Kamala Harris, the newly-elected senator from California, talks with David Axelrod about the prospects for criminal justice reform legislation in Congress, why she believes President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee must be approved with 60 votes, her argument for why Democrats should stop their infighting and unify against the Trump agenda, and how she’s adjusting to life in the Senate.
United States


00:00:06and now from the university of Chicago institute of politics and CNN the axe files with your host David Axelrod when you hear the discussion about who the next national leaders of the Democratic Party might be one of the names that always winds up on the list is Kamilla
00:00:27Harris the newly elected senator from California former Attorney General from that state a district attorney in San Francisco %HESITATION for years she is a dynamic new leader on the Washington scene I drop by the capital the other day to have a conversation with her her about her life
00:00:45career her future and the new era in Washington under president trump senator Kamel Heris welcome thank you it's great to be with you today good to be with you let's start with the name okay Kamilla yes because it's a good way into this whole discussion about your interesting
00:01:12life yes %HESITATION good okay so %HESITATION it's my name and %HESITATION it is actually %HESITATION it's an Indian name which is a relatively common Indian name and %HESITATION at the people ask me how to pronounce it and so I I do there are many ways if you were
00:01:30asking my grandmother she say come lot %HESITATION I usually to help people pronounce it by saying well just think of the hyphen a comma and then add a lot the end and that's IT Kamilla and %HESITATION it means on actually the lotus flower which is a very %HESITATION
00:01:47it's it's it's a symbol that is present in most Asian cultures and it represents you as I learned it that you know the this flower sits on on top of the water but it's it's roots are grounded in the mud and %HESITATION and that that that's where you
00:02:02should be with your you know you should be able to do both and and have your feet firmly planted planted %HESITATION even if if things looking now lovely on top you still have to keep it grounded and %HESITATION say good admonition for today I think so yes so
00:02:18your your mom it was Indian yes %HESITATION your dad African American and Jamaican American Jamaican America so how did they meet they met my parents met when they were graduate students at the university of California Berkeley in the nineteen sixties and they were both active in the civil
00:02:38rights movement and %HESITATION my cigarettes what a hot yeah it really was my sister and I we joke we grew up surrounded by a bunch of adults suspenseful time marching and shouting and %HESITATION about justice and that's what led me to want to be a a lawyer because
00:02:55among the heroes of that great civil rights movement %HESITATION there with the lawyers Thurgood Marshall and Charles Hamilton Houston and Constance Baker motley %HESITATION these individuals who understood the skill of the profession of lot it to translate the passion from the streets to the courtroom serve our country
00:03:10and to do the work that we now must constantly be done of reminding folks of that promise we articulated in seventeen seventy six for awhile %HESITATION I want to get to I want to get to that and your career in the law of but but I I just
00:03:25wanna hear a little bit more about your folks and about the sort of cross cultural upbringing and %HESITATION how that helped shape you well you know it's it's funny David %HESITATION for and I'm gonna I'll bring it back to my childhood but you know and in my career
00:03:42when I was district attorney of San Francisco %HESITATION Attorney General Californian even as now as United States senator in each position %HESITATION I was the first and %HESITATION and so if it together when I was DA in and AG reporters will come up to me and asked me
00:03:59this really original question put a microphone from my face what was so what's it like to be the first woman fill in the blank TA AG and I'd look at them not knowing how to answer that question and I and I would tell them I I really don't
00:04:10know how to answer that question because you see I've always been a woman but I'm sure a man could do the job just as well so what what was it like to grow up the way I did I grew I had a great happy childhood %HESITATION it all
00:04:25seems normal %HESITATION I cleverly standards well in Oakland I go I was born in Oakland and it was I grew up in a community of people of of an immediate family unit and extended family who were %HESITATION really passionate about %HESITATION about service and about justice and it
00:04:46it was a very stimulating environment as I realize %HESITATION it was in and it really shaped and formed a lot of what I think about in terms of how I at that I thought of and think of priorities %HESITATION I grew up in an environment where my mother
00:05:02was she was supposed to she came to to to Berkeley California to get her %HESITATION PhD and she ended up being that a very significant breast cancer researcher an endocrinologist which I grow she grew up in %HESITATION in the north and bomb day in Delhi but the family
00:05:19is from the south and madrassas is known as China and but she grew up and and she she wanted to go into one of the best schools and my grandfather you know this is the nineteen fifties late nineteen fifties my grandfather said you want to go to one
00:05:35of the best schools wherever you want to go you go I'm going to support that so he let his daughter travel from India to the United States at age she was I think twenty to pursue her passion which is that she wanted to be a scientist %HESITATION but
00:05:52she was a pup and so that speaks a lot about also the family that I was raised in where %HESITATION you know my grandfather and my grandparents were very progressive in the way that they thought about the world and who could do what they do my grandfather was
00:06:06one of the original freedom fighters and when India gained independence and %HESITATION the family stories included a him often joking about my grandmother who didn't even have a form shouldn't really have a a formal education should go to college but she was one of the smartest people I've
00:06:23ever known and the the family stories included a story about how she would go in the villages with a bull horn and and and tell the village women about how they they have should have access to birth control at my grandfather would laugh about how your grandmother almost
00:06:38made me lose my job so so my mother could then comes in she cheated goes to graduate school and she was supposed to go back to India have a a good arranged marriage but you know she was active in the civil rights movement naturally because of the family
00:06:52it that she came from and met my father and made the very courageous decision to have a love marriage and %HESITATION in that really as I describe it and think of it was a you know an incredible act of self determination %HESITATION I grew up in an extended
