OAKLAND, Calif. — In a robust defense of Dianne Feinstein, her embattled Democratic colleague, Sen. Kamala Harris said Thursday that she would back the state’s senior U.S. senator “100 percent” should Feinstein decide to run again in 2018, calling her a tireless fighter for “California values.”
“I am a strong supporter of Dianne, and if she decides to run again I will be front and center in supporting her — and for lots of good reasons,’’ Harris told POLITICO on Thursday. “I may not agree with her on everything. But I admire and respect her. … I do strongly believe that she is one of the greatest public servants that California has had.”
Harris’ impassioned defense came a day after a new poll by the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies indicated that Feinstein’s job approval rating had fallen 9 points in recent months to 50 percent, with 36 percent now disapproving of her job performance. The poll also found that only 45 percent of Democrats were inclined to re-elect Feinstein should she run for a fifth term, down from 56 percent in April.
By contrast, the IGS poll showed approval numbers for Harris — a darling of progressives and increasingly talked about as a potential presidential candidate in 2020 — were at 52 percent, with just 29 percent disapproval.
The differences prompted some political observers, including IGS pollster Mark Di Camillo, to suggest that Feinstein, a political powerhouse in the Golden State for more than a quarter-century, may be losing appeal to a younger Democratic base that has increasingly tilted left.
The declining poll numbers come at the close of a few rough weeks for Feinstein, who was booed and battered by critics after she told a Commonwealth Club audience that the possibility existed that Donald Trump could be “a good president,” given time and people’s patience. Feinstein’s critics again ramped up after they said she suggested that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, might be on “shaky” ground.
Feinstein has countered that she has never been shy about criticizing Trump, and aides said that the DACA reference was misunderstood and that she was characterizing the Trump administration’s actions and resulting numerous legal challenges.
But Harris, speaking to POLITICO, ticked off what she said were a litany of reasons why Democrats, including progressives, should value — and back — what she called Feinstein’s advocacy on a range of key issues critical to California voters.
“There are so many people in elected office who make decisions only after they put their finger up in the wind,” Harris said “Dianne is not that person.’’
“What we get from Dianne … is the singular leader on passing the assault weapons ban through the U.S. Congress, when she was taking so much heat for doing it — up against huge opponents including” National Rifle Association), she said.
“And what we get … is the first-ever exposure about what was doing on around this CIA detention and interrogation program,’’ Harris said. “Let’s not forget that. She was going up against powerful forces … making the very important point that there should be transparency and not secrecy about how the United States conducts itself.”
Still, critics like longtime Democratic strategist Garry South suggested that Feinstein’s more centrist brand of politics was taking a toll. They cite her skeptical view of single-payer health care — especially in contrast to Sen. Bernie Sanders’ bill, which was quickly endorsed by Harris — and point out that support for some of the president’s earliest nominees has drawn the ire of progressives and made her vulnerable to a primary challenge from the left.
Among those being talked about as possible challengers are the California Senate president pro tem, Kevin de Leon, and Joseph Sanberg, a wealthy Orange County progressive activist.
Harris on Thursday disputed suggestions of a weakened Feinstein, and said the former San Francisco Mayor — at 84, now the oldest member of the U.S. Senate — remained a formidable and effective presence in Washington.
“She and I are on the Intelligence Committee together … and she is forceful and clear-thinking,” Harris said. “And the way I see her conduct herself … definitely reflects California’s values. She fights in those committee hearings and behind closed doors.”
Harris told POLITICO that Feinstein had been a tireless advocate on Capitol Hill for DACA and so called Dreamers, calling her “a forceful fighter for those kids.’’
Harris said she and Feinstein had not discussed whether the Feinstein would run for a fifth term. But if that happens, she predicted, Feinstein will continue to be “an incredible fighter for California.”
“Anyone who knows Dianne knows she takes the job very seriously,” Harris said. “And if she runs, I am supporting her 100 percent.”