Kamala Harris finds herself on the cusp of the presidency. From her work as California’s attorney general, Harris’ path to vice presidential nominee has been a relatively short one. Many politicos cultivate their personas for decades, carefully threading the essential relationships, and still never find themselves just one step from the White House.
The junior U.S. senator from California owes a great deal both to who she knows and what she knows. Seldom is a junior senator a shoo-in for the highest office in the land within three years of making the Senate.
If Joe Biden beats President Trump in November, Harris’ connections and allies will form key positions within the administration, and the vast network of federal agencies feeding the White House.
Described as the “Tony Blair of San Francisco,” Harris has stitched a seemingly incongruent thread among the patchwork of the modern Democratic Party’s establishment and radical factions.
Harris plays to both the bleachers and the brahmins. A “progressive” to progressives, yet the Democratic establishment’s pick.
There’s good reason for this. Harris has always depended on enviable connections to the Democratic machine, which makes and breaks the ins and outs.
In 1994, the 29-year-old lawyer struck up a relationship with Willie Brown, a power broker in California politics. Twice Harris’ age, the married Brown used his speakership of the state assembly to appoint Harris to two prominent and lucrative legal positions. The following year, the two split up.
But her presence among the Bay Area’s Democratic Party machine further enmeshed. In 2003, after courting influential figures and their money, she ran for and won the position of San Francisco district attorney against incumbent Terence Hallinan, her old boss.
Her rise, powered by connections to brokers such as Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) helped her later push to become first, California’s attorney general, and in 2017, the U.S. senator replacing Barbara Boxer upon her retirement.
In those years, Harris’ penchant for campaign-funded lavishness became well-known with first-class plane tickets, and hotels routinely costing between $1,000 and $1,700 per night.
Her time as California’s top law enforcement official was an illuminating one for those on the progressive side of the aisle. Harris’ social-justice credentials often crashed against the coral reef of her corporate sympathies. Her hard line on criminal justice earned her the billing of “Top Cop.”
Critics including the New York Times lamented Harris’ obstinacy in the face of convictions later proven to be wrongful and her history of sympathy with corporate interests.
Such sympathy, critics attest, seldom extended to ordinary people even when indications of false testimony and evidence-tampering glared in the light.
Her truancy law criminalized parents whose children were persistently absent from school and had a punitive and disproportionate effect on the poor, and minorities.
Yet her short time in the U.S. Senate has earned Harris one of the most liberal voting records. It is this Blair-like triangulation that critics suggest presents Harris as both a progressive and an establishment stalwart.
Harris’ political quickening remains dependent on the umbilical system of powerbrokers, thinkers, and fundraisers who populate the Democratic Party’s political womb. Her time in office will likely continue in this vein.
Her sister, Maya Harris, is tipped for an influential role within a Biden-Harris Administration. Her former campaign chairwoman, Maya is now regarded as Kamala’s top political adviser.
Maya’s links latch across the political ecosystem with her work as an MSNBC political analyst humming alongside her one-time senior fellowship with the well-connected Center for American Progress, and the Ford Foundation.
In 2015, Maya led a team of three top policy advisers to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, where she helped shape Hillary’s domestic policy agenda.
Maya is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a 5,000-plus membership that connects figures across corporate America, the media, top universities, influential nonprofits, and foundations.
In his book Wall Street’s Think Tank, Laurence H. Shoup details how the Council helped shape the last 40 years of word events: globalization, China’s rise, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and the War on Terror in the interests of the U.S. ruling class.
The Council on Foreign Relations publishes the influential bimonthly Foreign Affairs, which shares the CFR’s global-minded sympathies of globalization, the unhindered rise of China, free trade, and lax immigration. The journal often expresses immutable opposition to even the lightest shades of nationalism or sovereign self-assertion.
Emblematic of this right-side-of-history ethos is Uber, the ride-sharing firm employing Maya’s husband, Tony West, as its chief legal officer.
West also co-chaired his sister-in-law’s successful 2016 senate campaign.
His role as Uber’s top legal mind involves defending Uber’s interests against those who they employ, yet legally dispute employing.
Uber finds itself involved in high-level disputes with domestic and foreign governments over its legal insistence that its drivers are not employees of Uber, exempting them from regulations such as minimum wage laws, health insurance, and benefits usually accrued to those traditionally regarded as employees.
Critics have derided Uber’s gig-economy business model as “gilded-age” and “precarity capitalism” reminiscent of the 19th century.
Uber, according to critics, employs retrograde legal chicanery and linguistic kabuki theater via the “independent contractor” loophole, allowing it to circumvent traditional employee benefits like healthcare, sick leave, and holiday pay. Intriguingly, such business practices haven’t pushed Uber into the realms of profitability. Uber’s defenders posit the company’s “progressive” mise-en-scène as the “future of work.”
Such practices have invited legal troubles around the world. London authorities last year revoked Uber’s business license. This week, they renewed that license despite what a Westminster judge deemed “historical failings.”
Uber’s legal battles also put Kamala and her brother-in-law at odds last year over contentious California legislation curbing Uber’s hiring of “independent contractors.” Harris backed the bill, while West and Uber opposed it.
Like Kamala, Uber enjoys affirmation as socially progressive or “woke,” despite the actions of both deemed by critics as incongruent to their progressive character.
Kamala’s corporate connections are underlined by the hands that sign her donation checks. Research from the Center for Responsive Politics found that 85 percent of her donations came in checks of $1,000 or more, the highest share from large donors among all 16 Democratic presidential candidates.
Some of Kamala’s biggest donors include multinational law firm Paul, Weiss, whose books speckle with America’s biggest corporations including GE and ExxonMobil. Other large donors include Microsoft, Apple, and Amazon.
These links extend to Kamala’s husband, Douglas Emhoff, who has represented a slew of corporate America’s biggest clients including Walmart.
Many in Kamala’s political orbit are also within spitting distance of Hillary Clinton. Four of Kamala’s top team members for her 2020 presidential bid were émigrés of the failed Hillary campaign.
Mark Elias migrated from Hillary’s general counsel to Kamala’s 2020 campaign. Jim Margolis, a media consultant, trod the same track along with Joyce Kazadi, advance director, and Lily Adams, Hillary’s Iowa communications chief.
Despite Harris’ failed bid for the presidential nomination, she enjoyed a short-lasting status as “the one to watch” before flaming out ahead of the Iowa caucuses. Yet, her connections within the Democratic Party span both the establishment and radical wings.
Of course, Kamala Harris is now the Democratic nominee for vice president, beneath a Joe Biden who previously has described himself as a “placeholder.” It appears this view of his place-holding status is one shared by most American citizens. Majorities believe Joe Biden is unlikely to serve a full four-year presidential term, rendering Kamala Harris, in the eyes of many, as the de facto Democratic nominee.