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CNN Live Event/Special
CNN Hosts a Town Hall with Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) Presidential Candidate. Aired 10-11p ET
Aired April 22, 2019 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LEMON: And welcome back, everyone, to Manchester, New Hampshire, and CNN's special Democratic presidential town hall. I'm Don Lemon.
How about this night, huh? It's an amazing night, five straight town halls, and we're live at Saint Anselm College, and we want to thank them, of course, for hosting this event. It has been an amazing night already. Five of the top presidential candidates are sharing the same stage tonight for town halls with young adults and students who say that they plan to vote in their state's primaries and caucuses. And they right here in the audience with us.
We've already heard from Senators Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders. And next hour, we're going to hear from Mayor Pete Buttigieg. But right now, it's time to welcome to this very stage Senator Kamala Harris of California.
HARRIS: Hey, guys. Hi. Hi.
LEMON: Good to see you.
HARRIS: Good to see you.
LEMON: Have a seat.
HARRIS: Thank you.
LEMON: Wow, they're happy to see you.
HARRIS: HI, hi. Good to see you guys.
LEMON: Now, let's get to it, because we want you to get as much out of the next hour, both of you, all of you, as possible.
HARRIS: That sounds great.
LEMON: So let's start with what's dominating the news right now, and you know that's the fallout from the Mueller report.
HARRIS: Yes. LEMON: We have a question from -- her name is Karla Alvarado. She's
right there to the right. And Karla is a senior at Harvard University from Massachusetts. Karla?
QUESTION: Good evening, Senator Harris. Thank you for joining us this evening. In light of Mueller's report, do you believe the Democrats and Congress should reconsider their position on impeachment?
HARRIS: Well, it depends on who you're talking to and what their position is, but here's how I feel about it. And thank you for the question, Karla.
Look, for those of us who have been following the investigation and have seen any part of that report, it is very clear that there is a lot of good evidence pointing to obstruction and obstruction of justice. And I believe very strongly -- first of all, let me just be very clear about -- to table set.
I believe that we need to get rid of this president. That's why I'm running to become president of the United States. So that is part of the premise, obviously, of my point.
But I think we have very good reason to believe that there is an investigation that has been conducted which has produced evidence that tells us that this president and his administration engaged in obstruction of justice. I believe Congress should take the steps towards impeachment.
But I want to say this, because it doesn't end there. I also want to say this. I'm also a realist. And when I look at what has been happening over the two years and some months that I've been in the United States Senate, I have also witnessed folks in the United States Congress, and in particular in the GOP, who have been presented with many reasons to push back against this president and they have not.
And when we look at the impeachment process, there will be what happens in the House and an investigation that takes place. I think we can be pretty sure that it looks like that is very likely to happen, and then it's going to go over to the Senate. And in the House, there needs to be a vote by a majority, a simple majority, and then it's going to come over to the Senate.
And I've not seen any evidence, since I've been in the United States Senate, that the United States Senate -- and the Republicans hold the majority -- I've not seen any evidence to suggest that they will weigh on the facts instead of on partisan adherence to being protective of this president. And that's what concerns me and what will be the eventual outcome. So we have to be realistic about what might be the end result, but that doesn't mean the process should not take hold.
LEMON: All right, thank you, Senator. Let's talk about -- because a lot of the young folks, a lot of the students here at the Harvard Institute of Politics, they're concerned about how gun violence might affect them or a family member, someone who's close to them. On that topic is Ben Bernier. He's standing right there. He's a student at the University of New Hampshire studying history. He is from Massachusetts. Ben?
QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you, Senator.
HARRIS: Hi, Ben.
QUESTION: As a future educator, I am really bothered that public schools are being targets for mass shootings. Two days ago was the 20th anniversary of the Columbine massacre, but still two decades later no major gun control legislation has been passed. So my question is, as president, who will you go about keeping our schools safe and keeping guns out of the hands of those who should not have them?
HARRIS: Thank you, Ben. And I'm sure that there are plenty of students here who, while you were in high school, even middle school, that you had to participate in a drill, right, where you were convened and your teachers taught you about how you need to go and run in a closet because there may be a mass shooter roaming the hallways of your school. And in our America, that should never have to happen.
Conversations take place every night. Conversations take place every night between students and their parents. Why do these things have to happen? Why do we have to have a drill like that? To which, of course, the response is, because there are people in Washington, D.C., supposed leaders, who have failed to have the courage to reject a false choice which suggests you're either in favor of the Second Amendment or you want to take everyone's guns away.
Supposed leaders in Washington, D.C., who have failed to have the courage to recognize, you know what, you want to go hunting, that's fine, but we need reasonable gun safety laws in this country, starting with universal background checks and a renewal of the assault weapon ban. But they have failed to have the courage to act.
