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

Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisIf we want to save earth, we need to change how we eat New poll shows four top-tier 2020 candidates in Iowa The Democratic race for president may not sort itself out MORE (D-Calif.) knocked Joe BidenJoe BidenSondland notified Trump officials of investigation push ahead of Ukraine call: report Biden says he won't legalize marijuana because it may be a 'gateway drug' Impeachment hearings don't move needle with Senate GOP 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 HillFive landmark moments of testimony to Congress Christine Blasey Ford makes rare public appearance to accept empowerment award Anita Hill: 'I am ready to hold Joe Biden accountable' 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.