CNN "The Lead With Jake Tapper" - Transcript: Interview with Senator Kamala Harris of California

Interview

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Just minutes ago, President Trump walked out of a meeting after Democrats refused to contemplate ever funding his border wall if and when he agreed to reopen the government. It's now day 19 of the shutdown. The two sides have really never seemed further apart.

Joining me now to discuss this and much more is Democratic Senator Kamala Harris of California, a Democrat who serves on the Intelligence Committee and Judiciary Committee.

She is here to talk about her new book titled "The Truths We Hold: An American Journey", which is just out.

And it's a good read.

Senator, thanks so much for being here. Appreciate it.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D), CALIFORNIA: Thank you, Jake. Good to be with you.

TAPPER: So, I will talk about the book in a second.

HARRIS: OK, sure.

TAPPER: But I have to ask you about what we just saw, president Trump walking out of the meeting saying he wants agreement for some border wall funding at some point and Nancy Pelosi saying no, and he says, we have no reason to talk.

Is there any way out of this impasse?

HARRIS: Well, let's first acknowledge that this is a crisis of the president's own making. We are talking about a request for $5.6 billion that the American public knows can be spent on issues that impact them every day, not on the president's vanity project. We are talking about over 800,000 American workers and their families and the structure around them that relies on those families, who are going to go without a paycheck tomorrow. And tomorrow will be the anniversary apparently or the day that will mark the longest shutdown --

TAPPER: Friday.

HARRIS: Friday, tomorrow -- you're tracking the days.

TAPPER: Friday.

HARRIS: Friday.

TAPPER: On Friday, it will surpass the longest shutdown in history.

HARRIS: Right. And for what? And for what purpose?

Let's put it in further context. A bipartisan group, a unanimous group of the United States senators and on the House side, a bipartisan group all passed and agreed on a funding bill that this president refuses to sign.

TAPPER: I get that's how we got here.

HARRIS: Yes. But that's important. Context is very important.

TAPPER: I hear you. But let me ask you, you weren't here in 2013 when there last was a big attempt to comprehensive immigration reform. And I know you always say there needs to be comprehensive immigration reform. The problem needs to be solved.

HARRIS: And there has been a bipartisan agreement on what comprehensive immigration reform would look like.

TAPPER: Right. So, that's the 2013 bill. To get Republicans, they did put in border security funding. Tens of billions of dollars of it. Is there not some sort of agreement that could be reached at least hypothetically, like we're willing to sit down and have a comprehensive immigration reform which border wall funding?

HARRIS: And we should have that conversation -- and we should have that conversation about what we can do to pass comprehensive immigration reform, to pay attention to what we all care about, which is border security. It is a false choice to suggest that we're going to hold 800,000 federal workers and all of the services they provide hostage for this president's vanity project.

Let's have that conversation. But let's stop this shutdown of the government, get the government working doing the job it is supposed to do and those workers want to do and pay them for their work.

TAPPER: So I have one more question about the news and then I'll turn to the book, which I agree to discuss.

HARRIS: OK, I appreciate that. Don't hold my book hostage.

TAPPER: I'm not.

The top Democrat in the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mark Warner, so you're vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee --

HARRIS: Yes.

TAPPER: -- told CNN today that if it's true that Trump's then campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, shared data -- internal holding data with Konstantin Kilimnik who just believed have links to Russian military intelligence, if that's true, then that's evidence of somebody on the Trump campaign giving the Russians information they would have found helpful for their intelligence operation to interfere on the 2016 election.

So if it's true, is that evidence of conspiracy?

[16:20:02] Is that game set match for the whole collusion thing?

HARRIS: It is -- certainly there is good reason to believe that this is suspicious and probably linked. But again, on this issue, let's not lose sight of one important fact. There is a guy by the name of Bob Mueller that is engaged in a very important investigation. It is imperative that to answer the questions you are asking, we let him complete his job without any interference.

TAPPER: Did you know about this, Manafort sharing the data thing?

HARRIS: I cannot tell you right now.

TAPPER: You can't tell me who --

(CROSSTALK)

HARRIS: Yes.

TAPPER: Let's talk about your books. You have two books, actually, I should point out.

HARRIS: Yes.

TAPPER: One is for grown ups, the truths we hold.

HARRIS: Or those who legally are grown ups.

TAPPER: Right, chronologically, which I include myself in.

HARRIS: Exactly, yes.

TAPPER: And this one is superheroes are everywhere.

HARRIS: Yes.

TAPPER: Actually, I read them both. There is a lot of overlap.

HARRIS: Yes. There is.

TAPPER: Both of them praise your mom a lot.

HARRIS: Yes, very much.

TAPPER: Your mom was born in India, raised in India. She came here.

HARRIS: At the age of 19.

TAPPER: At the age of 19.

HARRIS: Yes.

TAPPER: He raised you and your sister as a single mother after your parents split up. You described her as the strongest person you have ever known. You wrote very emotionally in one section of the grown up book about her being treated differently because she was an Indian- American.

You wrote, quote: I have too many memories of my brilliant mother being treated as though she was dumb because of her accent. Memories of her being followed around the department store with suspicion, because surely a brown-skinned woman like her couldn't afford the dress or the blouse she had chosen.

