“What are you going to do in the next one year to diminish the mentally retarded action of this guy,” the man asked.
“Well said, well said,” Harris replied, with a laugh.
She then told the man that she would use the power of the bully pulpit to offer support for immigrants and that “unless you are Native American, or your ancestors were kidnapped and brought over on a slave ship, your people are immigrants. So let’s just be honest about that, and speak our values based on our shared lived values.”
Asked about her response Saturday, Harris apologized and called the words “incredibly offensive.”
“I heard him talk about the other stuff. And then that came later. It was not something I really heard or processed,” said Harris, who went on to describe her “long-standing relationship of advocacy for our disability community.”
On Twitter, the Senator said she didn’t hear the words the man used. “If I had I would’ve stopped and corrected him. I’m sorry.”
Earlier in the day, as the video circulated on social media platforms, many activists demanded an apology.
Nyle DiMarco, an advocate for the deaf community, tweeted “1) R-word is unacceptable. It is a slur, an insult. 2) Kamala should have handled this better. An apology is needed.”
Kendally Brown, a disabled health-care advocate, tweeted, “Using ‘retarded’ as a slur and an insult is never, EVER ‘well said’, @KamalaHarris, no matter who it’s against and no matter the larger point being made. It's ALWAYS a betrayal of the disability community.”
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Harris recently released a plan aimed to improve opportunities for disabled Americans, the first candidate in the sprawling Democratic field to do so. In that plan, Harris promised to create new senior-level positions in the White House to focus on accessibility for people with disabilities, as well as requiring those receiving federal funding for transportation and housing projects to demonstrate that their plans are fully accessible.
“When we ensure that every American with disabilities is able to fully participate in our schools, our workplaces, and all aspects of our communities, our country is stronger,” Harris said in a statement issued with that policy proposal.
The exchange Friday comes in a week of tough questions for Harris. Reporters at multiple stops on her New Hampshire asked Harris about her stagnant poll numbers, most of which show her as the fourth-most popular candidate in the field behind Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders and former vice president Joe Biden.
“The issue of polls to me, depending on the polls, sample size, the day of the week — I’m not riding polls,” Harris said. “I don’t ride on that roller coaster. I’m working hard. We are steady. I don’t get high with the polls, I don’t get low with the polls.”
“I’m telling you, I am feeling very good about where my campaign is,” Harris said in response to yet another question. “I’m seeing the momentum.”