Kamala Harris made history as the first woman, African-American, and Asian-American to become vice president of the United States.
However, now that she has risen to the rank of VP, some of her political moves and statements over the years have come back to bite her.
Not buying it? Here are some of the biggest controversies of Kamala Harris.
She referenced an Abraham Lincoln quote that doesn’t exist
Politicians often turn to some famous faces for inspiration. And during the 2020 vice presidential debate with Mike Pence, Kamala drew on some words of wisdom from Abraham Lincoln.
Harris argued that Supreme Court nominations should be delayed until after the presidential election. She told a story about Abraham Lincoln to support her point. When he was running for reelection as president, a seat became open on the Supreme Court 27 days before the election.
“But Honest Abe said it’s not the right thing to do,” she claimed. “The American people deserve to make the decision about who will be the next president of the United States. And then that person can select who will serve for a lifetime on the highest court of our land.”
There is just one problem: according to FactCheck.org, while Abraham Lincoln did wait until after the election to choose his nominee for the Supreme Court, he never stated his reason for doing so. As a result, Harris has faced criticism for putting words in Lincoln’s mouth.
RELATED: The Unknown Truth of Kamala Harris
She went from criticizing Biden to becoming his biggest supporter
Before she became Joe Biden’s running mate, Kamala Harris wanted to run for president herself. And so she participated as a potential Democrat candidate during a debate on June 27, 2019.
During the debate, she didn’t pull any punches with Joe Biden. As Newsweek reports, she called out Biden for his praise of senators who built “their reputations and career on segregation of race in this country.” She also called out Biden’s opposition to public busing. “You also worked with them to oppose busing. And you know, there was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools and she was bused to school every day, and that little girl was me.”
After thoroughly chastising Biden in that debate, Harris’s decision to support him and become his running mate caused some controversy. Later, when she was interviewed by Stephen Colbert, he asked the question we all wanted to know: how did Kamala Harris go from opposing Joe Biden on “bedrock principles” to being his running mate?
In response, Harris repeatedly said, “It was a debate!” Eventually, a skeptical Colbert asked, “So, you don’t mean it?” She repeated that “it was a debate,” seemingly confirming she saw the event as nothing more than a chance to play politics.
She admitted to using marijuana in college
Politicians often have a love/hate relationship with the topic of drugs. As lawmakers, most politicians cannot afford to admit they do things like smoke weed. At the same time, being honest about experimenting with drugs in younger days can make politicians seem cooler to younger voters. Perhaps because of this, Kamala Harris admitted to smoking marijuana in college, during a February 2019 appearance on radio show The Breakfast Club.
Admitting marijuana use is not so controversial nowadays. But controversy arose when people claimed Harris lied in the interview about listening to music by Snoop Dogg and Tupac while high. Naysayers argue she graduated Howard University in 1986, which was half a decade before Snoop or Tupac released an album.
However, Reuters Fact Check revealed that Harris was actually answering a question about what music she listens to currently. After the discussion about marijuana had ended, radio host DJ Envy later asked Harris what music she listens to. Another host, Charlamagne Tha God, interrupted and asked Harris what music she listened to while smoking marijuana in college. But she ignored Charlamagne and answered DJ Envy’s original question instead. After saying “Snoop” and “Tupac,” she also said “Cardi B.”
The larger controversy, however, came from Harris’s admission after her high-profile war against marijuana in California.
She flipped on marijuana legalization
Harris admitting to using marijuana in the past is controversial considering she spent much of her career overseeing marijuana convictions and opposing marijuana legalization.
As attorney general of California, Harris worked hard to secure a reputation as the “top cop” of the state. As Mercury News reports, she oversaw 1,900 convictions related to marijuana during her time as AG, from 2011 to 2017. And she opposed California’s 2010 initiative to legalize marijuana in certain instances.
In recent years, however, marijuana legalization has become more popular with voters. California legalized recreational marijuana in 2016. In other words, Harris oversaw nearly 2,000 marijuana-related convictions during a time when legalization was becoming popular throughout the state. And critics say she has done little to expunge these convictions, despite the fact that some states that have legalized marijuana are now expunging previous marijuana-related convictions.
