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Some Democratic hopefuls use Barr hearing in fundraising appeals

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) goes over notes before

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) goes over notes before questioning Attorney General William Barr during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington on Wednesday. Credit: Bloomberg/Al Drago

Less than an hour after Attorney General William Barr finished his testimony Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, an email from Sen. Kamala Harris hit the inboxes of her supporters.

It renewed Harris’ call for Barr’s resignation, argued that Americans deserve better from their leaders and ended with a fundraising appeal: “If you’re with me in this fight, I need you now.”

Sen. Cory Booker sent out his own request for contributions and demand for Barr to step down around the same time.

And Sen. Amy Klobuchar also blasted out a fundraising email, though it came a day after the hearing and focused on how she pressed Barr for answers. She has stopped short of urging that he resign.

Wednesday’s widely watched proceedings on Capitol Hill served as a unique opportunity for the Senate Judiciary Committee members running for president — Democrats Harris of California, Booker of New Jersey and Klobuchar of Minnesota —— to stand out in the crowded field of White House contenders.

They effectively were positioned to campaign for commander in chief while performing their congressional duties.

And they had an audience of millions among those watching in real time, those following along on social media and those catching up afterward via news outlets.

“Anytime that the entire nation is watching is a very good opportunity for a candidate to help themselves — or attempt to help themselves,” said Evan Siegfried, a New York-based Republican consultant, adding that capitalizing on such a news event is a “time-honored tradition” for both political parties.

“This can show that the job of being a senator prepares you for being president,” said Jon Reinish, a New York-based Democratic strategist. “This is proof-positive of that.”

Harris, Booker and Klobuchar displayed differing approaches to grilling Barr, who had been called to testify about his handling of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report and criticized by Democratic leaders as too beholden to Republican President Donald Trump.

Harris, who is polling ahead of Booker and Klobuchar in the primary but still badly trailing front-runners former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), saw her eight-minute exchange with Barr go viral.

The clip garnered 3.7 million views in 24 hours, becoming C-SPAN’s most-watched video of a Senate hearing for the year, according to the network’s social media senior specialist Jeremy Art.

C-SPAN’s most-watched video of a Senate hearing of all time also featured Harris, Art said via tweet. The clip of her questioning then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh at his September 2018 confirmation proceedings has more than 7.1 million views.

On Wednesday, Harris was prosecutorial in facing Barr, leaving the attorney general stammering when she asked if Trump or others at the White House ever asked or suggested that Barr investigate anyone.

Klobuchar, vying for centrist votes, requested Barr's support of her bipartisan bills, including one to improve U.S. election security. She also asked why Barr didn't look at "the totality of the evidence" in considering that Trump didn't obstruct justice. 

Booker delivered an emotional rebuke of Barr for his “normalization” of what the senator said were Trump’s lies and deceits as detailed in the Mueller report.

The senators' contrasting styles in questioning Barr recalled how they raised their profiles during the Kavanaugh hearing, when they weren’t yet official candidates for president.

Political experts said they face the danger of coming off as too obviously pandering for votes.

“You don’t want to come across as too performative, then it’s just clear you’re creating a viral moment and grandstanding,” Reinish said.

“The challenge is you have to be in the moment doing your job, which is oversight, and come across as tough-minded but fair,” said Jeanne Zaino, an Iona College professor of political science.

The 2020 candidates without the platform of the Senate Judiciary Committee last week were quick to add their voices to the national debate surrounding Barr.

Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) were among the Democrats who said they believed Barr should resign. 

Trump's re-election campaign sent a fundraising email to supporters Wednesday with the subject line, "Stand with Barr." The note read, "Patriotic Americans can’t sit by and watch Democrats attack Attorney General Barr for doing his job."

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