CNN "State of the Union" - Transcript: Interview with Sen. Kamala Harris


Date: May 12, 2019


TAPPER: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Jerry Nadler, they say that we're in a constitutional crisis...


TAPPER: ... because the justice Department is not turning over the full unredacted Mueller report and the underlying materials.

HARRIS: Mm-hmm.

TAPPER: Do you agree? Are we in a constitutional crisis?

HARRIS: I think we probably are.

I mean, listen, a constitutional crisis is defined as generally when the system that we set up with checks and balances, when each of the independent co-equal branches of the government fails to perform its duties.

And I think that we are seeing a breakdown of responsibilities. We saw it last week in the Barr hearing. We're seeing it in terms of a failure to compile its subpoenas.

You know, now, being a member of the United States Congress in the Senate, I am seeing up close where the -- there is a failure to respect the significance of Congress' duty to perform a role of oversight over the administration, over the agencies.

I'm seeing a failure to appreciate the importance of testifying before Congress in a way that is straightforward and truthful.

So I think, yes, I think it is fair to say that we are looking at a crisis, not only of confidence, but potentially a constitutional crisis, yes.

TAPPER: President Trump, as you know, slapped higher tariffs on Chinese exports on Friday morning, dialing up pressure for a trade deal with the Chinese.


TAPPER: Now, your leader, Chuck Schumer, tweeted earlier this week saying -- quote -- "Hang tough on China, President Trump. Don't back down."

Do you agree with Leader Schumer that President Trump is doing the right thing when it comes to the Chinese?

HARRIS: I think that part of the failure of this administration on foreign policy as general matter is that this president and this administration have failed to understand that we are stronger when we work with our allies on every issue, China included.

TAPPER: China is an ally?

HARRIS: No, meaning working with our allies to address China, in terms of the threat that it presents to our economy, the threat it presents to American workers and American industries.

But we -- but, instead, this president seems to believe and has a preference for conducting trade policy, economic policy, foreign policy by tweet. And that's irresponsible. It is a display of a president who thinks that -- apparently, that unilateral action is better than working with the friends to address issues that not only impact our country, but impact the globe.


And I think it puts us in a weaker position.

TAPPER: As a more broad manner, President Trump, on the campaign trail 2015-'16 and as president, says, trade deals in this country, by Democrat presidents and by Republican presidents, have been too tilted towards helping corporations and helping Wall Street and too tilted against the middle class and the manufacturing sector.

Do you disagree with that premise?

HARRIS: I believe that there is no question that, over many decades, the rules have been written in a way that have been to the exclusion of lifting up the middle class and working people in America and working families in America.

And, in fact, that's why I'm proposing that one of the things that we do to address that is that we reform the tax code in a way that we'll give middle-class working families that are making less than $100,000 a year a $6,000 tax credit that they can receive it up to $500 a month.

TAPPER: But on the subject of trade, it doesn't sound like you disagree with the president on his premise, on his general argument that the middle class keeps getting screwed by these trade deals, and he's trying to renegotiate better deals.

HARRIS: I believe that we have got to have policy that better protects American workers and American industries.

I believe very strongly that we have to have policies that understand that, as it relates to the issue of trade, as it relates to the issue of various countries, including China, which we just talked about, that we have to supply and equip the American worker with the skills and the resources that they need to thrive, not only survive, but thrive.

TAPPER: Trade has been drawing some dividing lines in the Democratic field, when it comes to NAFTA, for example.

Bernie Sanders, one of your opponents, attacked Joe Biden, another one of your opponents, last week, saying -- quote -- "I helped lead the fight against NAFTA. Biden voted for NAFTA."

Who is right on NAFTA, Biden or Sanders?

HARRIS: Well, I'm not going to choose between the two of them.


HARRIS: But I will tell you...

TAPPER: Well, would you have voted for NAFTA?

HARRIS: I would not have voted for NAFTA, and because I believe that we can do a better job to protect American workers.

I also believe that we need to do a better job in terms of thinking about the priorities that should be more apparent now perhaps than they were there, which are issues like climate, the climate crisis, and what we need to do to build into these trade agreements.

TAPPER: We saw another deadly school shooting this week...


TAPPER: ... in Colorado.

Cory Booker has called for creating federal gun licenses, which would require fingerprints, an interview and a gun safety course. Opponents of this say it would essentially create a way for the government to -- to track gun owners.