00:07:08family where my second mother %HESITATION Mrs Regina Shelton she emigrated from Louisiana to California on as did her husband Mister Shelton from Arkansas %HESITATION in that wave of black folks in the south who went to California for the jobs that were being created in particular through the naval
00:07:29shipyards and all that and she was a second mother to vent to me and my sister %HESITATION whenever you mean second mother she was she might she kind of co parented with my mother when we were young and my parents divorced when you're down and she was %HESITATION
00:07:46she ran a nursery school we lived on top the nursery school an apartment above enter she's we used to go down that work at the nursery school and volunteer %HESITATION Mrs Shelton was an extraordinary woman in terms of just how much she gave back to the community she
00:08:02ran this nursery school she would always take in foster youth foster children %HESITATION I remember there was a situation where there was a young mother who clearly as I realize now had been experiencing domestic violence and she took in the children for a you know a couple days
00:08:22in and made sure that that mother could get her self together and take care of her situation %HESITATION so I grew up in an incredible environment you mention your mom and your second mom you what about your your dad did you have yet we would be so you
00:08:38know part of that part of the reality of those days when couples got divorced his mother that custody Ashley and %HESITATION without much question in debate %HESITATION we would see my father on the weekends and there is an economics professor X. professor at Stanford and we would %HESITATION
00:08:55spend summers with him from time to time and %HESITATION and he definitely was a part of our life but my mother was the primary let me ask you about him because this was the sixties yeah so that that's sort of noteworthy as well you have an African American
00:09:13man whose %HESITATION pursuing his doctorate in economics would tell me about his family how did he get to that so my father was a national scholar in Jamaica he was an African American but he he was a man made Americans yes yes and he %HESITATION he was and
00:09:34he is very a very smart very smart and academically just hit this was his his passion and he excelled and %HESITATION and became a national scholar and so based on merit he then went on and pursued his passion which was %HESITATION economics and %HESITATION and was at Stanford
00:09:56eventually but met my mother Berkeley so relieved to parents who were drawn here by the opportunity to study at some of the best schools in the world now I just want to ask you in the context of today's debate where we were debating who we should let into
00:10:14our country and so on a day do your parents did their their experiences helped shape your %HESITATION you're thinking about this yes yes of course and I you know I mean listen it is my personal experiences it is also the ex the it is everything I learned in
00:10:35law school it is everything I learned about the history of this country %HESITATION from being a you know at at at a student in college %HESITATION it is all of my experience as a prosecutor that lead me to my perspective on what is wrong about what's happening currently
00:10:53terms of the treatment of immigrants and and what we need to do to correct ourselves and so I say all that to say it is all of those influences that taught me that we are a nation of immigrants all of those influences that have have shown me that
00:11:07when we allow any community of people to live in the shadows they will be the victims of predatory practices in crime all of those experiences which have taught me that we have a constitution of the United States which bestows certain rights therein inalienable %HESITATION we that we are
00:11:25as a country of laws %HESITATION all those experiences which have taught me %HESITATION that we need to provide people with access to an attorney if they're liberty is at stake which is why the first bill that I've tried in the United States Senate is a bill that if
00:11:41passed will give immigrants and refugees the right to have access to an attorney and not frantic scene that we saw just a few weeks to avoid it an injustice because some of a lack of due process but here's the here's the thing I was getting at %HESITATION your
00:11:59your folks %HESITATION made contributions that were really important as two people at all walked in all walks of life but %HESITATION I'm struck I mean I'm the son of an immigrant I'm struck by %HESITATION just how much this country relies on the people coming here and join a
00:12:23N. N. contributing %HESITATION and be our education system obviously is one magnet %HESITATION for it at it seems that something to be celebrated it's certainly something to be celebrated it's also you know I grew up in I grew up in an incredible community it was a very and
00:12:43nurturing environment %HESITATION I grew up in the black community where you know it in again in the seventies when we were still fighting so much about what is unjust the injustices and I put the experience that immigrants are having currently in that category as well %HESITATION when when
00:13:04when any group of people are being denied access work there's a suggestion they should be denied access to fundamental %HESITATION services like public education public health or public safety that's an injustice so I look at it through many lands which include the circumstances of my birth in every
00:13:22way the circumstances of my birth being a child of the civil rights movement the circumstances of my birth being the child of of of people who were not born in this country and and and elected to come here wanted to come here and I look at it again
00:13:35through the lens of my my profession is as a prosecutor do you %HESITATION you know I I obviously %HESITATION my old boss the president Obama yes wrote %HESITATION famously about his search for identity yeah and %HESITATION did you go through a process like that did you I mean
00:13:55the you know what it's yeah it's a I eat are usually when people a year a journalist for example asked me to talk about that what I usually say David is I I'm happy to have that conversation but if you want a topic if you don't have a
00:14:11conversation about race in this country than if you have about four five hours put aside for five days of hard cast so far and then let's go for right now for example so for example my mother understood quite well that she understood what it meant to raise her
00:14:31two daughters in the world in which we were born she knew like we all know the history of this country in terms of the one I throw right one eighth of of black blood you are black and you will be treated that way both in terms of the
00:14:44benefits and in terms of the the the the drawbacks legally my mother knew that she was raising two black daughters would be to black women that's a complicated thing for people to understand %HESITATION when because it because unfortunately some people and for that by saying that and and
00:15:04knowing that that that's not somehow a rejection of who I am as the daughter of an Indian woman down and there is no no I mean I think there's a recognition of the society in which we live and and absolutely I mean if it raises so many points
