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PBS "News Hours" - Transcript: Interview with Sen. Kamala Harris

Interview

CHUCK TODD:

On Friday, I traveled to Sioux City, Iowa, where Senator Kamala Harris was kicking off a five-day bus tour of the state. We sat down on her campaign bus for her first-ever appearance on Meet the Press. And I asked her if labeling the president a white supremacist matters.

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

I think it overlooks the fact of the truth about the history of our country and where we are, which is, you know, we have to speak truth. Racism is real in this country. It was before he was elected, it will be after. Anti-Semitism, homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia, these issues are real in our country. And we have to speak truth about it. And certainly, we must point out and never condone anyone who uses their power in a way that fans it. But the reality is that these are forms of hate that are not new to our country, which have, in the history of our country, taken lethal proportion. And still today take on lethal proportion. And so I believe that the conversation has to be about how we are going to speak truth about the history, and then address it. And you know, when I look at what's happening now, Chuck, just most recently, with the announcement of the raids from months ago, much less what happened in El Paso, to the most recent raids, where hundreds of people were picked up. Many were released because they probably shouldn't have been picked up in the first place. People are afraid in our country.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you think Hispanics feel targeted right now?

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

I do.

CHUCK TODD:

That between --

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

I do.

CHUCK TODD:

-- El Paso and this ICE raid that took place in Mississippi --

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

And this president's rhetoric, which has been --

CHUCK TODD:

Can he say, can he say anything, at this point, to reassure Hispanic Americans?

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

I don't think it would be authentic if he did. And I think people are smart enough to know that. You know, there's an old saying, "Judge me by my actions, not my words." And his actions have been to divide, to vilify, to, to do what is contrary to who we are as Americans, which is to say it's us versus them. As opposed to a president who uses the power of that microphone in a way that is about unifying and lifting up, as opposed to beating down. That's what this president does. He beats people down. And I will tell you, that's the sign of a coward.

CHUCK TODD:

What do you -- how do you strike that balance of hitting him but still trying to win over some of his supporters? You know, ultimately, I know in a general election you do want to win over some of his supporters. Why do you think they picked him the first time?

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

I want to earn, I want to earn every American's vote.

CHUCK TODD:

Why do you think they picked him the first time? You used a, you used a phrase before the '16 campaign, but it was in October. You're saying, this -- we're going to look at ourselves in the mirror. Well --

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

Yes, that's right.

CHUCK TODD:

-- we did.

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

And ask a question.

CHUCK TODD:

And what happened?

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

And I said then and I say today --

CHUCK TODD:

But what question did we answer in '16?

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

-- this is an inflection moment in the history of our country. This is a moment in time where each of us must look in a mirror and, collectively, we must look in a mirror and ask this question, "Who are we?" And I think part of the answer --

CHUCK TODD:

So what did we say?

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

-- to that question is we are better than this.

CHUCK TODD:

But what did we say in '16 when we did this?

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

Well, but here's the thing. There are people who voted for him for a variety of reasons. And a lot of it had to do with the promises he made, which he has not delivered on because they were false promises. And he betrayed a lot of people. He came in saying he was going to help working families, everyone from farmers to auto workers.

CHUCK TODD:

You brought up the raids in Mississippi. Believe it or not, law enforcement told our news division, told us that they had to be intentionally vague about the companies that were "raided." Explain to me, you were a prosecutor, why, why were the workers targeted and not the companies? Why did the five companies get to stay? Is there -- why are their -- why -- do they have a privacy protection here? Is there something in the law that I'm missing?

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

No. And I don't know why they did what they did. I don't know why they've decided to do it right after El Paso, when --

CHUCK TODD:

But who's --

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

-- a whole -- a community of people--

CHUCK TODD:

Who committed the wrong --

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

-- have felt --

CHUCK TODD:

-- here, the companies, correct? If they hired people that weren't citizens, they're the ones in the wrong --

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

Of course.

CHUCK TODD:

-- not the people, right?

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

Yes, right.

CHUCK TODD:

Okay.

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

I mean, yes, of course. Of course, the employers have to be responsible. And they have to do whatever is required by law. But there's another point here, Chuck, which is that this administration has directed DHS to conduct these raids as part of what I believe is this administration's campaign of terror, which is to make whole, whole populations of people afraid to go to work. Children are afraid to go to school for fear that when they come home, their parents won't be there.

