Vice President Kamala Harris speaks to VICE News in Chicago on Sept. 16, 2022. (Photo: Simone Perez/VICE News)
CHICAGO — U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris accused Republican Governors Greg Abbott of Texas and Ron DeSantis of Florida for a “dereliction of duty” for “playing games” with migrants who were recently sent to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts and to the vice president’s own residence at the Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C.
“These are political stunts with real human beings who are fleeing harm,” she told VICE News in an exclusive interview in Chicago on Friday. “I think it is the height of irresponsibility… frankly, a dereliction of duty, when you are an elected leader, to play those kinds of games with human life.”
Harris took questions from VICE News’ Liz Landers on migration, reproductive healthcare, and the state of American democracy when she was in Chicago attending a roundtable on reproductive healthcare with Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Gov. J.B. Pritzker.
VICE News: Yesterday, there was a bus of migrants that was dropped off in front of your home. Also, Gov. DeSantis flew migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard. Can you understand the political point that DeSantis and Gov. Abbott are trying to make here?
Vice President Harris: They’re playing games. These are political stunts with real human beings who are fleeing harm. I mean, do you know what’s happening in Venezuela right now? There were children, people being put on a bus or a plane who didn’t know where they’re going or where they were being sent. Human beings, real people who have fled harm, who came to the United States of America seeking refuge, asylum. I think it is the height of irresponsibility, much less—just, frankly, a dereliction of duty, when you are an elected leader, to play those kinds of games with human life and human beings. If you think there is a problem, be part of the solution.
What is that solution? Can you understand the frustration, though, that Americans have about the situation at the border?
Under the previous administration, they decimated a system that was designed to address immigration. And so we have been spending in the last 18 months an incredible amount of time and work and resources to reconstruct that system. The first piece of legislation that we offered, back in January of last year, was for a pathway for citizenship. People are playing political games with that, and it’s going nowhere.
We’re looking at the cause. Why do people leave home? Most people don’t want to leave home. I’m in charge of coordinating what we call a “root causes strategy.” We have now raised $3.2 billion to help the folks in those countries stay by giving them opportunities for them to take care of themselves in their home country, in their own country, which is frankly what they want to be able to do.
Senator Lindsey Graham introduced a bill this week that would be a 15-week national abortion ban. What would that mean for women in America, for people who want to have children in this country?
Well, first, it would be disastrous; that’s the short answer. Let’s also put what they’re proposing in context. So when the Dobbs decision came down, the proponents of that decision said, oh, no, no, no, we just want to leave it to the states. Well, it’s only been about 12 weeks now, and they want to make a national ban, which means that they’re moving the goalposts. I think that people should pay close attention to the fact that there’s an agenda at play that really is about taking away the individual right to make private decisions for themselves.
Contraception? Who do you marry? Who do you love? All of this is now at stake. And Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas said the quiet part out loud: He literally in his concurring opinion mentions the right to privacy and same-sex marriage as being then subject to an open to consideration for attack. This is serious and for this reason and so many others, regardless of your gender. Everyone should be concerned about the spoken and unspoken intentions of the proponents of a national ban, and frankly, of the proponents of the Dobbs decision.
Abortion is such a personal issue for so many people. Do you feel like you have a full understanding of what Americans are going through right now when it comes to reproductive healthcare?
People who might get pregnant are afraid of laws that are being passed that would criminalize them and punish them. People are afraid because of the fact that a constitutional right to privacy that had been recognized has been taken away. And there are a lot of constitutional rights that flow from the right of privacy that therefore are at risk, including the right to contraception, the right to marry the person you love.
How did access to reproductive healthcare impact your career choices and your life decisions?
We’re looking at a situation where the women of America cannot make a decision with their loved ones, with whomever they choose, but instead their government is making a decision about whether you’re going to start a family. It is on so many levels, contrary to everything I was raised to believe we should do as a system in terms of allowing access to care but also allowing people dignity in the system. And one of the greatest sources of dignity comes with an individual’s ability to make decisions about their own life, based on their priorities, not the government or anybody else’s priorities.
Why didn’t Democrats imagine that this moment could arrive and codify Roe?
I think the most important thing we can do right now is elect two more pro-choice senators. And the president has been very clear he would sign legislation to codify Roe. And so we have, as of today, 53 days before the midterm elections. And we need two more United States senators. And then we are in a position to do exactly that, which is to codify Roe, put the protections of Roe into law and make it the law of the land, which is that people have the individual privacy right to make the decision for themselves. And the government is in no position to make that decision for them.
Are we losing our democracy right now? I hear that from people around this country. I’m sure you’ve heard that from folks too. There are a lot of people who really think we are on the verge of moving toward a completely different form of government.
I want all of us to realize that there’s kind of a duality in terms of a democracy and what a democracy is, meaning that there is great strength in democracy, in a democracy, because it’s about protecting individual rights, protecting freedom, fighting for equality and justice. The other side of it is democracy is very fragile. It’s going to only be as strong as our willingness to defend it and fight for it. And so I say we all have not just a responsibility, we have a duty to fight for it.
There are a lot of election deniers who are running for real positions of authority across this country. What if they win?
I’m aware of at least 11 states that have secretary of state candidates who are election deniers. So the very people who want to run elections don’t trust elections. That represents a potential breakdown of one of the most important systems in our democracy, which is our election systems. And I urge everyone who is in those 11 states to pay attention because there are certain rights that you have and your parents have and your grandparents before them assumed will be intact, including the right to vote for who you want and to know your vote counts. And election deniers are suggesting that those votes don’t count.
If those people win, how can you assure people that democracy is working and that their votes will be counted?
Well, let’s make sure that the candidates who believe in the integrity of free and fair elections in America are the ones that vote in 53 days.
Follow Liz Landers on Twitter.