Government

Harris addresses criminal justice concerns in Iowa town hall

U.S. Senator Kamala Harris launches her campaign for President of the United States at a rally at Frank H. Ogawa Plaza in her hometown of Oakland, California, U.S., January 27, 2019.  REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
U.S. Senator Kamala Harris launches her campaign for President of the United States at a rally at Frank H. Ogawa Plaza in her hometown of Oakland, California, U.S., January 27, 2019. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage

DES MOINES — In her first trip to Iowa as a presidential candidate, Kamala Harris defended her record as a leader on criminal justice issues and described how she would contrast herself with President Donald Trump.

Harris, a U.S. senator from California, on Monday traveled to Iowa after making her candidacy official over the weekend. She participated in a town hall forum that was hosted by Drake University in Des Moines and broadcast live by CNN.

Harris is the latest to enter what is expected to be a large field seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination.

When asked how she would handle herself in a presidential campaign and avoid getting drawn into a war of words with Trump, Harris said she would start by speaking the truth.

“And speaking in a way that expresses and indicates some level of interest and concern in people other than oneself. Right there we will see a great contrast,” Harris said, drawing murmurs and nods of approval from a crowd that gathered nearby on the Drake campus to watch a feed of the event.

Throughout the town hall, Harris was asked questions that gave her an opportunity to present her case to Democratic voters in Iowa and across the country.

She expressed support for a Medicare-for-all federal health insurance program, a ban on “assault weapons” and mandatory background checks for gun buyers, permanent protections for individuals who were illegally brought to the country as children, higher taxes on the highest wage earners, and a guarantee of paid parental or family leave.

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Harris also addressed a criticism among some Democrats: that she was too tough on some criminals while she served as California’s attorney general and a district attorney in San Francisco.

Harris said she stands by her record as a prosecutor, but also agrees that significant criminal justice reform is needed.

“I’m proud of my record, but I also do know there’s a lot more work to do in this country around criminal justice and reform of the system,” Harris said, noting she introduced bail reform legislation in the U.S. Senate. “It is a flawed system, deeply flawed, and we have to reform it. And everybody has to be on board.”

Audience members for the town hall were Democratic voters and Drake University students and officials, and attendance was invite-only, which Republicans seized on.

“If Kamala Harris thinks she can hide her record from Iowans behind invitation only events hosted by CNN, then she is sadly mistaken,” Michael Joyce, a spokesman for the national Republican Party, said in a statement. “Maybe the next time Harris is in Iowa she’ll actually talk to Iowans without pre-screening them in advance to discuss her history of gaffes and blind obstruction to President Trump’s agenda.”

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