So, Ben, here is my response to you. Upon being elected, I will give the United States Congress 100 days to get their act together and have the Courage to pass reasonable gun safety laws. And if they fail to do it, then I will take executive action.
And specifically what I will do is put in place a requirement that for anyone who sells more than five guns a year, they are required to do background checks when they sell those guns. I will require that for any gun dealer that breaks the law, the ATF take their license. And by the way, ATF, alcohol, tobacco and firearms, well, the ATF has been doing a lot of the "A" and the "T," but not much of the "F." And we need to fix that.
(APPLAUSE) And then -- on the third piece, because none of us have been sleeping over the last two years, part of what has happened under the current administration is they took fugitives off the list of prohibited people. I'd put them back on the list, meaning that fugitives from justice should not be able to purchase a handgun or any kind of weapon. So that's what I'd do.
LEMON: Would this be your first executive action as president?
HARRIS: Well, it depends on what else happens. That would be after 100 days.
LEMON: Depends on what the Congress...
HARRIS: That'd be after 100 days. Let's see what happens in the first 100 days.
LEMON: All right, fair enough. Angela Garozzo is here, and she is a freshman at Saint Anselm College studying international relations. She is from New Hampshire. Angela?
QUESTION: Good evening, Senator. My question is, as a college student with over $25,000 of debt in my first year alone, what will you do to alleviate the financial burdens of the student debt crisis? Do you support initiatives such as free college, loan protective legislation, or student repayment plans?
HARRIS: Yeah, Angela, and, you know, listen, the students in New Hampshire are among the top five in the country with student loan debt. And it is absolutely unconscionable that we have students in America who are in absolute fear about the debt that they will owe upon graduation.
And I have met and know so many students who are making decisions about their career based on their fear that they may not be able to pay their bills. I know so many students who have graduated who are making decisions about whether or not to have a family based on the burden of their student loan debt and being concerned about whether they're going to actually be able to get through the month.
We cannot afford to have a system like this, especially for young people who have made an investment of their time and their resources because they actually want an education to live a productive life and contribute to our society and be leaders.
So here's what I would do specifically. I do support debt-free college. I also believe that what we need to do is we need to allow students to refinance your student loan debt. And in particular, I'm supporting an initiative that would allow you to refinance your student loan debt such that it would be on par with the federal lending amounts.
So, for example, if you -- probably none of you here, but any of your older brothers and sisters, if you took out student loans between the years of about 2006 through 2013, the interest rate was about 7 percent. What I am proposing is, regardless of the interest rate at the time that you took out your student loans, that upon repayment it would have to be at 3.5 percent.
The other thing is this. Part of the issue is that terms of repayment, there is no connection between what you owe and your income. So what I would be requiring is that there be a robust process by which income-based repayment would be the norm.
And finally, let's look at the fact that for all of you and all of anybody who has applied for financial aid, that is an awful process. You guys know what I'm talking about. All those pages. You can't barely get through that form.
And so part of what we need to do is simplify that process. But we have got to do a better job in this country, because, you know, I look at something like, for example, teachers. You know, I've been spending a lot of time, I think a lot about education in terms of every aspect of it, from student loans to what we need to do to pay our teachers their value.
And the number of teachers who have left the profession of teaching because they can't afford to pay off their student loans, right now we're looking at actually a deficit of teachers based on the number of students that we need to actually teach and the few teachers that we have, especially in rural areas. So it's a big issue and it crosses a lot of subjects.
LEMON: Well, let me jump in here, because if students -- I mean, if teachers can't pay their loans. Elizabeth Warren was here, as you know. She said that she supports student loan forgiveness for 42 million Americans.
LEMON: Would you go that far? Do you support that?
HARRIS: Well, I support anything that is about reducing the debt of student loans. And I think that's an important conversation to have.
LEMON: OK, fair enough. Let's move on now.
Ryan Wilson is here. Ryan is a sophomore at Harvard studying neuroscience in California and a supporter of Julian Castro. Ryan?
QUESTION: Hi, good evening, Senator Harris. My name is Ryan, and I'm a constituent of yours from Orange County, California.
[22:10:00] And at a January town hall, when asked about your approach to universal health care, you acknowledged that you would support eliminating private insurers in favor of a single-payer health insurance program. How do you respond to the 74 percent of Americans who wish to have the option to keep their private insurers? HARRIS: Well, under -- well, I support Medicare for all. And I
support it for a number of reasons. That include the fact that there are a lot of people in our country who simply do not have access to health care because they cannot afford it. And that's unconscionable, and I actually believe it's a moral issue. And it is a sign of whether or not we are going to be a civil society to determine, are people going to have access to health care simply because they can afford it, when, in fact, that should be a right and not a privilege of the few who can afford it? That is the value with which I bring to this discussion.