CHUCK TODD:

You have spoken about race as a national security issue. You took -- you spent time in the intel committee, you've been involved in the Russia investigation. And you have said that Russia targeting us on race proves that our racial strife is a national security issue. How do you get the public to see it that way?

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

Okay, so Russia interfered in the election of the president of the United States. Regardless of what Donald Trump says, listen to the intelligence community. They tell you that that is true because it is true. Okay, so that's --

CHUCK TODD:

Would you, by the way --

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SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

-- a fact.

CHUCK TODD:

Should we label a state sponsor of terrorism?

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

I think that is a debatable point. But I will say --

CHUCK TODD:

Ukraine, the UK --

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

--this, they're an adversary -- there's no--

CHUCK TODD:

-- the United States?

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

-- there's no question they've committed human rights abuse. There's no question they are an adversary. There's no question that they have attacked America's democracy. But here's --

CHUCK TODD:

Right, but not just ours. I mean, Ukraine's.

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

Well, of course. Of course.

CHUCK TODD:

In the UK, I mean, a lot.

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

Crimea, we can look across the board. Of course. But here's the thing. We also have to, on this election issue, understand that this long-standing adversary decided that they wanted to attack us -- they wanted to attack us where we are strong. And one of the almost intangible strengths of America is that we can hold ourselves out as a democracy, imperfect though we may be, flawed though we may be. And it's an intangible strength. It gives us the authority to walk in rooms and actually talk about human rights. Talk about civil rights, talk about concepts of freedom, right? So they decide, "Let's get at them. Let's attack that." So they decide to attack what is the strongest pillar of a democracy, which is free and open elections. So let's get Americans going at each other. What's going to get heat?

CHUCK TODD:

It's the easiest way to do it.

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

And they tried out a bunch of different things. And you know what caught heat? The issue of race. So Russia exposed America's Achilles heel. And all of a sudden then, guess what? For those who want to marginalize the conversation about race and racial inequities and say, "Oh, well, that's identity politics or that's this or that's that." Guess what? Now it is also a national security issue. And we need to deal with it.

CHUCK TODD:

Later this hour, more of my interview with Senator Kamala Harris on election security, national security overall, healthcare, and her campaign. And when we come back, the geographic divide over guns used to be a political problem for Democrats. Now, it's Republicans struggling to stay united. Panel's next.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

CHUCK TODD:

Well, this is the first big test for the Barr Justice Department. When we come back, more of my sit-down with Senator Kamala Harris on the issue that has tested her campaign and divided 2020 Democrats: health care.

TEASE

CHUCK TODD:

In your plan, employers are no longer going to be the place you get insurance, correct?

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

That's right. And you know why--

(OVERTALK)

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

But here's why. Why should you have to stay at a job you don't like?

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. No one issue seems to divide the Democratic Party, in the 2020 race right now, more than healthcare. And Senator Harris has struggled to define her position. In the second part of our conversation, I challenged her to explain it. But we did begin with national security.

CHUCK TODD:

Being on the intel committee, what is the hot spot that you have learned about now that we're not paying enough attention to? What is something you're picking up on this intel committee, you realize, "Boy, if I'm President, that's going to be on my front burner"?

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

It's everything that you know about. It's everything from cyber security, which includes -- listen. Previously, Jeh Johnson, the previous head of the Department of Homeland Security, designated our elections infrastructure as critical infrastructure of the United States. As critical as our electrical grids, as critical as our financial, right? And it has been attacked. So that's one of the greatest threats to us. But cyber security broadly speaking. I've been working on this since I was attorney general of California, where I led the second largest Department of Justice in the United States. We have got to do a better job of securing our infrastructure as it relates to our power grids, as it relates to our -- what is going on in terms of our medical systems, what is going on in terms of our financial systems. We're very vulnerable to cyber threats.

CHUCK TODD:

Let's talk about health care.

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

Okay.

CHUCK TODD:

There is some confusion about where you are on healthcare. Whether it's -- a lot of it has to do with the sloganeering, right? You have Medicare for All over here, you have enhanced Obamacare over there. But let me ask you this. You want to do a new system and over a ten year period.

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

Yes.

