Harris knocks Biden on crime bill: 'It did contribute to mass incarceration in our country'

Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisEight Democratic presidential hopefuls to appear in CNN climate town hall Biden, Buttigieg bypassing Democratic delegate meeting: report The Hill's Morning Report - Trump on defense over economic jitters MORE (D-Calif.) knocked Joe BidenJoe BidenEight Democratic presidential hopefuls to appear in CNN climate town hall Hill Reporter Rafael Bernal: Biden tries to salvage Latino Support Biden, Buttigieg bypassing Democratic delegate meeting: report MORE on Wednesday after the former vice president said the 1994 crime bill he helped write did not lead to mass incarceration.

"I have a great deal of respect for Vice President Joe Biden, but I disagree with him," Harris, a former prosecutor, told reporters in New Hampshire.

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"That crime bill, that 1994 crime bill, it did contribute to mass incarceration in our country. It encouraged and was the first time that we had a federal three-strikes law. It funded the building of more prisons in the states. So, I disagree, sadly."

Biden, who was a senator from Delaware for decades, was instrumental in pushing for the crime bill, which critics have said led to a spike in incarceration, particularly among African Americans.

Among other things, the legislation offered states financial incentives to impose stricter sentencing laws and enacted a three-strikes rule that imposed a mandatory life sentence if a person with two or more prior convictions was found guilty of a violent crime.

Biden has defended the legislation multiple times this week, saying Tuesday that its gun control language, including an assault weapons ban, helped "beat the NRA" and claiming Monday that the resulting increase in incarceration "occurred by the states setting mandatory sentences."

The former vice president has acknowledged there were "mistakes that were made" in the legislation, saying he was forced to accept the three-strike policy in exchange for gun control. 

Though Biden has emerged as the Democratic primary’s pacesetter, topping most national and statewide polls and raking in millions of dollars in campaign donations, he continues to be met with skepticism from members of the party’s progressive flank who are unsure that a white septuagenarian who chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Anita HillAnita Faye HillAnita Hill: I could see myself voting for Biden over Trump Bill Maher: Buttigieg a 'little too young' to be president What I saw at the last impeachment: Rules are for little people MORE hearings in 1991 is the right candidate for an increasingly diverse party.

Harris also slammed Biden on Wednesday as she hit back against speculation that she could help diversify the Democratic ticket as a vice president, suggesting Biden would make a strong running mate.

"I think Joe Biden would be a great running mate. As vice president he’s proven that he knows how to do the job," she said. 

Harris has faced scrutiny of her own from the progressive base, largely over her time as California attorney general, during which she supported policies such as threatening parents of truant children with jail time.