NASHUA, N.H. – Presidential candidate Kamala Harris vowed Wednesday to take executive action if elected to ban imports of assault-style weapons.
And the Democratic senator from California, at a campaign event in New Hampshire, took aim at a new measure in Alabama that would impose a near-total ban on abortions and disagreed with former Vice President Joe Biden over a controversial 1994 crime law.
Harris also said she’s open to increasing the number of justices on the Supreme Court, implementing term limits for high court justices or limiting the number of nominations a president could make to the Supreme Court.
The proposals and positions were rolled out as Harris tries to reinvigorate her campaign, visiting the first-in-the-nation primary state. Harris’ proposal on assault weapons is the latest in a series of gun-related actions she’s promised to take if she’s elected and Congress does not act in the first 100 days of her presidency.
“I’m announcing for the first time today here with you to take executive action to ban the import of assault weapons into our country,” the former California attorney general and San Francisco district attorney told the audience.
Harris emphasized that “assault weapons are designed to kill a lot of people in a very short period of time. Let’s look at the facts. One in four police officers who is killed in the line of duty by gunfire is killed by an assault weapon. Let’s look at the facts that there are four million assault weapons in the United States which were imported here from foreign countries.”
Pointing to the sharp disagreements between Democrats and Republicans on the gun control issue, the candidate spotlighted that “we cannot any longer afford to allow people to make this a partisan issue. Those guns, those assault weapons do not discriminate and determine ‘OK is the person I’m pointing [at] a Democrat or a Republican.’”
Last month, Harris said she'd use presidential executive action to implement near-universal background checks, revoke licenses of gun dealers who break the law and more.
Harris’ latest proposal comes a week after Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, a rival for the nomination, unveiled a gun control plan that included the federal licensing of all gun owners across the country.
Asked by Fox News if she would considering Booker’s proposal, Harris said “yeah, I like his ideas. I think Cory has some good ideas.”
But she added “to be direct about it, and this is not about Cory and his ideas, the fact is that we have not been lacking for good ideas. The issue on gun safety laws is not a failure to have good ideas.”
Instead, she said a lack of any movement on the issue is a “failure of Congress to have the courage to act. It is that basic. And that is why I am saying and I’m prepared to take executive action on this issue because I see no evidence of Congress’ ability or willingness to have the courage to act.”
An increasing number of candidates in the historically large field of Democratic White House contenders are making the issue of gun violence a top priority in the 2020 campaign. In the wake of the Orlando, Florida nightclub mass shooting in 2016 where 49 were killed, the Las Vegas concert massacre that left 58 dead, and the mass shooting last year at a high school in Parkland, Florida where 17 students and faculty were killed, tackling gun violence has returned to the center of the Democratic Party’s spotlight.
Harris also disagreed with Biden, the clear front-runner right now in the race for the Democratic nomination, over the effects of the 1994 crime bill.
The former vice president, campaigning just a few miles away in Nashua 24 hours earlier, credited the law’s gun control provisions which he said helped him “beat the NRA.”
"I’m the only guy ever nationally to beat the NRA," Biden said on Tuesday in defending the law. "Because when we did the crime bill — everybody talks about the bad things. Let me tell you about the good thing in the crime bill."
"It’s the one that had the assault weapons ban, a limited number of bullets in a clip. It made sure that cop-killer bullets, Teflon bullets, weren’t available any longer. It opened up the whole effort to make sure there is background checks for the first time in American history,” he added.
The law, which the then-senator from Delaware helped craft, has been criticized in recent years by Democrats who blame the measure for spiking incarcerations, particularly among minorities.
Harris told reporters that “I have a great deal of respect for Vice President Joe Biden, but I disagree. That 1994 crime bill, it did contribute to mass incarceration in our country. It encouraged and it was the first time we had a federal three strikes law. It funded the building of more prisons in the states. So I disagree.”
She also took aim at a bill that passed the Alabama Senate on Tuesday that would outlaw nearly all abortions. Republican state lawmakers nixed amendments that would allow exceptions in the measure for instances of rape or incest, only allowing exceptions when a woman’s health is in danger.
“We will not stand for this,” Harris told the crowd.
And she told reporters she would support a legal challenge if the bill becomes law.
While she didn’t say she’d make supporting Roe v. Wade -- the historic 1970’s era Supreme Court ruling that codified abortion rights -- a litmus test for high court nominees, Harris came close.
“It will be without any question a very significant factor for consideration of anybody to the United States Supreme Court if they are willing to agree with precedent and agree that this is an issue that’s about a woman’s right to privacy and that they would follow precedent and appreciate the significance of that ruling,” she explained.
“A president can respect a woman’s right to choose. A president can use the bully pulpit and the bouquet of microphones that is in front of her at any given moment to be a leader on an issue that directly impacts the health and well-being of women in our country,” she said. “When abortions were illegal in our country, women died. Women died because they were not given choice. It’s a fundamental issue.”
Harris also joined many of her progressive rivals for the nomination in calling for the expansion of the Supreme Court, to counterbalance what she called a “crisis of confidence” in the nation’s highest court that she blamed on Republicans.
The candidate said: “I am open to this conversation about increasing the number of people on the Supreme Court, about applying term limits to serve on the court … perhaps limiting the number of nominees any one president can make.”
There’s been speculation in recent weeks about a Biden-Harris 2020 Democratic ticket.
Asked about talk of her serving as the former vice president’s running mate, Harris told reporters, “if people want to speculate about running mates, I encourage that. Because I think that Joe Biden would be a great running mate. As vice president, he’s proven that he knows how to do the job. And certainly a lot of other candidates for me that would make a very viable and interesting vice president.”
Earlier, she appeared to take a shot at some of her rivals. Asked by an audience member what it would take to defeat Republican President Trump in 2020, Harris touted her resume and said: “I make this not as a criticism of anyone, but a proven track record and leadership, not just somebody who can give a pretty speech.”