Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) arrived in person on Thursday ready to deliver arguably her most forceful—and strategic—admonishment of President Donald Trump in the general election.
After briefly addressing the natural disasters imperiling the country, wildfires in California and Hurricane Laura in Louisiana and Texas, Harris set her sights on the human-generated horrors gripping the nation.
“On the eve of the 57th March on Washington, I will speak about the recent events in Kenosha, Wisconsin,” Harris said, starting out a powerful 20-minute speech. “Jacob Blake shot seven times in the back in broad daylight in front of his three young sons. Seven times in the back in broad daylight in front of his three young sons.”
“As Vice President Biden put it, the shots fired at Mr. Blake pierced the soul of our nation. It’s sickening to watch. It’s all too familiar. And it must end,” she said.
The incident has spurred days of protests over excessive police aggression in the city. On Tuesday, violence struck again when a teenage male, who is white, allegedly shot and killed two demonstrators in the street. He was arrested on Wednesday, the Associated Press reported.
“I’ve had conversations like this with far too many mothers and fathers,” Harris said. “But you will see and hear no one with more courage, more character and more moral clarity. People are rightfully angry and exhausted. And after the murders of Breonna and George and Ahmaud and so many others, it’s no wonder people are taking to the streets. And I support them,” she went on, paying tribute to Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Ahmaud Arbery by name.
Trump, asked earlier in the day by reporters whether he had spoken to the Blake family, ignored the question.
Drawing an obvious contrast to the president, who has sought to demonize protesters throughout the summer, Harris said she would support their peaceful efforts, even giving their parents “a seat at the table” if the Democratic ticket wins in November. “We should not confuse them with those looting and committing acts of violence, including the shooter who was arrested for murder,” she said.
“And even as we experience this reckoning with racial injustice, we must also confront another crisis,” she said, shifting her focus to the COVID-19 pandemic, a topic Republicans barely acknowledged throughout their week of party television.
Harris then tore into the Trump administration’s response to the crisis —using words that seemed designed to shred Trump’s self-image, saying repeatedly not only did the president fail “to protect the American people” but that he was “wrong from the beginning.”
“Instead of rising to meet the most difficult moment of his presidency, Donald Trump froze. He was scared,” she said. “And he was petty, and vindictive.”
The California senator carried that theme throughout her remarks, carefully toggling between policy-oriented points that the Biden campaign has promoted for months and more sweeping personal observations about what she views as Trump’s presidential deficiencies.
“He’s the president of the United States, and it’s not supposed to be about him,” she said, not-so-subtly alluding to Trump’s tendency to turn the country’s attention towards his own personal fixations. Staring straight into the small, socially-distanced group of reporters gathered at George Washington University, she said that the president displayed a “reckless disregard for the well-being of the American people,” deliberately using a line of legal jargon in a nod to her prosecutorial background.
“Donald Trump’s incompetence is nothing new,” she said. “That has always been on full display, but in January of this year it became deadly.”
Leading up to her moment on stage, the senator’s address was billed as an official campaign event, which also marked her first solo anti-Trump speech after being selected as vice presidential nominee in August. The pre-written remarks reflected a similar style to what she offered in her first shared appearance with Biden in Wilmington, Delaware earlier in August, where she also heavily criticized Trump’s response to coronavirus.
Harris has quickly risen to become Biden’s highest profile surrogate on the virtual campaign trail, and, occasionally, in person as both members of the Democratic ticket start to cautiously resume more typical election events.
She has also been a relatively permanent fixture throughout the first three days of the Republican National Convention, where speakers dipped in and out of mentioning her alongside Biden as the wrong choice for the country. In turn, Harris provided commentary from the sidelines, primarily tweeting short rebuttals to factual inaccuracies that piled up during the event.
On Wednesday, when Vice President Mike Pence offered his full-fledged backing of the president’s credentials and character to a maskless audience at Fort McHenry, Harris sought to present the Biden-Harris view of Trump as the opposite. “Let’s be clear where Trump and Pence got us: millions out of work, students across our nation who cannot go back to school, and 180,000 lives cut short by coronavirus,” she wrote on Twitter.
The following day, she returned to that message, adding more personal criticisms of Trump.
“You don't get a second chance at getting it right,” Harris said. “Well, President Trump, he got it wrong from the beginning. And then he got it wrong again and again. And the consequences have been catastrophic.”