Rep. Tulsi Gabbard took aim at Sen. Kamala Harris in one of the more fiery moments of Wednesday’s Democratic debate in Detroit, blasting the California senator and former prosecutor for her record on the death penalty, marijuana and other criminal justice issues.
“Sen. Harris says she’s proud of her record as a prosecutor and that she’ll be a prosecutor president,” Gabbard said. “But I’m deeply concerned about this record.”
Reading from her notes, the congresswoman from Hawaii then cited numerous examples of her concerns about Harris.
“She blocked evidence that would have freed an innocent man from death row until the courts forced her to do so. She kept people in prisons beyond their sentences to use them as cheap labor for the state of California,” Gabbard said. “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.”
In February, shortly after announcing her candidacy, Harris admitted in a New York City radio interview that she has used marijuana herself, and that unlike Bill Clinton, she inhaled. (“I did inhale,” Harris said, laughing. “Listen, I think [it] gives a lot of people joy,” she added. “And we need more joy.”)
Harris responded by saying that as California attorney general, she “did the work of significantly reforming the criminal justice system of a state of 40 million people, which became a national model for the work that needs to be done.”
“And I am proud of that work,” she continued. “I am proud of making a decision to not just give fancy speeches, or be in a legislative body and give speeches on a floor, but actually doing the work of being in the position to use the power that I had to reform a system that is badly in need of reform.”
Gabbard, a long shot for the nomination, then addressed Harris directly.
“When you were in a position to make a difference and an impact in these people’s lives, you did not,” Gabbard said. “And worse — in the case of those on death row — innocent people? You actually blocked evidence that would have freed them.”
“You owe them an apology,” she said.
“My entire career I have been opposed, personally opposed, to the death penalty,” Harris replied. “And that has never changed.”
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