Editor’s Note: Kamala Harris dropped out of the race on Dec. 3, 2019.
We asked presidential candidates questions about a variety of issues facing the country. This is what Democratic candidate Kamala Harris had to say about climate change, gun control, health care and other issues.
Do you believe the earth’s climate is changing? If yes, do you believe it is caused by humans?
We have a president who believes in science fiction. I believe in science fact. There is no denying that climate change is real, it’s caused by human behavior, and we’re in the midst of a climate crisis. From families devastated by hurricanes in the South and East Coast, to farmers facing flooding in the Midwest, to firefighters battling wildfires in California, one thing is clear: We need to take bold, direct action now.
If you could unilaterally make one change, or enact one policy, that would affect the climate, what would that be? And why?
Let’s start with one thing I know I can do unilaterally as president, and that’s immediately rejoin the Paris Agreement and chart a path forward, demonstrating to the international community that the U.S. is deeply committed to global climate action. Of course, this should be the floor, not the ceiling for any candidate. The truth is we need a bold, comprehensive agenda to combat this crisis, which is exactly what I’ve laid out in my Climate Plan For The People: https://kamalaharris.org/climate/
How would you engage foreign leaders to work with the United States on issues related to climate?
Reasserting America’s international leadership is one of the five core pillars of my climate change plan — as the biggest carbon polluter in history, the United States has a moral obligation and a responsibility to lead this global fight. In addition to immediately rejoining the Paris Agreement, I’ll engage directly with other major emitters like China and India to secure their commitments to action commensurate with U.S. ambition. I’ll make the climate crisis a top national security focus, and prioritize clean energy in international trade and development to facilitate the transition away from fossil fuels.
Should the U.S. explore additional use of nuclear power as an alternative energy source? Why or why not?
When it comes to nuclear power, our top priority must be improving the safety and security of existing plants and waste storage in order to protect our environment and guard against a potential catastrophe. In particular, I support consent based siting and we need to respect indigenous communities by ensuring no nuclear waste storage project is approved without their express consent.
Should the U.S. government offer subsidies for renewable energy, such as wind energy or ethanol? Why or why not?
Yes. My climate plan calls for ending federal subsidies for the fossil fuel industry and making major investments in clean and renewable energy projects, in addition to extending and expanding clean energy tax credits. We can and must meet 100% of our electricity demand with carbon-neutral power by 2030 — and create millions of good-paying jobs as we build that clean energy economy — but it will require an all-hands-on-deck effort across all levels of government as well as the private sector.
How would you address gun violence in America?
We’ve not been lacking for good ideas to address America’s gun violence epidemic – we’ve been lacking for the courage to act. My agenda calls for common-sense gun reforms like universal background checks, an assault weapons ban, mandatory buybacks for AR-15s, and more. But we can’t afford to keep waiting. That’s why I’ve outlined bold executive actions (kamalaharris.org/gunviolence) that I’ll implement if Congress fails to put a comprehensive gun safety bill on my desk within my first 100 days as president. These include closing the ‘boyfriend loophole’ and other background check loopholes, banning the importation of assault weapons, and revoking the licenses of negligent gun manufacturers and dealers.
How do you propose making schools safer from acts of violence?
Parents shouldn’t have to consider buying their child a bulletproof backpack to keep them safe. Yet this is the stark reality we are facing. Remarkably, Republicans’ main proposal to curb school shootings is to arm our teachers. Putting more guns in schools is certainly not the answer. We must get weapons of war off our streets and out of our schools. In addition to taking the bold actions I’ve proposed to combat gun violence, we also need to get serious about discrimination, bullying, and harassment – particularly against LGBTQ students. In America, no child should feel unsafe in their own school.
What role, if any, should the government have in regulating large technology companies?
Big tech companies must be held accountable when they are violating Americans’ privacy rights, threatening our election security, and allowing their platforms to be abused to incite violent hatred in our country. In the last election, Russians used Facebook to suppress Black voter turnout by exploiting our nation’s Achilles heel — race. And they’re failing to make reforms to prevent it from happening again. Twitter has given people like Trump an unfettered avenue to mainline dangerous bigotry, incite violence, and obstruct justice to millions of followers, and we’ve already seen that manifest in real-world tragedy. These companies must be held to a higher standard.
If you are elected, how would you interact with North Korea? What relationship would the U.S. and North Korea have?
I can tell you this: As president, I won’t be exchanging love letters with Kim Jong-un. President Trump’s fondness for dictators is both horrifying and counterproductive. His made-for-TV summits have elevated Kim Jong-un, embarrassed America, and not yielded any real concessions. Meanwhile, he has frayed our alliances with key regional allies like South Korea and Japan. I support real diplomacy with North Korea, which entails entrusting experts at the State Department and in our Intelligence Community rather than Kim Jong-un, rebuilding our alliances, and pressuring China to play a constructive role.
Would you re-enter the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran? Why or why not?