I will also say this. On the issue of this whole dynamic about access to private insurance, of course, private insurance, you can get supplemental insurance and all of that. But let's not be duped by a messaging campaign that has been waged for years by the insurance companies to have you into believing that you need to defend them. You need to defend yourself.
You know what? Ninety-one percent of the doctors are in Medicare. So the idea and the suggestion they're trying to make to you is really a false one. You will be able to have your doctor. Ninety-one percent of them are in the Medicare system.
And I'll tell you another thing, and it's a personal story. My mother, who -- you know, my mother was all of five feet tall. If you ever met her, you would have thought she was seven feet tall. She was an incredible woman. She had two goals in her life. She was a breast cancer researcher. Her goal was to end breast cancer and raise her two daughters.
Well, she got cancer. And she ultimately passed away from cancer. But if you have ever had the unfortunate experience of going through the health care system with someone who has an acute illness, I'm going to tell you what that is. It is having a doctor say to you, have you heard of the term anticipatory grief? Which you hadn't heard before, but when you hear it, it makes perfect sense, which means you're starting already to grieve the loss of someone that is still around.
You have the experience of going in and out of hospitals helping someone who is frail and weak, in and out of cars to get into a hospital. You look at medical charts and sometimes the medicine jives, sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes the people are paying attention to this is the medication that causes drowsiness they don't want or pain that they can't bear.
You go through the process of worrying about, is there something I can cook that will make you be able to eat and hold down? You go through the process of being concerned that somebody who was on chemotherapy, are there clothes -- can I get you something that's soft enough that you can wear that will not irritate your skin?
Now, thankfully our mother had Medicare. But for people who are going through this process, which they are every day in America, for them to also have to be concerned about how they're going to pay that bill is unconscionable. And that's how I feel about this subject. Cost should not be the barrier to receiving the care that will relieve you of pain or help improve your quality of life.
And we've got to get this right. That's how I feel.
LEMON: Yes. So you mentioned the insurance companies. You don't feel like you have to defend the insurance companies.
HARRIS: No, I don't have to...
LEMON: So the bill that you co-sponsored, it would effectively eliminate private insurance. Is there room for private insurance in a...
HARRIS: Of course there is. For supplemental insurance, absolutely.
LEMON: For companies, for private insurance companies?
LEMON: There's room in your administration for that?
LEMON: OK, but listen in this bill...
HARRIS: But, Don, I think that it's really important to talk about the goal. Right, I mean, we can talk about the intermediate steps. But the goal has to be, and we all have to agree, access to health care is a right and should be thought of as a right and public policy should create it such that it is a real right and not a privilege for those who can afford it. And it's one of the biggest issues impacting American families right now.
I'm traveling this country. It's one of the biggest issues. The number of people who sit down and make decisions about whether they're going to have access to health care or not based on money, you would be shocked. One out of four diabetes patients in our country cannot afford their insulin. There is a drug that helps save a life if there has been an overdose of opioids, and that drug can cost up to $4,000. That's unconscionable.
LEMON: Listen, but to be clear, this bill that you co-sponsored essentially phases out private insurance for four years -- in four years.
HARRIS: I don't think that's right.
LEMON: That's what the studies show, that it would phase out private insurance.
HARRIS: Which bill are you -- I'm actually supporting...
LEMON: The bill that you -- that you co-sponsored...
HARRIS: Medicare for all? [22:15:00]
LEMON: Yes, were a co-sponsor with Bernie Sanders, Medicare for all would effectively eliminate private insurance. It would essentially phase out private insurance companies...
HARRIS: As the -- as the main source.
LEMON: ... in four years, as the main source.
HARRIS: But there will still be supplemental. There would still be access to supplemental insurance.
LEMON: OK, all right.
HARRIS: For whatever is not covered. But let's be clear about it. Medicare for all under the plan that I am supporting will extend coverage. So whereas right now, it does not cover dental, vision, hearing aids, under the plan Medicare for all, it will cover -- those needs will be covered. They will be an extension of it, including mental health services, including what we need to do better around women having greater access to reproductive health care.
LEMON: All right, now the Green New Deal.
LEMON: The Green New Deal. Everyone here wants to know about that. Max Ratner is originally from Massachusetts. He is now a student at Saint Anselm College right here. Last summer, he interned for Senator Ed Markey. Max, what's your question?
QUESTION: Senator Harris, thank you for taking my question.
HARRIS: Thank you, Max.
QUESTION: The Green New Deal is not a law but rather a memorandum that has no actual legislative effect. It's been characterized as expensive, divides Democrats, and has no chance of passing through Congress in its current state. Why do you support it?