Your dad is also immigrant from Jamaica.

How does that affect how you govern and especially when it comes to the immigration debate but not exclusively?

HARRIS: Well, I think all of us or any of us who have an immigrant background will tell you there are so much more in common in our parents and grandparents than what makes them different.

My parents raised us with a commitment to making sure that we would be healthy, that we would be happy, that we would be productive. That was their priority. I think we were blessed to have a childhood that was a very nurturing and happy childhood.

But when we talk about the immigration debate, I think there's no question that there are powerful forces, including this president, that are attempting to vilify immigrants because they were born in another country and suggest that they are therefore any different in terms of their fundamental values or beliefs or priorities. I think all of us as Americans should be insulted by that suggestion, knowing that all of us are just a few generations, if not one generation away from immigrants who arrived in this country with the same hopes and dreams that we each have for our children.

TAPPER: You were in the second integrated class of Thousand Oaks Elementary School in Oakland.

HARRIS: Yes.

TAPPER: It happened because of busing. You write about that.

HARRIS: That's right.

TAPPER: Around that same time, then Senator Joe Biden changed his position and became anti-busing. He joined with Jesse Helms. I don't know if you know this.

HARRIS: I did not know that.

TAPPER: And I'm wondering as somebody who was in an integrated class because of busing, was then Senator Biden wrong?

HARRIS: Well, as we know, first of all, there was a need for Brown v. Board of Education. Thanks to Thurgood Marshall and Charles Hamilton --

TAPPER: Who are among the heroes in your book.

HARRIS: Who are among the heroes in my children's book. There was a need for them to make clear that anything that was about segregating children in schools based on race was antithetical to our Constitution and the values and priorities and ideals of our country.

So, there's no question that busing was the right thing to do as an attempt towards integrating the public schools of America. And I am sure that all good people support the idea that children should not be educated separately and that we should have a society and leaders that want to integrate and bring all children together as equal.

TAPPER: I have two more questions.

HARRIS: OK.

TAPPER: You were a leader of the #MeToo Movement. You were very vocal in the Senate Judiciary Committee during Kavanaugh.

An unfortunate thing happened on your staff which is that one of your top aides you had resigned a few weeks ago, Larry Wallace. And, in fact, he is mentioned in the book at one point helping you run the attorney general department of the Department of Justice in California and fixing the problem of implicit bias.

As somebody who is a leader of the #MeToo Movement, how did this happen and you didn't know about it? And what did you learn about it given that it kind of struck close to home?

HARRIS: Sure. First of all it was a painful experience to know something can happen in one's office, of almost 5,000 people, granted, but that I didn't know about it. That being said, I take full responsibility that has happened in my office.

[16:25:04] I always do and I always will. The buck stops with me.

But the other point, Jake, is that it really does -- to your point -- make also a clear point, which is even in the office of someone who has been an advocate for women and women's rights and all people's rights, there's no office that is immune from this kind of behavior. And that's something tat we're also going to have to deal with. And it is a sad statement.

TAPPER: You have said that you think the country is ready for a president who is a woman of color. Not necessarily you --

HARRIS: Right.

TAPPER: -- but a woman of color. At the same time, you also talk very movingly and compellingly in your book and elsewhere about misogyny, sexism, racism.

HARRIS: Anti-Semitism.

TAPPER: Anti-Semitism.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: But square the circle. How is the country ready for this if problems are so prevalent and when are you going to make your decision?

HARRIS: I will make my decision soon, not at this very moment. But I will say that we have to give the American people more credit. We have to understand that the American public and the people of our country are smart people who will make decisions about who will be their leader based on who they believe is capable, who they believe has an honest desire to lead, to represent, to see them, to be a voice for them even if they have no power and those are the kinds of people who we are as a country.

And so, the pundits can talk all day and all night. And there's a lot of chatter about which demographic will do this or that. It has been my life's experience that the American people are smart and they make decisions based on what's in the best interest of their household, their family and their community. And I have faith that in 2020 and any other election, that would be their motivation when they vote.

TAPPER: Do you think people talk too much time talking about the fact that you were first woman district attorney in San Francisco, first woman attorney general of California, first African American, all of those trail blazing things they did? Do they spend too much time talking about that and not the accomplishments?

HARRIS: I think that people talk about both. I am proud when people talk about the fact that I created one of the first reentry initiatives of any D.A.s office in the country when I was district attorney in San Francisco, focused on first time offenders and what we need to do to reform the criminal justice system. I'm proud when they talk about the fact that I was the first attorney general to create a bureau of children's justice focused on education, understanding that there's a directed connection between public education and public safety. I'm proud when they talk about I was one of the first to focus around digital forensics, and cyber security.

I'm proud about all of my firsts.

TAPPER: And these two books also.

HARRIS: Yes, my first children's book, and my second book.

TAPPER: Your second book for grown ups. The first book, children's superheroes are everywhere.

HARRIS: Yes.

TAPPER: And "The Truths We Hold: An American Journey". Thanks so much for being here.

HARRIS: Yes. Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: I really appreciate it.

HARRIS: Appreciate you.

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