Sen. Kamala Harris painted herself as a striking Democratic foil to President Donald Trump during a town hall event Monday in Iowa, pledging to work toward Medicare for all, protections for young undocumented immigrants and solutions to the epidemic of gun violence should she be elected president in 2020.
The California Democrat spent more than an hour speaking with CNN’s Jake Tapper in which she leaned heavily on her extensive résumé working in prosecutor’s offices and as California’s attorney general before becoming a senator in 2017. The lawmaker voiced support for a litany of progressive causes, including federal action on climate change and furthering the Me Too movement. But Harris also used the event to issue full-throated condemnations of the White House, accusing Trump of governing by tweet and failing to lead while American ideals are under attack.
“Racism is real in America. Sexism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, transphobia: These things exist in America,” Harris said at the event. “We have seen in the last two years that there has been new fuel that is lighting that fire in a way that has been harmful. We need leadership in this country that recognizes that.”
She added: “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.”
Harris formally launched her presidential campaign in Oakland on Sunday with a vow to fight “for the people.” About 20,000 turned out for the event, where she touted her prosecutorial career and painted the Trump administration as being far removed from the American people.
Harris is one of several prominent Democrats who have already announced their candidacy for the White House. Other notable names include fellow Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), former San Antonio Mayor and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii).
She has already drawn some criticism for her work as a prosecutor and state attorney general. Some civil rights groups have expressed concern over her record on criminal justice, and an op-ed in The New York Times last week claimed the senator was “often on the wrong side of history.”
Despite the criticisms, Harris nabbed her first congressional endorsement this week after Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) said Harris was “the person we need to move America forward.”
Harris addressed several questions from the audience and declared firm positions on several issues certain to be major talking points during the 2020 campaign. The senator vowed to oppose efforts to give Trump any funding for his wall along the border with Mexico, despite the recent partial government shutdown.
“Let me be very clear, I’m not going to vote for a wall under any circumstances,” she said. “Let’s talk about what really accomplishes border security. I’m all for increased border security where we need it. I am not for a wall.”
She also slammed the president’s propensity for sharing major political decisions via Twitter and issued subtle jabs at reports of Trump’s distaste for intelligence documents.
“We cannot lead public policy — and in particular foreign policy — with a tweet,” she said, before commenting on Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria and Afghanistan. “The commander in chief has to read the briefing book … has to consult with foreign policy experts and ambassadors and generals and allies, and do it in a way that is smart.”
With a long road ahead before next year’s election, Harris said she planned to debate with a far different style than the president should they eventually face off on the campaign trail.
“It’s very important that anyone who presents themselves as a leader and wants to be a leader will speak like a leader,” she said. “And that means speaking with integrity. It means speaking truth.”