00:15:17that were now battling today in terms of even you know just what's going on with different communities in terms of stereo types in terms of profiling %HESITATION in terms of desperate treatment based on how one appears what and who want appears to be look at this incident that
00:15:32just happened where Indians were but you did this answer is yes in Kansas where this fellow decided that they would you know basically he must've put a whole bunch of brown people in one category and decided they must be Iranians and and committed horrible act yeah so perception
00:15:51of who someone is can have a direct impact on the experience they have in life you know was moving about that story I mean it was it was horrifying beyond description but there was one element of it that I that I think has been under reported which is
00:16:09that when the shooter was first kicked out of the bar %HESITATION one of the patrons came up to these two ge Indian men who were added who were there and and apologized and want to buy them drinks and then they engaged in this is discussion about about these
00:16:26kinds of attitudes and how negative it is and %HESITATION and then of course when they were shot this courageous young guy gave chase %HESITATION and I I always feel like ever since I read that I feel like I should note that because the the because those folks represent
00:16:48America you know those are of good Americans who reacted in the way you would hope and %HESITATION we should we should not forget that and I and I agree with you completely %HESITATION in this era this I've been referring to it as this post eleven eight world %HESITATION
00:17:07I've been reminding people and myself %HESITATION as of that simple fact that you just presented through that story which is we are a great country in perfect though we maybe we are a great country we were founded on on certain ideals noble ideals right including those words we
00:17:28wrote in seventeen seventy six we are all and should be treated as equals and it is my life experience that the vast majority of people believe in that and will fight for that and will fight against on fairness and justice and and I think that you're absolutely right
00:17:44and and who knows how those folks voted by the way right in the presidential race run %HESITATION because what they did the odds are the odds are though that they may have voted for for Mr trump that's my point yes that's exactly my point a month yes yeah
00:18:01so let me just ask you one last question and I want to talk about your your career in the law and %HESITATION you get sick of these questions I mean you know I mean do you at %HESITATION I know these an anthropological discussions and all of that that
00:18:17that seem to be a fascination when people write about you and probably when people talk to you %HESITATION in in in in discussions like this I mean is there a little thought box above you had sent %HESITATION not this again you know I was raised to do I'm
00:18:36that's just I was raised that you do you do you don't talk about yourself you just do you don't talk about it after you've done it you just do the next and I'm I realized when I first ran for office that people %HESITATION demand that you talk about
00:18:53yourself and it it it just naturally is something that is %HESITATION you know I would prefer to talk about what what needs to get done versus talk about myself so I don't I ask because the influences profile in the times and one of the things they said was
00:19:08that you seem you know reticent about talking about yourself so yeah I just I mean let it asked me to talk about anything about what needs to get done what you know the work I'm happy to do that I don't I don't I think it's something that the
00:19:23things that we need to talk about %HESITATION so much bigger than than me that you know but I'm happy to talk about self but you know I get it but you know the fact is in this on this podcast I try to talk to people about their lives
00:19:36because I think your life informs who your mark I agree but I will say this we are %HESITATION we are a washing politicians like to talk about themselves and it is so I I appreciate your your your reticence in that way %HESITATION we're gonna take a short break
00:19:52and we'll be back with senator Kamel harass you chose to become a lawyer yes %HESITATION it but what's interesting to me is you became a prosecutor %HESITATION very un Berkeley like thing to do %HESITATION we've tell me why you made that decision so you're right to ask the
00:20:12question that way %HESITATION but I'll add something to it which is this I can I was born in Oakland I grew up in Berkeley in the flat lands on the other side of the tracks right you know I am of the family of people and community of people
00:20:27who are marching and chanting for justice and %HESITATION and a community who also historically %HESITATION had relationships with law enforcement that were not good it was law enforcement that enforce the Jim crow laws it was law enforcement that when my mother was marching she shared stories about how
00:20:44%HESITATION that they were marching from Berkeley into Oakland and that police department lined up to say you could not go beyond them so when I %HESITATION when I got out of law school %HESITATION I made a decision to become a prosecutor and you're absolutely correct David my family
00:21:01and extended family sat around and they said oh well now that's a curious to and with some of them I had to defend a decision like one with a thesis right at me most of the people I know who went to law school you know became bitter went
00:21:16to public advocate sorry or ACLU or or they became they became public defenders and my point then which I maintain today is law enforcement has such a profound and direct impact on the most vulnerable among us and has as its responsibility as its job to be a voice
00:21:35for the voiceless and the vulnerable and I wanted to do that work the other point was in is this when you want to improve the system %HESITATION certainly there is a role to be played about you know marching in about banging down the door and sometimes on bended
00:21:53knee there is also a role %HESITATION which is to be at the table where the decisions are made and influence the system from that perch and so that's when I decided to do the other point that all raise with you is this when I as a prosecutor I
00:22:10stood before a jury and said listen the penal code was not designed just to protect the proverbial Snow White when my victim was a prostitute who was drug addicted and also a victim of rape I as the district attorney of San Francisco the elected top law enforcement officer
00:22:32of a major city in this country was able to create and design an initiative focused on giving jobs and education and parenting support to toot former offenders as the Attorney General of the state of California the top cop of the biggest state having the power and the position
00:22:50I was able to create a whole statewide initiative focused on early education and getting in particular poor children %HESITATION access to what they need to be able to go to school every day %HESITATION and it was focused on the ship elementary school truancy so I I recommend to
00:23:09every law student that I %HESITATION mentor you wanna go you want to be great you want to be you want to go into you want to go into fighting for civil rights social justice criminal justice for become a prosecutor because you then have the power to make the