HARRIS: I support it because I, to my core, know that the climate crisis is representing an existential threat to who we are as human beings. We have had supposed leaders who are buying -- and pushing science fiction instead of science fact, and this is to our collective peril if we don't take this matter seriously with a sense of urgency.
Why I support the Green New Deal is because it does that. It puts timelines in effect. It appreciates that we need to take this seriously and the clock is ticking every day on this issue, and every day we fail to act will be to our collective consequence. The U.N. has already said over the next 12 years if we don't get this
straight there will be severe consequence. And this is within our ability to do something about it. Listen, I have -- families are impacted by this. You know, children, seniors, we all need to drink clean air -- drink clean water and breathe clean air. And, you know, don't drink the air.
You look at farmers. Farmers are impacted by this climate change. You can look at the firefighters in California who are impacted by climate change. Across the board people are being impacted by this.
Let's also look at the fact that we have in so many states great work that is happening that is actually contributing to the economy around an investment in renewable energies. The Bureau of Labor Statistics came out with a list last year of the top 20 jobs that are going to see the greatest amount of growth in our country over the next 10 years. Number one and number two, insulation and maintenance of wind turbines and solar paneling.
Let's look at it in the context of what we know to be true about water. Water is a precious and diminishing resource on our planet. When you look at what's happening around shifting populations around the globe, climate change is one of the main factors in what is happening.
There was a time -- and still to this day -- where we're fighting wars over oil. In a short matter of time, guys, we're going to be fighting wars over water. Part of what we can do with the Green New Deal is have a sense of urgency on all these matters, including the precious nature of water and what we need to do to be smarter on public policy.
I think, for example, that we need to have -- really diversify public policy on water, with an equal emphasis on recycling, on conservation, on capture of water, storage of water, desalination. We need to invest in electric cars. We need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. All of that is in the Green New Deal.
And, you know, the greatest thing about it that I am really enjoying, it is causing these conversations to happen around our country in a way they've not been in the last few years, and hopefully everyone is understanding that so much of the harm we are doing to our planet is caused by us as human beings. And the solutions will be because we change our behaviors without much requirement of change to lifestyle, and it will be urgent in terms of the work we need to do and the approach we need to have.
But we can see success. We've seen it in California. In California, we made a decision that we would go back to the 1990 standards in terms of emissions by the year 2020. And we've already met those goals.
This can happen. We can do it. But there has to be leadership in our country. And that is one of the main reasons we need a new president of the United States. (APPLAUSE)
LEMON: All right. So, speaking of air and water, why don't we take a breather, get a sip of water, and we're going to be right back with more of CNN's special Democratic presidential town hall event. Make sure you stay with us.
LEMON: And welcome back to CNN's special Democratic presidential town hall event. We're live on the campus of Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire. And right now, we're talking with California Senator Kamala Harris. It's good to have you here.
HARRIS: Good to be with you, Don. Thank you.
LEMON: It's good to have you here. So let's bring out -- I want to bring in now Vanessa Chambers. She is a freshman at Harvard studying computer science. She's from New Orleans. Vanessa?
HARRIS: Oh, great.
QUESTION: Hello, Senator Harris. How are you?
HARRIS: How are you doing? I was just in New Orleans, actually.
QUESTION: Oh, wow. So my question talks about how this country plans to administer reparations to the descendants of former slaves. It's been discussed heavily.
LEMON: Georgetown just voted to devote a portion of their students' tuition to administer reparations to the descendants of the 272 slaves who were sold in the 19th century to save the school. However, this is but a small step. How -- what actions, what specific actions do you plan to take to administer reparations for this unpaid labor?
HARRIS: Right. So I'm actually supporting a bill -- there's a congresswoman by the name of Sheila Jackson Lee that has written this bill out of the House, which I am supporting, to study exactly what should be the response to your question.
But to your point and to support your point, look, we had centuries of slavery in this country. We had decades of Jim Crow. We had legalized discrimination and segregation, and then we had de facto discrimination and segregation. And to believe or suggest that those years of treatment and abuse and violence and crimes did not have an impact is to overlook the facts of history.
And for that reason, I support the legislation and what we need to do to think about specifically what it means in terms of the next steps. But I thank you for that question.
LEMON: Senator, yes or no, do you support financial reparations?
HARRIS: I support that we study that. We should study it and see. But let's look at this, for example. One of the issues that is very clear is that trauma, years of trauma or even one experience with trauma can lead to lifelong consequences.
I'm supporting some work -- and was partisan work that started years ago of looking at children who are growing up in a community where there is violence. And if you look at the associated then physical health effects that are associated with exposure to trauma and what that can mean in terms of physical disability, not to mention what it means in terms of a child's ability to learn and be educated, there are real factors that can be associated with trauma.
