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Kamala Harris Swings Hard at Joe Biden in Second Night of Democratic Debates

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California Sen. Kamala Harris (right) and former Vice President Joe Biden (left) speak as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders looks on during the second night of the first Democratic presidential debate on June 27, 2019 in Miami. A field of 20 Democratic presidential candidates was split into two groups of 10 for the first debate of the 2020 election, which took place over two nights. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Just 20 minutes into Thursday night's debate, California Sen. Kamala Harris had a moment.

As several of the group of 10 candidates on the Democratic stage in Miami talked over one another, Harris strived to rise above the noise.

"Ok guys — America does not want to witness a food fight, they want to know how we are gonna put food on their table," Harris said to cheers from the audience.

It was a breakout moment on a crowded stage for Harris, as the group of 10 candidates jockeyed for position. And she had several more over the course of the two-hour debate as she tapped into her strengths as an impassioned speaker, a quality rooted in her time as a Bay Area prosecutor.

The most emotional and impactful moment for Harris — and the entire debate — came just over an hour in, when she directly criticized Joe Biden, the former senator and vice president, for his recent comments about working with segregationist senators and restricting the use of busing to desegregate schools.

Harris appeared to get choked up as she directly addressed Biden.

"I do not believe you are a racist," she said. "But I also believe, and it's personal and it was hurtful, to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senators who built their reputations and career on the segregation of race in this country — and not just that, you worked with them on busing."

Harris noted her own personal history on the issue:

“There was a little girl in California who was a part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bused to school every day. And that little girl was me.”

She then declared, "On this subject it cannot be an intellectual debate among Democrats."

Biden refused, again, to apologize, declaring that he "did not praise racists." Taking a swipe at Harris, he pointed out that he became a public defender "not a prosecutor ... when in fact my city was in flames because of the assassination of Dr. King."

But he also defended his position on busing, which left the decision up to cities and delayed integration in many areas of the U.S.

Thursday’s debate featured most of the top-tier candidates in the crowded race, including Biden, Harris and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. It was the second night of the first debate of the 2020 election, in which 20 Democratic presidential candidates were split into two groups of 10.

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Harris wasn't the only Californian trying to land some punches — Eric Swalwell, who has been trailing in polls, lost no time going after Biden as well.

The East Bay congressman jumped into the debate 14 minutes in, interjecting himself into a discussion about health care and whether the Democratic party has gone too far to the left. Swalwell, who has tried to position himself as the fresh face America needs, noted that he has $100,000 of student debt, and argued that voters cannot trust the same people who have been running the country for decades.

A few minutes later, he was asked about automation, and pivoted to attack a seemingly amused Biden.

“I was 6 years old when a presidential candidate came to the California Democratic Convention and said it’s time to pass the torch to a new generation of Americans. That candidate was then-Sen. Joe Biden,” he said. “Joe Biden was right when he said it was time to pass the torch to a new generation of Americans 32 years ago. He’s still right today.”

Later, Swalwell also went after South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttegieg over a police shooting of a black man in Buttegieg's home city.

"You should fire the police chief," he told Buttegieg, as the mayor stared him down.

Overall, Swalwell — who was placed on the edge of the crowded debate stage — held his own, but struggled to get screen time. He doubled down on his main campaign messages: stronger gun control and the need for a new generation to take over in America.

Harris, meanwhile, proved her chops as a top-tier candidate. She repeatedly invoked conversations she's had with Americans about their challenges — from health care costs to climate change — while also spelling out her policy positions.

"We need a nominee who has the ability to prosecute the case against four more years of Donald Trump, and I will do that," she said in closing. "This election is about you — this is about your hopes and your dreams and your fears and what wakes you up at 3 o'clock in the morning."


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