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Sen. Kamala Harris spent over two weeks sitting next to 99 other senators and listening to back-and-forth arguments over whether President Trump should remain in office. Party lines were definitive and unwavering, and tensions within the U.S. Senate chambers were palpable, even for those of us watching through a screen.
Through it all, the California Democrat knew, as she wrote in a recent L.A. Times op-ed, that the Senate would not reach the two-thirds threshold needed for a guilty verdict, and that Trump would spend the rest of his days gloating that he has been exonerated. But she also knew that the majority of Americans are in favor of the House managers presenting new evidence — which her Republican colleagues blocked, making the trial comically short; something Majority Leader Mitch McConnell seemingly wanted all along.
That's what inspired her to ask one of the most powerful questions during the impeachment trial. "If the Senate fails to hold the president accountable for misconduct, how would that undermine the integrity of our system of justice?" She also quoted the infamous Access Hollywood tape, where a not-yet-candidate Donald Trump said, “When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything," before he suggested to "grab 'em by the pussy." Trump has been accused of sexual assault or misconduct by over 20 women.
With that one statement, Harris didn't solely explain her vote to remove Trump from office. She gracefully connected the good-old-boys'-club cover-up happening around her in the Senate with the coterie of protectors who have hovered around Trump — and other men who seem to believe they're too rich to fail — his entire life. In that moment, it was evident that Harris is still making it her mission to never let Trump forget the damage his presidency has done to women.
"He has a history of believing that he can do anything and get away with it," Harris told Refinery29 in a phone interview last week, during a quick break in the impeachment trial. "He believes himself to be a very powerful person, he believes himself to be a star, and he believes he is immune from consequence and accountability. We aren’t going to have two systems of justice in America, and no one is above the law."
On Wednesday evening, after five months of partisan fighting within the House and Senate, the Republican-led Senate voted to acquit Trump of charges for both abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. Republicans' blocking of evidence, such as a recording in which Trump calls for the swift removal of U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, is a continuation of "a shameful history of two systems of justice: one for powerful people like Trump and one for everyone else," as Harris wrote in the op-ed.
But it is now, more than ever, that she says she has the most work to do. Having suspended her once-promising campaign for president in December after lacking the resources to continue, Harris has a renewed focus on her work for women in the Senate. For example, she has led the fight to reduce the shockingly high rates of maternal mortality among Black women with the Maternal Care Access and Reducing Emergencies (CARE) Act, which seeks to address racial biases in healthcare.
As a candidate who meant the world to many women of color, she said she hopes to continue her record of empowering them in their careers. Her campaign, she said, employed the highest number of women of color out of all the presidential candidates. "You'll have to fact-check me on that!" Harris joked. (She did hire an impressive number of women of color for top positions.)
"It’s important for me in anything I do to give those kinds of opportunities for leadership where historically they have not existed," Harris said. "It’s about continuing to be a voice, and a national voice, that is about inclusion and about our ongoing fight for equality. And, making sure that the voice of women and women of color is heard and vested and present."
While that voice was decidedly not heard during the impeachment trial, Harris is somebody who insists on optimism during the most trying of times. In times of hardship, she makes herself laugh — and anyone who knows her will tell you she has a recognizable laugh — and makes those around her laugh, too. She proudly reps her home state of California, calling herself a "Sangeleno." (San Francisco native who lives in L.A.) Positivity and laughter, she reasons, are there to protect women against the daily injustices we see.
"It’s really important for all of us, as women, to create safe spaces and be conscious about who is in your tight circle," she said, in a moment that felt raw and confessional. "I feel very blessed. I have a husband who is my best friend. I have girlfriends who are sisters to me. My best friend from kindergarten is one of my closest friends. Choose to surround yourself with people who will applaud you, and who will encourage you."
When I mentioned Doug, her tone changed, and it was as though she lit up. It was Doug, with his phone calls and support, who was helping the senator get through the grim inevitability of the trial. (As they say on the internet, you love to see it.) She then asked if I wanted to hear her relationship advice. Did I want to hear Kamala Harris' relationship advice? Yes. Yes, I did.
"My advice is, when you are talking about choosing a life partner, choose people who are kind and who can make you laugh. That is what I have in my husband — we laugh with and at each other all the time!" she said. "Choose someone who you can just be with — grocery shopping, or running for president." Then, she excused herself to go back to the trial. It was 7 p.m., and she was in for a long night in the U.S. Capitol building.