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Jake Tapper Hosts Kamala Harris (D-CA) in Des Moines, IA. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired January 28, 2019 - 22:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


TAPPER: Good evening from Des Moines, Iowa, the first stop on the road to the White House. And welcome to a CNN Democratic presidential candidate town hall with Senator Kamala Harris.

I'm Jake Tapper, and we're here at beautiful Drake University for the first major event of the 2020 presidential election. The all- important Iowa caucuses are just over one year away, and Democratic candidates are already vying to be the only one to take on President Donald Trump at the end of that process in the general election of 2020.

Senator Kamala Harris of California, she officially entered the race yesterday, and tonight she'll take questions from Iowans for the very first time as a candidate. In our audience, people who tell us they plan to caucus with the Democrats next year and members of the Drake University community.

Please welcome now Senator Kamala Harris.

(APPLAUSE)

HARRIS: Hi.

TAPPER: Have a seat if you will.

HARRIS: Hi. Hi.

(APPLAUSE)

TAPPER: Welcome to Iowa.

HARRIS: It's great to be here and with the Bulldogs. It's great to be here.

(APPLAUSE)

TAPPER: So we asked a lot of people for questions, and we got a lot of questions about race and racism. Let's get right to our audience. The first question comes from Lindsey Hornbaker. She is a graduate student in mental health counseling here at Drake University. Lindsey, your question for the senator?

QUESTION: Good evening. HARRIS: Hi, Lindsey.

QUESTION: Senator Harris, racism has always been a problem in the United States.

HARRIS: Yeah.

QUESTION: And the current administration relies heavily on fear-based tactics to justify racist policies that are further segregating us as a nation. We're creating an environment where people feel emboldened to say and do harmful things to people of color, to immigrants, and to the LGBTQ community. As the president of a new administration, what would you plan to do to make America safer for these people?

HARRIS: Right. Thanks for that question, Lindsey. And you're right. You know, this is something, to the point of your question, that has always been in America. You know, we have to speak truths about this.

Racism is real in America: Sexism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, transphobia. These things exist in America, and we have to speak truth that they do so that we can deal with them.

But we have seen in the last two years that there's been new fuel that is lighting that fire in a way that has been harmful, in a way that -- we have seen when Charlottesville and a woman was killed that we've had a president who basically said, well, there were equal sides to this. We have seen what happened at the Tree of Life Synagogue. And so we know that hate is something that in the history of our country and currently fuels not only dissension and division, but is -- actually can lead to death. And so we have to take it seriously.

And here's how I feel about it. And I feel this very strongly. The vast majority of us have so much more in common than what separates us. And how I would lead on this issue is, one, to start from that place in my heart, in my soul, which is knowing that when a mother goes to sleep at night, whatever her race, wherever she lives, whatever her socioeconomic condition, she goes to sleep at night with the same concerns. Those mothers go to sleep at night worrying about their babies and their health, worrying about the parents and their health, whether they can get a job, keep a job, pay the bills by the end of the month, retire with dignity. If she's a young student, can she pay off those student loans?

The vast majority of us have so much more in common than what separates us. And we need leadership in this country that recognizes that and understands that, and also understands it is against who we are as Americans in terms of our values and in terms of what we aspire to be to ever fuel that kind of division in our country.

And enough with these powerful forces that are trying to sow hate and division among us. That is not reflective of who we are as Americans. And we need leadership that recognizes who we are in our hearts and our souls, which is that we do think of ourselves and know ourselves to have more in common than what separates us.

But there's a lot of work to do. There's a lot of work to do. And we -- certainly it's going to start with the top and not fueling the kind of division that we have seen.

TAPPER: On that note, you have made criminal justice reform one of the main things you're talking about as a candidate, and you're also running on your record as a prosecutor in San Francisco and as the attorney general of California.

Riley Fink over here has a question about that. He's a senior here at Drake University studying political science. Riley?

QUESTION: Good evening, Senator. Thanks for being here.

HARRIS: Hi.

QUESTION: Your position -- you positioned yourself as in line with the progressive movement to make criminal justice less punitive and racist, yet your record as a prosecutor shows that you embrace the "tough on crime" mentality. You've defended California's death penalty, and as California's attorney general, your office opposed the release of non-violent prisoners and violated the constitutional rights of various drug defendants. How do you reconcile your contradictory past with what you claim to support today?

HARRIS: I've been consistent my whole career. My career has been based on an understanding, one, that as a prosecutor, my duty was to seek and make sure that the most vulnerable and voiceless among us are protected, and that is why I have personally prosecuted violent crimes that includes rape, child molestation, and homicide.

And I have also worked my entire career to reform the criminal justice system, understanding to your point that it is deeply flawed and in need of repair, which is why, as attorney general, for example, I led the Department of Justice, which is the largest state department of justice in any state, in California, and implemented the first of its kind in the nation implicit bias and procedural justice training for police officers.