00:23:24decisions which include by the way also acknowledging a certain mess right which is a mess for example that the African American community does not want law enforcement we do we don't want excessive force we don't want racial profiling but we want law enforcement all people want to know
00:23:43if a child is molested if the a woman is raped if if someone is killed all people want to know there will be serious and severe and swift accountability in consequence so I reject the false choices it does raise difficulties though in terms of %HESITATION what well let
00:24:00me just throw this out here I I come from Chicago and %HESITATION you the president keeps mentioning it in his speeches %HESITATION there are neighborhoods in our city where you have %HESITATION unremitting violence and %HESITATION it's been dreadful %HESITATION we've also had cases of excessive force that were
00:24:19dreadful and %HESITATION and very well publicized %HESITATION and %HESITATION the result is there's a reticence on the part of the police and there's a reticence on the part of the community and there's this massive Gulf of trust and in that Gulf you've got gangs flourishing and guidance %HESITATION
00:24:40a blazing %HESITATION how do you how do you balance these things in such a way that you have yeah effective law enforcement in those communities and respect for civil rights and cooperation between the community and police which is necessary as you know to solve these crimes right so
00:24:59there are a number of things %HESITATION first I'll say who I was I was proud as Attorney General California to do %HESITATION what we believe is a national model around we developed a training %HESITATION protocol for police officers on implicit bias and procedural just as the first of
00:25:18its kind and because of the the relationships and the influence that I had as Attorney General of the state %HESITATION working with law enforcement and working with community folks in academics we were able to instituted as as it now a part of the training that is offered for
00:25:36all police officers in the state very important because you know on this issue of implicit bias part of what we have to recognize is that %HESITATION people make quick decisions based on familiar reference points and so you know so that it's it's a it's an interesting thing how
00:25:54the brain works you when you have to make a decision about %HESITATION anything you will go to that thing that is familiar and so what are you making a decision about that could be a decision about what is art what is pleasurable music what is beauty and what
00:26:08is scary so we want to train people who are going to make a decision that could have a consequence on someone else's life we want to train them to reflect on the fact that they may not be considering everything that is happening at that moment that's the training
00:26:23that I'm talking about as Attorney General we we were able to do that with my office and and that is one thing that I think should be a national model to address part of the point that you're raising which is the relationship of trust between the community and
00:26:36and law enforcement I'd so the training peace around implicit bias is important the other piece that is important is to acknowledge that in any relationship of trust be it a professional or personal relationship it is absolutely critical that we speak truth right and because there must be honest
00:26:54in a relationship if there's going to be trust that means recognizing the truth around history of the relationship that many communities have had with law enforcement not only the black media L. L. G. B. T. community can talk about all of the enforcement of laws around sodomy that
00:27:09cause people to be criminalized %HESITATION there is what needs to happen around acknowledging what is going on in various communities all of that is important around the training and the trustees camera put that aside the other point about what I think we had needs to happen to to
00:27:24deal with this point is we have to reform the criminal justice system so that we are not being purely reactive we need to have a of honest conversation about what is the role of of law enforcement and if the in in in in a law enforcement system is
00:27:43it only to enforce the law or is it also especially if you're talking about DA's and and and prosecutors is it also to do everything we can to keep our community safe and if we agree that the goal is ultimately to keep the community safe then we have
00:27:59to appreciate that we will be most effective if we adopt the public health model which teaches us you want to deal with an epidemic bit health or crime smartest most effective and cheapest way to deal with it is prevention first you're dealing with an emergency room of the
00:28:13prison system too late too expensive and that means a lot also creating an environment where law enforcement is a part of the prevention piece and not just the reaction piece California though has been not always a model of prevention but a model of a detention and incarceration restart
00:28:32yeah exactly you know a young man walked into my office at the university of Chicago at the institute of politics %HESITATION the other day Michael Tubbs who you know yes it's not going to zero mayor stock once told me his story yeah which was that his father who
00:28:50is seventeen years old went to prison under three strikes and he's still there today and you know his mother heroically %HESITATION raised him firmly and with great guidance and must be very very proud of him today %HESITATION but %HESITATION it just underscored %HESITATION the fact that you have
00:29:12pretty draconian laws there to have they contributed to safety so we aren't we on did three strikes and rent a couple years ago %HESITATION because it just became very clear based on how it was being used and implement it was not achieving its intended call and %HESITATION you're
00:29:32right California has not been a model of reform %HESITATION we were the first to to to pass three strikes and and the success in California allowed it to be %HESITATION that you knew replicated in other states in fact you'll appreciate the point that you know people say to
00:29:47me all your from the left coast %HESITATION no such thing California voters passed three strikes California brothers that's thirteen proposition thirteen one eighty seven around immigration buttons and done by the course %HESITATION prop eight right so this is %HESITATION California voters are they they tend to be and
00:30:02can be very conservative what I think is important going forward is that we start to evaluate each of these states and our criminal justice system in a way that we apply metrics are in ounces of effectiveness I think that's that's gonna be were if we do that that's
00:30:18where we make the leap okay which is applying metrics to our analysis looking at for example like in California where %HESITATION within three years of release of up to seventy percent of of those who are incarcerated ria Fenton that's just a bad return on the investment I love
00:30:35my friends in the private sector they are cold blooded in their analysis of their effectiveness unburned biology they just as simply what's the our ally we need to do that in terms of the criminal justice system and we'll see that were family taxpayers the other piece that I
