’t need her to get them.

“Joe Biden is not going to pick a mythical-beam-of-light woman of color. He’s going to pick an actual politician,” says Sean McElwee, a progressive pollster who has put out surveys showing that liberals want Warren.

Robinson, of Color of Change, said he’s been encouraged by what he’s seen from Harris so far. And he understands that she has spent her life pushing against attacks that come when you’re the first woman, or woman of color, to do something. Harris was the first woman and the first person of color to be district attorney of San Francisco; the first woman and the first person of color to be attorney general of California; the first woman of color to be a senator from California (and only the second ever in the country); and the first woman of color to be a major presidential contender.

“Attacks can be gendered, and can be racialized. And there’s ways we cannot give people the full advantage of their expertise,” Robinson said. He added that he thought it was important to consider how much circumstances and politics have changed since the beginning of her career. “There was a time when Kamala Harris was a DA when she was probably considered a progressive DA,” he said. “But she was a DA, and she chose to be a prosecutor.”

Robinson added, “The moment and the time we’re in is continuing to push her.”

Representative Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, another important voice in Biden’s ear, who’s been very public about wanting Biden’s choice to be a woman of color, told me that he thinks Harris would be an “outstanding pick.” As for Harris and Biden’s history, Clyburn compared Harris being put on the ticket to Ronald Reagan picking George H. W. Bush after their bitter primary fight, or Bill Clinton picking Al Gore in 1992. Discounting her as an unexciting, obvious choice doesn’t make sense, Clyburn said: “I don’t think anything is inevitable.”

The Who-Can-Beat Trump Test Leads to Kamala Harris

Bringing the energy and hope to stare down Trump and his movement.

Nations, like people, may change somewhat, but not in their essential characteristics. The United States is defined by space and hope. It is an optimistic country of can-do strivers. They took the risk of coming to a new land. They are suspicious of government, inclined to self-reliance. Europeans ask where you came from. Americans ask what you can do.

The Declaration of Independence posited a universal idea, that human beings are created equal, that they are endowed with certain inalienable rights, and that among these are “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Americans, then, embraced an idea, however flawed in execution, when they became a nation. Their government, whatever else it does, exists to safeguard and further that idea, in the United States and beyond.

President Trump, in the name of making American great again, has trampled on America’s essence. He is angry, a stranger to happiness, angrier still for not knowing the source of his rage. He is less interested in liberty than the cash of his autocratic cronies. As for life, he views it as a selective right, to which the white Christian male has priority access, with women, people of color and the rest of humanity trailing along behind for scraps.

Adherents to an agenda of “national conservatism” held a conference last month in Washington dedicated, as my colleague Jennifer Schuessler put it, “to wresting a coherent ideology out of the chaos of the Trumpist moment.”

Good luck with that. One of the meeting’s leading lights was Rich Lowry, the editor of National Review. Lowry’s forthcoming book is called “The Case for Nationalism.” Enough said. The endpoint of that “case” is on display at military cemeteries across Europe.

Nationalism, self-pitying and aggressive, seeks to change the present in the name of an illusory past in order to create a future vague in all respects except its glory. Trump is a self-styled nationalist. The “U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” chants at his rallies have chilling echoes.

Lowry holds that “America is not an idea” and to call it so is a “lazy cliché.” This argument denies the essence of the country — an essence palpable at every naturalization ceremony across the United States. Becoming American is a process that involves the inner absorption of the nation’s founding idea.

The gravest thing Trump has done is to empty this idea of meaning. His has been an assault on honesty, decency, dignity, tolerance and civility. On this president’s wish list, every right is alienable. He leads a movement more than he does a nation, and so depends on fear to mobilize people. Any victorious Democratic Party candidate in 2020 has to counter that negative energy with a positive energy that lifts Americans from Trump’s web.

I watched the Democratic Party debates among presidential contenders through a single prism: Who can beat Trump? In the end, nothing else matters because another five and a half years of this will drag Americans into an abyss of moral collapse.

Yes, how far left, how moderate that candidate may be is of some significance, but can he or she bring the heat and the hope to stare Trump down and topple him is all I care about. That’s the bouncing ball all eyes should be on, with no illusions as to how vicious and devious Trump will be between now and November 2020.