It is why I created the first in the nation for any department of justice an open data initiative that we named Open Justice, for the first time making transparent and showing the public statistics around deaths in custody, arrest rates by race, and making that information available to the public.

I instituted a policy around requiring the agents who worked in my division, which is the first of its kind for a state agency, to wear body cameras. I created an initiative back when I was DA -- and this is when, by the way -- this is the '90s and the early 2000s, where you could talk to DAs around the country, and you'd mention the word "re- entry," and they didn't know what you were talking about. This is when there was a "tough on crime" mentality, and I created one of the first in the nation initiatives that was focused on re-entering former offenders by getting them jobs and training and counseling.

And it ended up being something that, thankfully, in these ensuing 15 years, is something that is regularly talked about by district attorneys. But back when we created this, that was not happening. On the issue of the death penalty, I am personally opposed to the

death penalty. I've always been opposed to the death penalty. And that's not going to change. It is a flawed system. It is applied unequally based on race and based on income. It is something that we know is flawed in that it is a final judgment, but we have seen many cases where DNA has proven that the person who was sentenced to death was not, in fact, guilty. And it is something that, frankly, costs the taxpayers of this country a lot of money and is -- it actually would be cheaper to let people spend their life and end their life in jail as opposed to that punishment of the death penalty.

So on all of those issues, I will tell you that I am proud of my record. But I also do know there is a whole lot more work to be done in this country around criminal justice and reform of the system. We have a problem in this country of mass incarceration. We have a problem in this country of not having adequate response and consequence when young people who are unarmed are shot.

We have a real problem in this country about disproportionate application of the law based on who is charged with a crime, what kind of bail is set for them, what kind of sentencing they receive based on race. And there is a lot of work to do.

That's the work that I've been doing also in the Senate, of focusing on that, such as a bill that I have that would seek to reform the bail system in the United States and ultimately get rid of the cash bail system, understanding that is disproportionately applied in a way that causes people who do not have $20,000 in their back pocket to have to sit in jail for what could be weeks, months, and years awaiting trial versus the people who have money get out while they're awaiting trial. It's an economic justice issue as well as a criminal justice issue.

But I appreciate your point. It is a flawed system, deeply flawed, and we have got to reform it, and everyone has to be onboard. And we can't accept false choices, because I think we all realize it's a deeply flawed system, but we also want to make sure that when a woman is raped, a child is molested, one human being is killed by another human being, we also want to make sure there's going to be consequence and serious consequence for those crimes. So I appreciate your question.

TAPPER: And Riley's question is -- I'm sure you've been hearing this, too -- this is a criticism we're hearing of you from the left...

HARRIS: Yeah.

TAPPER: ... as you entered the fray. And they talk about things that you did as attorney general or as prosecutor or as a district attorney in San Francisco. Let me just ask about one of them.

HARRIS: Sure.

TAPPER: Which is, when you were attorney general, you opposed legislation that would have required your office to investigate fatal shootings involving police officers. Why did you oppose that bill? HARRIS: So, I did not oppose the bill. I had a process when I was

attorney general of not weighing in on bills and initiatives, because as attorney general, I had a responsibility for writing the title and summary. So I did not weigh in.

But behind the scenes, I'm going to tell you, I compare my record to any prosecutor, any elected prosecutor in this country, in terms of the work that I have done to reform the criminal justice system.

I am a daughter of parents who met when they were active in the civil rights movement. Nobody had to teach me about the disparities in the criminal justice system. I was born knowing what they are. I made a conscious decision to become a prosecutor because I understood, if we're going to reform systems, yes, there is going to be the power that we have on the outside, and also we need to have people on the inside where the decisions are being made, which is why, as the chief prosecutor, I was able to not ask permission and to create initiatives that became models.

The United States Department of Justice designated the initiatives that I created as a model of innovation in law enforcement for the United States. So there is my record. And, you know, there are some people who just believe that prosecutors shouldn't exist, and I don't think I'm ever going to satisfy them. But I will also say that there is so much more work to do. And do I wish I could have done more? Absolutely. I do wish I could have done more.

TAPPER: Let's turn to health care. I want to bring in Renee Welk, who lives here in Des Moines. She and her husband are both self- employed, and they've had a lot of trouble finding affordable health insurance. Renee?

QUESTION: Thank you so much. What is your solution to ensure that people have access to quality health care at an affordable price? And does that solution involve cutting insurance companies as we know them out of the equation?

HARRIS: I believe the solution -- and I actually feel very strongly about this -- is that we need to have Medicare for all. That's just the bottom line.

(APPLAUSE)

And I'll say this. And this is, I think, why you're also asking this question. What we know is that, to live in a civil society, to be true to the ideals and the spirit of who we say we are as a country, we have to appreciate and understand that access to health care is a -- should not be thought of as a privilege. It should be understood to be a right.

It should be understood to be something that all people should be entitled to, so that they can live a productive life, so they can have dignity. And having a system that makes a difference in terms of who receives what based on your income is unconscionable, it is cruel, and in many situations that I have witnessed, inhumane. I have talked about my personal experience of my mother, who passed

away many years ago, and going through the health care system with her. And she had -- she had the benefit of having Medicare, but not everybody does.