00:30:49would on the really high I strongly urge us all to do all of us who want to see reform in the systems is we have got to fight for the adoption of technology by government I'm gonna tell you why we have in maintaining government incredible troves of information
00:31:07call data about all of these folks were in these systems and we collect this data and we put it in a room and we close the door and it gathers dust but now technology exists for us to be able to analyze all that data to see where we
00:31:23are in terms of that the the the patterns and and and really do an analysis of the return on the investment you know for example out and I'll say this about technology you know when I came at a law school we had big data right and you know
00:31:36it looked like it was just really tall aluminum file cabinet thousands of files and is big data now with technology big data means a whole other thing right we can write code switch a button and analyze all that and I think that's going to be part of the
00:31:52the the the step toward making this much more persuasive the point which is that you don't have to agree with me ideologically about what's not fair it's literally that the taxpayers are not getting a fair return on the investment the other piece is we started a whole big
00:32:09data initiative when I was a day of California around criminal justice %HESITATION around deaths in custody police officers killed in the line of duty and arrest rates because I had one of the largest sources of information about people who are incarcerated and arrested because it's the largest state
00:32:25in terms of population anime tell you David what it showed without any depth of analysis and then I challenge all of the press and academics also test our hypotheses what we saw with at any depth of analysis is this California on California's black population six percent of the
00:32:40population but twenty over to almost twenty five percent in custody deaths so that put aside then the conversation that was happening where people were saying a black lives matter is they're just shouting and and they're marching in and what are they talking about well perhaps they're talking about
00:32:57it with the antidote and emotion but they're talking about the same thing the data shows which are there there are disparities in the system based on race what do you the president's been talk about crime lately he's been injecting that in two speeches as we sit here and
00:33:11chat a today he's about to speak to a joint session of Congress and my guess is it may come up again tonight and %HESITATION he is conveyed to sense that crime is out of control all over the country using Chicago as a kind of poster child for that
00:33:28but that's that's not true it is not true and it it's deeply troubling because this is exactly what got us into the mass which is creating a climate of fear and and and subdued attempting to sound tough %HESITATION in order to beat it for people to assume that
00:33:49he is in fact tough in dealing with the problems if you think it's do you think there's rate that is there's racism in it surrounding it I think it's it's it's loaded with all kinds of things that are really all about politics and not about policy and not
00:34:07about fact and that is that your your agile enough not to answer my question well but I do I truly believe that it is in a racially sort of tends to a little bit of when you say of course unless of course there's that component that's part of
00:34:23the history of this topic in our country right it's the Willie Horton that that's still that still exists I'm so yeah of course there is that piece of it it is also %HESITATION it you know when people are when you make people feel afraid and then you know
00:34:40then they will look there there I guess he's assuming that the look at him for some guidance about creating a solution so it's it's a problem it's it's a solution in search of a problem as as is set and it's %HESITATION it's irresponsible beforehand best before you got
00:34:59here %HESITATION and I know you were are the movement to encourage this Congress was working toward some sort of significant criminal justice reform and %HESITATION now we have Jeff sessions as Attorney General are you less confident that that can get ten you have organizations like the coke brothers
00:35:22%HESITATION for their their crew and so on and working in favor of criminal justice reform it's been kind of an interesting left right coalition on this issue do you %HESITATION do you think it's a doable thing now so I it here's how I think about criminal justice policy
00:35:40I think we have been offered false choices a country the false choice is to suggest that you're either soft on crime or you're tough on crime instead of asking are we smart on crime and by that I mean again looking at the public health model which is taught
00:35:53as prevention is a smart way to achieve safety than reaction and my concern is I I've just read that %HESITATION now Attorney General sessions is talking about shutting down or or minimizing the work that the United States department of justice is done an investigating cases of of excessive
00:36:14force and racial profiling on it is it is doing a disservice to all of us and I'm deeply troubled by and what about the the bigger project %HESITATION for sentencing reform in so and you do you see that moving forward I'm you would write a Miller that I
00:36:32yeah and I when I want to be and I've talked with some of of my colleagues here both Democrats and Republicans I am hoping that we're gonna be able to make some headway I think that on the issue for example for example of opioid abuse %HESITATION you know
00:36:47part we still have lingering effects of that war on drugs which was a failure sentencing reform is going is will be a part of of of repairing the harm that was created by that one drug and that of course cuts a wide swath right through the basics of
00:37:02president trump's conceptually right and that and see you and that again is the point of of what is wrong with this this approach that is about reaction and not looking at things like drug crime through the lens of of of a public health matter as much as a
00:37:16criminal justice matter on it's just doing a disservice to families and communities and we were just paying so much more to to put it in the criminal justice system and not treated also in the public you still for you but you think there's still a possibility to get
00:37:29some I think there is if we've I think we can find common ground if we start a discussion around opioid abuse and what we need to do around treating it as a public health matter and by that I mean looking at what we can do to encourage %HESITATION
00:37:45public health responses to the substance abuse aspect of it %HESITATION instead of the acting by incarcerating a bunch of of people who are who are substance abusers and and and have mental health %HESITATION related issues some of them and have issues that relate to their families and their
00:38:02children I think we can be much smarter in the terms of the way that we handle the issue so that it becomes less of an issue than it is right now and I think that Republicans like Democrats go back to their states and they meet with these families