With reluctance, because he is a good and honorable man of great personal courage, I do not believe that Joe Biden has the needed energy, mental agility and nimbleness. Nor do I believe that the nation of can-do strivers I described above is ready for Bernie Sanders’s “democratic socialism.” Forms of socialism work in Europe, and the word is widely misunderstood in America, but socialism and America’s essence are incompatible.

Elizabeth Warren’s couching of a campaign for radical change as “economic patriotism” is a much smarter way to go, and her energetic advocacy of ideas to redress the growing injustices in American life has been powerful. Still, I am not convinced that enough Americans are ready to move as far left as she proposes or that she passes the critical commander in chief test.

Kamala Harris does that for me. The California senator is a work in progress, with

  • uneven debate performances, and policies, notably health care, that she has zigzagged toward defining. But she’s
  • tough, broadly of the center,
  • has a great American story, is passionate on issues including immigrants, African-Americans and women, and has
  • proved she is not averse to risk. She
  • has a former prosecutor’s toughness and the ability to slice through Trump’s self-important bluster.

Last month Harris said Trump was a “predator.” She continued: “The thing about predators you should know, is that they prey on the vulnerable. They prey on those who they do not believe are strong. And the thing you must importantly know, predators are cowards.”

Those were important words. It’s early days, but Trump’s biggest electoral vulnerability is to women. They have seen through his misogyny at last, and they know just where the testosterone of nationalism leads.

And Now, the Dream of a Harris-Buttigieg Ticket

Two new Democratic stars outshone Biden and Sanders on the debate stage.

The big question going into Thursday night’s debate was whether Joe Biden, the clear front-runner in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, would stumble.

That turned out to be the wrong one. The right question was whether he had sufficient vigor in his stride.

And the answer came in watching Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg — two of the event’s standout performers — run articulate and impassioned circles around him.

Biden was O.K. Not bad, not good: O.K. He didn’t crumble under some tough interrogation from moderators — about his vote for the invasion of Iraq, for example — and occasional attacks from his rivals onstage.

But in his determination to prove how coolheaded he could be, he frequently turned his temperature down too low. In his insistence on not getting tangled in grand promises or lost in the weeds, he too often kept to the side of the field.

At one point, when candidates were asked to raise their hands if they believed that crossing the border without documentation should be a civil rather than criminal offense, his gesture was so tentative and ambiguous that one of the moderators, José Díaz-Balart, had to follow up: Was he indicating his assent or seeking permission to make a comment?

That was a metaphor for his whole night.

Other candidates demanded that America march forward. Biden kept looking backward. He repeatedly alluded to his decades of experience and even more pointedly reminded voters of his eight-year partnership with President Barack Obama, a towering and popular figure in the Democratic Party. While Bernie Sanders pledged a revolution, Biden promised a restoration.

Will that make voters feel tingly enough? It’s possible, given the ongoing trauma of the Trump years.

But the debate brought into vivid relief the shortcomings of his candidacy and the risks of graduating him to the general election.

When you’ve been in politics and in Washington as long as he has — 36 years in the Senate, plus eight as vice president — there are votes from eras much different from the current one, controversial positions galore and mistakes aplenty. All of these were ammunition used against him on Thursday night, most electrically when Harris pressed him to defend his opposition to busing to integrate schools.

Harris made it personal, telling him that she got the education she did because of busing. Biden said that he hadn’t been opposed to busing so much as in favor of local decision-making, and he thus left himself open to her righteous response: Did he not think that the federal government should swoop in to remedy obvious racial injustice?

“That’s why we have the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act,” she said. “Because there are moments in history where states fail to preserve the civil rights of all people.”

One of these two candidates was in much better sync with Democratic voters right now, and that candidate was Harris, a black woman who, at 54, is more than two decades younger than Biden, who is 76. The only candidate on the stage older than him: Bernie Sanders, 77.

And the sense of a generational divide was acute, partly because Buttigieg, 37, and Eric Swalwell, 38, made sure to highlight it. At the very start of the night, Swalwell noted mischievously that Biden had long ago stressed the importance of passing the torch, and Swalwell exhorted Democrats to do precisely that, saying “pass the torch” so many times that Díaz-Balart asked Biden, “Would you like to sing a torch song?” Biden then rattled off a few canned remarks about the importance of education.