And it is inhumane. It is inhumane to make people go through a system where they cannot literally receive the benefit of what medical science can offer because some insurance company has decided it doesn't meet their bottom line in terms of their profit motivation. That is inhumane.

(APPLAUSE)

TAPPER: So just to follow up -- so just to follow up on that, and correct me if I'm wrong, to reiterate, you support the Medicare for all bill, I think...

HARRIS: Correct.

TAPPER: ... initially co-sponsored by Senator Bernie Sanders. You're also a co-sponsor onto it. I believe it will totally eliminate private insurance. So for people out there who like their insurance, they don't get to keep it?

HARRIS: Well, listen, the idea is that everyone gets access to medical care, and you don't have to go through the process of going through an insurance company, having them give you approval, going through the paperwork, all of the delay that may require. Who of us has not had that situation, where you've got to wait for approval, and the doctor says, well, I don't know if your insurance company is going to cover this? Let's eliminate all of that. Let's move on.

TAPPER: All right. Let's go to the next question.

HARRIS: Well, and that, too.

(LAUGHTER)

TAPPER: You told me to move on. You're a prosecutor.

(LAUGHTER)

I will. So according to the latest -- this is really interesting - according to the latest CNN-"Des Moines Register" Iowa poll, most Democrats in this state say it's more important to them that the winner of the Iowa caucuses be a candidate who can beat President Trump than it is for them that the individual be somebody who shares all of their positions. Beating Trump is more important than...

(APPLAUSE)

... to Iowa Democrats. To Iowa Democrats. I want to bring in Deb Hansen. She's a retired dental hygienist from Johnston, Iowa. And she's active in the Democratic Party. Deb?

QUESTION: If you would have to debate the current president, how does that conversation go without becoming reactive? How do you stay on your message and not get caught up in his crazy?

(LAUGHTER)

HARRIS: That's good, Deb. That's really good.

(LAUGHTER)

Well, first, it's very important that anyone who presents themselves as a leader and wants to be a leader will speak like a leader. And that means speaking with integrity. It means speaking truth. It means speaking...

(APPLAUSE)

And speaking in a way that expresses and indicates some level of interest and concern in people other than oneself. And...

(APPLAUSE)

And so right there, we will see a great contrast.

(LAUGHTER)

And it is about also having some concern for the future of our country. You know, it really -- we are at an inflection point, we are -- in the world and in our country. And the people of our country, the families of our country, deserve to have leaders who are focused on their needs, their immediate needs, their long-term needs, the hopes and aspirations they have for their children and grandchildren, and speak to that as opposed to speak to the lowest common denominators and base instincts, and speak in a way that is about inciting fear as a distraction from the fact you're getting nothing done, except helping the richest people and the biggest corporations.

(APPLAUSE)

TAPPER: CNN's presidential candidate town hall with Senator Kamala Harris will be right back. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to CNN's presidential candidate town hall with Senator Kamala Harris. We're here at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.

(APPLAUSE)

Before we get to more policy questions from our excellent audience, I do want to take a moment to acknowledge the historic nature of your candidacy. There have only been a handful of black women who have ever sought the presidency and, if you win, you would be the first black female president in the history of this nation. What does that mean to you?

HARRIS: Well, listen, in every position that I've held, when I was district attorney, I was elected as the first woman of the sitting county. I was the first woman of color in the entire state of California.

When I ran for attorney general and when I was elected, it was as the first woman ever and as the first person of color ever. And, you know, frankly, Jake, my mother used to have a saying, and she would say to me, Kamala, you may be the first to do many things, but make sure you're not the last. And...

(APPLAUSE)

So, you know, that's how I think about those kinds of things, and it is about -- certainly breaking barriers is something that is very important. And in my experience, given what I've shared with you, I will also say to you that I have seen fathers bring their sons up to me and say, "She is the first," in a way that is to also speak to those sons about the fact that they should not ever be burdened by what has been and they should see what can be.

And I think that's really the most important takeaway, which is that, with each barrier that we break, it is saying to all of us: Don't be burdened by what has been. See what can be and strive for that.

(APPLAUSE)

TAPPER: As you know -- as you know, Congress has less than three weeks to reach an immigration compromise or risk another government shutdown.

HARRIS: Yeah.

TAPPER: One issue on the table is the fate of DACA recipients. This stands for the undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children through no fault of their own.

HARRIS: Right. Right.

TAPPER: Cecelia Martinez was born in Mexico. Her parents brought her to the U.S. as a baby. She grew up here in Iowa. Cecelia?

QUESTION: Good evening. Thank you.

HARRIS: Hi, Cecelia.

TAPPER: So I am a DACA recipient, and I am tired of being used as a bargaining chip.

HARRIS: Yeah.

QUESTION: I worry about my future and the future of other DACA recipients and those still without legal status, some of whom are our own parents. What solutions do you see to help protect the parents of DACA recipients or those for which there is no clear path to citizenship?