00:38:16they meet with the parents of these young people who are addicted they meet with the children of the parents were addicted and they know it's a real issue for them places like Kansas places like West Virginia about a variety of states that that are not burdened by whether
00:38:33the the the substance abusers a Democrat or Republican it's just a problem yeah we had a JT Vance on yeah right on on this hot gas at the university Frank talk about his book hill hillbilly Elena and his his mom got swept up in this drug %HESITATION epidemic
00:38:54as did many in his community and he's gone back there to work on it so it's %HESITATION it's a pervasive it's pervasive problem close of problem let me just we but we have to put the we have to understand that that it's been marginalized as affecting certain communities
00:39:11and not others and it is the drug abuse is something that does not discriminate based on race and frankly not even based on class because I made it up plenty of of families who also have a concern on the upper middle class families about prescription drug abuse you
00:39:27know frankly of we have at our country has an insatiable appetite for drugs we need to deal with that at its core your interesting talking to him though %HESITATION and we had a little colloquy between him and a guy named Alex caught Lewis who wrote a book called
00:39:45there are no children here years ago about the projects of Chicago in the Sir the dystopia there and what was interesting was how similar the experiences war and the common element was sort of lack of economic opportunity yeah and and and hope so this drug crisis obviously it's
00:40:05addictive but it's also symptomatic of something larger yeah so for years I worked on %HESITATION the issue of children who are growing home growing up in a in a community or home where there is violence and %HESITATION and origin children who are experiencing trauma so post traumatic stress
00:40:29disorder in children that goes on diagnosed and treated and you know be clear that poverty induces trauma and again it does not distinguish based on race and so the need for addressing it early on in that child's life detecting it diagnosing and treating it because unless we do
00:40:51like any normal human being %HESITATION anyone experiencing trauma does not like feeling pain so they will find ways to not feel that pain and that is where the drugs and alcohol Kickin and so part of what I think we have to do a better job of in terms
00:41:10of public policy push on the issue of drug addiction and and and these various communities is also do much more men intervention with children who are growing up in these homes and making sure that we are giving them all that they need so that they can they can
00:41:24live through that experience in a way that allows them to be healthy I would submit that we also have to go to the core issue which is if you have communities in which %HESITATION economic opportunities healthcare no no question I'm only talking about that the band aid you're
00:41:39absolutely right now there's no question I %HESITATION I had to turn from this subject to the hum drum business of %HESITATION supporting our show but we have to take a short break and we'll be right back let me talk a little bit about %HESITATION the political moment in
00:41:57which we're in and how Democrats sort this out %HESITATION there are there's a point of view some of it emanating right there from the bay area where you where you come from that %HESITATION but the order of the day is to resist and resist everything in other words
00:42:19whatever this president says whatever he does whoever your point should be resisted %HESITATION and in part of that was is is is provoked by a sense that that's the way %HESITATION present Obama was treated part of it is based on outrage about some of the approaches of a
00:42:36of a Donald Trump %HESITATION how do you how do you %HESITATION react to that net what's what's your strategy for dealing with this president in your new job as a center well you know I could I I start with the perspective that to the extent that there is
00:42:59any %HESITATION possibility of alignment I would welcome that but at the point that we differ in terms of basic principles and priorities them working after fine do you see any any possibility that you see things that are bubbling up that you are not on what you might want
00:43:17to work with them in with the administration infrastructure %HESITATION if there is an and genuine desire to do that in a way that is about %HESITATION supporting for example California's needs we have %HESITATION I just toward the the the Orville dam %HESITATION where they were incredible flooding %HESITATION
00:43:38because the infrastructure was just compromised because it's frail because it has gone like in many places in the state without %HESITATION adequate maintenance and an upgrade and this is relates to water it relates to transportation throughout the country %HESITATION if if there is a genuine desire by this
00:43:56administration to focus on infrastructure and upgrading infrastructure in this country around water and transportation I would will joyfully work with the administration on that if if it is a true commitment to actually putting the resources into the states to build back up the infrastructure which by the way
00:44:15will also produce jobs %HESITATION on an issue like immigration how would you how would that be received but I mean I'm I I welcome that I like kinda question the efficacy of saying no we're not gonna repair that damn because it would have politically negative implications I I
00:44:35think that that's a that's a bad run a productive that's what doctor but how would that be received in %HESITATION if you're having a town hall in Berkeley I think it would be well received them I believe most people to be reasonable people and if people understand that
00:44:53where we can do something that is about bringing jobs to the state and improving the quality of life people have because we have you know roads that are repaired war we have dams that are that are %HESITATION reformed and replaced then %HESITATION and and and water infrastructure around
00:45:10storage of water then I think people welcome then %HESITATION but I've not seen any movement toward that yet and so I will tell you the current relationship I have with this administration which is %HESITATION in particular through the committees I sit on and the appointments that this president
00:45:27has made to his cabinet and we have strong disagreements and I've been fighting against those for example what is going on around this Muslim ban outrageous outrageous and so the work there has been everything from critically %HESITATION the questioning a general Kelly who has since been confirmed it
00:45:48but I voted against him but confirmed as the head of homeland security to calling him up that weekend when the %HESITATION when the executive order was issued because I was getting numerous calls from attorneys were at Dulles and LAX and SFO trying have access to these refugees and
00:46:04being denied %HESITATION when I when I learned that that the %HESITATION they were making decisions about these refugees who had been in a vetting process for two years and had cleared that vetting process and and they were still denying them %HESITATION legal entry at that point we we
