Kamala Harris takes questions at CNN town hall
Asked directly how she would manage America’s health care system, Kamala Harris fully embraced “Medicare for all” single payer health insurance, saying it’s something she feels “very strongly” about.
“We need to have Medicare for all,” Harris told a questioner in the audience who also asked if she would be willing to cut private insurers out of the mix.
Harris framed it as a moral question, saying:
“We have to appreciate and understand that access to health care should not be thought of to be a privilege. It should be understood to be a right.”
The current system, where insurers are more focused on their bottom lines, is “inhumane,” she said.
Harris noted that when her mother was fortunate to have Medicare when she dying of cancer a decade ago. Last month, the candidate wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times saying she will fight for a better health care system in her mother’s name.
Pressed by CNN's Jake Tapper on the fate of for-profit insurers, Harris, who co-sponsored Sen. Bernie Sanders’ “Medicare for all” bill, didn’t hedge.
“Let’s eliminate all of that,” she said of all the paperwork and approval processes that insurers require. “Let’s move on.”
The question -- and answer -- are important to “Medicare for all” supporters on the left, who despite being pleased at the policy’s growing popularity, worry that it could be watered down in a crowded primary field.
"There's going to be a question if any of those (other potential presidential candidates) take power: Do they actually want to create a single-payer program or is it just a messaging strategy to win people over with big ideas?," Waleed Shahid, a spokesman for the progressive group Justice Democrats, told CNN last year. "Do they support the end of private health insurance in the United States of America. Because that is what the bill is proposing to do. We're going to get way more into the specifics than we did in 2016."
Sen. Kamala Harris defended her criminal justice record during CNN’s town hall on Monday, refuting some liberal criticism of her record by arguing that she has “been consistent my whole career.”
The answer, which was succinct and direct, showed that Harris is not only aware of the criticism of her time as district attorney of San Francisco and attorney general of California, but is prepared to take it on.
“I’ve been consistent my whole career,” she said response to a question that asked her to address her “contradictory past.”
“My career has been based on an understanding that, one, as a prosecutor, my duty was to seek and make sure that the most vulnerable and voiceless among us are protected.”
She added: “I have also worked my whole career to reform the criminal justice system, understanding, to your point, that it is deeply flawed.”
The liberal pushback to Harris’ record on crime was epitomized by a recent op-ed by Lara Bazelon, former director for the Loyola Law School Project for the Innocent in Los Angeles.
“In her career, Ms. Harris did not barter or trade to get the support of more conservative law-and-order types; she gave it all away,” Bazelon wrote.
Harris listed a litany of actions she took at attorney general, including:
- starting implicit bias and procedural justice training to police officers
- starting an open date initiative for her department
- requiring agents with her department to wear body cameras
Harris also outlined how she is “personally opposed to the death penalty,” adding “that is not going to change.” In addition to calling it a “flawed system,” Harris said it is “cheaper to let people spend their life and end their life in jail.” She did not mention that she defended California’s death penalty in court.
Harris went on to say there is still a lot of work to do on criminal justice, namely addressing mass incarceration, bail reform and the disproportionate application of the crime, but stands by what she has done.
But in a nod to some decisions she made in the past to punish criminals, Harris said that those changes need to be balanced with the need to impose penalties on those who commit crimes.
“We all realize it is 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, there is going to be consequence, and serious consequence, for those crimes,” she said.
Pressed by CNN’s Jake Tapper on some of the pushback to her record, Harris said she would compare her record to any other elected prosecutor in the country and knows there are some people she can’t win over.
“I will also say that there is so much more work to do,” she said. “And do I wish I could have done more? Absolutely, I do wish I could have done more.”
Kamala Harris, answering a woman who wondered how she will avoid getting caught up in President Donald Trump's "crazy," responded:
"It's very important that anyone who presents themselves as a leader and wants to be a leader will speak like a leader. That means speaking with integrity. It means speaking truth. It means speaking in a way that expresses and indicates some level of interest and concern to people other than oneself. And so, right there we will see a great contrast."
Kamala Harris made it clear: She does not plan on voting for any legislation that supports President Trump's long-promised border wall.
"Let me be very clear. I'm not going to vote for a wall under any circumstances," the California senator said. "And I do support border security, and if we want to talk about that, let's do that."
Harris described Trump's wall as a "medieval vanity project" — those words garnered cheers from the crowd inside the Sheslow Auditorium.
Watch the moment:
Kamala Harris just told CNN's Jake Tapper of a quote her mother used to say: "You may be the first to do many things, but make sure you're not the last."
Harris was responding to Tapper's question asking what it meant to her that she would be the first black female president in American history, should she win.
"That's how I think about those kinds of things," she said, "and it is about certainly breaking barriers, it is something that is very important.
"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 they should not ever be burdened by what has been and they should see what can be."
"I think that's really the most important takeaway, which is that with each barrier 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," she said.
CNN's Maeve Reston observed:
California Sen. Kamala Harris made it clear tonight that she plans to support the progressive push for Medicare-for-All.
Renee Welk, a self-employed Iowa voter, asked Harris about her plan to "ensure that people have access to quality health care at an affordable price," and if it involves "cutting insurance companies as we know them out of the equation?"
Harris answered bluntly: "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."
The answer drew cheers and applause from the audience.
Watch Harris explain:
California Sen. Kamala Harris just took the stage where she received a roaring welcome from Iowa voters.
The audience inside the Sheslow Auditorium cheered loudly as she was introduced by CNN's Jake Tapper and took her seat.
Watch the moment:
CNN's Political Director David Chalian said Sen. Kamala Harris is not that well known, so tonight's town hall is a "critical introductory moment to the nation."
"This is Kamala Harris coming out and introducing herself to Americans," he told CNN's Chris Cuomo. Chalian went on to say Harris must also show "interplay with voters."
"We've seen her in the last week do interviews. We've seen her give the big rally speech. But what we've not seen is the human to human interaction with voters. Is there an authenticity there?" he said.
Harris must also show ideological positions tonight, Chalian said.
At Drake University in Des Moines, where Kamala Harris is set to speak to Iowans tonight, snow piled high on sidewalks as frigid air blasted the area.
According to the National Weather Service, some states, including Iowa, could suffer the coldest air in a generation. About 220 million people — or 75% of the continental US population — will endure below-freezing temperatures this week.
The wicked cold has already turned deadly in Iowa, where a 13-year-old boy was found dead, Marshalltown police said.
Temperatures dipped to a frigid 6 degrees in Des Moines tonight. (They are expected to drop to -1 degrees later tonight.)
Here's what it looked like at Sheslow Auditorium today, where the event is being held: