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Democrat Kamala Harris will soon join a Republican-controlled Senate. Here's where she sees common ground

Democrat Kamala Harris will soon join a Republican-controlled Senate. Here's where she sees common ground
Senator-elect Kamala Harris, center, speaks with Long Beack Mayor Robert Garcia, left, and Angelica Salas of the Coalition for Humane Immigration Rights of Los Angeles during a meeting with immigrant families and activists on Nov. 10. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Newly elected U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris said she's already been in contact with her West Coast colleagues about banding together to implement Democratic priorities in the political era of President-elect Donald Trump.

"I have talked with some of the West Coast senators and certainly we have an alignment of interests on a number of issues," Harris told the Los Angeles Times in a telephone interview. "I'm looking forward to building those relationships."

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Harris, who won the Senate election last week, didn't disclose the topics of any of those conversations, but did share her thoughts about working with the Republican Senate majority and what the Democrats must do to reconnect with working-class voters who backed Trump. Harris also said that she plans to continue serving as California attorney general until she is sworn into the Senate on Jan. 3.

During her Senate campaign, Harris also had several discussions with New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, who will be the new Democratic leader of the Senate. Schumer and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg held an East Coast fundraiser for Harris over the summer.

The two-term California attorney general believes Republicans and Democrats can come together on issues such as the drought and possibly even climate change.

Harris said that during the campaign she met plenty of conservative farmers and ranchers in the state who had seen firsthand the consequences of the changing climate, including the depleted water supply and altered growing seasons. She dismissed climate-change deniers as a "very vocal, small group."

"Republicans and Democrats alike know we are experiencing this drought and also have an equal concern about more reliability about water," Harris said.

Working with a Trump administration to address climate change and the drought may be a different issue. Before the election, Trump told the Miami Herald that he was "not a big believer in man-made climate change." He also has called for ending Obama administration rules that cut carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants as well as scrapping constraints on oil, gas and coal production, and said he would "cancel" the United States' participation in the historic Paris climate accord to reduce carbon emissions.

In May, Trump declared that "there is no drought" during a campaign stop in Fresno, even though by the end of 2015, California had gone through its driest four-year period in history. Trump said there was plenty of water and accused government officials of sending it out to sea "to protect a certain kind of three-inch fish" rather than directing it to Central Valley farmers — a reference to the federal government's reduction of water exports to farms in a bid to save the endangered Delta smelt.

Harris on Thursday said she was an "optimist" about working with Republican leaders in Congress, however. She addressed the issue following a press conference at the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, where Harris vowed to protect the rights of all immigrants.

"I'm going to take everyone at their word at this point, which is that they're saying that they want everyone to work together," Harris said.  "Where we can work with common purpose and spirit, I'm excited to do that. And at the point where we part on our principles and our goals, then we have to fight."

While Democrat Hillary Clinton won the popular vote in the Nov. 8 election, Trump cobbled together an electoral path to victory in part by winning over America's rural heartland and the Rust Belt states.

Harris said that to bring those voters back into the Democratic fold, the party has to address the core, real-world concerns that "keep them up at 3 o'clock in the morning" — whether they can land a good job, whether their children will have an opportunity for a good education, whether they can live in a decent house and whether they can retire with dignity.

Those issues cut across all geographic, racial and gender lines, Harris said.

"They want leaders who, as we go forward, can actually do the job of building the economy," Harris said.

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Twitter: @philwillon

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