Kamala Harris takes questions at CNN town hall

By Veronica Rocha, Brian Ries and Kyle Blaine, CNN

Updated 11:54 p.m. ET, January 28, 2019
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10:33 p.m. ET, January 28, 2019

Harris quotes mom: "You may be the first to do many things, but make sure you're not the last"

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.

She added:

"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:

Watch below:

10:22 p.m. ET, January 28, 2019

Harris on health care: "We need to have Medicare-for-all"

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:

10:07 p.m. ET, January 28, 2019

Kamala Harris gets roaring welcome in Iowa

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:

10:13 p.m. ET, January 28, 2019

"This is Kamala Harris coming out and introducing herself to Americans"

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.

Watch more:

9:44 p.m. ET, January 28, 2019

It's brutally cold in Iowa tonight

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:

(Veronica Rocha/CNN)
(Veronica Rocha/CNN)

9:24 p.m. ET, January 28, 2019

SOON: Kamala Harris takes questions from Iowa voters at CNN town hall

(Veronica Rocha/CNN)
(Veronica Rocha/CNN)

California Sen. Kamala Harris will soon face questions from Iowa voters at CNN's town hall event hosted by CNN's Jake Tapper in Des Moines tonight. It starts at 10 p.m. ET, 9 p.m. local time.

The Sheslow Auditorium is packed with Iowans, despite temperatures outside that have dipped to a mere 6 degrees. People in the audience whipped out their cellphones and snapped photographs inside the auditorium with less than an hour before the show.

Harris arrived in Iowa Sunday night hours after the official launch of her campaign in her birthplace of Oakland, which drew thousands of people.

The junior senator is likely to touch on key campaign issues, including tax relief for the middle class, and Medicare-for-All. She'll also try to separate herself from President Trump, whom she has sharply criticized.

She may also face tough questions about her criminal justice history. After Harris became attorney general of California, many criminal justice advocates in the state were disappointed that she did not take a more active role to advocate for ballot measures and legislation changing California's three strikes law, even though she had been a strong critic of the harsh sentencing penalties before she was elected. 

9:04 p.m. ET, January 28, 2019

Harris' sorority sisters could be her secret weapon

From CNN's Maeve Reston

Photo of the 38 line sisters, taken in Spring 1986 on The Yard at Howard University. Harris is in the back row, fourth from the left
Photo of the 38 line sisters, taken in Spring 1986 on The Yard at Howard University. Harris is in the back row, fourth from the left

As Kamala Harris sets her sights on the White House, there is perhaps no network better positioned to power her early launch than the women she will address Friday night in South Carolina: her sisters in Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated — the nation's oldest black sorority.

Here's what you need to know about the sorority:

  • Formed in 1908 by nine determined women at Howard who believed that college-educated black women could represent "the highest — more education, more enlightenment, and more of everything that the great mass of Negroes never had."
  • They set out with this credo: "Supreme in service to all mankind."
  • The sorority has expanded to some 300,000 women on college campuses across the country and several continents.

Why this matters: Harris will debut in South Carolina Friday night as a newly-minted presidential candidate when she addresses more than 3,000 of her Alpha Kappa Alpha sisters at the Pink Ice Gala in Columbia, an annual event that raises money for scholarships.

These women could become the foot soldiers of a powerful voting bloc. CNN exit polling shows black women supported Democrats more than almost any other voting subgroup, helping drive Democratic wins in last year's midterms. In Harris' case, the sisters of Alpha Kappa Alpha could help her organize in states across the country and open up a unique pipeline for her fundraising appeals within their regions.

Watch more:

9:59 p.m. ET, January 28, 2019

Kamala Harris officially launched her campaign yesterday — and alluded to Trump

From CNN's Maeve Reston

Kamala Harris officially launched her 2020 presidential campaign Sunday in her birthplace of Oakland, promising to be a fighter "for the people" and stating that it is time to restore what she views as the loss of American values under President Donald Trump.

"We are here because the American Dream and our American democracy are under attack and on the line like never before," the California senator said. "We are here at this moment in time because we must answer a fundamental question. Who are we? Who are we as Americans? So, let's answer that question to the world and each other right here and right now. America: we are better than this."

In an allusion to Trump's xenophobic rhetoric, his policies at the border, and his decision to shut down the government in a failed attempt to get his wall, Harris said that "people in power are trying to convince us that the villain in our American story is each other."

"But that is not our story. That is not who we are. That is not our America," Harris said without mentioning Trump's name. "The United States of America is not about us versus them ... I'm running to be a President of the people, by the people, for all the people."

Watch below: