Year of women – Kamala Harris, Nikki Haley, Tulsi Gabbard in the limelight

California Sen. Kamala Harris

NEW YORK – The year 2019 has a strong possibility of a woman emerging as a viable Presidential or Vice-Presidential candidate in the United States, for the 2020 elections. It remains to be seen if a woman will indeed challenge the incumbent, President Donald Trump, for the White House.

The path to that distinct possibility is not hard to see: the 116th Congress which was seated on January 3, 2018, has more than 100 women members – the most in history, headed by a woman, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, in the House of Representatives. Also, the first major candidate to pitchfork herself into the presidential election mix is a woman, Democrat Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren.

The Indian American community, which for years and decades had its sights fixed on increasing the number of candidates in Congress – and has seen slow progress on that front as the number is stalled at four in the House, and one in the Senate – is suddenly hit with the prospect of one of their own actually becoming the most powerful politician on Earth.

California Senator Kamala Harris, who is expected to announce her presidential bid soon, is one of the strongest Democrats in a burgeoning list of candidates for the nomination. The Indian American Harris, whose mother is from India, and father from the West Indies, may pitch her candidacy on national TV, as early as next week.

The Hill reported that Harris is making a return trip to “The Late Show,” and will sit down with Stephen Colbert on the CBS late-night show on January 10. It’s the same show where last month, after Colbert egged on Julián Castro, a former Housing and Urban Development secretary, about whether he would be running in the next presidential race, his twin brother, Rep. Joaquin Castro, from Texas, replied, “I’ll speak on his behalf here; he’s going to run for president.”

Apart from Harris, the Democrat Congresswoman from Hawaii, Tulsi Gabbard, the first practicing Hindu in Congress, is also expected to contest the presidential polls, in 2020. The progressive Gabbard is in the process of putting a team together for her initiative, and an announcement of her candidacy is expected sometime this month. She has already been endorsed by a few conservative leaning Indian American groups, who are delighted by the prospect of a Hindu getting pole position in US elections.

A terrific and exciting prospect for the Republicans is Nikki Haley, who stepped down as the Ambassador to the United Nations, on January 1, 2018. The former Governor of South Carolina, whose parents emigrated from Punjab in India, is considered a top prospect to be the running mate for Trump in 2010, if he decides to dump the incumbent VP Mike Pence. The other, and more exciting possibility for the community, is Haley running for President herself, if Trump decides to recuse himself for a shot at a second-term. What Bobby Jindal, the former Republican Governor of Louisiana couldn’t achieve, perhaps Haley will.

In the history of US elections, only two women have ever been nominated to run for the office of Vice President, the furthest they have achieved in a quest for the White House: Sarah Palin by the Republican party in 2008 and Geraldine Ferraro by the Democratic party in 1984.

Here’s a brief look at how these three beloved women of the Indian American community stand at present, and what the mainstream and local press is saying about them:

California Sen. Kamala Harris

Kamala Harris   

Harris, who recently went on a fact-finding trip to Afghanistan, to burnish her military and foreign relations credentials, is booking speeches in early primary states, reported the San Francisco Chronicle.

CNN reported that a Harris nomination makes a lot of sense though.

“The Democratic Party is becoming increasingly non-white and nominated women in record numbers in 2018. As Harris is the only women of color anywhere near the top tier for the 2020 Democratic nomination, it shouldn’t be surprising at all if she ends up winning,” it said.

There is likely to be tremendous enthusiasm for Harris. Women of color powered Hillary Clinton’s sweep of the southeast in the 2016 primary. Last year, they were the base for Democrat Doug Jones’s shocking victory in the Alabama special Senate election, noted CNN.

Harris also appeals to many senior citizens, and disgruntled Republicans who have felt the repercussions of repeal of parts of the Affordable Care Act, and are struggling to find quality, inexpensive healthcare.

An essay adapted by The New York Times from Harris’ forthcoming book, “The Truths We Hold: An American Journey,” has Harris writing of the death of her mother from colon cancer, in 2009. She writes about the merits of the Affordable Care Act.

“Without the protections of the A.C.A., Americans with pre-existing conditions could be denied health insurance and insurance companies would once again be allowed to discriminate based on age and gender. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, more than 50 million Americans could be rejected for coverage by health insurers if the A.C.A. were to disappear,” Harris wrote.

“At the same time, people in their mid-20s would get kicked off their parents’ plans. Lifetime caps could come back. Out-of-pocket costs would no longer be capped. The expansion of Medicaid in dozens of states could be reversed. The human toll would be unthinkable, with some experts estimating that 20,000 to 100,000 people could die each year.

“We must fight with everything we have to avert this catastrophe. And as we do so, let’s also accept the truth that even with the Affordable Care Act intact, our health care system still needs fixing. Let’s acknowledge that there are nearly 30 million Americans who still don’t have health insurance. And there are plenty more who have insurance but can’t actually afford the rising cost of health care.”

Harris writes: “I believe that health care should be a right, but the reality is that it is still a privilege in this country. We need that to change. When someone gets sick, there is already so much else to deal with: the physical pain for the patient, the emotional pain for the family. There is often a sense of desperation — of helplessness — as we grapple with the fear of the unknown. Medical procedures already have risks. Prescription drugs already have side effects. Financial anxiety should not be one of them.”

Harris also writes, poignantly of the loss of her mother, which also highlights her proud heritage: “And though I miss her every day, I carry her with me wherever I go. I think of the battles she fought, the values she taught me, her commitment to improve health care for us all. There is no title or honor on earth I’ll treasure more than to say I am Shyamala Gopalan Harris’s daughter. As I continue the battle for a better health care system, I do so in her name.”

However, Harris has plenty of obstacles and hurdles to clear before her nomination is water tight.

The Roll Call reported that Harris’ fellow Democrat Senator from California, Dianne Feinstein, said Thursday that she would support former Vice President Joe Biden, over her, in a presidential race.

“I love Kamala. But this is a different kind of thing,” Feinstein said, after she praised Biden, and was asked of support for her fellow Senator Harris.

While Feinstein’s endorsement of Biden would have miffed Harris, she would be more concerned by a scathing opinion by the Editorial Board of the Wall Street Journal on January 3. It reprimanded Harris for what it deemed as taking the party away from its roots, acceptance of Catholics.

“We’re still a year from the 2020 presidential primaries, but Senator Kamala Harris is already showing America how far the Democratic Party has strayed from its roots,” it noted, after her controversial manner of questioning Trump’s nominee for a federal district court in Nebraska, Brian Buescher, who is a member of the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization.

“Ms. Harris’s embrace of religious intolerance is especially significant because in two years she could be the next U.S. President. What does it say about today’s Democrats that no one in the party of Al Smith and JFK sees fit to rebuke her?” the editorial said.

Harris also got the dubious honor of being named the ‘2018 Porker of the Year’ by the Citizens Against Government Waste, which seeks out candidates who they fathom guilty of promoting patently flawed policies, defending wasteful boondoggles, and pushing a big-spending agenda. Harris was chosen for “proposing a bill that would subsidize rent with taxpayer dollars. Her bill would have encouraged the same behaviors that led to the student loan bubble.”

The Tax Foundation concluded that Harris’s plan, “would fail to address the root causes of the high cost of housing. Instead, it would wind up benefiting landlords, not significantly improving the lives of renters, and carrying a hefty price tag.” University of Georgia economics professor Jeffrey Dorfman wrote, “Instead of the Rent Relief Act, we could call it the Landlord Enrichment and Taxpayer Fleecing Act.”

Even if she were to ignore these initial hiccups on the road to glory, Harris might well take note of a letter published in the San Francisco Chronicle, from a reader who admires her, and has a warning for her.

“I am writing to ask Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., not to run for president in 2020. I think she is an admirable woman, and I am delighted to have someone with her intelligence and political viewpoint as our California senator. However, the idea that she would abandon us after less than half her first term is alarming. We need her as our senator, and we deserve to have her in that office for at least a full term.

“Besides, I shudder to think what the Trump base, the Russians, and the fringe right-wing trolls would do in attacking her as a liberal woman of color. I don’t know if the country could take this on top of the years of Trump,” the letter concluded.

Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard

Tulsi Gabbard

The young and attractive Gabbard, 37, who was born in American Samoa, was one of the first female combat veterans to join Congress and was a supporter of the 2016 presidential bid of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. She was first elected to the House in 2012, becoming the first Hindu member of Congress, and was sworn into office with her hand on the Bhagavad Gita.

