Sen. Kamala Harris preaches unity, calls Trump's border wall a 'distraction' at NYC book tour appearance

Key Points
  • Senator Kamala Harris, D-Calif., outlined her vision for a unified America while promoting her new book, "The Truths We Hold: An American Journey," in New York City Friday night.
  • The book and cross-country promo tour comes as the 54-year-old senator is widely expected to announce her 2020 presidential bid in the coming weeks.
  • Harris derided President Trump's proposed border wall as a "vanity project" while the government shutdown enters its 22nd day.
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) talks to reporters with Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) (R) following the weekly Democratic Senate policy luncheon in the U.S. Capitol November 27, 2018 in Washington, DC. 
Chip Somodevilla | Getty Images

Senator Kamala Harris outlined her vision for a unified America while promoting her new book in New York City, with the California Democrat criticizing President Donald Trump over his insistence on erecting a wall along the Southern U.S. border.

The book and cross-country promotional tour comes as the 54-year-old crafts an image as a contender for higher office. Harris is widely expected to announce a 2020 presidential bid in what is shaping up to be a crowded field of fellow Democrats.

Moments after Harris walked on stage at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan, an audience member shouted "Forty six!," a reference to the next U.S. president. The raucous applause from the sold-out crowd was a sign of enthusiasm for her potential candidacy.

"The vast majority of us have so much more in common than what separates us," Harris said, repeating a line that also appears in her book, "The Truths We Hold: An American Journey." Released on Tuesday, the book intertwines stories from Harris's upbringing and personal life with policy proposals that could form the foundation of a campaign.

On Friday, Harris sounded off on a wide array of potential campaign themes. She called the war on drugs "ineffective" and railed against the country's cash bail system that disproportionately affects the poor as "not reflective of a system of justice." She also touted the 2017 bill she introduced with Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., to dis-incentivize states from using cash bail, as evidence of her bipartisan deal-making skills.

The thrust of Harris' book and remarks in New York addressed finding commonality among diversity, a potential 2020 campaign rallying cry in a political climate that's deeply fractured. However, she wasted little time in hitting out at Trump for the impasse over border security that's forced a government shutdown that's lasted three weeks.

Harris derided President Trump's proposed border wall as a "vanity project" as the government's temporary closure broke the record for the longest ever, and even linked it to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

The fight over the wall is a "distraction from the fact that you've got Mueller investigating" people close to Trump, Harris told the audience.

NEW YORK - JANUARY 10: The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and guest Sen. Kamala Harris during Thurday's January 10, 2019 show.
Scott Kowalchyk | CBS | Getty Images

'Worth fighting for'

The daughter of immigrants from India and Jamaica, Harris credited her mother for instilling in her that "we must be focused on what can be unburdened by what has been." In her book, the senator declared her support for a wide range of progressive policies, including legalizing marijuana, Medicare for All and debt-free higher education.

This week, Harris embarked on a whirlwind tour of daytime and late night talk show circuit to promote her book, while giving the appearance of a candidate preparing to seek higher office. While the senator has remained tight-lipped when asked about a potential presidential bid, she is poised to enter a crowded Democratic primary field.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former HUD Secretary Julian Castro have already launched exploratory committees, while former vice president Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Rep. Beto O'Rourke are also rumored to run. On Friday, Hawaii Democratic Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard also announced that she too is seeking the presidency.

Harris may have to defend her record against a base that's energized by its opposition to Trump, and has fully embraced left-leaning policies. At a time when criminal justice reform has attracted broad bipartisan support, Harris has been criticized by liberal activists for her track record as a prosecutor — first as a district attorney in San Francisco and later as the California attorney general.

In her book, Harris moves to address those concerns head on. She frames herself not only as someone with valuable law enforcement experience but also progressive beliefs befitting a Democratic party that has shifted further left.

"It is a false choice to suggest you must either be for the police or for police accountability," she writes. "I am for both."

Harris said she remains committed to creating "a picture of the future in which everyone can see themselves." In October, she introduced the LIFT the Middle Class Act, which would guarantee every family making $100,000 or less a tax credit of up to $6,000 annually.

"This country is worth fighting for," she said.