HARRIS: Right. Well, thank you, first of all, for your courage in standing up and speaking out, DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. I have served since I've been in the United States Senate on the

Homeland Security Committee of the Senate, and consistently, since day one, when it came to the confirmation process, much less the oversight process of who would head the Department of Homeland Security, I have had serious concerns about the fact that they are refusing to keep America's promise to you and everyone who went through that process. And it is -- it is wrong, and it also is contrary to who we said we were.

And let's all be clear about what DACA is, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. So, Cecelia, like so many others, were told that if you go through this process of answering questions about the circumstances upon which you arrived, who are your parents, are you living a productive life, are you in school, have you committed any crimes, what are you doing now? If you went through that process of a vet and filled out all those questions and answered all those questions, and if you cleared the vet, the United States government gave these young people DACA status, protection.

And we promised them -- and it is in writing -- if you give us this information about who you are, we will not share it with ICE, and we will not use that as a basis for deporting you. We promised you that. Then this administration came in and broke that promise. Broke that promise.

And so what we have is bad role-modeling, not to mention the fact that we have hundreds and thousands of young people like you who are presenting us with the promise of America and have to live in fear every day that you might be deported because an administration came in and broke America's promise to you. And it is wrong.

And on your point about parents, it is wrong, and you are exactly right, for this administration to then trade the idea that, OK, well, maybe we'll let the kids stay but not their parents. So yet again, we have an example of this administration willing to separate children from their parents, which is inhumane and contrary to who we are and the values we hold as Americans.

And so I will say to you that I stand with you. There are so many who do. And we should not be trading on your life for the sake of the political games that this president is playing in trying to vilify young people like you, who are doing nothing except being productive and believing in and living the American dream.

(APPLAUSE)

TAPPER: But let me ask you, Senator. I know you quite literally said that we shouldn't be trading protections for women like Cecelia, people like...

HARRIS: For young people, students. They're students -- Jake, they're college students. They're serving in our military. They are living productive lives. And this administration has decided to vilify them and to trade on them for the sake of this president's medieval vanity project called a wall.

TAPPER: But let me ask you...

(APPLAUSE)

Would you be willing to vote for a bill, a compromise piece of legislation that includes money for the border wall, that you called his medieval vanity project?

HARRIS: Well, who is going to vote for a medieval vanity project? So you have to set up the question a little differently.

TAPPER: It wouldn't say that in the bill. It wouldn't say it in the bill. Would you be willing to vote for some border security money, wall money, barrier money to give permanent protection to DACA children, DACA young people like Cecelia? Would you be willing to make that exchange?

HARRIS: Let me be very clear. I'm not going to vote for a wall under any circumstances. And I do support border security. And if we want to talk about that, let's do that.

And let's talk about what really accomplishes border security, which is let's upgrade the technology. Let's look at the fact that the folks who are working on border security on the ground know that they need upgraded infrastructure around things like drones, and they need cameras. So, yes, I'm all for increased border security where we need it. I am not for a wall.

And let me just tell you something. So here's the thing. I have worked on this issue on both sides. I have worked on this issue, including being a prosecutor, who went after transnational criminal organizations. And let me tell you something. I'm talking about organizations that, for profit, are engaged in the trafficking of guns, drugs, and human beings. That wall ain't going to stop them. Let's be clear about that.

Let's be clear about the fact that -- let me tell you, I have been to the border. I have seen the tunnels. I have seen photographs of tunnels that had already been demolished with walls as smooth as the walls here, tunnels lined with air-conditioning and lighting, because this is the level of sophistication that is going on with people who are trafficking in guns, drugs, and human beings for profit. They're going underground, through tunnels. They've got boats. They've got drones. They're not -- they're not jumping over walls.

So the idea that we're going to sell this thing to the American public and require the taxpayers of our country to pay $5 billion for something that will not deliver what he is suggesting we need is ridiculous and I will not support it.

(APPLAUSE)

TAPPER: Kyle Kopf is a freshman at the University of Iowa in Iowa City.

HARRIS: What's your name?

TAPPER: Kyle Kopf.

HARRIS: Kyle. Kyle.

TAPPER: Kyle Kopf. He studies political science and he has a question about student debt. Kyle?

QUESTION: Yes. As a freshman college student, student debt is a big concern to my peers and to me.

HARRIS: Yeah. Yep.

QUESTION: Here in Iowa, we have seen a significant increase in tuition, mainly due to lack of funding from our state government. What is your plan to make college more affordable and to help with student debt?

HARRIS: All right. And thank you, Kyle. And thank you for being here and for stepping up. And you're giving voice to a lot of voices around our country that need to be better heard and understood.

First of all, the fact that you have decided that you want to pursue your education and pursue the dreams that you may have is something that should be rewarded. We have a system in place right now where there are so many students like yourself around the country who are preoccupied with the knowledge that they will not be able to pay off those loans any time in the near future. This is wrong. This is an upside-down system.