CHUCK TODD:

There're a lot of people who've said, "We're in the middle of still trying to build the last system. The last system hasn't been fully implemented. Medicaid is not in all 50 states." Why do a new system before you find out if this one doesn't -- this one won't work?

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

So let me start by saying I was very proud as attorney general of California to be among the leaders who defended the Affordable Care Act. What President Obama accomplished was historic. Many presidents before him attempted to reform America's health care system and failed. He accomplished it with the Affordable Care Act. He has also said -- he has used a term "starter house." That it was a good beginning.

CHUCK TODD:

Okay.

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

We need to build on it. Why? Because currently, there are 30 million Americans who are without health care. So --

CHUCK TODD:

Well, there's building on and there's buying a new house. And I say this if we're going to use the house analogy. I guess the question is, is your plan --

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

As your family grows, you probably need a bigger house.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, and that's the question. And -- but you see you're doing a -- it's been hard enough to implement Obamacare. --

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

And by the way --

CHUCK TODD:

-- Why try to implement a new one?

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

-- some people in the house are out on the porch --

CHUCK TODD:

I know.

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

-- and in the rain and in the snow and we've got to bring them in. Like we keep going --

CHUCK TODD:

We could beat this metaphor to death. There's no doubt.

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

Here's the point. Thirty million Americans without healthcare right now. We've got to get them covered.

CHUCK TODD:

Expanding Medicaid would take care of half of them, wouldn't it?

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

But Medicare for all means that everyone is covered. Half of 30 million is still 15 million. That's still 15 million too many people without coverage.

CHUCK TODD:

But go to this issue of the debate. In your plan, employers are no longer going to be the place you get insurance, correct?

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

That's right. And you know why --

CHUCK TODD:

Ever?

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

But here's why. Why should you have to stay at a job you don't like because your employer is sponsoring health care? Why --

CHUCK TODD:

Isn't that the Obamacare exchange? Wasn't that part of the idea of the exchange?

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

But the point is -- the point is, you know, Chuck, there was a time where people would come out of high school or college, they'd go and work at one place until they retired. That is no longer the case in America. With certain, you know, with people who are in their twenties and thirties, they're moving jobs every two years. And people should not have to feel that they can't leave a job because they'll lose their health care.

CHUCK TODD:

Republicans may still control the Senate if you're president of the United States. How do you get that health care plan through? I mean -- or do you have to say, "Okay, we'll keep Obamacare and expand that". I mean, is that -- do you, do you retain that flexibility in your mind or not?

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

Here's the thing, Chuck. I arrived in the United States Senate in January of 2017. And there was a full on attack that had been building for years to get rid of the Affordable Care Act. And there was an attempt, sometimes successful, to make it a partisan issue. Democrats want the Affordable Care Act, Republicans want to get rid of it. And then the Republicans named it Obamacare, thinking that would create some controversy. And then when I joined the United States Senate and I watched these debates and I fought against any, any attempt to get rid of it. Why? Because preexisting conditions should not be the barrier to getting access to health care. Because our kids should be able to be on our plan until they turn 27, right? But here's what I witnessed, to your point. I witnessed town halls around the country in so-called red states, in so-called red districts, where people showed up at those town halls and said to their elected representative, "Do not take away my health care." And I will never forget. I was on the Senate floor at that early morning hour when the late, great John McCain, a Republican, said, "No, you don't." This cannot be a partisan issue. The health and wellbeing of the American people should not be a partisan issue, cause those folks, by the way, when anyone is sitting in the emergency room with their child, could care less about the party with which they're registered to vote.

CHUCK TODD:

I totally get that.--

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

Right?

CHUCK TODD:

I'm just talking about the reality of what you can get through.

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

But I think -- I think again--

CHUCK TODD:

Do you really think you can get a new healthcare plan through? You just described how difficult it was to keep Obamacare --

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

Listen, one of the --

CHUCK TODD:

I'm just being --

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

One of the big reasons that we have to --

CHUCK TODD:

You've been a -- you've been wanting to be a realist here --

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

I am.

CHUCK TODD:

-- telling people, "Too many plans." Like, don't over, over promise.

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

In addition to the moral aspect of this, which is -- I do strongly believe health care should be a right and not just a privilege of those who can afford it, okay? There is also the issue of cost. It is, right now costing us $3 trillion. And over the next ten years, it's going to cost $6 trillion. We cannot afford to do nothing.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT


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