Would you support a federal gun license?

HARRIS: I like the idea. But, you know Jake, I'm going to tell you, on this issue of the need

for gun safety laws, we're not at any loss for good ideas. People have been having good ideas for decades on this issue.

What we're at a loss is for people in Congress to have the courage to do something. We -- and, you know, I'm going to tell you, on this subject, we're not waiting for the worst tragedy, because we've seen the worst of tragedies, including what just happened this week, and seen the heroism of a child, who we now mourn his loss, his parents' only child.

We're not waiting for tragedies, and we are not waiting for good ideas. Universal background checks, check, really good idea. You might want to know if someone has been proven to be a danger to themselves or others before they can buy a lethal weapon.

What we're waiting for is Congress to have the courage to act. And so let me tell you what I'm proposing. I'm proposing, one, that if, by my 100th day in office when elected president of the United States, the United States Congress fails to put a bill on my desk to sign with all of the good ideas or any of the good ideas, then I'm prepared to take executive action, because that's what's needed, action.

TAPPER: Executive action to do what?

HARRIS: To do, specifically, for anyone who sells more than five guns a year, they will be required to perform background checks on the people they sell them to.

And this will be the most comprehensive background check policy that has ever been had in our country thus far. I am prepared...

TAPPER: Can that be done by executive order?

HARRIS: Yes. Yes, it can.

I'm also prepared to say and to direct the ATF to remove and take away the licenses of gun dealers who fail to follow the law.

And, Jake, 90 percent of the guns that are associated with crime have been sold by 5 percent of the gun dealers. We need to take their licenses away.

TAPPER: I think the last time I saw you was the town hall.

HARRIS: Mm-hmm.

TAPPER: I want to ask you about something you said that night.

You said on stage with me in January that, when it comes to private insurance -- quote -- "Let's eliminate all of that. Let's move on."


TAPPER: Now, you later said we don't need to get rid of all private insurance. So...

HARRIS: But let's clear that up. Wait. Jake, OK.


TAPPER: Which is -- which is it, exactly?

HARRIS: When we were together...


HARRIS: And you will remember -- and roll the tape, please.


TAPPER: Yes, we can roll the tape.

HARRIS: That...

TAPPER: Well, you support the Bernie Sanders bill, which essentially gets rid of insurance.

HARRIS: I support Medicare for all, but I really do need to clear up what happened on that stage.


HARRIS: It was in the context of saying, let's get rid of all the bureaucracy. Let's get all of the waste...

TAPPER: Oh, not the insurance companies?

HARRIS: No. That's not what I meant. I know it was interpreted that way.

If you watch the tape, I think you'll see that there are obviously many interpretations of what I said. What I meant is, let's get rid of the bureaucracy.

As it relates to Medicare...

TAPPER: But the bill gets rid of insurance.

HARRIS: But -- no, no, no, no, it does not get rid of insurance. It does not get rid of insurance.

And, listen -- and let me just tell you where I am. Let's tell you where I am.

TAPPER: OK. All right.

HARRIS: I support Medicare for all. It is my preferred policy.

TAPPER: As a principle, you mean, not Bernie Sanders' bill?

HARRIS: I support the bill.


HARRIS: I support the bill. I...

TAPPER: Well, because the bill gets rid of private insurance for everything that...

HARRIS: It doesn't get rid of supplemental insurance for...

TAPPER: Right, for cosmetic surgery, but for all...

HARRIS: So, it doesn't get rid of all insurance.

TAPPER: OK. It doesn't get rid of all insurance.

HARRIS: OK. Right.

TAPPER: ... but for all essential health care benefits.

HARRIS: But -- but why? Ask the question, why?

The question -- the answer to that question is because Medicare for all and the vision of what it will be includes an expansion of coverage. So, Medicare for all will include vision. It will include dental. It will include hearing aids.

TAPPER: There are a lot of members of unions, for example, who like their private insurance...

HARRIS: Right. Right.

TAPPER: ... and the plans that have been negotiated on their behalf and don't want that replaced.

HARRIS: Right.

Well, listen, let me just tell you something. I completely agree with those members of organized labor who have negotiated for plans and have, in those negotiation processes -- processes, often give enough what could have been higher wages in exchange for a higher coverage for health care.

TAPPER: Right.

HARRIS: And we have got to -- we have to address that. It's a legitimate concern which must be addressed.

