Kamala Harris gets personal, delivers civil rights blow on Biden at Democrats' presidential debate

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Senator Kamala Harris speaks during the second night of the first Democratic presidential candidates debate in Miami, Florida, on June 27, 2019. (REUTERS/Mike Segar)
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Democratic presidential hopefuls (fromL) Mayor of South Bend, Indiana Pete Buttigieg, Former US Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., US Senator for Vermont Bernie Sanders and US Senator for California Kamala Harris speak during the second Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season hosted by NBC News at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami, Florida, on June 27, 2019. (AFP / SAUL LOEB)
Updated 28 June 2019

Kamala Harris gets personal, delivers civil rights blow on Biden at Democrats' presidential debate

  • Senator Harris criticized Biden for recently “defending segregationists” in the Senate
  • Biden, a former vice president, responded that his record was mischaracterized

WASHINGTON: Kamala Harris spoke slowly but bluntly as she stared at Joe Biden, then began treating him as a hostile witness.
The former federal prosecutor turned California senator started by saying she didn’t think the former vice president “was a racist.” But she criticized him for recently “defending segregationists” in the Senate and for once opposing mandatory busing of students to desegregated public schools.
Harris described a young girl in the 1970s who boarded such buses before dramatically offering, “That little girl was me.”
The moment was as powerful as it was unexpected, a searing line of attack against Biden, who served as vice president to the first African American president. Biden entered back-to-back nights of Democratic presidential debates in Miami as the leading Democratic candidate. Harris showed promise but had not made much of a mark lately.
That changed Thursday.
That Harris and other Democratic presidential hopefuls would come out swinging against Biden was no surprise, and her verbal strike was hardly spontaneous. Moments after the exchange, her campaign tweeted a picture of a school-age Harris with pigtails, over the caption: “There was a little girl in California who was bussed to school. That little girl was me.”
In deeply personal tones, Harris hammered Biden for policy choices that she suggested betrayed the spirit of the civil rights movement, if not directly opposing all it stood for. Then she really hit her stride, exhibiting the controlled force of a practiced cross-examiner.
“Do you agree today that you were wrong to oppose busing in America?” Harris asked.
A visibly angry Biden responded that his record was mischaracterized. But he was left denying Harris’ comments on a technicality, saying he didn’t oppose public school busing, just it being ordered by the Department of Education — decrying federal intervention on the issue on behalf of states.
Harris shot back, “There are moments in history where states fail to support the civil rights of people.”
Biden offered only curt responses after that, and was so flustered that he failed to lean on his time as Obama’s vice president — seeming unsure of himself for prolonged stretches on national television.
Senior advisers to Biden insisted afterward that they weren’t surprised by the confrontation with Harris and were satisfied with his response in the time allowed. They noted that while he dismissed Harris’ characterization of his relationship with segregationist senators in his early years in the Senate more than 45 years ago, Biden appeared to be listening while she criticized his position on busing.
“I thought it was an important moment. He listened. And you don’t judge other people’s pain,” said Cedric Richmond, Biden’s campaign chairman.
Richmond added that, had Biden had more time, he would have spent it discussing his campaign’s focus on educational opportunity, and his work in the Obama administration curbing disproportionate school arrests of African American students.
“We know that we are the front-runner and that people are going to try to bring the front-runner down,” said Richmond, a Louisiana congressman. “Since when is experience and wisdom a bad thing?“
Adding to the drama, though, was the fact that Harris and Biden have long been friends. She grew close to the former vice president’s son, Beau, during their time as state attorneys general. Harris served in California while Beau Biden was serving in Delaware. The two were partners during negotiations with banks amid the foreclosure crisis and Harris texted and talked with Beau Biden daily, sometimes more, before his death in 2015 after being diagnosed with brain cancer.
When Joe Biden endorsed Harris during her 2016 Senate race, he noted that his son “always supported her.”
At a fundraiser last week, Biden hailed the importance of “civility” in politics, mentioning that he worked decades ago alongside senators who supported segregation. Biden has been roundly criticized by members of his own party for the comments, but hasn’t apologized.
Others also tried to hit Biden during Thursday’s debate. Mere moments into the action, 38-year-old California Rep. Eric Swalwell recalled being just 6 when he saw Biden speak, saying the ex-vice president was “right when he said it was time to pass the torch to a new generation of Americans.”
Biden, 76, was better prepared for quips about his age, retorting, “I’m still holding onto that torch.” Subsequently jumping to Biden’s defense was 77-year-old Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who said the issue “is not generational.”
Harris appeared to want to defuse things, saying: “Hey, guys. You wanna know what America does not want to witness? A food fight. They want to know how they’re going to put food on the table.”
But that only set the stage for Harris’ dramatic exchange with Biden later.
Afterward, even some of Harris’ rivals praised her performance. New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said, “What Kamala said was a fair shot.”