What we need, first of all, is we need a national priority and commitment to debt-free college, which I support. We have got to reform the Pell Grant system to allow you to actually get the loans that you need, but that the government is supplying as opposed to for- profit organizations. We need to get rid of the for-profit colleges that are preying on students like you.

(APPLAUSE)

I have personally prosecuted for-profit colleges that take advantage of students like you, promising a job, promising a bright future while taking your money and not giving you anything in return.

And then we also have to recognize that we have not fully understood the importance of giving our young people a pathway to be able to pursue their dreams, and that is about debt-free college. It is about student loans. And it is also about, really, a commitment to the kind of education that we are also offering and having a path toward the education that is going to be about getting the jobs of the 21st century.

Frankly, in so many ways, our leaders, I think, have fallen short in recognizing that, with automation happening, it is real, technology taking hold in so many places that we have also got to create a path for education that pays attention to what Iowa is doing so well around renewable energies, doing what we need to do around focusing on where you want to be, and are we giving you the tools to get there. But student loan debt is something we have got to deal with as a

priority, because when I was going to school, we could graduate, and we could pay off those loans, and we didn't have to worry like the way you're worrying. And it's wrong. And we are not doing our future -- in fact, we're doing our future a great disservice to not fix this problem.

So thank you, Kyle.

TAPPER: Thanks, Kyle.

(APPLAUSE)

We received -- we received a lot of questions about the Green New Deal. This is a sweeping plan to combat climate change and economic inequality with a federal jobs guarantee. I want to bring in Cameron Van Kooten Laughead. He's an Iowa native who works at a nonprofit. Cameron?

QUESTION: Senator Harris, since Democrats have regained the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, we've been hearing more about a Green New Deal to fight climate change. You have yet to fully endorse or reject it. Will you fully endorse the Green New Deal tonight?

HARRIS: I support a Green New Deal. And I will tell you why. Climate change is an existential threat to us, and we have got to deal with the reality of it. We have got to deal with the reality of the fact that there are people trying to peddle some idea that we should deny it, and they're peddling science fiction, instead of what we should do, which is rely on science fact.

I know what we need to do in terms of so much of what the plan has to be around investing in solar, in wind. I'll tell you that -- and this gets back to also Kyle's point about jobs of the 21st century. The Bureau of Labor Statistics just came out in the middle of last year with a list of the top 20 jobs in the United States for which we're going to see the greatest amount of growth. And it's going to be a function of the fact that we need those jobs to be filled and we don't have the skilled labor to fill them. Number one and number two on that list? Installation and maintenance of wind turbines and solar paneling.

And the reason it's on that list is because we need those jobs to be created and filled, because we need to be dedicated to that kind of work. And that's what a Green New Deal has to include. That's what we have to be about.

And our planet is at great risk. And I think that the fact that we have policymakers who are in the pockets of Big Oil and Big Coal don't fully appreciate the fact that we are looking at something that is presenting an existential threat to our country.

And, listen, all children need to be able to breathe clean air and drink clean water, and we've got to have a commitment to a policy that will allow that to happen for ourselves and our children and our grandchildren. And right now, we don't. TAPPER: Thank you, Senator.

(APPLAUSE)

I want to bring in Robert John Ford. He's a playwright and composer. His show, "Caucus: The Musical," has been presented every presidential election year since 2004. Robert?

QUESTION: Senator, many Democrats that I've spoken with agree that the primary objective for 2020 is to nominate the candidate that has the best shot of defeating Donald Trump. Some have also said that, given what occurred in 2016 and the current political climate, that a male nominee will have a better chance this time around than a female nominee.

Would you please respond to this so that this man has a response ready the next time a man tries to man-splain why a man would make a better nominee?

(APPLAUSE)

HARRIS: Well, my first response, Robert, is this, which is that the person who presented that point really is not giving the American voters enough credit. They're smarter than that. The people who vote, the people who live in this country are smarter than that.

They're going to make decisions based on who they believe is the best leader. They're going to make decisions based on who they believe is speaking truth, who is doing it in a way that gives people dignity, doing it in a way that elevates public discourse as opposed to bringing us to the lowest common denominator and base instincts. That's how the voters are going to vote. And that is going to be the basis upon who will win.

And as far as I'm concerned, listen, I mean, in my entire career, I've heard people say, when I ran and ran as the first woman who would win, it's not -- people aren't ready, it's not your time, nobody like you has done that before. I haven't listened, and I would suggest that nobody should listen to that kind of conversation.

(APPLAUSE)

So, thank you.

TAPPER: We'll be right back with more from CNN's presidential candidate town hall with Senator Kamala Harris. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to CNN's presidential candidate town hall with Senator Kamala Harris. We're here at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.

(APPLAUSE)

Thanks, everyone. So I want to bring in -- it's a very rowdy crowd. HARRIS: Oh, it's great.

TAPPER: I want to bring in Wallace Bubar. He's a pastor of the Central Presbyterian Church here in Des Moines. Pastor Bubar?