TAPPER: The bill also says -- quote -- "Every individual who's a resident of the United States is entitled to benefits for health care services under the Senate," not every individual who's a citizen, but every individual who's a resident.

HARRIS: Mm-hmm.

TAPPER: So you support giving universal health care and Medicare for all to people who are on this country illegally?

HARRIS: Let me just be very clear about this. I'm opposed to any policy that would deny in our country any human being from access to public safety, public education, or public health, period.


TAPPER: Stay right there.

We have more of our exclusive interview with Democratic presidential candidate Senator Kamala Harris, including why she says this:


HARRIS: I'm going to win. And I fully intend to win.




TAPPER: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Jake Tapper.

We are back with more of my exclusive interview with presidential candidate Senator Kamala Harris and her response to questions some progressive voters are raising about her record.


TAPPER: Let me ask you about your record as a prosecutor.


TAPPER: This -- the truancy initiative is something that you have had to answer some questions about...


TAPPER: ... which threatened prosecution for parents of students who miss too much school.

You told a story in a 2010 speech...

HARRIS: Uh-huh.

TAPPER: ... about a homeless single mother with three kids working two jobs. You said, under your truancy initiative, her children's attendance improved. And you dismissed charges that you had filed against her.

HARRIS: Yes, that's right.

TAPPER: Now, can you explain to people who are skeptical...

HARRIS: Yes. TAPPER: ... why threatening her with jail time was the right way to

handle that problem?

HARRIS: Well, it was more about getting her the services that she need that she didn't know was -- that she needed and didn't know was available. It was more about putting pressure on the school district to do its job.

I learned that over 80 percent of the prisoners in the United States are high school dropouts. I learned that a black man between the age of, I think it's 20 and 25, if a high school dropout was two-thirds likely to be in jail, have been in jail or dead.

And so, looking at the issue, I realized that there is a very direct connection between the issue of truancy and who will end up in the criminal justice system.

So, the first thing we did is go to the school district and say, what are you doing to get these parents the support they need, to get their children to school every day? What are we doing as a community?

And it is because we put those resources into this initiative and put the spotlight that I was able to bring to it, frankly, we were able to improve attendance by over 30 percent. Not one parent was sent to jail.

TAPPER: Well, you pushed for a statewide law, right, a statewide truancy law.

HARRIS: And the state...

TAPPER: And people were thrown into jail under that law.

HARRIS: Not by me.

TAPPER: Not by you, but you supported the law.

HARRIS: I supported the law that -- this is what I supported, and our initiative was that in the -- and here's -- we're going to get in the weeds, but give me the patience of time to explain it.

When I was looking at the issue of truancy, I realized that, when we define truancy, we defined it as three or four unexcused absences, you're truant.

I was seeing kids that were missing up to 80 days of a 180-day school year. So, my point was, why isn't the education code recognizing that?

What ended up happening is, by changing the education code, it also changed -- it, by reference then, was in the penal code. And then that was an unintended consequence.

And if I could do it over again, I would have made sure that it would not have increased penalties or the ability to prosecute anywhere in the state to prosecute parents, because that was never the intention. And it was never anything that I did.

TAPPER: Do you think that -- I mean, you hear this more than I do, but I hear from Democratic voters, progressives out there, they say -- they learn a little bit. They like you. They hear about you. They like you. They learn more.

And then they say, she's a cop.

HARRIS: Look...

TAPPER: And, now, look, where I come from, that is not pejorative, but, in some communities, it is.

HARRIS: Well, I -- listen, this is how I feel about it.

I'm acutely aware of the impact of the criminal justice system on communities, both in terms of what the criminal justice system can do to rightly make sure there is consequence and accountability when a woman is raped, when a child is molested, when one human being kills another human being.

And I will never apologize for prosecuting people for those crimes.

I am also acutely aware that we have a criminal justice system in America that is deeply flawed, has often been informed by bias, and is in need of severe reform, which is why my entire career, I have worked to do both.


TAPPER: We're just 30 miles away from the Facebook headquarters.


TAPPER: Chris Hughes, the co-founder of Facebook, published an op-ed in the "Times" this week calling for the tech giant to be broken up because it's a -- quote -- "leviathan that crowds out entrepreneurship and restricts our consumer choice."

Do you think Facebook is a monopoly? Should it be broken up?

