Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., speaks in Washington, Thursday, Aug. 27, 2020. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster) Kamala Harris
Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris spoke Monday from the oldest freedman college building in America at Raleigh’s Shaw University.

Kamala Harris spoke Monday from the oldest freedman college building in America at Shaw University, framing our current political fight as part of the long struggle for fairness in health care, work, and the democratic process itself.

Harris traced that legacy from post-Civil War philanthropist Jacob Estey, who helped to fund the South’s first Black college; to Shaw student Ella Baker, who founded the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee months after the 1960 Greensboro sit-in; and finally to eventual SNCC chairman and late Congressman John Lewis.

“I stand here on their shoulders,” Harris said. 

If elected, Harris, a US senator and former California attorney general, would become the first woman and first Black vice president. In 1986, she graduated from Howard, another historically Black university, in the nation’s capital. In 2008, Black voter turnout helped to make Barack Obama not only the first Black president but also the first Democrat to win North Carolina’s electoral votes since Jimmy Carter in 1976. Obama’s vice president Joe Biden won more than 63% of Black voters and nearly doubled the overall vote totals of his nearest challenger Bernie Sanders in the 2020 presidential primary.

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Harris’ visit to this important battleground state comes little over a week after the death of feminist icon and longtime Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. President Donald Trump has nominated federal appellate judge Amy Coney Barrett to replace her, and the Republican majority in the Senate has indicated they plan to confirm this administration’s third Supreme Court appointee in fewer than four years, giving GOP nominees a 6-3 majority. 

Such a conservative majority raises the possibility of a federal ban on abortions and a rollback of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), potentially stripping health insurance from an estimated 29.8 million Americans and 1 million North Carolinians.

Kamala Harris
Vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris speaks at Raleigh’s Shaw University Monday. (Photo: Sara D. Davis / Getty Images)

“The voters should be very clear about one thing: President Trump and his party and Judge Barrett will overturn the Affordable Care Act,” Harris said. “It’s a decision that could take away healthcare from more than 20 million Americans.”

Like Biden, Harris is calling on Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to wait for the results of the Nov. 3 election before confirming Ginsburg’s replacement. In March 2016, with 10 months left in Obama’s second term, McConnell and the Republican majority in the Senate refused to consider the president’s nomination of Merrick Garland after the death of Antonin Scalia. Now, with only six weeks to go before he faces Biden’s challenge for his second term, Trump and McConnell are pushing forward Barrett’s nomination.

“Look, it’s not complicated,” Harris said. “The voters would simply like to have an opportunity to vote for their president before the Senate votes on a nominee.  We’re not in the middle of an election year. We’re in the middle of an election. Almost a million Americans have already voted. And more will vote this week and next week, and in just a few weeks, all Americans will have voted. President Trump and his party are not interested in hearing the will of the people. It’s called raw power.”

“But President Trump and his party are about to learn something,” Harris added. “They may think that they are the ones who have the power in this country, but they don’t. You have the power. You are going to be able very soon to let them know how you feel about being cut out of this Supreme Court nomination process.”

Trump’s nominee has already expressed skepticism of the ACA and abortion rights, a record that Harris says is especially onerous given Ginsburg’s own legacy. 

“She committed her life, step by step, case by case, law by law, to tear down the obstacles in the way of so many, and especially women,” Harris said. 

As a civil liberties lawyer, Ginsburg fought for gender equality tax law, military pay and the rights of surviving spouses. She also argued to stop forced sterilizations in North Carolina. With Ginsburg anchoring the leftward end of the panel, the Supreme Court upheld the ACA against GOP attacks over the past four years. Harris said the gender equality of the ACA built upon RBG’s legacy of equal rights. 

For example, the healthcare law expanded access to preventative care like mammograms, blocked insurers from charging women more than men, and ensured coverage for pregnancy and other pre-existing conditions when switching insurance providers. The Office on Women’s Health at the federal Department of Human Services calls the ACA “the most important advance in women’s health policy since 1965.”

This summer, with Ginsburg in the minority, SCOTUS permitted the Trump administration to eliminate an ACA mandate requiring employer-sponsored health plans to cover birth control. Based on a 1976 law, federal funds, including Medicaid and subsidized ACA plans, cannot be used for abortions, but there have been ongoing battles over how the government regulates private insurance coverage for abortions. Abortion rights groups fear for the future of Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortions at the federal level, but Harris said overturning the ACA would also compromise women’s ability to terminate their pregnancies.  There’s also evidence that contraceptive access under the ACA has helped to reduce the number of abortions. 

“Judge Barrett has a long record of opposing abortion and reproductive rights,” said Harris. “There is no other issue that would do more to undo the work of Justice Ginsburg’s life.”

Harris expressed concern about losing protections for pre-existing conditions, especially as long-term effects from COVID-19, like lung scarring, could be among them. 

“Let’s vote for health care. Vote for the Affordable Care Act. Vote as if your life, your choice, depends on it,” she said. “If they’re determined to get rid of your healthcare, you’ll be just as determined to vote them out of office.”