QUESTION: Good evening.

HARRIS: Good evening.

QUESTION: As a pastor, I have observed and witnessed firsthand the devastating effects of gun violence on families and communities. Several years ago, I did a funeral for a young man in Philadelphia who was shot and killed. We had here in Des Moines, just three years ago, a teenager who had been part of our church's tutoring program who was shot and killed.

As you know, the rates of gun violence in America are astronomically higher than in other Western democracies. What do you think can be done? And what would you be prepared to do to address the problem of gun violence?

HARRIS: Yeah, well, thank you, Pastor. I mean -- and I know that for folks like you who have to stand strong for so many who look to you for strength, even when you're grieving, and to keep pushing on to lead is so important, and thank you for that.

You know, here's the thing. We have got to have smart gun safety laws in this country. And we've got to stop buying this false choice. You can be in favor of the Second Amendment and also understand that there is no reason in a civil society that we have assault weapons around communities that can kill babies and police officers.

(APPLAUSE)

Something like universal background checks. It makes perfect sense that you might want to know before someone can buy a weapon that can kill another human being, you might want to know, have they been convicted of a felony where they committed violence? That's just reasonable.

You might want to know, before they can buy that gun, if a court has found them to be a danger to themselves or others. You just might want to know. That's reasonable.

(APPLAUSE)

But here's the thing. And I'm just going to be very, very blunt about this. You know, for years I've asked folks in D.C., you know, is the NRA real or is it a paper tiger? Like, what's the deal there? And the feedback is, well, 50/50.

But here's what I've witnessed and what we have all witnessed. We have witnessed a case where a seated member of Congress, acting in her official capacity as a member of the United States Congress, was shot and permanently injured. Her name is Gabby Giffords. The people who work with her every day, who know her -- you know, we have colleagues, we know them, we know their children, we break bread, we share holiday moments with them -- the people who knew her didn't act.

She was acting in her official capacity, not on vacation somewhere. You would think even out of self-interest they would have acted. They failed to act. Twenty 6- and 7-year-old babies were massacred in Connecticut. They failed to act.

Here's what I think. I think that somebody should have required -- and this is going to sound very harsh -- I think somebody should have required all those members of Congress to go in a room, in a locked room, no press, no one, nobody else, and look at the autopsy photographs of those babies. And then you vote your conscience. This has become a political issue.

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This has become a political issue, and it is -- there is no reason why we cannot have reasonable gun safety laws in this country. And guess what, guys? Here's the reality of it, also. We're not waiting for a good idea. We have the good ideas: an assault weapons ban, background checks. Right? We're not waiting for a tragedy. We have seen the worst human tragedies we can imagine.

So what's missing? What's missing is people in the United States Congress to have the courage to act the right way.

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And I'm so sorry for your loss. And I thank you for using your voice. But there are too many parents who are grieving the loss of their children, too many communities that are grieving the loss of lives that should never have been taken.

TAPPER: Thank you, Pastor.

President Trump has promised to bring troops home from Afghanistan and from Syria. On that topic, I want to bring in Dylan Meyer. He's a senior at Iowa state University in Ames. He's studying political science. Dylan?

QUESTION: Thank you, Senator. I was born in 1996, which means I was five when the war on terror began. I've only ever known a country at war. As the war on terror is on the cusp of entering its second decade, and 18-year-olds who will be eligible to fight and die in a war that started before they were born, my question is simple: How do you plan on bringing our men and women home and creating a more peaceful and diplomatic foreign policy?

HARRIS: Well, we need to bring them home, immediately. But we have to do it in a smart way. And, you know, I was in Afghanistan just days before the president made his announcement about withdrawing troops.

The concern I have is that we cannot lead public policy -- and, in particular, foreign policy -- with a tweet. The concern I have is that we have got to understand that, first of all, in Afghanistan, we have lost 2,300 young lives. Over 20,000 lives have received permanent physical injury, not to mention all of the lives of the young people who have been sent to fight this war, who are dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder and all kinds of other injuries in terms of what they are bringing back. And we have got to be more responsible in understanding that we cannot send our young people to fight these senseless wars and these endless wars.

But we have to do it in a way that is also smart, and that means that the commander-in-chief has to read the briefing book, has to...

(LAUGHTER)

... has to consult with foreign policy experts and ambassadors and generals and allies, and do it in a way that is smart, do it in a way that understands that right now in Afghanistan, for example, right when I was there before the announcement went out, there was a whole process of reconciliation happening, where one of the bargaining chips was exactly that point.

And so we need to have leadership in our country who makes the right decisions, which includes bringing our troops back, but do it in a way that is smart and strategic and not on a whim and not by a tweet.

TAPPER: Thanks, Senator.

(APPLAUSE)

The next question comes from Joshua Hughes. He's a Drake University law student. Joshua?

QUESTION: Thank you, Senator Harris. My question for you tonight is simple. In a society where nearly 1 in 5 children live in poverty, is the existence of multi-billionaires morally defensible?

