STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Senator Kamala Harris was at the Capitol yesterday, voting against one of President Trump's judicial nominees. Then she went down the street and walked into a Democratic Party office. She pulled up a chair and gave us the opening argument of her presidential campaign.
KAMALA HARRIS: Middle class, working families in America today are losing. The rules have been written in a way that has excluded support of those families.
INSKEEP: MORNING EDITION is hearing opening arguments from prominent declared candidates. What would they do if elected? Several want to direct money to people toward the lower end of the income scale, and that includes Harris. She wants families with incomes under $100,000 to receive a tax credit of up to $6,000.
Why is it, in your view, a good idea to hand someone a check? - to hand them a tax refund, to hand them a tax rebate, to let them claim some cash.
HARRIS: I don't think we can have this conversation without including carried interest (laughter).
INSKEEP: She is referring to one of the advantages wealthy people claim in the tax code. Harris is a former San Francisco district attorney. She was also California's attorney general before the Senate. And one of her initiatives as district attorney has drawn criticism for how harsh it sounds today.
When you prosecuted parents whose kids missed school, were you doing that out of some larger, social concern? What was on your mind?
HARRIS: So I did an analysis when I was DA of who the homicide victims were who were under the age of 25 when they were killed and learned, at the time, that 94 percent of them were high school dropouts. Today 70 percent of the people in prison are high school dropouts. So I decided to take this issue on from a perspective of not wanting to have to prosecute those kids later in their life. And it was because we got more services for these kids. And we put a spotlight on the fact that transportation was a big issue for some parents - just getting their child to school. We learned that, you know, if a parent is working two jobs and they've got a 7-year-old and then the 2-year-old gets sick, they might say to the 7-year-old, stay home, and take care of the 2-year-old, because having child care, you know, and paying for that extra day is going to be too difficult. It was things like that.
INSKEEP: But was there something, in retrospect, kind of undignified about going to that parent with the two jobs and the two kids and one of them is sick and prosecuting that parent? That was your opening bid to them.
HARRIS: No. The opening bid was to say, let's work out getting the child to school every day...
INSKEEP: Or you'll be prosecuted.
HARRIS: ...So that - so there were - nobody went to jail. And hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of families went through our program.
INSKEEP: California's current governor, Gavin Newsom, has this week - as I'm sure you know - announced a moratorium on the death penalty in California. Is there a federal equivalent that you would do? Federal executions, of course, are quite rare. but...
HARRIS: Yes. I...
INSKEEP: There's a federal death penalty.
HARRIS: I think that there should be.
INSKEEP: A moratorium.
HARRIS: I think...
INSKEEP: An end.
HARRIS: Yes, I do. I do believe that. There should be...
INSKEEP: No one would be executed...
INSKEEP: ...If you were president of the United States...
INSKEEP: ...For any crime?
INSKEEP: Not even - I don't know...
HARRIS: Not in the United States...
INSKEEP: There's nothing that rises to that level.
HARRIS: Not in the United States, no.
INSKEEP: As state attorney general, Harris defended the death penalty because she says it was the law. But she declined to seek the death penalty, even for a man who killed a cop. That is just one of the issues she would influence as president.
Having spent your career devoted to the rule of law, how would you apply the rule of law to the problem of people who are in the United States illegally?
HARRIS: We have to pass comprehensive immigration reform. We...
INSKEEP: In the absence of that, though - last two, three presidents haven't been able to do that.
HARRIS: Well - but, no, because you're asking me if I were president, which I fully intend to be (laughter). I'm going to tell you that we have to pass comprehensive immigration reform. And I'm actually happy to share with you that I think that there's bipartisan consensus.
INSKEEP: But in the absence of that, which is the situation that the last president was in and the president before him was in, what are you going to do with those 11 million people?
HARRIS: Well, I'm, one, not going to vilify them for the sake of scapegoating a whole population of people. I'm going to keep America's promise to, for example, those DREAMers who receive protection under DACA - Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. I believe that we have to keep our promises.
INSKEEP: I'm thinking of a time when President Obama was dealing with unaccompanied minors coming to the U.S.-Mexico border. And the president was reported to have said, I'm the chief executive. There's a law. We have to enforce the law. We have to send them back. Would you anticipate doing that - enforcing laws that, you may yourself feel are immoral or wrong, but it's simply the law?
HARRIS: So let me just - to the point of that moment in our history - tell you how I handled it. I was attorney general at the time. And I will never forget being at home watching the evening news. And in Murrieta, Calif., there was a group of these children on a bus. When a group of our countrymen surrounded that bus, shouting at these young people, go back to where you came from - and then I heard about what was happening in Washington, D.C., which is there was a discussion about how we need to expedite these hearings to send them back to where they came from.
INSKEEP: That was the goal - judicial proceedings more quickly, yeah.
HARRIS: Yeah. Now, let me tell you. Again, people in Washington were saying, expedite these cases. Get them done in two weeks, for children who - I will never forget the images - who were sitting on a chair. Their feet were dangling. That's how small they were. And we were going to expedite these cases to have them tell a perfect stranger, in a language or a dialect they don't speak, about the trauma that they were experiencing in their home country, which required them to seek refuge in ours.
And so I got on the phone with managing partners from law firms up and down the state of California and said, let's get pro bono legal services to help these children who otherwise were not entitled to attorneys. All of that to say, one - I disagree with any policy that would turn America's back on people who are fleeing harm. I, frankly, believe that it is contrary to everything that we have symbolically and actually said we stand for. And so I would not enforce a law that would reject people and turn them away without giving them a fair and due process to determine if we should give them asylum and refuge.
INSKEEP: We're in a world with 60 million refugees, and with every reason...
INSKEEP: ...To believe there are more.
INSKEEP: When you look at the forecast for climate change, for example, a lot of people...
HARRIS: Climate change, Yemen, Syria, Venezuela - go down the list. You're right.
INSKEEP: Suppose there are far more people seeking refuge in the United States than even there are now. You'll let them in.
HARRIS: I will not deny them a process of determining whether we should and can let them in. I would not deny them that process.
INSKEEP: An opening argument from Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.