RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Senator Kamala Harris' new book, "The Truths We Hold," is out today. It is the type of book that usually precedes a presidential run.
Have you made up your mind as to whether or not you're going to run for president?
KAMALA HARRIS: I have not made up my mind, but I will. I will. And I'll do that soon.
MARTIN: Do you know the criteria that you still need to put together before you do that?
HARRIS: Well, there's a collection of factors to consider, but I will keep you posted. But I am not prepared to make any announcement at this moment. (Laughter).
MARTIN: Let me know if you change your mind by the end of the conversation.
HARRIS: (Laughter) I will. (Laughter).
MARTIN: Her book reads part policy prescription, part memoir. And early in our conversation, I asked her why she decided to become a prosecutor.
HARRIS: My family and extended family thought, at best, it was a curious (laughter) decision. And with some of them, I honestly had to defend the decision like one would a thesis.
MARTIN: What did they tell you? Why did they not...
HARRIS: They said...
MARTIN: ...Accept that from you?
HARRIS: Well, because they said, why would you go and be a part of an institution that is not always fair and does not always pursue justice? And my point then - and certainly my point today, after a career as a prosecutor and a career in law enforcement - is that if we want to change or improve or reform systems, yes, there's no question there is a role and a responsibility and an impact to be had from being on the outside. But there is also a power that one can have by being inside and at the table where the decisions are being made.
MARTIN: You have been criticized by some on the left side of your party over the death penalty, for defending the death penalty after opposing it as district attorney for San Francisco then as attorney general defending it. How do you explain your position? How do you defend it to progressives who say it's immoral, it's ineffective?
HARRIS: So to be clear, I am personally opposed to the death penalty. I have always been, and I remain opposed to the death penalty. I believe, for a number of reasons, that it is a flawed system both in terms of the way that it has been applied historically, which is disproportionately against people of color and poor people, I know that it is a system for which the defenders would say it creates some deterrent. But in my experience, when somebody is about to pull the trigger of that gun, they're not sitting there thinking about whether it's going to be life without possibility of parole or the death penalty.
MARTIN: But you still think there's a place for it?
HARRIS: No. I don't. But as attorney general of the state of California, I had a constitutional responsibility to represent my clients. And one of my clients happened to be the California Department of Corrections and the District Attorneys of California.
MARTIN: I'm going to ask a big-picture question that I don't know if everyone has heard you articulate an answer to. Why do you think Donald Trump won?
HARRIS: I'll give you a crude analysis. Over the last 10 years in our country, at least, we've seen an incredible amount of change. People are reading about the browning of America, and the immigrants are coming. And we had Barack Obama as president, and then we had a woman running for president. And gay people can marry, and - oh, my God. Oh, my God.
So there's an incredible amount of change that has happened in a relatively short period of time. And it has, understandably, left a lot of people feeling displaced, wondering and asking a question about where do they fit in. And he read it. He read it accurately.
MARTIN: You give him credit for that?
HARRIS: He read it accurately. And then he took it to the lowest common denominator.
MARTIN: Hillary Clinton characterized Trump supporters as a basket of deplorables. How would you characterize people who supported Donald Trump?
HARRIS: I think that there are a lot of different people who supported Donald Trump, and I am not going to put them in any one category because it's as diverse a group as we are Americans.
MARTIN: The front page of The New York Times on Sunday had an article titled as follows. "Democrats Puzzle Over Whether A Woman Will Beat Trump." Have you heard this kind of question? Do people actually say this out loud in the Democratic Party? Do they whisper it?
HARRIS: (Laughter). Well, I will tell you, in my career, people whisper it. They murmur it. They speak it. Sometimes they shout it. (Laughter). I've heard it for every office I've run for. When I ran to be district attorney in San Francisco, challenging an incumbent - you know, people have notions about what and who San Francisco is. They think it's this progressive town of, you know, forward-thinking people. Well, yeah. Yeah, there are a lot, but there had never been a woman to be district attorney of San Francisco when I ran. And many told me, there's never been anyone like you, and people aren't probably ready for you.
MARTIN: So this idea that America is not ready, look what happened to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. You know, he's got all these white male voters who are really...
HARRIS: I heard it again...
MARTIN: ...In his base.
HARRIS: ...When I ran for attorney general of California. You can best believe people said they're not ready for you to be the top cop of this state. But I won. I won because I didn't listen.
MARTIN: Do you think that makes you more appealing to voters in swing states or states that went explicitly for Donald Trump?
HARRIS: If I run, we'll see. (Laughter).
MARTIN: You mention in your book about your relationship with the former attorney general of Delaware, Beau Biden...
MARTIN: ...Who passed away a few years ago of cancer. The two of you would talk sometimes several times a day, you write, during the mortgage crisis that you were both dealing with. You call him an incredible friend. Do you think his father, Joe Biden, would make a good president?
HARRIS: I think there are many people who would make a good president. And I got to know Joe, as a person, through Beau. They had an incredibly special relationship. You're not going to hear me criticize Joe Biden. I think he's a great guy.
MARTIN: He has said recently that he just doesn't see people out there in the Democratic field as early as it is who could actually beat Donald Trump, and until he sees that, he's still considering running. What do you make of that?
HARRIS: I think that everyone who wants to run should run.
MARTIN: Let me ask about this current moment. There are - some of your Democratic colleagues in the House are talking quite openly about impeachment. Have you at this point seen anything that would rise to the level of impeachment?
HARRIS: Well, I'm on Senate Intelligence Committee, and so there is nothing that I can talk with you about that relates to what happens there and what we've heard. But I will say this. I feel very strongly that we have to do everything we possibly can to protect Bob Mueller and his ability to see his investigation through. And that needs to be the first and highest priority, as far as I'm concerned.
MARTIN: Senator Kamala Harris of California, thank you so much for your time.
HARRIS: Thank you. Thank you.
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