In case you weren’t sure whether Kamala Harris was in Iowa this week, her gigantic bus, emblazoned with her name on the side that rolled through towns’ main streets was a helpful reminder.
Harris is on a five-day tour of the lead-off caucus state, traversing the full length of Iowa from Sioux City to Burlington, hitting up the Iowa State Fair today. Her tour guides for the fair will be her newest endorsers — Sue and Bob Dvorsky, a former state party chair and former state senator, respectively.
During her travels, Harris is being met at major events with a cheer squad of yellow-clad young staffers and volunteers. That’s part of her massive field operation in the state, one they ramped up in early July and numbers among the top three caucus ground games, behind only slightly Joe Biden’s team, which just staffed up their field side.
It’s been a clear sign that Harris is all in to win the Iowa Caucus, putting to rest any question of what her early state strategy is.
But Iowa Democrats have been a nervous bunch during the Donald Trump years, concerned at times that the national party would prioritize other states over this traditional Midwest battleground. So, would Harris commit to fully competing and in and contesting Iowa in the general election?
“Absolutely. Absolutely,” she told Starting Line during an interview on her bus yesterday. “I love being in Iowa. It has made me a better candidate from my first visit.”
She recalled personal conversations with teachers, immigrants and farmers from her Iowa trips.
“One of the recurrent issues that comes up is about grandparents raising their grandchildren,” she explained. “It’s certainly about farmers and the struggles they’re facing, and looking at bankruptcy and how the tariffs have impacted them. It’s about the opioid crisis, it’s about so many families where the kids of that family have to leave Iowa to get the jobs.”
Harris is on her seventh trip to Iowa, and though she’s lagged most of the rest of the field in the number of counties visited (17 with this visit), her time spent here has ramped up during the summer.
Those trips have been invaluable to Harris in building out her policy plans for the White House in a way that addresses the real stories she’s heard on the ground.
“For me, elections, it’s about winning, of course, but at the end of the process it’s also about being relevant … I fully intend to win, so it’s important to me that everything I say as a policy priority is actually well thought out,” she explained. “And having these conversations is helpful to me.”
“The benefit of spending time in Iowa is talking to people who are invested and who are really part of the measure of how America is doing,” Harris added.
One example she pointed to was her clean water proposal, which she made sure to include Americans like those in rural Iowa who still get their drinking water from wells.
“My water policy, part of it is focused on when we’re dealing with water, it can’t only be about federal dollars for infrastructure,” Harris said. “So many Iowa families get their water from a well. It has to also be about giving grants to families to do the upgrades they need to do in their own backyard … That’s how we’ve written our legislation. It’s the benefit of having these conversation.”
As the candidates have been in the state this week, many were reacting to the recent large ICE raid in Mississippi.
“It is wrong. It is unnecessary,” Harris said of the roundup that arrested 680 people. “Children are living in fear right now because of the rhetoric and the way this president has vilified immigrants. There are children are literally afraid to go to school out of fear when they come home, their parent won’t be there. There’s parents afraid to send their children to the pediatrician, concerned that they’ll have some contact with a system that will deport them.”
While she noted that she hasn’t “joined the chorus” of other Democrats who want to abolish ICE outright, her priority with the agency would be “to engage in drastic reform.”
“It was so clear to me they were not focused on what they needed to do to reform the agency, to train the agents and officers that were there,” she said. “That agency was found in a governmental audit to be the most dysfunctional agency of its size.”
But were any Democrat to become president after 2020, they would still have to deal with how to handle deportations before (or if) comprehensive immigration reform is passed. Even though the Trump Administration has drawn widespread outrage over their treatment of refugees and undocumented immigrants, regular deportation procedures, including those done during Barack Obama’s presidency, still separates families.
“I don’t want to ever accept a false choice,” Harris said when asked if she’d halt deportations until immigration reform is complete. “We need to have border security. I am not for open borders. We need to have enforcement of our immigration laws. And we need to pass comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship. That would be one of my first priorities.”
Harris has also been asked in Iowa about her stance on the filibuster, which may be a major barrier to getting any major gun reform measures passed. The senator has told audiences she will give Congress 100 days to pass gun reform measures; if they don’t, she’ll begin signing executive orders to take action on her own.
“It’s not about a red line,” she said of what exactly might cause her to call for ending the filibuster. “My first goal is we find common ground … But where there is obstruction, where it is clear it is for purely political reasons, then I am also prepared to bypass, and to do things to exert executive action on the biggest issues that are challenging us.”
by Pat Rynard