And when you are talking about the years and years and years of trauma that were experienced because of slavery, because of Jim Crow, and because of all that we have seen in terms of institutional and legal discrimination and racism, this is very real, and it needs to be studied, and we need to look at how exactly the response should be played out and how it should be worked.
LEMON: I don't need to tell you that a big voting bloc in the Democratic Party, black Americans.
LEMON: What's your agenda for black America?
HARRIS: Well, it's a number of things. First of all, we need to deal with the economic status of African-Americans in this country. When you look at it in terms of everything from home ownership to wages, we can see huge disparities. And so that needs to be addressed.
Let's look at an issue like maternal mortality. I am actually presenting what I believe should be the response to that. I have studied this issue. Black women are three to four times more likely to die in connection with childbirth. And when you study the issue, it becomes clear that it is regardless of the socioeconomic status for those women, it is regardless of their educational level. It is, as it turns out, without much more investigation, a matter of racial bias in the health care delivery system. Those women are not taken as seriously when they show up at the clinic or the doctor's office or the hospital.
I'm looking at it in terms of being a proud member and graduate of an HBCU, Howard University, and what we need to do to support our HBCUs. I was proud that we actually -- I had a piece of legislation that actually has been passed to invest federal resources in supporting our HBCUs, recognizing that HBCUs really produce in some professions the majority of African-Americans who enter those professions.
So there are a number of issues, and including, of course, what we need to do to reform the criminal justice system. LEMON: OK. This is a -- done a number of town halls. This is a
fascinating question I think that you'll find. It's coming from Diana Ding. She's a junior at Harvard studying computer science from San Francisco. Diana?
QUESTION: Hi, Senator, thank you for taking my question.
HARRIS: Thank you.
QUESTION: You have told The Root that you support legalizing sex work. How will you ensure that sex workers are doing this work because they want to and not because they have no opportunity to do other work, given that sex workers often come from marginalized communities?
HARRIS: No, that's right. So what I don't support is criminalizing these women. And so my background, as you know, I was a prosecutor. When I was district attorney of San Francisco, I instituted a number of policies that were focused on women and children and how they were treated frankly with bias in the criminal justice system where they were criminalized without really looking at the real offender. And so often in that case was the pimps and the johns, but instead the women were being arrested as prostitutes. And so I created policies that were about saying that we really need to focus on the other folks and not just on the women.
I was responsible for an initiative in San Francisco that was about recognizing that girls who are being trafficked were being called teenage prostitutes, when, in fact, they were the victims of an incredible amount of abuse and had been trafficked. And so I created a whole policy in San Francisco that was, one, intended to stop calling them teenage prostitutes, but instead to call them sexually exploited youth.
And because of the work that we did, we then created a safe house for these young women, so that instead of them being arrested and put in juvenile hall, they would be in a safe house, and then we were responsible for actually getting legislation passed that said that when those johns and pimps are prosecuted, they should be prosecuted in connection with the sale of a child, again, looking at what we need to do to figure out who's doing what.
As it relates to women who are being trafficked, I was one of the leaders in the country with many others in saying that Backpage needed to be put out of business, because they were in the business of basically allowing the trafficking, in particular of underage girls.
So this is something that I have had a lifelong experience with, including what we need to go after those who traffic girls and women and boys. We should also be clear about that. And I take it very seriously. But we should not be criminalizing women who are engaged in consensual, you know, opportunities for employment. But we should definitely be careful and be sure that they are not being trafficked or abused in any way. (APPLAUSE)
LEMON: Our next question, Senator, comes from Margaret McSherry. Margaret is a junior at Saint Anselm College right here, studying politics, and she's originally from Massachusetts. Margaret?
QUESTION: Hello, Senator, a question for you. As tensions grow between the United States and nations like Russia and North Korea, what should be done to prepare the nation for the possibility of cyberwarfare?
HARRIS: Oh, that's a great question, Margaret. I'm so glad you asked it, because it's really -- it's been challenging. I've been talking about it in the United States Senate. I serve on the Senate Homeland Security Committee. I serve on the Senate Intelligence Committee. You know, newsflash, Russia interfered in the election of the president of the United States.
And, in fact, on that point, about cybersecurity, one, it is real. When we talk about national security, to your point, a new form of war, we should understand, will be cyberattacks, and cyberattacks can take a number of forms, but usually to our critical infrastructure.
So we've already seen one. Because you know what? Under the previous administration, our election system was designated as critical infrastructure, right? So we already know that we have been attacked in terms of our elections.
