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

Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisSan Francisco police chief apologizes for raid on journalist's home Gillibrand seizes on abortion debate to jump-start campaign Senate Democrats to House: Tamp down the impeachment talk MORE (D-Calif.) knocked Joe BidenJoe BidenGiuliani meets with former Ukrainian diplomat to get info on Dems Gillibrand seizes on abortion debate to jump-start campaign DNC boss says candidates to be involved in debate lottery 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.

ADVERTISEMENT

"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: Female 2020 Democrats 'not being taken seriously' Harris knocks Biden on crime bill: 'It did contribute to mass incarceration in our country' Biden defends 1994 crime bill, says it helped him 'beat the NRA' 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.