WASHINGTON, D.C.—Staunch Indian American supporters and fundraisers of Sen. Kamala Devi Harris, have excoriated Rep. Tulsi Gabbard for her vitriolic attack against Harris at the Democratic presidential debate on July 31, during which Gabbard pilloried Harris for her prosecutorial record as Attorney General of California.
In interviews with India Abroad, the supporters of Harris — the first Indian American U.S. Senator — argued that the attacks by Gabbard of Hawaii — the first Hindu American elected to the U.S. Congress — were a desperate attempt by a presidential candidate who is hardly a blip in the polls to make a splash to try to garner a slot in next month’s Democratic presidential debate where only those presidential hopefuls who receive 130,000 individual contributions to their respective campaigns and are at least 2 percentage points in three recognized national polls would be invited to participate in the September debate.
In several television interviews after the debate, Harris mocked Gabbard’s attack against her record as a prosecutor, arguing that it was a case of a “top-tier candidate” being attacked by someone at “zero or 1 percent.”
Shelly Kapoor Collins, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and a venture capitalist, who’s longtime friend and confidante of Harris and a major fundraiser for the latter since the days Harris ran for District Attorney of San Francisco, told India Abroad, she was the least concerned by Gabbard’s attacks on Harris, saying, “I’m a betting person and I’ve known Kamala a long time. You don’t bet against Kamala — she knows exactly what she’s doing. She focused her arguments where it needed to be focused, and I don’t think she needs to answer baseless claims.”
Collins, the founding partner of the Shatter Fund, a returns-driven venture capital fund, which invests in technology companies led by women and is a staunch advocate for STEM education for women and girls, said of Gabbard’s criticism of Harris, “It’s kind of hard to take that kind of advice seriously from Assad’s cheerleader, right?”
“I believe that Tulsi is having her moment. She carved out her moment –she definitely made her moment for herself, which is fine. But what Tulsi forgot to do was that she may have factually provided some information, but she forgot to provide the context.”
Collins, who has spent her entire career in technology as a founder, investor and advisor dedicated to mentoring and empowering women, added. “So, really, what she’s doing is, misleading the public and she’s purposely giving them information, which is wrong.”
“When you say Kamala put 1,500 people in jail for marijuana-related offenses, what they are not saying is that at the time, marijuana was illegal, number one, and first of all, she (Harris) didn’t do it. It’s not the AG’S job to prosecute low-level crimes like that. She has lower-level prosecutors to do that.”
Collins, who was at the debate in Detroit, added, “But secondly, whoever did it, was following the law—marijuana didn’t become legal till later, and so, she is misleading the public.”
Pointing to Gabbard’s desperate attempt to interject controversy to make it to the next debate, Collins said, “When you know for sure going into the debate that night that you have absolutely not qualified for the next debate, desperate times call for desperate measures, and Tulsi went into desperation mode to attack Kamala the way that she did.”
“And, if you noticed, Kamala stood her ground, and she very forcefully projected her record. She stood up for her record. She did not take any cheap shots back at Tulsi and that takes a lot of restraint,” she said. “And, like Michelle Obama said, ‘When they go low, we go high,’ and I believe that was Kamala’s strategy—that she was not going to fall for this.”
Collins said, “She did not want to get down into low level attacks. She did not want to justify and dignify false attacks that were thrown at her. If she stood there and tried to unravel every false claim that was made against her—out of context—that’s what Tulsi wanted her to do. But she did not take the bait.”
“It takes a lot of courage and willpower to refrain from taking the bait, especially when it’s false bait, which were exactly what were the attacks Tulsi made against Kamala, including implying that Kamala did not oppose the death penalty, which are simply not true. They are patently false.”
But Collins added, Gabbard’s “attack on Kamala is not surprising, knowing how she used to attack President Obama constantly.”
During the second Democratic debate in Detroit, Gabbard slammed Harris' controversial record as California’s attorney general, which, she said, included extensive prosecution of marijuana users, even though Harris laughed in a recent radio interview after she had declared her candidacy for president, had laughed about having consumed the marijuana herself.