Biden and Sanders stood at the lecterns in the center of the stage, their prize for having significantly higher poll numbers than the others. They were supposed to be the pace setters.

But they receded more than they popped. Maybe that was a function of familiarity. I couldn’t detect any difference between Sanders now and Sanders four years ago: The mad gleam, bad mood and hoarse-from-yelling voice were all the same. A screenwriter friend of mine emailed me midway through the event to say that Sanders resembled “a very angry chess player in Washington Square Park in an undershirt and madras shorts in the summer heat.” He did indeed look steamed.

Buttigieg didn’t. He has this way — it’s quite remarkable — of expressing outrage without being remotely disheveled by the emotion, of taking aim without seeming armed, of flagging grave danger without scaring the pants off you. He’s from some perfect-candidate laboratory, no?

And nobody onstage spoke with more precision and shrewdness, though Michael Bennet came close a few times. Buttigieg said that the God-garbed Republican Party, in its treatment of migrants, “has lost all claim to ever use religious language again.” It wasn’t just a dig; it was a deft reminder of his public fight with Mike Pence over Pence’s vilification of L.G.B.T. people like Buttigieg.

On the subject of health insurance, Buttigieg said that sick people “can’t be relying on the tender mercies of the corporate system.” He spoke of China “using technology for the perfection of dictatorship.” Phrases like these came like candies from a Pez dispenser — colorful, sweet and one after the other.

And when Buttigieg was confronted with questions about the recent police shooting of a black man in South Bend, Ind., where he is mayor, and asked why the police force wasn’t better integrated, he admitted, bluntly: “Because I couldn’t get it done.He didn’t make excuses, instead recognizing that between African-Americans and white police officers, “There’s a wall of mistrust, put up one racist act at a time.”

Harris had a fire that Buttigieg lacked, and it was mesmerizing. She challenged Biden not just on busing but on sloppy recent comments of his that seemed affectionate toward segregationists. She picked apart Trump’s boasts of a spectacularly booming economy, telling the right number of right anecdotes at the right time.

And she mixed strength with warmth and even humor. As candidates shouted over one another in a lunge for microphone time, she found a cranny of oratorical space in which to land a good line. “Hey, guys, you know what?” she said. “America does not want to witness a food fight. They want to know how we’re going to put food on their table.” It neatly pegged men as compulsive interrupters — a leitmotif of the previous night’s debate — while flying a feminist flag less strenuously than Kirsten Gillibrand, at the lectern beside hers, did.

Imagine a Harris-Buttigieg ticket, and not only what a wealth of poise but what a double scoop of precedents that would be. Plenty of people on Twitter on Thursday night were doing precisely that.

Plenty more will do so in the coming days, and they should leaven that fantasy with a reality check about how far to the left Harris in particular has moved. She was one of just two candidates on Thursday night who said that she wanted to do away with private health insurance. Sanders was the other. And that could be a general-election problem for her, as it could for Elizabeth Warren, who took that same position the night before.

But I write now in praise of a commanding performance that easily overshadowed Biden’s, with his herky-jerky delivery and his reflexive glances in the rearview mirror. Elections, according to all the political sages, are about the future. Biden didn’t seem to be pointed in that direction, and he didn’t demonstrate any sense of hurry to get there.

Why is Kamala Harris running for president?

In a POLITICO interview, the Democratic hopeful says she wants quick action to put more money in people’s pocketbooks and suggests she’s not interested in big, systemic overhauls.

Joe Biden is offering a return to normalcy. Elizabeth Warren aims to bring big corporations to heel and prop up the working class. Bernie Sanders wants a political revolution.

Kamala Harris’ one-sentence rationale for wanting the presidency is less clear.

Harris, who has now begun fleshing out her policy agenda, told POLITICO in an interview that she’s looking to offer something tangible to voters. She’s pitching herself as the kitchen-table realist of the field, the candidate who eschews lofty speeches and understands the day-to-day financial struggles of regular Americans and, bottom line, wants to put more money in their pockets.

