Kamala Harris Pushes Back on Criticism Over Her Record as Prosecutor During Debate

September 12, 2019 Updated: September 13, 2019

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) pushed back after a debate moderator criticized her over her record as a prosecutor.

Linsey Davis, an ABC correspondent, told Harris about her recently released criminal justice reform plan: “It does contradict some of your prior positions. Among them, you used to oppose the legalization of marijuana. Now you don’t. You used to oppose outside investigations of police shootings. Now you don’t.”

“You’ve said that you’ve changed on these and other things because you said you were swimming against the current and thankfully the currents changed. But when you had the power, why didn’t you try to affect change then?” Davis wondered.

“There have been—I’m glad you asked me this question—there have been many distortions of my record,” Harris said.

Harris said she became a prosecutor because she wanted to protect people and keep them safe and because the criminal justice system is informed by racial bias.

“I made a decision that if I was going to have the ability to reform the system, I was going to do it from the inside,” she said.

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), a Democratic presidential candidate, speaks during the third Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season at Texas Southern University in Houston, Texas on Sept. 12, 2019. (Win McNamee/AFP/Getty Images)

Harris said that while in office, she created a program to get jobs for people who were arrested for drug offenses, required police officers in California to wear body cameras full-time, and created trainings for police officers on racial bias and “the need to reform the system.”

“Was I able to get enough done? Absolutely not,” she said, “but my plan has been described by activists as a bold and comprehensive plan.”

The would be implemented on her first day in office and includes ending solitary confinement, “de-incarcerat[ing] women and children,” and ending for-profit prisons, Harris said.

Harris was ripped by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) at the last debate in late July, but Gabbard didn’t qualify for the Thursday, Sept. 12 debate.

In response, Harris’s campaign accused Gabbard of being backed by Russia.

Support for Harris dove after that debate, while support for Gabbard rose nominally. Polled after the event, a number of respondents indicated they thought Gabbard “won” the debate.

(L-R) Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), former vice president Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), former tech executive Andrew Yang, former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke, and former Obama administration housing secretary Julian Castro appear on stage before the start of the Democratic Presidential Debate at Texas Southern University’s Health and PE Center in Houston, Texas on Sept. 12, 2019. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

The other nine candidates on stage were former vice president Joe Biden, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Obama administration Housing Secretary Julian Castro, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and businessman Andrew Yang.

Gabbard and billionaire Tom Steyer just missed qualifying, and both took issue with the requirements set by the Democratic National Committee. Castro, the last to qualify, met the requirements on Aug. 20, more than a week before the deadline.

The other candidates still in the race that did not qualify are: Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio); author Marianne Williamson; former Maryland Rep. John Delaney, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, former Pennsylvania Rep. Joe Sestak, Rep. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), and Miramar, Florida, Mayor Wayne Messam.

Candidates who didn’t qualify for the September debate still have a chance to qualify for the next debate, which will be held in October. Details for that debate haven’t been announced as of yet.

Follow Zachary on Twitter: @zackstieber
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