Supreme Court docket Listening to Presents a Large Stage, and Large Dangers, for Harris
WASHINGTON — Simply seconds into the Supreme Court docket affirmation listening to of Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh in 2018, Senator Charles E. Grassley, then the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, was interrupted by a pointy demand to be acknowledged from far down the Democratic facet of the dais.
“We can’t transfer ahead, Mr. Chairman, with this listening to,” Senator Kamala Harris of California, probably the most junior Democrat on the panel, insisted after Mr. Grassley tried repeatedly to silence her — first by ignoring her after which by declaring her out of order.
Right this moment, she stays the lowest-ranking Democrat on the panel. However when the Judiciary Committee convenes on Monday to think about the nomination of Choose Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court docket, Ms. Harris will tackle an outsize position within the proceedings because the celebration’s vice-presidential nominee. Virtually as many eyes can be on her as on Choose Barrett.
Her seat on the panel will present Ms. Harris a distinguished platform to border the stakes of Choose Barrett’s nomination for voters and amplify the message that Joseph R. Biden Jr., the celebration standard-bearer, is urgent within the ultimate weeks of the marketing campaign. However it is going to additionally require her to strike a fragile stability — one which she has been forced to calibrate ever since she joined Mr. Biden on the Democratic ticket — between being on the assault and coming throughout as honest and broadly interesting.
Colleagues say that Ms. Harris’s succesful flip on the debate final week towards Vice President Mike Pence made it clear that she can have accomplished her homework and be unafraid to problem Choose Barrett, arguing that she poses a grave threat to the Affordable Care Act and abortion rights. However nobody expects Ms. Harris to take any form of confrontational threat that might backfire and alienate voters, particularly given Mr. Biden’s regular lead within the polls over President Trump.
“Kamala Harris has already proven herself to be effectively grounded and effectively ready, but in addition in a position to ask pointed questions,” mentioned Senator Chris Coons, Democrat of Delaware and a fellow member of the panel. “She’s going to assist clarify to the American folks the large penalties of Choose Barrett being confirmed to the Supreme Court docket.”
Ms. Harris shouldn’t be the one member of the committee in the midst of a contentious race. 4 Republicans — Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Joni Ernst of Iowa and John Cornyn of Texas — additionally face the voters in a matter of days. They hope to make use of the hearings to bolster Republican enthusiasm whereas avoiding any political missteps.
Mr. Graham, the committee chairman in an unexpectedly troublesome combat again dwelling, is in a very seen position. He can be beneath fireplace for continuing with a listening to Democrats think about out of bounds given its proximity to the election.
Within the debate, Ms. Harris sought to drive dwelling the purpose that Republicans had been speeding the nomination towards historic precedent, noting that Abraham Lincoln in 1864 deferred his alternative to fill a Supreme Court docket seat that got here open solely weeks earlier than the election.
“Joe and I are very clear,” she mentioned, “the American persons are voting proper now and it must be their choice about who will serve on this most necessary physique for a lifetime.”
Ms. Harris had deliberate to attend the hearings in particular person until well being and security concerns arose. However on Sunday, she introduced that she would as an alternative monitor the proceedings from her Senate workplace, reinforcing the Democratic argument that Republicans are appearing irresponsibly in pushing ahead with the hearings even because the coronavirus has contaminated members of the committee.
Nonetheless, Republicans anticipate Ms. Harris to be among the many most outspoken towards the nomination, given her distinguished political position and their reminiscence of her participation in Justice Kavanaugh’s listening to and different Senate affirmation battles.
After her choice by Mr. Biden, Mr. Trump accused her of being “extraordinarily nasty” to Justice Kavanaugh in her questioning. Within the debate, Mr. Pence recalled that Ms. Harris had questioned one other judicial nominee’s views as a result of he belonged to the Knights of Columbus, a company for Catholic males.
In a convention name with reporters this month, Mark Meadows, the White Home chief of workers, recommended that Ms. Harris could be beneath stress to tackle Choose Barrett on the hearings.
“I don’t suppose we’ll see much less of Kamala,” he mentioned. “I feel we’ll see extra of Kamala because it pertains to her interplay.”
Democrats say the criticism from Republicans displays their concern concerning the skills of Ms. Harris, a former prosecutor, when grilling witnesses.
“I feel this is a chance for her, as a result of she is simply so nice as a questioner and as a power for justice,” mentioned Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, one other Democrat on the panel.
Within the Kavanaugh hearings, Ms. Harris quizzed the nominee on a wide range of matters akin to abortion rights and Mr. Trump’s remark about a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017 that there was “blame on each side.”
“Do you, sir, imagine there was blame on each side?” she requested with the direct accusatory fashion of a prosecutor. Justice Kavanaugh refused to reply, saying judges wanted to “keep out of commenting on present occasions.”
Most likely her most famous line of inquiry, although, got here up empty after a nearly eight-minute exchange with Justice Kavanaugh over whether or not he had mentioned the particular counsel investigation of Mr. Trump and Russia with any attorneys at a agency based by a lawyer for the president.
“Make sure about your reply, sir,” Ms. Harris warned the nominee in a tone that intimated she knew the reply and it was not good for Justice Kavanaugh. He responded that he was uncertain, since Ms. Harris wouldn’t present a reputation.
After some investigation, Justice Kavanaugh responded the following day that he had not mentioned the inquiry with anybody on the agency. The problem died, and Republicans scoffed that Ms. Harris seemed silly.
“I hope the Democrats have realized from the antics of 2018 that they seemed fairly unhealthy and among the most aggressive questioning got here from Harris and among the issues that lacked any credibility in anyway got here from her,” mentioned Mr. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, who stays on the committee however is now not chairman.
Democrats on the panel mentioned they anticipated that Ms. Harris would be a part of them in making an attempt to make use of the hearings to showcase coverage divisions with Republicans over the well being care legislation, emphasizing the chance that Choose Barrett may be a part of 4 different conservatives on the court docket in overturning it. They mentioned they anticipated that Ms. Harris would seek the advice of with Mr. Biden, a longtime former chairman of the Judiciary Committee, about tips on how to strategy the listening to.
Additionally they famous that she had her arms full operating for vice chairman and would most probably must dip out and in of the proceedings.
“She is,” Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii mentioned, “a tad busy.”
Nicholas Fandos contributed reporting.