We should also understand that we are vulnerable in terms of our electrical grids. We are vulnerable in terms of all of the systems that hold together our financial systems, that hold together our medical care systems. And we have got to pay greater attention.
I have a bill that is a bipartisan bill that is designed to strengthen states' election systems from -- to prevent the next attack. It's a bipartisan bill. And the leader in the United States Senate will not put it on the floor for a vote. And this will be to our collective peril when people play politics with an issue that is truly about our vulnerability as a country.
I worked on this issue when I was attorney general. I was attorney general of California for two terms, and a lot of work that we did there was about making sure that we were focused on the vulnerabilities that we have because of technology and doing what we can to protect it.
As the president of the United States, I will tell you that will be one of my number-one issues, because as far as I think about it, you know, we're used to and we prepare for war because we should and we should make sure that we're ready in the event of. Well, this will be a war without blood. And we are not prepared. And we must be. But we cannot be in denial, and this president of the United States is in utter denial about the realities.
LEMON: From the vulnerabilities of our cyber system to the vulnerabilities now of children...
... something I know that is important to you. I want to bring in Nicole Senders, she's a student at Harvard Graduate School of Education, originally from Oregon, and is a supporter of Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Nicole?
HARRIS: Hi, Nicole.
QUESTION: Thank you for being here today. You recently mentioned you regretted the California Truancy Act law that arrested parents for frequently absent children. Are there any other laws or policies that you regret as a prosecutor? And what actions, if any, would you take to remedy this as president?
HARRIS: So let me be clear. I absolutely believe that children have and should be thought of to have a constitutional right to an education, and -- period. So the truancy initiative that you're referring to was started by me when I was DA because I took a look at who the homicide victims were who were under the age of 25. People were just used to these young men being killed.
And I said, wait a minute, instead of just responding when they are killed with putting more police on the streets or having gang enforcement strategies, why aren't we asking the question, who are they? So I asked that question. Who are these young men who are under the age of 25 when they are being killed? And I quickly learned that 94 percent of them were high school dropouts.
I then looked closer into the issue and learned of the chronically and habitually truant students, up to 40 percent of them were elementary school students, missing 50, 60, up to 80 days of an 180-day school year. So I decided to take the issue on. And I took the issue on for a number of reasons, one, understanding an elementary school truant is three to four times likely to be a high school dropout. Seventy percent of the prisoners in the United States are high school dropouts. An African-American man who was a high school dropout and between the age of 20 and 24 is two-thirds likely to be in jail, have been in jail, or dead.
So I took the issue on. And I said what we have got to do is pay attention to the fact that these children aren't in school and put all the resources necessary to get them in school and give their parents the resources, hold the school districts accountable, why aren't the school districts raising the alarm and putting all the resources possible into getting these kids to school every day?
And as a result of our initiative, first of all, nobody went to jail. And as a result of our initiative, we improved attendance by over 30 percent. And to put a fine point on this, when we look at the issue of education and our children, no child should be overlooked. And this is what the system does, guys. For certain kids the system really doesn't expect much from them. That is a harsh reality in many places.
And so when they're not showing up in school, the system is just -- keeps moving. And I said this is wrong. Let's put a spotlight on this issue and let's deal with it because these children have a capacity equal to any child in any other school district. And you can best believe the community where I was talking about, a large part of those communities had an annual income, household income of about $15,000. You think of the children in those school districts that had an annual income of $150,000 or $300,000. You think the alarms would not have been raised if those children hadn't been attending school every day, much less missing up to 80 days of 180-day school year? That's why I took that issue on.
LEMON: Another issue that I want to talk to you about -- this is really important -- I'm not sure if you were watching earlier, but Senator Bernie Sanders said that he is in favor of felons being able to vote while serving in prison. He was asked specifically about people like the Boston Marathon bomber, also people who are convicted of sexual assault. And he said, this is a quote, "The right to vote is inherent to our democracy, yes, even for terrible people." Do you agree with that, Senator?
HARRIS: I agree that the right to vote is one of the very important components of citizenship and it is something that people should not be stripped of needlessly, which is why I have been long an advocate of making sure that the formally incarcerated are not denied a right to vote, which is the case in so many states in our country, in some states permanently deprived of the right to vote.
And these are policies that go back to Jim Crow. These are policies that go back to the heart of policies that have been about disenfranchisement, policies that continue until today, and we need to take it seriously.
LEMON: But people who are in -- convicted, in prison, like the Boston Marathon bomber, on death row, people who are convicted of sexual assault, they should be able to vote?
HARRIS: I think we should have that conversation.
LEMON: OK. All right, thank you. We're going to have more with Senator Kamala Harris in the special Democratic -- this special CNN Democratic presidential town hall event right here after this break. Don't go anywhere.