HARRIS: I think that Facebook has experienced massive growth and has prioritized its growth over the best interests of its consumers, especially on the issue of privacy.

There is no question in my mind that there needs to be serious regulation, and that that has not been happening. There needs to be more oversight. That has not been happening.

My -- especially during my years as attorney general of California, one of my greatest areas of focus on this issue has been on consumer privacy. They have not been adequately informing consumers about where they are relinquishing their privacy.

TAPPER: So, they're -- they haven't been a great corporate model, but does that mean... HARRIS: But it's not just that they haven't been a great corporate model. They...

TAPPER: Do you think they should be broken up, is my question.

HARRIS: Yes, I think we have to seriously take a look at that, yes.

I mean, when you look at the issue, they're essentially a utility. Like, there are very few people that can actually get by and be involved in their communities or society or in whatever their profession without somehow, somewhere using Facebook.

There -- it's very difficult for people to be engaged in any level of commerce without -- so, we have to recognize it for what it is. It is essentially a utility that has gone unregulated. And as far as I'm concerned, that's got to stop.

TAPPER: Anita Hill wrote in a new opinion piece this week that -- quote -- "If the Senate Judiciary Committee, led then by Mr. Biden, had done its job, the cultural shift we saw in 2017 after MeToo might have begun in 1991."

I know MeToo has been an animating issue for you.


TAPPER: We've talked about it before.


TAPPER: Do you agree that Biden didn't do his job and, if he had done it properly, maybe we would have had this reckoning whenever -- 25 years ago?

HARRIS: I think there is no question that that committee did not do right by Anita Hill or any of the other women who were...


TAPPER: That committee led by Joe Biden.

HARRIS: ... who were prepared to come forward. He said it himself. And I agree with him.

TAPPER: Let me ask you a question.

I've been speaking to a lot of your supporters and a lot of your would-be supporters who like you, people who like you.

And do you want to hear a criticism, a constructive criticism?

HARRIS: Sure. I...


TAPPER: ... that they have offered? HARRIS: Yes, of course I...

TAPPER: You don't really have a choice. You're in front -- you have a camera in front of you.

HARRIS: Well, but I -- right, but the whole nation is watching.


HARRIS: But of course I do. Well, I will.

TAPPER: They like the prosecution -- these are Democrats.

They like the prosecution you offer of President Trump.

HARRIS: Mm-hmm.

TAPPER: They don't know that you have the satisfactory answer for why you. Why should you be the nominee?

HARRIS: Mm-hmm.

TAPPER: Yes, we get it, Trump shouldn't be the president.


TAPPER: But why should Kamala Harris, Senator Kamala Harris, be the nominee?

HARRIS: Right.

TAPPER: Why should you be the nominee?

HARRIS: Well, let's start with the fact that I love my country. I love my country. And we are better than this.

But let's be more specific. We need on that stage someone who has a proven track record of leadership. And I say what I'm about to say not as a criticism of any of my colleagues and friends who are also running, but we need someone on that stage who has a proven track record of leadership.

I have served as a leader in local government, in state government, and in federal government. And this has to be more than somebody who can just give a beautiful speech. It has to be somebody who knows how to lead.

TAPPER: You've been critical of the pundits who have been talking about electability. And maybe some people think it's a code word for, we need a white man.

I don't -- you haven't come out and said it that directly, but -- but some people think that way.

Why are you more electable than the others? Why will you have a more -- a stronger likelihood of beating Donald Trump? As you know, when you go out there, the one thing Democrats want more than anything is somebody who will win.

HARRIS: I'm going to win. And I fully intend to win.

And I will tell you that the voters, in my experience, are smarter than a lot of folks given them credit for. The voters -- and I know this in my experience, having run for the offices I've run for, when I was the first in every one of those positions, when there was no one like me who had done the job.

And people would say, oh, they're not ready for that. Oh, no one like her has done it before. Oh, it's not your time. Oh, it's going to be a lot of hard work.

And I didn't listen.

And, as far as I'm concerned, my track record on this issue tells me the voters are smarter than hearing and listening to all that noise. What they want is, they want somebody who has a genuine interest in representing them, as opposed to self-interest.



TAPPER: CNN polled potential Democratic voters about which candidate they want to hear more about.

Their top answer was Senator Kamala Harris. Harris will open up about her family and her mom next.


TAPPER: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Jake Tapper.