This is despite the fact that Harris has flipped on the issue. As of 2018, she has supported legalizing marijuana on a federal level, even going so far as to co-sponsor legislation to do so when she was a senator. “Making marijuana legal at the federal level is the smart thing to do, it’s the right thing to do,” she said at the time.
She regretted that her truancy policy led to jailed parents
Harris cultivated a reputation of being tough on crime, but critics say one of her policies went too far. As district attorney of San Francisco from 2004–2011, Kamala Harris began prosecuting parents for their children’s truancy.
She successfully lobbied for the entire state to take up her anti-truancy policy when she became California’s attorney general in 2011. State legislation made it a criminal misdemeanor for parents who had children from kindergarten to 8th grade miss more than 10 percent of school days without a valid excuse. Offenders faced a $2,000 fine or up to one year in jail.
But proving a valid excuse for school absence proved to be harder in reality than was probably intended. Critics of the legislation say that most parents who were prosecuted were dealing with circumstances out of their control, including school violence or children with a chronic illness. At least seven parents ended up going to jail. One mother, Cheree Peoples, was arrested after her daughter missed 20 days of school while suffering from sickle cell anemia (the charges were eventually dropped.)
“My regret is that, I have now heard stories where, in some jurisdictions, DAs have criminalized the parents,” Harris said in 2019 (via Reason.com). “And I regret that that has happened and the thought that anything I did could have led to that, because that was certainly not the intention [to jail them].”
She’s accused of not aggressively pursuing clergy abuse cases
When someone’s reputation comes from being tough on crime, it is very noticeable when they are lenient on certain parties. And this seemed to be the case when it came to Kamala Harris prosecuting sex abuses by the Catholic Church.
In her early days as a lawyer, Harris made a name for herself prosecuting sex crimes and child exploitation. However, Harris has faced criticism for not being tough enough on clergy abuse cases specifically.
“When it came to taking on the Catholic Church, survivors of clergy sexual abuse say that Harris turned a blind eye, refusing to take action against clergy members accused of sexually abusing children when it meant confronting one of the city’s most powerful political institutions,” The Intercept wrote in 2019.
Some victims claim that Harris chose not to pursue certain cases, wouldn’t release files of sex offenders in the clergy, and wouldn’t meet with sexual abuse survivors.
And Harris’s critics feel she went harder on pot smokers and truancy than she did on clergy abuse.
Her office fought to keep a wrongly-accused man in prison
The basic goal of any justice system is to protect the innocent and punish the guilty. But Kamala Harris faced criticism when her office fought to keep a wrongly-accused man in prison after the state said he could be released.
In 1998, Daniel Larsen was wrongly convicted for possession of a concealed weapon. Police in California’s San Fernando Valley alleged they saw him toss a knife under a car. Larsen protested his innocence, but his record (which included two prior felonies) meant he was sentenced to 27 years-to-life in prison under the state’s “three strikes” policy.
After The California Innocence Project examined Larsen’s case, many things came to light. It turned out that a previous police officer offered sworn testimony that Larsen never had the knife. But his trial lawyer never had the knife checked for prints. That attorney was disbarred, and in 2010 the state ordered that Larsen needed to be retried or let go.
However, as California’s attorney general, Harris blocked Larsen’s release. Her office fought to keep Larsen in prison, claiming he didn’t file paperwork quickly enough.
Nearly three years later, an appeals court ruled to release him in 2013. After he was released, Harris’s office made sure Larsen could not receive financial compensation for being in prison 13 years for a crime he did not commit.
It’s possible Harris’s office fought to keep Larsen locked up because it would look bad for her if he was freed and then committed another crime. (Larsen is a former Neo-Nazi who didn’t drop his gang ties until 2007.)
“Nobody wants to make a humane decision about someone who’s innocent and then have them go out and commit a crime and then she’s seen as the person who made that happen,” one of Larsen’s lawyers, Alex Simpson, said in a July 2019 interview with Splinter.
“There was no political benefit for her or office to stick her neck out on Danny’s case or any of our Innocence cases, and that’s exactly what she didn’t do.”