LEMON: Welcome back. We are live in New Hampshire for a CNN special Democratic presidential town hall, and we want to thank Senator Kamala Harris for being here. So let's jump right into the questions. So let's bring in Sahil Lauji. Sahil is a sophomore at Harvard from Atlanta who says he is supporting Senator Bernie Sanders. Sahil? QUESTION: Hi, Senator.
HARRIS: Hi, Sahil.
QUESTION: As a fellow mixed person of African and Indian descent, how does our identity serve you as president of this country?
HARRIS: That's a great question. Well, you know, there is something that I feel very strongly about this moment in time. I think of this as being an inflection point in the history of our country. I think this is a moment in time for a variety of reasons that is requiring us all to look in the mirror, each one of us and collectively to look in a mirror, and ask a question, that question being, who are we?
And I believe part of the answer to that question is we are better than this.
The other part of it is understanding that in this inflection moment, there are very powerful voices in our country right now that are trying to sow hate and division among us. And we need to speak many truths. And one of them is this. The vast majority of us have so much more in common than what separates us.
And I know that to be true. I know it to be true because I've been exposed to many cultures, right -- you got me.
Right. There you go. So I know it to be true. I know it to be true based on what I call the middle of the night thought. Some people call it the 3:00 in the morning thought.
Other people call it the witching hour, you know, that -- you know what I'm talking about, when you wake up in the middle of the night with that thought that's been weighing on you. For the vast majority of us, when we wake up in the middle of the night thinking that thought, it is never through the lens of the party with which we're registered to vote.
For the vast majority of us when we wake up thinking that thought, it is never through the lens of some simplistic demographic a pollster put us in. And for the vast majority of us, when we wake up thinking that thought, it usually has to do with one of just a very few things -- our personal health, the health of our children, our parents, for so many Americans, can I get a job, keep a job, pay the bills by the end of the month, retire with dignity, for our students, can I pay off those student loans, for so many families in America, can I help my family member get off their opioid addiction?
The vast majority of us have so much more in common than what separates us. And while there are these powerful forces that are trying to sow hate and division among us and have us point fingers at each other, and, oh, you're that, and I'm this, I say I'm not buying it. I'm not buying it. And that's how I think about my experiences. I know how much we have
in common. And right now, our country requires leaders and the top leader to instead of using a microphone in a way that is about fueling the fan of hate, instead of using the bully pulpit of the president of the United States in a way that is about talking about, well, on both sides, there's merit.
We need leadership in this country through -- who has through personal experience and through ideals, and through just an ability to see who people are and speak truth, we need leadership that understands the vast majority of us have so much more in common than what separates us and they've got to stop dividing us. And that's why I'm running for president. That's one of the reasons.
LEMON: So let's talk about -- but let's talk about the division, and I think this falls into that category. Because you have said -- recently said that it would be a trap, it would be a mistake for Democrats to fall into a trap of a conversation about winning back, quote, "the guy in the Midwest, which is code," quote. What is it code for? What do you mean by that?
HARRIS: What I mean is that there is a conversation that has been happening among many people, including pundits, that suggest -- no, I don't mean you.
LEMON: I didn't think so, but thank you, thanks for clarifying.
HARRIS: I just meant on TV. I just keep digging myself into this.
They will be talking...
LEMON: I'm going to do radio after this.
HARRIS: ... of course, about my performance tonight, those same pundits. OK, in any event, there is a conversation that all of us have been hearing about -- especially the 2020 election, which is a conversation saying, oh, who can talk to the person in the Midwest? Oh, who's -- and I just -- I reject that notion, that you have one conversation with someone in the Midwest and another conversation with somebody in the South and another conversation with people who live on the coast. I reject that notion.
And I think it is -- it is -- it is shortsighted. And it is actually not connected with where people really are. The American public don't want that.
They don't want that. So that's what I meant by that comment. LEMON: All right. All right. Let's bring in now Kimberly Morrow.
She's a senior studying politics and has worked full-time while attending school at the University of New Hampshire Manchester. Kimberly, what's your question?
HARRIS: Oh, great. Hi, Kimberly.
QUESTION: Good evening, Senator. Through my studies as a politics and society major at UNH Manchester, I've learned that women in our country face very real inequalities in the workplace. Women trail men in income, promotion to leadership positions, and labor force particular rates. What do you plan to do as president to level the playing field and empower working women?
HARRIS: Well, on day one, we need to pass the ERA, the Equal Rights Amendment. We also need to speak louder about the realities of the facts, just as you've done now, and thank you for your leadership on this, because just it is something that has to be acknowledged and dealt with.