00:46:22have to find it let me ask you about another one which is the Supreme Court appointment yeah as you know to just judge garland languished %HESITATION without a hearing for the better part of a year %HESITATION and %HESITATION so there are those who say Democrats should filibustered %HESITATION
00:46:40judge Gorsuch where you find and let's just stipulate because I I don't wanna waste your time that I'm sure you're gonna give him due consideration and all of that stuff yeah we'll stipulate the disclaimers but where do you where we also stipulated to sixty percent threshold yeah well
00:47:00I mean if is that that is the issue the issue I I presume that you may find reason to oppose his nomination think that that that that is Sir a serious concern of mine I haven't fully vetted his %HESITATION his background yet but based on what I have
00:47:17read and now %HESITATION I have serious concerns about his role in in in terms of for example hobby lobby %HESITATION serious concerns about his interpretation of of of whether corporation is a person or not and %HESITATION but I I do believe that we should maintain the sixty percent
00:47:35threshold so you wouldn't feel about you wouldn't %HESITATION you know you think you were you should so you think I should you would %HESITATION man yeah filibuster we'll save if the circumstances were you opposes if you pose nomination you think that the sixty should be %HESITATION I think
00:47:54that we should not we should not allow I'm getting tangled up in my own words yeah we should not allow the rules to change in this with these were the rules under president Obama Democrats agree to it rightly even though we were in the majority and it shouldn't
00:48:12be maintained which is for the for a confirmation of a of a of an individual to sit on the highest court in this land there should be a sixty vote threshold and nothing lasts but the the ability to change the rules it may be out of your hand
00:48:27you're right with fifty two Republic you're right your correct so %HESITATION doesn't mean we don't fight all right so you're you're basically urging that Democrats force McConnell and orders to the to produce sixty vote exactly yes in and and and David here's the thing it again let's take
00:48:50this out of the and it is the political Graham and just talk about the significance of the United States Supreme Court and the impact the directed impact impact it has on real human beings had oral warrant it the previous a previous Attorney General California not lead the unanimous
00:49:09court to decide brown V. board of education I would not be here talking to you as a United States senator he had decisions but not been made around voting rights act and and and what needs to happen around issues like choice those lives would have been very different
00:49:30and so the the end and we know that members of the United States Supreme Court stay there for a very long time and we have to we have to give deference to the responsibility the enormous responsibility of those positions and have a process that is fair and that
00:49:48high it has the highest standard in terms of the threshold by which someone will ultimately be able to sit on that court there's a a movement that's been organized to challenge Democrats who %HESITATION are seen as complicit are compromising with %HESITATION %HESITATION with president %HESITATION and presumably the
00:50:06Supreme Court will be one you've got a bunch of colleagues who were from more conservative states %HESITATION what would you say to those who say they should be punished if they stray so here's what I have said twenty eighteen is really important and I've got plenty of friends
00:50:31who are really watching very closely what each person dies in terms of the votes they take but to my friends I'm saying this you may not agree with everything that some of the twenty eighteen folks Democrats %HESITATION would you may not agree with everyone of their positions we
00:50:51need the numbers we need those numbers and so %HESITATION I do it's just it just practically speaking %HESITATION I hope that we don't walk away from it other Democrats we may not agree with on everything because ultimately we need to come as close as we can to that
00:51:11sixty percent and the numbers matter yeah and states differ in California is not %HESITATION over five Democrats who are going to be running in twenty eighteen in states where trump one by almost double digits so we you know I mean and this is a question perhaps for everyone
00:51:31to ask and reconcile with the you know themselves and their god which is is it more important to it you know what's more important is an important to keep those five or to sacrifice them for the sake of %HESITATION you know where you know this happened with our
00:51:48politics other people on both sides to say you know I'd I'd rather not I'd rather have no one there than someone who or no one from my party then someone who is complicit in supporting policies or appointments or a president who %HESITATION who I find %HESITATION you know
00:52:08unacceptable I I just don't think it's a zero sum game and that's my point I don't think that we can I don't think that %HESITATION when we're talking about this issue is that we can %HESITATION afford to only think about an all or nothing game when there are
00:52:25some Democrats were up and we don't want those those seats to shift to a Republican in this in this environment so any and I I don't I don't necessarily I don't agree with my colleagues democratic colleagues on on these is certain issues so I completely understand the need
00:52:42for advocacy not suggesting anything other than that we should everyone should be advocating that should be speaking they should be speaking out they should be attending the rallies that should be attending the the town halls I act I strongly encourage that that happens but at the end of
00:52:56the day it's a question that that we just it's it's a practical real question that we're gonna all have to answer which is what do we want and for those Democrats were running in those states %HESITATION do we want that they will be there at the end of
00:53:12the day are we willing to let them go and was I I'm pointing out is an issue that that must be knowledge well you're like a big hot ticket in the Democratic Party now you're the you're one of the big new things and you're going to be asked
00:53:26to %HESITATION campaign all over this country are there any colleagues on the democratic side who you wouldn't campaign for now let's talk about the hot new ticket thing because this is a party of that is %HESITATION was stunned obviously on eleven eight as you as you put it
00:53:47and the the question immediately became a what now and who can lead us forward %HESITATION and %HESITATION I actually worked for a new senator who immediately started figuring in the national speculation and one Barack Obama came to the Senate it wasn't his intention to run for president in
00:54:05two thousand eight and we were very leery of it because we don't want the folks back home to think that that he was just having a Cup of coffee on his way to somewhere else I presume you feel the same way absolutely %HESITATION and what he did and
