Harris reverses course, attends South Carolina justice forum

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisRand Paul introduces bill to end no-knock warrants The Hill’s Campaign Report: Biden campaign goes on offensive against Facebook McEnany says Juneteenth is a very ‘meaningful’ day to Trump MORE (D-Calif.) attended a criminal justice forum in South Carolina on Saturday, dropping her boycott of the event.

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Harris had declared on Friday that she would not attend the forum at Benedict College, a historically black college in Columbia, S.C., because Trump had received an award at the event earlier that day for his efforts to pass criminal justice reform legislation.

However, she reversed course on Saturday after Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin (D) emphasized that “candidate forums” were not sponsored by the 20/20 Bipartisan Justice Center, the organizing group for the symposium that had presented the award to Trump.


“I am excited to welcome presidential candidates to a criminal justice forum dialogue which will allow Benedict College students and the wider community to have full participation,” Benjamin said. “I want to be clear that the Candidate Forums are hosted by myself and Benedict College. This portion of the weekend is not a 20/20 Presidential Justice Center event.”

A spokesman for Harris tweeted that the California senator “will now participate in Mayor Benjamin’s forum at Benedict today.”

Harris had faced some pushback over her initial decision to skip the event, which is being attended by all the major Democratic presidential candidates, including former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenHillicon Valley: Biden calls on Facebook to change political speech rules | Dems demand hearings after Georgia election chaos | Microsoft stops selling facial recognition tech to police Trump finalizing executive order calling on police to use ‘force with compassion’ The Hill’s Campaign Report: Biden campaign goes on offensive against Facebook MORE, Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenWarren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Joint Chiefs chairman says he regrets participating in Trump photo-op | GOP senators back Joint Chiefs chairman who voiced regret over Trump photo-op | Senate panel approves 0B defense policy bill Trump on collision course with Congress over bases with Confederate names MORE (D-Mass.) and Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Hill’s 12:30 Report: Milley apologizes for church photo-op Harris grapples with defund the police movement amid veep talk Biden courts younger voters — who have been a weakness MORE (I-Vt.).

“Running away from a conversation has never solved anything. Some people will abandon a microphone because they don’t like the person who touched it last. Others are smart enough to grab that microphone and make sure THEY get the last word,” tweeted CNN political commentator and criminal justice reform advocate Van Jones, who spoke at the event Saturday.

Trump also hammered Harris over her decision to pull out of the forum, panning her as a “badly failing presidential candidate” in a series of tweets Saturday morning.

Harris’s presidential campaign and allies maintained Saturday that her decision to reverse and attend the event was the best course of action.

“Voters have made clear they are looking for a President that stands with them and in pursuit of justice for all,” said Bakari Sellers, former Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor of South Carolina and a Harris surrogate. “With this decision, Kamala Harris has made clear that she is that person. South Carolina and our HBCU [historically black college or university] students deserve a champion and leader unafraid to be challenged and checked – tomorrow will provide them with that much-deserved opportunity.”

Harris in her statement Friday said she was backing out of the event because she refused to be complicit in “pandering” to the president’s record on racial issues.

She noted that she is “the only candidate who attended an HBCU,” adding, “I know the importance that these spaces hold for young Black Americans.”

“Today, when it became clear Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Warren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Esper orders ‘After Action Review’ of National Guard’s role in protests MORE would receive an award after decades of celebrating mass incarceration, pushing the death penalty for innocent Black Americans, rolling back police accountability measures and racist behavior that puts people’s lives at risk … I cannot in good faith be complicit in papering over his record,” she said. 

At the forum, Harris touted a litany of her plans to promote criminal justice reform, including legalizing marijuana and reducing incarceration, and said the First Step Act, which Trump signed into law and was honored for, was a good first step but must lead to the “second through 10th steps.”

Trump’s appearance at the college Friday came days after he faced bipartisan criticism for comparing House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry to a “lynching.”

Updated: 2:20 p.m.

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