Women are paid on average 77 percent to the dollar. And then if you look at African American women and Latinas, even less, and for doing the same work. You look at the fact that we have a real battle in this country around minimum wage and the need to increase minimum wage. We should understand minimum wage is a minimum standard of living, but federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, which averages $15,000 a year, and the majority of women are minimum wage workers.
Let's look at the issue of what we need to do around disparities around issues like childcare, understanding that women are the primary caregiver to children, and yet we don't have a national policy around affordable childcare, which I am a proponent of.
We need to also address what is happening in terms of understanding that women's issues to the point of being marginalized have to be brought to the forefront. And we should also reject the conversation that women's issues are just for women to be concerned about, when in fact the reality is that when you lift up the economic status of women, you lift up the economic status of families and communities and all of society. That's how I feel about that.
LEMON: Matthew Solomon is from Massachusetts. He's a junior at Saint Anselm studying politics and peace and justice. He's also the president of the school's LGBTQ Alliance. Matthew?
HARRIS: Oh, good. Hi, Matthew.
QUESTION: Hi, Senator. Thanks for being here.
HARRIS: Of course.
QUESTION: So my question is, if elected president, what kind of protections, and specific protections, will you be providing for the LGBTQ-plus community, and especially those who lack visibility and safety, like the transgender community and LGBTQ-plus community members of color?
HARRIS: Right. So I have my entire career and life been an ally of the LGBTQ community. And I will say that we must have a country that agrees that no group should be treated without equality under the law. And right now that is the case. And we have got to change it.
I am -- on day one would pass the Equality Act to make sure that we actually correct what is wrong and give LGBTQ people equal rights under the law. This is a civil rights and a human rights issue. And we must address it.
And I'll tell you my background on this. I was, as attorney general, it was one of the pivotal issues in my race to become attorney general, whether or not the elected attorney general would defend a patently unconstitutional law which denied same-sex couples the right to marry. I said I would not defend it because I knew it to be unconstitutional. I won, and I did not defend it. Prop 8 went to the United States Supreme Court. We won, and the wedding bells rang across the country. I'm very proud of that.
I will tell you, back in 2004, when the chatter among a lot of Democrats was about civil union, I was marrying same-sex couples at San Francisco City Hall.
I will tell you, you'll remember the tragic cases involving transgender men who were killed, and there was this defense that was happening in court where the murderer was calling it the gay panic defense. "Oh, I panicked because I didn't know he was gay and therefore I should not be convicted of murder." And this was happening around the Matthew Shepard case, around that era.
When I was district attorney of San Francisco, knowing this was happening, I brought DAs from around the country to San Francisco where I hosted and created a training for prosecutors around the country on how to defeat the gay panic defense.
On the issue of transgender rights, listen, right now in particular, we have a president who is reviving -- you know, the courts said no, but then that changed, and now we've got a president who is basically putting in place a process for discharging transgender men and women who have made a commitment to our country and to defend our democracy at great service and potential sacrifice, and this president wants to kick them out of the military because they are transgender. It is absolutely unconscionable. And that is something I would reverse immediately when I am elected president of the United States.
LEMON: I want to bring in Rachel Damle. Rachel is a sophomore at Harvard. She's from Colorado. Rachel?
QUESTION: Hi, Senator.
HARRIS: Hey, Rachel.
QUESTION: The past couple of years have seen young people getting involved in politics and activism, organizing around issues such as gun control and climate change. Given that policies passed now will affect the younger generation for years to come, do you believe that Americans should have the right to vote at age 16?
HARRIS: I'm really interested in having that conversation. I have to tell you that. I think that there is no question that if we are looking at what is going on in our country, we are putting more responsibilities on people at a younger age, and the larger number of people that we can involve in the electoral process, I think the more robust it would be.
I think one of the downsides of the way that our system is currently constructed -- but, you know, thanks to CNN for doing this town hall with students -- is that if people don't vote or they don't write checks, they don't get heard.
And I believe strongly that you can judge a society based on how it treats its children. And you can look at what we are not doing for our students, for our teenagers and even younger. And I believe that if they had greater political power, maybe we would get our act together a little bit better than we've been doing and maybe that's one of the steps toward it.
I will also say, though, that what I am so excited about, in terms of seeing who's here -- and I know you guys have been here for, like, five hours...
... you know, is that one of the things that is so -- that we have to remember about the history of our country is some of the greatest movements that we have had that have brought about change, social change, advancement, progress have been fueled and born from our students.
LEMON: Thank you, Senator.
HARRIS: Thank you.
LEMON: That's it for, Senator...
HARRIS: That's it?
LEMON: I know. It went by fast, right? So we want to thank Senator Kamala Harris and wish you all the very best. That is four town halls down tonight. One more to go. When we come back, Anderson Cooper is going to be here with South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg for our final CNN Democratic presidential town hall of the night.