California’s very junior senator has emerged as the latest iteration of a bipartisan archetype: the Great Freshman Hope, a telegenic object of daydreaming projection — justified or not — for a party adrift and removed from executive power. And with the future of Senator Franken in jeopardy, she may be the dem’s next best hope.
Like the Senate newcomers Barack Obama or Marco Rubio before her, Ms. Harris — a 52-year-old former prosecutor with a profane streak, a lawyerly aversion to “false choices” and an affection for the rapper Too Short — has insisted that national aspirations are far from her mind.
Twice recently, Ms. Harris’s pointed questions and interjections during long-winded witness testimony have prompted uncommon interruptions from Republican colleagues, John McCain of Arizona and Richard M. Burr of North Carolina, the committee chairman, urging her to let the officials answer.
In the outsize fallout, her supporters have questioned whether a white male senator would have been confronted the same way.
“There are times,” said Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, “when men don’t like women who are smarter than them.”
Yet this early exposure has obscured a more nuanced Washington debut for Ms. Harris, who seems determined to distinguish her voice from the Democratic pack while offering at least a measure of deference to Senate norms.
The daughter of an Indian-born mother and a Jamaican father — raised in a black neighborhood of Berkeley and wheeled to civil rights marches in her stroller — Ms. Harris last lived in Washington as an undergraduate at Howard University, where she delivered this year’s commencement address.
“We are better than this,” she told the students, sizing up the current political moment. “And you know what I’m talking about.”
Few Democrats have voted against more Trump administration nominees, enshrining Ms. Harris in a group known derisively by Republicans and some Democrats in the Capitol as “the 2020 caucus.” Ms. Harris’s team remains particularly pleased with two “no” votes that most Democrats declined to join, given the officials’ performances so far: Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, and John F. Kelly, the Homeland Security secretary.
But rampaging populist rhetoric seems to come a bit less naturally to Ms. Harris, at least compared to Senate colleagues like Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts or Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
Ms. Harris, who served as state attorney general and San Francisco district attorney, tends instead toward a courtroom bluntness.
“She speaks, she’s heard,” Gov. Jerry Brown of California said in an interview. “She gets to the point.”
Ms. Harris has taken particular care to make a foil of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in person or otherwise, and is eager to seize on immigration and criminal justice issues as her signatures.
“I do want you to be honest,” she said to Mr. Sessions at one Intelligence Committee hearing, almost tauntingly, as he protested the velocity of her questioning on possible Russia ties.
But for all her airtime during such gatherings, Ms. Harris has worked behind the scenes to curb any temptation to be overzealous in the inquiry, according to the committee’s top Democrat, Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, who said he had turned to her often for advice because he had never run a major investigation before.
“There was a lot of pressure early on to bring in some of the bigger names early,” Mr. Warner said. “She was very much saying, ‘No, let’s do this in an orderly, methodical fashion.’”
When explaining herself in public settings, she is known to start sentences with “I’m a prosecutor.”
Still, some Republicans have found her style of questioning to be self-aggrandizing. Others see simple growing pains.
“Just getting used to how things work around here,” said Senator Jim Risch, Republican of Idaho and a fellow intelligence committee member. “You need to let people answer the question.” He added that he got along well with Ms. Harris.
As she positions herself within her own party, Ms. Harris has often sounded less ideological notes than some of her colleagues in the progressive wing, saying Democrats “cannot afford to be purists” with several senators up for re-election next year in states that Mr. Trump won handily.
At times, Ms. Harris has aligned herself with the left flank of the Democratic caucus in the interest of saving the right: In a recent fund-raising email, pinned to a Twitter feed with more than 560,000 followers, she tied her own treatment at the hearings to the silencing of Ms. Warren on the Senate floor earlier this year by the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky. The donations were to be split among a group of female senators, including two of next year’s vulnerable incumbents, Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota.
A similar message signed by Ms. Harris for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee was among the most lucrative email pitches of the year, according to the committee, where Ms. Harris is already approaching the top tier of sought-after fund-raisers.
Her office said she had raised more than $600,000 this year for other Democratic senators, more than $365,000 of that coming from small online donors. She plans to travel to her colleagues’ states to raise more money later in the fall.
Of course, Ms. Harris’s prominence and the attendant expectations have as much to do with the Democratic present as her own future. The path back to power is uncertain. The bench can seem thin. The most popular figure on the left, by some polling consensus, identifies as an independent: Mr. Sanders, who would be 79 on Election Day 2020.