The Iran Deal was not a perfect agreement, but it was a critical diplomatic achievement and I would get back in it and strengthen it. America, Israel, and the world are safer without a nuclear Iran. President Trump essentially withdrew from the deal despite Iran’s compliance, against the advice of all our closest allies, and without any backup plan — all because of his fragile ego. Since we withdrew, the U.S. and Iran have engaged in a dangerous exchange of saber-rattling, escalating tensions between the two nations, Tehran has ramped up its nuclear program, and Trump has put us one late night tweet away from war.
How do you plan to address the threat of extremism in the U.S.?
President Trump has been fanning the flames of domestic terrorism. As president, I will speak the truth about the magnitude of this threat and take immediate action to combat and disarm violent hate: kamalaharris.org/domestic-terrorism. The plan I’ve put forward includes empowering federal courts to issue new “Domestic Terrorism Prevention Orders” to temporarily seize the gun of suspected terrorists; taking executive action to close the online gun sales loophole; directing the National Counterterrorism Center to address the threat of global white-nationalist terrorism and seek authority to tackle domestic terrorism; and reversing Trump’s efforts to deprioritize countering violent extremism.
Do you believe there is equal access to voting in the U.S.? If not, how would you go about expanding access to voting?
No. Our democracy was built on the notion that every American has an equal voice. But that’s not the democracy we have today. Across the country, the right to vote is under a systemic and sustained attack by voter suppression tactics designed to disenfranchise Black Americans, Latinx Americans, Native Americans, working people, seniors and college students. As president, I will restore the full protections of the Voting Rights Act, require the availability of early voting, fight for automatic voter registration, and make Election Day a national holiday.
Do you believe voter fraud is a problem in the U.S.? If yes, how do you plan to you address it?
Republicans have long exaggerated the threat of voter fraud as a pretense for passing voter suppression laws that disproportionately disenfranchise non-white voters. President Trump even set up a sham voter fraud commission to this end, which was eventually dissolved after significant controversy and legal challenges. The real fraud being perpetuated are all the voter suppression laws being passed by Republican legislatures. If we want to protect the integrity of our democracy, we should ensure that every American’s voting rights are safeguarded and focus on deterring foreign interference in our elections.
Should it be a crime to enter the U.S. illegally?
We need to have humane immigration policies that are reflective of American values. When I see babies in cages; children being torn from the mothers’ and fathers’ arms; asylum-seekers facing life-threatening circumstances denied due process and turned away; Dreamers used as political bargaining chips; money being unlawfully redirected from military families to fund Trump’s medieval vanity project — that is not our America. We can have a secure border without betraying our values. That includes instituting a fair asylum process, and treating improper entry by non-violent immigrants as a civil enforcement issue rather than throwing them in squalid detention camps.
Should the U.S. expand or limit legal immigration?
Unless your ancestors were Native American or brought over against their will on a slave ship, you’re an American thanks to immigration. This nation was built by immigrants. We should expand legal immigration and reassert our moral standing in the world. We can start by restoring protections for TPS and DED beneficiaries and extending TPS to other nations like Venezuela; by restoring and expanding DACA (kamalaharris.org/dreamers) and creating a path to citizenship for Dreamers, which I will do by executive action; and by establishing a fair asylum process and drastically raising the refugee cap, which Trump gutted to an historic low.
In many areas of the country, there is a critical shortage of affordable housing. What would your administration do to address it?
We have a housing affordability crisis in this country and we’ve got to get serious about tackling it. That’s why I’ve been proud to be a leader on this issue in the United States Senate, where I put forward one of the first proposals to do just that. My Rent Relief Act would provide a refundable tax credit to Americans who are rent-burdened, ensuring that nobody has to spend more than 30% of their income on rent and utilities. Moreover, I put forward a $100 billion plan (kamalaharris.org/homeownership-gap) to close the racial homeownership gap in America, which has played an outsized role in perpetuating wealth inequality.
What is your plan to address the growing national debt?
When President Obama was in office, Republicans portrayed the national debt as the most important issue of our time. But deficits have ballooned under President Trump, in large part due to his trillion-dollar tax cut for billionaires and big corporations, and Republicans have barely raised a peep. Rather than slash taxes for the 1% or retreat to austerity, I think we need to invest in the American people — from a Green New Deal that transforms the economy, to giving teachers a raise and students a fair shot to succeed, to tax credits for working families and strengthening worker rights.
Do you think our national debt is a national security issue? Why or why not?
I believe Donald Trump is both our greatest national security threat and the number one driver of our national debt.
Is capitalism the best economic structure for the United States? If yes, why? If no, what is better and how do you believe it will benefit Americans?
I have always made clear that I believe in capitalism, but I also believe in economic justice. In America today, the cost of living is going up, paychecks aren’t keeping up, and the rules keep being written to those at the very top. When the bankers who crashed our economy get bonuses, but the workers who brought our country back are barely getting by, it’s clear: Our economy isn’t working for working people. I’m not interested in academic debates about capitalism versus socialism — what I’m interested in is solutions that bring working families the stability and opportunities they deserve.