More now from our exclusive interview with presidential candidate Senator Kamala Harris.

We met the California senator in Oakland, where she was born. And, given that today is Mother's Day week, we asked her about the influence of her mother, who passed away in 2009.


TAPPER: This Mother's Day weekend, when you're back in Oakland, you must think a lot about your mom...

HARRIS: Yes, I do.

TAPPER: ... and miss her.

HARRIS: I do a lot, a lot.

TAPPER: How did she inform how you see the world, how you live?

HARRIS: Oh, my mother had the strongest influence on my life of anybody. [09:30:01]

And, you know, my mother was -- she was all of 5 feet tall.


HARRIS: But if you ever met her, you would have she was 7 feet tall.

And she was the most loving and nurturing and tough...


HARRIS: All of that in one.

TAPPER: Right.

HARRIS: She was someone who -- she had two goals in her life. She was a breast cancer researcher. And her goals in life were just two.

They very direct, to raise her two daughters and breast cancer.

TAPPER: Now you're a mom, a stepmom.

HARRIS: Yes, I am.

TAPPER: And what do they call you, Momala?

HARRIS: Momala.

TAPPER: You wrote an essay about this, about the stuff -- your stepchildren.

HARRIS: Yes. Yes. I love those kids.

Yes, we decided that -- it was a collective decision that the word stepmother has been adapted by Disney and others...

TAPPER: Right, not necessarily a positive.

HARRIS: ... in a way that is not necessarily a great word.


HARRIS: And so they call me Momala.

And we have -- and so we will be together for Mother's Day. And they are so spectacular. And they're just -- they -- they're now -- Cole is now working. He graduated college. Ella is still in college.

And during these moments of the campaign, it's just always wonderful to step out of the campaign and step back into real life. And the thing I enjoy to do most of anything is cook Sunday family dinner and just have everybody around.

TAPPER: And you get along well with your husband's ex-wife? You...

HARRIS: I do. We have a very modern family. We joke that it's almost too functional.


HARRIS: Kerstin, who is my husband's ex-wife, but my friend, we joke that it might be a little bit more comfortable if it were slightly dysfunctional.

TAPPER: Right.

HARRIS: But it's actually highly functional.

In fact, for Thanksgiving dinner, she came to Thanksgiving dinner with her mother and my family. And there we were, one big old family and a very long table.

TAPPER: That's nice.

HARRIS: And it was great.

TAPPER: And your campaign is something of a family affair too.


TAPPER: Your sister is the campaign manager?

HARRIS: She is. Well, she is the chair.

TAPPER: The campaign chair?

HARRIS: She's the chair of the campaign.

TAPPER: So would there be a position for Maya...


TAPPER: ... in the -- in a Harris administration?

HARRIS: We got to get elected first. And...

TAPPER: I know. But it's happened before.

HARRIS: And she's actually volunteering on the campaign.

And I think that you got to first do what's right in front of you before you plan that kind of stuff.


TAPPER: Let me ask you a question about...

HARRIS: But I think she -- given how hard she's been working on the campaign and is probably one of the most -- one of the smartest people on the campaign, and certainly the most hardworking, I think she would probably want a break after the campaign, yes.

TAPPER: Oh, so, no. OK. (LAUGHTER)

TAPPER: Or maybe ambassador to the Bahamas or something like that.


TAPPER: Something a little bit more restful.

HARRIS: We shall see, yes, yes.

TAPPER: Or Jamaica, I guess. That would make more sense.

HARRIS: Yes. Uh-huh.

TAPPER: Let me just ask you about California, because we're in your beautiful state right now.

HARRIS: Yes. Isn't it gorgeous?

TAPPER: Obviously, you're going to face some competition. We have Joe Biden campaigning here, going to fund-raisers. Pete Buttigieg was just here, going to fund-raisers. They're on your turf. I mean, I know Congressman Swalwell is also running for president too, but -- from California.

HARRIS: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

TAPPER: But do you -- I mean, are they interlopers, or is this state locked up for you, do you think?

HARRIS: Oh, no, nothing's locked up for me.

And I'm going to work hard to earn every vote everywhere. It's a big state of 40 million people. I have been privileged to have been elected by the people of this state three times statewide, for attorney general, reelection as attorney general, and the United States Senate is the third one.

And I am competing for every vote, just like I always have, because, as far as I'm concerned, you got to earn the votes.