Malaysia’s Anwar says has ‘strong’ support to form govt

Updated 20 min 7 sec ago

Malaysia’s Anwar says has ‘strong’ support to form govt

  • The Southeast Asian nation has been in turmoil since an alliance that swept to power in 2018
  • Muhyiddin Yassin became premier at the head of a coalition backed by a scandal-plagued party which had been ousted at the polls two years earlier
KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim said Wednesday he had the “strong” backing of lawmakers in parliament and was seeking an audience with the king to form a new government.
The Southeast Asian nation has been in turmoil since an alliance that swept to power in 2018, which was headed by Mahathir Mohamad and included Anwar, collapsed in February amid bitter infighting.
Muhyiddin Yassin became premier at the head of a coalition backed by a scandal-plagued party which had been ousted at the polls two years earlier, but he had only a wafer-thin majority in parliament.
Speaking at a press conference in Kuala Lumpur, veteran politician Anwar — who has long sought to become prime minister — said he now had the backing of enough MPs to form the government and oust Muhyiddin.
“Conclusively we have a strong, formidable majority,” he said, but did not reveal the number of lawmakers backing him.
“The government under the leadership of Muhyiddin Yassin has fallen.”
A government must command the support of a majority of the 222 MPS in parliament.
The was no immediate reaction from Muhyiddin. He was due to give a televised address to the nation later Wednesday.
Anwar said he had been granted an audience with the king on Tuesday but the meeting was postponed as the monarch is receiving treatment at a heart center in Kuala Lumpur.
The 73-year-old said he would meet with the king, who formally appoints the country’s prime minister, once he recovers, and would reveal more details to the public afterwards.

Anwar said a number of MPs had “expressed their deep dissatisfaction with the current leadership.”
“They recognize that the country must have strong, stable and accountable leadership to manage the crisis and to do so with compassion and concern for the plight of all people who are struggling in this pandemic economy.”
His move came ahead of weekend elections for the legislature in the eastern state of Sabah, which will be a major test of the current government’s popularity.
Muhyiddin’s government has had the difficult task of leading Malaysia through the coronavirus pandemic, and the economy suffered its worst contraction in more than 20 years in the second quarter amid a strict lockdown.
Long-time opposition leader Anwar was a key figure in the alliance that won a shock victory at landmark elections in 2018, toppling a scandal-plagued coalition that had ruled Malaysia uninterrupted for over six decades.
Voters kicked out the old regime in large part due to anger at former premier Najib Razak’s involvement in a massive financial scandal which saw billions looted from state coffers.
Mahathir, now 95, became prime minister for a second time and Anwar was released from jail, where he had been serving a sentence after being convicted of dubious sodomy charges.
Mahathir had promised one-time nemesis Anwar he would hand over power to him once he stepped down, but tensions grew between rival factions amid suspicions that Mahathir would renege on the deal.
Mahathir then quit as premier, leading to the government’s collapse.
Muhyiddin outmaneuvered Mahathir and succeeded in forming a coalition dominated by the country’s Muslim majority that included Najib’s party, and was appointed premier by the king without an election.
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