Sen. Kamala Harris faced a scathing dress down by Hawaii’s Rep. Tulsi Gabbard during the second night of Democratic debates.
The California Democrat and former attorney general for the state had her history of prosecuting drug crimes called into question by her rival, with Gabbard slamming her record on criminal justice reform and the death penalty as well.
CNN host Jake Tapper queued up the question for the Hawaii congresswoman, asking her about her previous criticism of Harris for calling former Vice President Joe Biden a racist. But Gabbard had another path.
“I want to bring the conversation back to the broken criminal justice system that is disproportionately negatively impacting black and brown people all across this country today,” Gabbard began before unloading on Harris.
“Sen. Harris says she’s proud of her record as a prosecutor and that she’ll be a prosecutor president, but I’m deeply concerned about this record,” she added. “There are too many examples to cite but she put over 1,500 people in jail for marijuana violations and then laughed about it when she was asked if she ever smoked marijuana.”
She went on to accuse Harris of hiding evidence that would have “freed an innocent man from death row” and that she kept prisoners past their sentence so as to use them as “cheap labor” in the state of California.
Her remarks sparked applause from the audience and caused Harris to shake her head, quietly saying “that’s not true.”
But Gabbard wasn’t done, as she continued her journey through Harris prosecutor past, accusing her of fighting to keep the unfair system of cash bail which, she noted, hurts poorer people “in the worst kind of way.”
Harris got her chance to fire back and she came out swinging, claiming that as attorney general for California she oversaw criminal justice reform, fought against the death penalty and supported legalizing marijuana.
“I did the work of significantly reforming the criminal justice system in a state of 40 million people,” Harris said. “And I am proud of that work, and I am proud of making a decision to not just give fancy speeches or be in a legislative body and give speeches on the floor but actually doing the work.”
Gabbard had her turn to respond and she leveled Harris with more inconvenient acts.
“When you were in a position to impact these people’s lives you did not and worse yet in the case of those on death row, innocent people, you actually blocked evidence that would have freed them, until you were forced to do that, and the people who suffered under your reign as prosecutor, you owe them an apology,” Gabbard shot back at the senator.
The topic concluded with Harris insisting she was opposed to the death penalty and dared anyone to refute it, although she did defend California’s use of the death penalty even when a federal judge had ruled it unconstitutional.
“My entire career, I have been personally opposed to the death penalty and that has never changed and I dare anybody who’s in a position to make that decision to face the people I have faced to say I will not seek the death penalty,” Harris said. “That is my background, that is my work. I am proud of it.”