DETROIT, Michigan (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard engaged in a heated exchange with fellow presidential contender U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris on the debate stage Wednesday, claiming that Harris should apologize to the people she impacted with her criminal justice policies.
Gabbard said Harris put “over 1,500 people in jail for marijuana violations and laughed when she was asked if she ever smoked marijuana."
“When you were in a position to make a difference and an impact in these people’s lives, you did not,” Gabbard said. “There’s no excuse for that and the people who suffered under your reign as a prosecutor, you owe them an apology.”
Harris, a former prosecutor and attorney general for California, retorted that instead of making speeches to Congress she was actually in the trenches and trying to improve a flawed system.
“As the elected attorney general of California, I did the work of significantly reforming the criminal justice system,” she responded, to Gabbard’s critiques. “I am proud of that work.”
At a watch party downtown Honolulu, her supporters said she represented Hawaii well.
“At her age again I’m just so impressed with what she’s done, and also just the guts she has to do," said Matthew Delaney. "This is not just national, the whole world is watching and for Tulsi to be representing Hawaii, she really gives the state a good name.”
Gabbard — who first announced her decision to run for president in January — joined nine other presidential hopefuls in the debate, including former Vice President Joe Biden.
In her opening statement, Gabbard said she would lead a government “of, by and for the people.”
“I know patriotism. Donald Trump is not behaving like a patriot,” she said. “As president, I will bring the spirit of real patriotism to the White House.”
During an exchange on health care, meanwhile, Gabbard said the United States doesn’t have a health care system “we have a sick care system.”
“The core of this problem is that big insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies are profiting off the backs of sick people,” she said.
Gabbard also touched on her opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We have to do the right thing: End these wasteful regime change wars and bring our troops home,” Gabbard said.
The two-day debate in Detroit is the second of 12 Democratic primary debates ahead of the 2020 presidential election, and it comes as Gabbard’s campaign team is scrambling to ensure she makes the cut for the next debate.
Hawaii News Now Political Analyst Colin Moore said she did the best she could on the stage with front-runners.
“This was tough because her signature issue is foreign policy. They didn’t talk about that much this night. But she did what she needed to do, which is to get some hard hits on a top candidate, in this case Kamala Harris, and she did that,” said Moore.
Wednesday night wasn’t the first time Gabbard has publicly sparred with Harris.
Last week, Gabbard said Harris is “not qualified to serve as commander in chief,” and that she has no background in foreign policy.
After Gabbard’s performance in the first Democratic debate last month, she became the most-searched candidate on Google, and several publications — including some conservative news outlets — lauded her performance.
But Gabbard’s polling numbers remain tiny, especially compared to front-runners like Biden, Harris, as well as U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.
The debates this week featured 20 of the candidates, compared to the 24 who participated in the gathering last month, which aired on NBC.