Gabbard also previously served as vice chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, but conservative hawks love her too because she’s an Iraq war veteran who criticized President Barack Obama on foreign policy.

The Honolulu Civil Beat reported that Gabbard has expressed loyalty to a “guru dev” or “spiritual master” named Chris Butler.

Gabbard, who announced her interest in the presidential race on MSNBC’s “Hardball”, said: “I’m concerned about the direction of the country.” That’s something a lot of voters can empathize with, especially with the ongoing government shutdown and a possible recession looming in the horizon, though the job numbers have shown robust growth.

The Washington Post reported that during stops in New Hampshire, Gabbard reportedly highlighted her support for a single-payer Medicare-for-all health-care bill and her efforts to reduce the influence of money in politics, among other policies. That position is the same as Sanders, and critics have pointed out that it wouldn’t make sense for her to run against Sanders.

In an interview to the Associated Press last month, Gabbard, who went on a limb by meeting the Syrian dictator Bashar Assad in 2017, said US wars in the Middle East have destabilized the region, made the US less safe and cost thousands of American lives, At the same time, terrorist groups like Al Qaeda and the Islamic State group are stronger than before the September 11 terrorist attacks, she said.

“Those who have been setting our country’s foreign policy are lost,” Gabbard said, placing blame on both Democrats and Republicans. “Our policies have been without clear objective or purpose for some time. And it’s cost our country, and it’s cost the world, dearly.”

When it comes to domestic issues, Gabbard stands out for doing 180-degree turns on abortion and gay marriage, noted AP.

In 2004, the then-state representative urged Hawaii voters to support a federal constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages nationwide. She was worried gay marriages licensed in Massachusetts would be deemed valid in Hawaii.

Eight years later, while running for Congress, Gabbard said she would work toward requiring the federal government to recognize same-sex marriage. She also metamorphosed from being anti-abortion to in favor of abortion rights.

The Honolulu Civil Beat reported that in Gabbard’s view the most important meaning of ‘aloha’ is love, something she said she explains frequently back in Washington, D.C., and as she travels the country.

She said she views aloha as the solution to what ails the nation, a force that motivates people to take action for “the well being of others.”

Gabbard would need plenty of ‘aloha’ from both Democrat and Republicans if she hopes to achieve her aspirations. By taking both liberal and conservative views, with a balanced perspective, she would make for a good VP pick too.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley gestures as she stands in front of Humayun’s Tomb in New Delhi, India, June 27, 2018. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

Nikki Haley

The skillful Haley, who managed to stay abreast of Trump’s ire and resigned gracefully, described to NBC News how she leveraged Trump’s personality: “I got the job done by being truthful but also by letting him be unpredictable and not showing our cards.”

Haley showed her diplomatic acumen and lofty political aspirations in her last appearance at the United Nations, before she stepped down on January 1, 2018, where her speech clearly established that she didn’t want to be on the wrong side of Trump, and not having blame attached to her own self.

Reuters reported that Haley during a UN Security Council meeting on the Middle East gave no details of exactly what was in the long-awaited, unpublished plan to broken peace between Israel and Palestinians. It’s a plan prepared by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, and it was widely expected that Haley would reveal the plan before she left the UN.

It’s this adroit sidestepping and deflection of thorny and controversial issues that has earned Haley accolades and admiration in her stint with the Trump administration.

The New York Times reported that Haley has been mentioned as a potential running mate for Trump in the 2020 election, a move that could improve the ticket’s popularity among women voters. Trump has also reportedly asked his aides if they thought Pence was still loyal to him. Haley, on her part, made it clear after her resignation that she would support Trump in his re-election bid.

Haley, however, has not backed away from ribbing Trump. At a charity fundraiser in New York after she announced her resignation, Haley made some jokes at the president’s expense, reported The State.

“When the president found out that I was Indian American, he asked me if I was from the same tribe as Elizabeth Warren,” Haley told the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner in October, to guffaws from the audience.

For now, though, Haley is moving to New York, and has plans to write a book, on her experience of working at the UN. All that may change this year, though, if she starts to campaign and do fundraisers for Trump.

What are the odds of Harris vs. Haley in 2020, or 2024? Pretty good, one can safely bet.




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