Sen. Kamala D. Harris called Rep. Tulsi Gabbard an “apologist” for Syrian dictator Bashar Assad after Wednesday’s Democratic presidential debate, following Ms. Gabbard’s own takedown of Ms. Harris’ record on criminal justice issues during the debate.
“I mean, listen — this is going to sound immodest, but I’m obviously a top-tier candidate, and so I did expect that I would be on the stage and take hits tonight because there are a lot of people that are trying to make the stage for the next debate,” Ms. Harris said on CNN.
“Especially when people are at 0 or 1% or whatever she might be at,” Ms. Harris said of Ms. Gabbard. “I did expect that I might take hits tonight, but I think that this coming from someone who has been an apologist for an individual, Assad, who has murdered the people of his country like cockroaches, she who has embraced and been an apologist for him in a way that she refuses to call him a war criminal — I can only take what she says and her opinion so seriously.”
For her part, Ms. Gabbard said on CNN after the debate that it’s unfortunate Ms. Harris was resorting to “cheap smears.”
Ms. Gabbard, Hawaii Democrat and an Iraq War veteran, said she’s willing to do what she can to prevent “regime change” war.
“So if that means meeting with a dictator or meeting with an adversary, absolutely, I would do it,” she said.
Asked if she considers Mr. Assad a torturer or a murderer, Ms. Gabbard said: “That’s not what this is about.”
“I don’t defend or apologize or have anything to do with what he has done to his own people,” she said.
In one of the debate’s sharpest exchanges, Ms. Gabbard went after the record of Ms. Harris, a former attorney general of California and district attorney of San Francisco, accusing her of blocking evidence that would have freed an innocent man from death row and keeping people in prison beyond their sentence to use as “cheap labor” for the state.
“She put over 1,500 people in jail for marijuana violations and then laughed about it when she was asked if she ever smoked marijuana,” Ms. Gabbard said during the debate.
Ms. Harris responded that she was proud of her work as the California attorney general, saying she helped reform the state’s criminal justice system and that she’s always been personally opposed to the death penalty.
“I think you can judge people by when they are under fire and it’s not about some fancy opinion on a stage but when they’re in the position to actually make a decision, what do they do,” she said.