00:54:18he ruled out running for office in two thousand and eight %HESITATION and then he ended up having to re re send that so %HESITATION in order to avoid discomfort later I want to give you the chance to answer that question and quite quite the question is %HESITATION do
00:54:39you would you would you rule out running on on a national ticket either on the top or as a vice presidential candidate in two thousand and twenty it's that it that it I'm absolutely not thinking about that at all ask you to think about okay well I'm kind
00:54:54of you but right now we have so many battles right in front of us I've seen so many people focus on that thing out there and they trip over the thing right in front of them is so not worth it because right now the thing in front of
00:55:05us is very real it mean like our bill in terms of access to counsel %HESITATION what we're doing in terms of fighting for the dreamers in the dock a kids what we're doing in terms of potentially having to fight as it relates to you know whether Jeff sessions
00:55:20is going to be the one doing an investigation a around issues that he probably should recuse himself on the same thing with Scott Pruett who I voted against two is now going to be the head of the EPA and as Attorney General Oklahoma he sued the EPA this
00:55:35agency he now runs but has refused to say he'd recuse himself from those those cases there is so much happening right now and %HESITATION and it's frankly it's a it's a very troubling time I'm I'm not using the word scary because I don't want to sound like an
00:55:49alarmist but there are a lot of very big issues that are on the table right now we have to we have to be alert and present like right now yeah no I I hear you there's that there's an incredible amount of of potential undoing of everything that Barack
00:56:05Obama and others including George Bush put in place you know you mention sessions %HESITATION and there's something that I neglected to ask we're talking about the police issue yeah there were some %HESITATION consent decrees or or a memo %HESITATION or agreements to negotiate consent degrees in Chicago in
00:56:24Baltimore now up to this justice department to follow up on it %HESITATION there's some discussion that that's not going to happen because Attorney General sessions has said he wants to take a more a two pro police friend %HESITATION stand how how will you react if they decide not
00:56:46to move for %HESITATION I'm very troubled by that and it also say this as a career prosecutor by worked my entire adult career with cops and the vast majority of them take seriously their oath and they do a good job and then there are the bad apples and
00:57:09they may not talk about it publicly but they want as much as you and I that we get rid of the bad apples they know that it's not in their best interest it's not in the best interest of their safety is not in the best interest of just
00:57:23that that that the sacrifices they make every day knowing that they may not come home at night so the idea that that that this top law enforcement officer for the country would say we're not going to go after the bad apples is ridiculous and it's counterproductive it's absolutely
00:57:39counterproductive it's no secret that there are bad apples and where they exist there should be as much consequence and accountability for them as anybody else who commits a crime or fails to follow the rules and this is not about again it's a false choice that's being presented here
00:57:58either pro police officer or your pro civil rights enforcement that's a ridiculous false choice you can and should be both N. do you what do you think the motivation for this do you think is rooted in politics or do you think it's rooted in philosophy I don't know
00:58:19but I think it's it's rooted in eight ignorance frankly you've never been in a %HESITATION and and I I just want to leave this here this is your first I just laid of body you've been a prosecutor you've run %HESITATION %HESITATION an attorney general's office %HESITATION how are
00:58:40you how are you reacting to how are you adjusting to being one of a hundred in a body that isn't run by your own party I would think there's an adjustment period for someone who's used to having a staff being able make decisions %HESITATION being able to see
00:58:56the results of what you've done %HESITATION and there's no question there's an adjustment I mean as as Attorney General and as de I work very closely with the legislature and been helped %HESITATION pass the number of lines %HESITATION little known fact I was a when I was at
00:59:11Howard University as a sophomore I was a Senate intern for Alan Cranston then senior center California who Barbara boxer succeeded and now I'm I'm here I'm but you're right there is %HESITATION it is a different %HESITATION process but having said that I also say that you're right that
00:59:31this is a different time than we've seen before and that there are some of the some traditions of the Senate that just don't apply to this point in time at least for Democrats and that relates to for example speaking out and speaking loudly about %HESITATION a number of
00:59:47issues that we know are wrong and disagree with I think I've always seen that in my office is there are three elements of power there is the element of power that comes with the statutory technical responsibility of the job there is the power that comes with the bully
01:00:03pulpit at any moment I can have a my bouquet of microphones in front of me right and been hopefully then we use that as an opportunity to elevate public discourse in public education and then the third piece which I think is sorely Andy is is the is the
01:00:16power to convene to bring people together around a common issue and break through silos and actually move an agenda for work and I look at those as being co equal frankly in terms of the impact that we can have on people and and and human lives and so
01:00:31that's how we've been approaching this job it's been from all of those angles and %HESITATION and so far I think we're having some impact I was %HESITATION home this week and and convening refugees were coming from Syria and talking about what we can do in terms of giving
01:00:48them a ball bully pulpit in terms of their experience so that hopefully we can impact public perception about who these families are %HESITATION it's been the work of of of meeting with folks were working on criminal justice policy to again highlight the good work that is happening and
01:01:03and hopefully have some impact on my colleagues who are listening to this reactive kind of stuff and hopefully get them to a place where we are are more productive than that so you're a you're just yes I must say that now that I know what were the roofs
01:01:20of the name Kamel of the fact that you described %HESITATION the microphones in front of you is a bouquet makes more more sent us an a plus center Kamel Harris thank you so much for being with us thank you for listening to the axe files part at the
01:01:38CNN podcast network for more episodes of the X. files is at CNN dot com slash podcast and subscribe on iTunes stitcher or your favorite apps and for more programming from the university of Chicago institute of politics is it politics dot uchicago dot EDU

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