WASHINGTON ― Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) on Monday addressed questions about her long history as a California prosecutor shortly after announcing her campaign for president in an appearance on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
In recent weeks, Harris has faced criticism from some on the left about her record as a district attorney in San Francisco and later as California’s attorney general. In a widely shared New York Times op-ed, law professor Lara Bazelon called Harris a “regressive” prosecutor who was often on “the wrong side of history” on the matter of criminal justice reform, as well as someone who “fought tooth and nail to uphold wrongful” convictions in California.
A prominent Bay Area activist accused the senator on Twitter of “terrorizing Black communities” by working to strengthen the state’s prison system.
In her first press conference as a presidential candidate on Monday, Harris said she took responsibility for decisions she made a prosecutor and expressed regret for not being able to do more in certain cases she was involved in.
“I can tell you of the cases where I really regret that we were not able to charge somebody that molested a child but the evidence wasn’t there. There are cases … where there were folks who made a decision in my office who did not consult with me and I wish they had. But again, I take full responsibility for those decisions,” Harris said at Howard University, her alma mater.
But Harris made no apologies about her career, stating that “there is a lot about what I did as a prosecutor that I’m proud of,” including starting a first-in-the-nation program that offered first-time nonviolent offenders a chance to have their charges dismissed if they completed vocational training.
“There are fundamental flaws in the criminal justice system and … this criminal justice system needs to be reformed,” she said.
Harris’ campaign slogan, “For the people,” is more evidence she is embracing her background as a prosecutor despite the criticism from some progressives. According to The San Francisco Chronicle, the line is a reference to how she began her introduction to the court as a prosecutor: “Kamala Harris, for the people.”
On Monday she also responded to questions about her decision to defend California’s choice to deny sexual reassignment surgery to a trans inmate. She said she was obligated to defend the state’s positions as attorney general and that “unfortunately” she was sometimes forced to take stances “contrary to my beliefs.”
“But the bottom line is the buck stops with me, and I take full responsibility for what my office did,” Harris said.
Harris is the latest high-profile Democrat to declare her intention to run against President Donald Trump in 2020. Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), along with former Obama Cabinet member Julián Castro and Reps. John Delaney (Md.) and Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii), are running as well.