HARRIS: Well, here's -- let's just say this. We have had policies in this country, at least in the last two decades, that have disproportionately benefited the top 1 percent to the exclusion of working families. We have a situation in our country right now where just recently this administration passed a tax bill that benefits big corporations in the top 1 percent to the exclusion of supporting working families. And that is unconscionable.

And you are exactly right. We have babies in America today that are on the verge of starving. We have families that cannot pay their bills. In fact, one of my proposals is that we address this inequity around what has been termed -- what would be one of the most significant tax cuts for middle-class families in generations.

And it is what I propose -- I call it the LIFT Act. But what we would do is, for families who are making less than $100,000 a year, they would receive a $6,000 tax credit that they could receive $500 a month, understanding that we have so many families in America right now that are a $500 emergency away from complete financial catastrophe.

Let's also understand that we've got to have economic policy in this country that understands that right now it's not working for working people. Right now in America, in 99 percent of the counties in America, if you are a minimum wage worker, working full time, you cannot afford market rate for a one-bedroom apartment. That is absolutely unconscionable.

And so we've got to correct it. And part of it is that people at the top 1 percent, people who are making $10 million a year, who have $50 million a year, they need to pay more taxes.

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And we've got to -- and what we have to do is correct course, because for too long, the rules have been working against working families and working for the benefit of the top 1 percent. We have to correct course.

TAPPER: Rachel Lunsford lives here in Des Moines. She's a new mom. She works in I.T. program management. Rachel?

QUESTION: Thank you. As a new mom, I found the process of learning how to parent and recover from labor-delivery to be challenging enough on its own. Although I'm a state employee, our leave policy made it that I had to use all my available sick and vacation time for maternity leave. And even then, I still had to have four weeks of unpaid leave.

My husband's company gives new parents six weeks of leave paid. Do you support a nationwide paid parental leave policy?

HARRIS: Absolutely. And even more...

(APPLAUSE)

Absolutely. Absolutely. And even more than that, I support what we need to have, which is a national policy around affordable childcare. I support what we need to do around having universal pre-K. I support what we need to do around having a public education system that benefits our children and not vilifying public school teachers.

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We have got to recognize -- you know, we are a nation -- if we're going to really look in the mirror and check our hypocrisy, let's recognize that there are a lot of folks who pretend to care about children but not so much other people's children.

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We need to deal with that. And congratulations, by the way, Rachel. What did you have?

QUESTION: A girl.

HARRIS: Good. Good for you. Thank you.

TAPPER: We'll be right back with more from CNN's presidential candidate town hall with Senator Kamala Harris. Stay with us. Thank you so much for your questions.

HARRIS: Congratulations.

(APPLAUSE)

TAPPER: Welcome back to CNN's presidential candidate town hall with Senator Kamala Harris, Democrat of California. We're here at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. Jill Zwagerman -- am I pronouncing that correctly?

QUESTION: You sure are.

TAPPER: All right -- Zwagerman is a civil right attorney in Des Moines. She focuses on gender equality in the workplace.

QUESTION: Thank you, Senator. And I also want to thank you for your questions in the Kavanaugh hearing.

HARRIS: Thank you. Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

QUESTION: The "Me, Too" movement is finally giving women the permission and the courage to come forward and to speak up.

HARRIS: Yeah.

QUESTION: On the flip side, some men feel attacked by this movement. President Trump has done a very good job of appealing to those men. And those men vote. And that sends our women a message to shut their mouths.

Our country needs to unify and not divide on this issue. What can you do to unite these males and females who are so polarized and get rid of this "us versus them" mentality?

HARRIS: Yes. Well, first of all, thank you for your work, Jill.

So I think that there's no question that there are powerful forces trying to sow hate and division among us. And part of the solution and the cure for that is going to be to point out the commonality, right, among us.

We may -- we're diverse in so many ways. We're diverse in terms where we were born and how we were raised in terms of if we were raised on a farm or in a city. We are a diverse country. And it's part of our strength. And we have to recognize that and have leaderships who recognize that.

And also we have to understand that, within our diversity, we also have so much commonality. We have the same values. We care about the same things.

And on the issue of the "Me, Too" movement and what we're talking about in terms of what happens in the workplace, I believe that the vast majority of people understand that no person, whatever their gender, should have to go to work in the situation where they are judged on anything other than merit and other than the contribution they're making to the workplace.

I believe very strongly that on the issue of what has happened around empowering women's voices, and also men -- men are a part of the "Me, Too" movement, also -- understanding that we need to give voice to people who for so long have been voiceless and vulnerable.

I, for a large part of my career, specialized in sexual assault cases. Thank you for mentioning the Kavanaugh hearing. And what I have known is I have known survivors who were convinced that if they spoke up no one would believe them. They were convinced that if they told their story they would be stigmatized. And so they didn't speak.

And that is not reflective of who we should be as a country and who we should be as a society. We have got to create a safe, welcoming, nonjudgmental place for people to speak out about the experiences that they have and, in particular, when they have been the subject of predatory behavior. And so I think most people are on board that.

