Former Sen. Barbara Boxer says Kamala Harris should apologize for her prosecutorial record if she believes she erred

Suzanne Smalley
·Reporter
·4 min read

Former Sen. Barbara Boxer told Yahoo News on Wednesday that Kamala Harris should apologize to voters if she believes she erred.

“I would never tell anybody else what to do, but I do think people want the truth, and you have a record,” Boxer said during an interview with Yahoo News’ “Skullduggery” podcast.

“It’s perfectly right for people to attack it or praise it, and you just have to respond with the truth. ... I believe that we all have to take the criticism when we are wrong. There’s nothing wrong with that. You just have to step up and admit it and say, ‘I didn’t see it right.’ She’ll do that.”

Boxer, who occupied the Senate seat from California now held by Harris, made those comments when asked about a part of the presumptive vice presidential nominee’s résumé that has drawn sharp criticism from progressives: her record as a prosecutor.

Harris was San Francisco’s district attorney and then California’s attorney general before she was elected to the Senate in 2016. And she had a reputation as a tough-on-crime prosecutor who resisted calls for criminal justice reform, including opposing a bill that would have required state investigations of shootings by police officers and regulating the use of body cameras by officers.

Boxer said that voters disturbed by Harris’s record as a prosecutor need to remember that social mores evolve — and so do politicians’ understanding of the issues. She pointed out that she, along with most other senators, voted for the 1994 crime bill that Joe Biden authored. That bill, passed when violent crime was at a historic high amid the crack epidemic, has since been condemned for contributing to mass incarceration.

“I voted for the crime bill, the [Congressional] Black Caucus, almost every member voted for the crime bill,” Boxer said. “We didn’t realize what would happen. And that was a failure. ... We all make mistakes, and we have to step up and say … ‘I didn't see the unintended consequences.’”

Lara Bazelon, a professor at the University of San Francisco School of Law who wrote a scathing New York Times opinion piece last year titled “Kamala Harris Was Not a Progressive Prosecutor,” also joined “Skullduggery” to discuss Harris’s selection. Bazelon said she wrote the piece because Harris called herself a “progressive prosecutor” when she started campaigning for president.

Kamala Harris
Sen. Kamala Harris at her presidential campaign launch rally in Oakland, Calif., January 2019. (Mason Trinca/Getty Images)

“I knew that that was completely inaccurate,” Bazelon said. “She opposed the legalization of marijuana; she opposed bail reform; she opposed DNA testing for a death row prisoner who many people believe is innocent named Kevin Cooper; she fought to uphold wrongful convictions.”

Bazelon said Harris has reversed her positions since becoming a senator, suddenly taking “classically progressive” stances.

“I think it was because progressives called her out during the presidential run and because she understood the zeitgeist was moving on criminal justice quite far to the left and she had to go there,” Bazelon said. “Even though 2015 seems like yesterday from the perspective of progressive prosecution, it’s about 100 years ago. ... It’s a different era.”

Boxer, meanwhile, said Harris’s prosecutorial record really is a side issue, since she is running on Biden’s ticket and his views will come first. But the former senator gave both Harris and the former vice president credit for getting through what must have been an awkward post-primary conversation. Harris and Biden repeatedly clashed during the Democratic primary debates, with the California senator delivering some pointed criticisms of Biden’s record.

“It was very big of Joe in many ways to say, you know, you went after me, but I’ll chalk it up to politics,” Boxer said. “What she did was tough — very tough. So it says a lot about Joe and it says a lot about Kamala, that she could talk to Joe and say, ‘I was running for president, I was rough.’”

Boxer told Yahoo News that she is galvanized by the diversity on the Democratic ticket. She also said she had told the Biden campaign it should pick a woman of color to be his vice president.

“We have never been faced with a president who really disparages diversity,” Boxer said of President Trump. “He’s racist, and we need to have another message. And you can talk all you want, but when you see a ticket that’s diverse like this, to me it is inspiring, it is exciting, and it says almost everything that needs to be said.”

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