In many parts of the country, there is a skilled worker gap. How would you close that gap to get more people employed in the industries that need them?
First of all, we need to make major investments in education, particularly for communities that have been historically ignored and underserved. That’s why I’ve proposed an unprecedented raise for public school teachers with additional incentives for those in the highest-need schools, debt-free college and student loan forgiveness programs, significant funding increases for HBCUs and Black entrepreneurship, and legislation for building a diverse pipeline of STEM talent. Additionally, my climate plan would make significant investments in high-quality skills-training and apprenticeship programs so workers can access the millions of new family-sustaining jobs it would create.
Should the government forgive student loans? If yes, why and for whom? If no, why not?
Students shouldn’t fear decades of debt just because they want to pursue an education. But today in America, students graduate with so much debt, they often can’t take the job they want, start a business or a family, or even pay the bills. That’s why I support relieving undergraduate student debt for people making under $100,000, and cracking down on for-profit colleges and lenders that defraud our students.
Should community college be free to anyone who wants to attend? Should other colleges and universities be free to attend?
As president, I’ll fight to make community college free and four-year public college debt-free, because a quality education should be a privilege reserved for the wealthy. Sky-rocketing tuition at public colleges has put higher education entirely out of reach for many families and forced others to take on mountains of debt. This injustice doesn’t just deprive those affected of reaching their full potential – it deprives America, as a nation, of reaching its full potential.
Is more funding needed for mental health care in America? If yes, what amount and how should it be allocated? Where should that money come from?
Yes. Mental health care, just like any other form of health care, is a fundamental human right, and it’s past time we start acting like it in this country. That’s why I introduced my Medicare For All plan (kamalaharris.org/healthcare), which will ensure comprehensive care for every American, allow people to choose between private and public Medicare plans, and force insurance companies to play by our rules. It will cover mental health and substance use disorder treatment.
How would you address rising prescription drug costs, specifically for medications that are necessary for people to live, such as insulin and mental health medications?
In America, nobody should have to worry about how they’ll afford their prescription drugs and still put food on the table. That’s a reality for too many Americans right now, and it has to change. As president, I’ll require pharmaceutical companies to set fair prices for prescription drugs and tax profits made from abusive drug prices at a rate of 100 percent. These profits will go back directly to consumers. And if Congress refuses to act within 100 days, my administration will investigate price-gouging by pharma companies on and take executive action to lower the cost of their drugs.
What do you believe is the biggest health care issue facing Americans? How would you solve it?
The biggest health care crisis looming over America right now are rising costs and Republicans attempts to invalidate the Affordable Care Act and all its life-saving protections without any replacement. There’s no shortage of health care issues we must address — and I firmly believe my Medicare For All plan is the best way to do that — but the magnitude of the threat posed by Republicans’ lawsuit can’t be overstated. I’ve fought tooth-and-nail as both Attorney General and as a senator to end these senseless attacks on the ACA, and I’ll continue to do it as president as we build on that progress.
How would you address the opioid crisis?
Let’s be clear: The overdose epidemic is a national public health emergency, and that’s exactly how we need to respond to it. For starters, we should provide state and local governments with $100 billion in federal funding over the next ten years to deploy strategies to help people currently struggling with addiction and who are in recovery. And we should pass my Medicare For All plan, which would ensure that every American had access to substance use disorder treatment.
Should marijuana be legalized federally for medicinal use? Should it be legalized for recreational use?
I support legalization at the federal level because it’s the smart thing to do and the right thing to do. I also believe we must expunge prior convictions, and use tax revenue from marijuana sales to reinvest in communities that bore the brunt of the failed War on Drugs. People of color — especially Black and Latino men — are more likely to go to jail for a marijuana-related offense. It’s time we correct this injustice.
Do you support a public health insurance option for all Americans? If yes, do you support the elimination of private health care in favor of a government-run plan, or do you support an option where Americans can choose a public or private plan? If no, why?
Health care is a fundamental human right, and my Medicare For All plan would ensure comprehensive care for every American, allowing people to choose between private and public Medicare plans, and forcing insurance companies to play by our rules. Its 10-year phase-in period would decrease the price tag and minimize disruption. And my plan would exempt households making below $100,000 from tax hikes, and instead tax certain Wall Street transactions to cover that change. In total, we’ll reduce our country’s health care costs and lower Americans’ out-of-pocket costs, all while extending coverage to every American.
Should the federal government re-institute the death penalty? If yes, for what crimes?
I have opposed the death penalty for my entire career, even when the politics were difficult. I made a promise in my first campaign for San Francisco District Attorney to never seek the death penalty. And despite pressure, I never did. I still believe what I believed back in 2003: that the death penalty is morally wrong, ineffective, and applied unequally. That’s why I’ve called for a national moratorium on the death penalty.