Harris’ plans include big raises for public school teachers, a proposal to pay women equally to men and a tax plan that calls for a $500 monthly credit for families earning less than $100,000 a year. Her paycheck agenda, which one adviser described as a platform of “big tangible solutions,” centers on how Americans are experiencing the economy and is aimed at people whose wages aren’t keeping pace with the cost of living. She’s trying to reach voters who are too often left out of the conversation, with an emphasis on women — and women of color.

Harris said she thinks about the issues she’s taking on in the context of “literally looking at people through the prism of their lives—not some plate glass windows.”

“It’s about solving the problems that keep people up at night,” she said.

“It’s about the value of work and dignity of work and paying people their value — understanding that people are working hard, but they still aren’t able to get through the month and make it with dignity,” Harris added. “And it’s about meeting people where they are.”

Another adviser compared her positioning with the other Democratic candidates more bluntly: Harris is calling for direct payments to families to ease their paycheck-to-paycheck burdens. It’s a simple message they hope will set her apart as a proactive “doer” focused more on delivering immediate results than waiting around for broad, systemic overhauls. “She’s not creating liberal trickle-down policy,” the adviser said. “She’s focused on bottom-line economics, not abstract economics.”

Harris’ big challenge will be breaking through on policy in a way that captivates voters and tells a broader story — about herself, but also what she’s trying to accomplish. Ben LaBolt, a veteran of Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns, credited Harris’ tough stance against Trump, calling it smart. “Democratic voters are looking for a candidate that can take the fight to Trump and win,” LaBolt said.

He noted that Harris had breakout moments during Judiciary Committee hearings when she grilled then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and Attorney General William Barr to the point that they appeared to trip over their answers.

But LaBolt suggested it won’t be as easy for Harris to stand out on policy. “As the Clinton campaign learned, it is difficult for pragmatism to match or drown out Trump’s provocation in the headlines — and driving powerful and memorable moments to communicate our message will be more powerful than white papers this cycle,” he said.

Harris is betting that her focus on issues people worry about at “3 a.m.” — “when you wake up in a cold sweat”— will pierce the noise. Her next opportunity in front of a national TV audience comes Tuesday night in an MSNBC town hall in South Carolina. Her faith that the approach will catch on is based partly on her own experience and partly on what she’s heard over and over on the campaign trail.

The teacher pay idea, for example, wasn’t planned as a standalone proposal but turned into one because Harris heard from so many educators.

Harris’ platform has taken shape over several months. She laces her stump speech with statistics and anecdotes diagnosing economic disparities: Nearly half of American families are one unexpected $400 expense away from financial distress, she often says, and in 99 percent of the counties in America, a minimum-wage worker can’t afford market rate price of a one-bedroom apartment.

She describes how her late mother, a breast cancer researcher, sat at the kitchen table and shuffled through bills after Harris and her sister had gone to bed. “She was focused on the demands of what it means to keep all the trains moving on time,” Harris said of her mother, who split with her husband early in her daughters’ lives and took charge of raising the children.

Harris’ policy remedies take a page from Democrats who ran during the 2018 midterm election cylce, when pocketbook issues such as jobs, health care, prescription drug costs and infrastructure resonated with voters in swing districts. Her pitch aims to strike at primary voters who want direct action more than changes that could take generations to bear fruit. She’s keeping it simple and avoiding talk of radical change even when the plans include significant changes to government.

In the interview, Harris sought to ground her policies in a broader governing philosophy. She stressed that Americans’ hardships are largely the result of policies written over many decades and designed to favor the wealthy at the expense of working people. She blamed those in power for the lack of meaningful commitments on more affordable childcare, universal pre-K and paid family leave. Even the tax overhaul Trump signed, Harris said, was pushed by Republican lawmakers and interest groups that long pre-dated Trump.

The spirit behind the tax bill—that is not new. It’s not an aberration,” Harris said.

“A large part of what I do, and I try to do, is to actually see people,” she added, turning her attention to Trump. “And that requires having some curiosity and concern about the condition of the lives of people other than one’s self. And then when you ask the questions and you hear the stories, seeing what the opportunities are to actually bring solutions.”