Gabbard, who apparently came prepared with notes to take on Harris—who was the breakthrough star in the first Democratic star two months ago when she castigated front-runner, former Sen. and Vice President Joe Biden for his voting with noted segregationists decades ago against government-mandated busing—said, “Sen. Harris says she's proud of her record as a prosecutor and that she'll be a prosecutor president, but I'm deeply concerned about this record. There are too many examples to cite but she put over 1,500 people in jail for marijuana violations and then laughed about it when she was asked if she ever smoked marijuana.”
She also blasted Harris for maintaining the cash bail system which, she argued, disproportionately hurt poor people, and also accused Harris of keeping prisoners beyond their sentence in order to use them as "cheap labor" and also accused Harris of blocking evidence that would have "freed an innocent man from death row."
But Harris later in an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, scoffed condescendingly at Gabbard’s lashing out at her, saying, “I'm obviously a top-tier candidate, and so I did expect that I would be on the stage and take hits tonight, because there are a lot of people who trying to make the stage for the next debate.”
When Cooper said, “For a lot of them, it's do or die,” Harris said, “Well, yeah, and especially when people are at zero or 1 percent, or whatever she might be at, and so I did expect I might take hits tonight.”
She also slammed Gabbard, who had earlier asserted that Harris is unqualified to be commander-in-chief, saying Gabbard was an “apologist” for Syria's Bashar al-Assad, and recalled that Gabbard had not only met with the tyrannical dictator but also claimed that Assad was not an enemy of the U.S.
“I can only take what she says and her opinion so seriously,” Harris said.
Another longtime Democratic Party activist, Dinesh Sastry, who serves on the finance committee of Harris’s presidential campaign, and is the principal, president & CEO of Illuminant Capital Holdings, LLC, based in San Francisco, told India Abroad, said Gabbard “as a woman of color and as a Hindu she is trying to play that card up before the higher threshold September debates, particularly as women of color have been the most sought after vote in this election cycle.”
He noted, “The marijuana attack against Kamala by Gabbard was read off of notes and not spontaneous. She is trying to steal thunder from Kamala. She gave cover to Biden on the Iraq war because she would like to be vice president as a woman of color.”
Sastry however argued, “Kamala Harris still has the inside track to vice president for Biden just as John Edwards was chosen by John Kerry after a hard fought battle because the threat of re-electing President Bush was too grave.”
He acknowledged that Harris “was not perfect on Wednesday night but did well enough because she was hit from both sides and was still standing. She got the most air-time. Her strategy is a South Carolina and California strategy which makes these early debates and attacks less relevant.”
Sastry said that Harris should have educated and informed Gabbard “that President Obama called on her to replace Eric Holder as U.S. Attorney General after the Ferguson riots, showing that her prosecutorial record was fair.”
He said, “Kamala came off as the reasonable candidate in the middle at the debate and let’s not forget that Gabbard is polling at 1 percent or less and none of the other candidates supported her line of attack against Kamala.”
Subodh Chandra, former law director of Cleveland, Ohio and another longtime friend and fundraiser for Harris, said, Gabbard’s “outburst rang hollow and as a desperate cry for attention. Unlike Senator Harris, she has no track record of executive experience or criminal-justice reform. Senator Harris literally wrote a book about her reform experiences called ‘Smart on Crime’—and led the movement for reform-minded prosecutors and prosecutor candidates like me.” He predicted that “Rep. Gabbard will not be on a national ticket because of her weird, virulent anti-LGBT-hate background and her bizarre affection for despots and dictators. Sucking up to Biden and being his hatchet person will do her no good. It will all be forgotten tomorrow.”
Aruna Miller, former two-term Maryland legislator, now the executive director of the Indian American Impact Fund, which was the first political action committee that was the first of the blocks to endorse Harris for president, said, “The second night of the second round of the debates was a double down roast on Vice President Biden and Senator Harris.”
“And, when you are fortunate enough to be a frontrunner for the party's nomination you will be subject to tremendous scrutiny/criticism by the other candidates,” she said, and, obviously referring to Gabbard’s attempt to make a splash, added, “Given the higher threshold requirements for the third primary debate, this was also an opportunity for candidates to have their breakout moment.”
Miller, when reminded that unlike the earlier debate, when Harris was the star after taking on Biden, was this time around more on the defensive than in playing offense, argued, “This campaign is a marathon not a sprint and IMPACT believes that Senator Harris has the tested leadership it takes to go the distance.”