But we have to also understand that we cannot buy the stuff that supposed leaders are selling and trying to have us point fingers at each other. And I think that most people are in that place. Men and women understand -- they understand when they're being played.

And the bottom line is that we still have a lot of work to do in terms of making sure that all people in the workplace are safe and are treated as equals. And I applaud the work that you do and so many others do to make sure that we are speaking loudly about that.

TAPPER: Thank you, Senator. I want to introduce you to Mark Recker. He's a corn and soybean farmer from Arlington, Iowa.

HARRIS: Oh, great. Hi, Mark.

TAPPER: Mark?

QUESTION: Good evening, Senator. Thank you for being here tonight. We really appreciate it.

HARRIS: Thank you.

QUESTION: U.S. agriculture depends on reliable export markets to buy crop and livestock products grown here in the United States. As a farmer, over 30 percent of my family's income is attained from export markets. Yet tariffs, trade disputes, and the trade war have seriously impacted our ability to export our products.

As president, what would you do to ensure free trade, increase access to foreign markets for producers like myself, yet make sure the U.S. is treated fairly by our trading partners?

HARRIS: Right. Thank you, Mark, and for your work. And I'll say that to your point, we -- it's not only about free trade, it's about fair trade. And what we know is we need to have fair trade policy. We need to do it in a way that is about understanding that we need trade policy that also understands we need to protect workers, we need to protect the environment. But we can do that and also have healthy environments which allow farmers and others who are producing the products that are fueling our economy to do it in a way that is without penalty.

Here in Iowa, as you know, because of the president's desire -- and, in fact, did -- create a trade war, Iowa in the near future is going to suffer by as much as $2.2 billion. What we know is because of this approach, which has been to place tariffs, to your point, on exports and on imports as a result, because of the retaliatory imports, we have harm that has resulted to farmers, to manufacturers, and to consumers.

And what we need going forward and the type of approach I would have and will have is about fair trade and understanding that we have to support our farmers and we have to support those manufacturers and farmers and consumers of the United States.

And we can do that in a way that also implements trade policy in collaboration with our allies around the globe, and not just go it alone, but actually understand how we can, when it relates to places like China, have fair trade policy in a way that is effective and supportive of our local industries and also of what we need to do in terms of overall trade policy.

TAPPER: I want to bring in Eliza Dy-Boarman. She's a pharmacy professor here at Drake University. Did I get that right, Dy-Boarman?

QUESTION: "Dy-Boarman".

TAPPER: "Dy-Boarman". I'm sorry. Somebody's going to get fired.

(LAUGHTER)

I'm joking. But they won't get promoted. Anyway, please ask your question.

QUESTION: Hi, Senator Harris. I'm the proud daughter of a Filipino immigrant, and I know that you also share immigrant roots. How did this aspect of your upbringing shape your character? And how might this perspective be useful to you as you pursue the United States presidency?

HARRIS: Thank you, and thank you for that question.

You know, my parents came here believing in a dream. And it was a dream they had for themselves. It was a dream they had for their daughters, my sister and me. And it is that dream of living in a way that is about freedoms, it's about equalities, it's about the ability to pursue one's passions and contribute to their community and to their society. And that in many ways has informed how I think about our country.

I love my country. I love my country. And one of the reasons is that we are a country that was founded on noble ideals. We were founded on the ideals that were behind the writing of the Constitution of the United States and its amendments, and the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence, those words we spoke in 1776 that we are all and should be treated as equals. And I believe in those ideals.

I also know we've not yet achieved those ideals. I know that. But part of the strength of who we are is we say that we will fight to achieve those ideals -- to achieve those ideals. We are aspirational by nature.

And one of the reasons I am running for president of the United States is because I know and I am prepared to continue to fight for those ideals, and especially when they are under attack. Especially when we have an administration that does not understand that we honor a free press, that we honor freedom of association.

(APPLAUSE)

That we honor the belief that all people are equal and should be treated that way. But truly, my background in terms of what my parents believed and what they instilled in us is what informs so much of how I think about my country and why I love my country.

TAPPER: Thank you, Professor Dy-Boarman. Last question is from Donna Bura. She lives here in Des Moines, Iowa.

QUESTION: Senator Harris, what is the very first thing you would do as president of the United States?

HARRIS: Pass the LIFT Act. Pass the LIFT Act, which I mentioned earlier, which is -- and would end up being one of the most significant middle- and working-class tax cuts in recent generations in the United States.

(APPLAUSE)

I would do that first.

(APPLAUSE)

TAPPER: What a wonderful audience. Thank you so much, everybody. This is the first of many town halls that CNN is going to bring you throughout this presidential campaign.

Let's have a round of applause for Senator Kamala Harris.

(APPLAUSE)

As well as to you, our audience, and to Drake University. "CNN Tonight" starts right now.

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HARRIS: Can I go down now?

TAPPER: Now you can go down. Now you can go down.

(LAUGHTER)