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Vice President Kamala Harris says she and Biden will visit border amid migrant crisis, calls on U.S. to fight anti-Asian hate

Kamala Harris on unaccompanied minors at border
Vice President Kamala Harris on situation at southern border, attacks on Asian Americans 06:47

Vice President Kamala Harris said she and President Joe Biden will at "some point" visit the southern border as the U.S. remains on track to open at least six emergency facilities to house migrant children streaming into the country. Harris spoke to "CBS This Morning" on Wednesday as the Biden administration faces scrutiny on both sides of the aisle for how they are addressing the growing crisis.

Harris said Wednesday that the administration needs to work to solve the root problem of the migrant crisis and deal with what causes people from those countries to come to the United States.

"At some point, absolutely we will go down to the border and I've been down to the border and our secretary of the Homeland Security Alex Mayorkas has been down there twice. Senior administration officials have been down there and yes, we will go," she said. "But the reality also is that in addition to the border, we also need to deal with the root causes. We need to deal with what's happening in the Northern Triangle and address it in a way that is about not only diplomacy but bringing our allies together. Dealing with what we need to do around aid in a way that is about developing those countries so that we also deal with the cause of why people are coming into our country."

The Border Patrol reports that they are encountering about 530 unaccompanied minors every day. More than 16,000 migrant children are currently in U.S. custody, with 5,000 of those in the hands of Border Patrol.

Harris said that she agrees the influx of unaccompanied minors is a "huge problem" but that things wouldn't be fixed overnight.

Along with the crisis at the border, Harris spoke to "CBS This Morning" about gun violence and the rise in crimes against Asian Americans

Read her full interview below:

"CBS This Morning" co-host Gayle King: Vice President Kamala Harris joins us now for an exclusive interview from Washington, D.C. Madam Vice President, good morning to you. We're very glad to see you this morning. There is so much to discuss, so we'll get started. Listen, it's clear that the president's intention and his frustration are very clear. But the reality is you guys just don't have the votes. So what's your move?

Vice President Kamala Harris: Well, on the issue of gun violence, let's just be very clear, we are seeing tragedy after tragedy after tragedy. We are now learning the names of the ten people in Colorado, including that police officer who was, who ran into fire in terms of gunfire. A father of seven children. We are looking in Atlanta and all of those folks who all of them at the grocery store, in these establishments, going about their lives.

King: I know the personal stories are heartbreaking. The personal stories...

Harris: But Gayle, here's why I mention it, here's why I mention it, because I'm going to tell you something, I've been working on this for a long time. I actually thought that Sandy Hook would have been the thing that moved Congress. How, when 20 six- and seven-year-old babies were slaughtered, and they did not act, and they did not not act. It is time for Congress to act and stop with the false choices. This is not about getting rid of the Second Amendment. It's simply about saying we need reasonable gun safety laws. There is no reason why we have assault weapons on the streets of a civil society. They are weapons of war. They are designed to kill a lot of people quickly.

King: Yeah. We all agree.

Harris: Let us all agree that we need background checks. But the point here is Congress needs to act and on the House side, they did. There are two bills which the president is prepared to sign, and so we need the Senate to act. And this is going to be about your viewers and all of us pleading to the reason, pleading to the hearts and minds of the people in the United States Senate to say enough with the partisanship, enough with the ideological perspective on this. Let's just be practical and agree. People who have been found to be a danger to themselves and others should not be able to purchase a gun.

King: So, what will the Biden administration do? We keep hearing about executive action. What does that mean, Madam Vice President?

Harris: What it means is that we need to take action. But Gayle, let's be clear about this, there is the piece about executive action, but if we pass legislation, it's permanent. If we, if the Congress acts, then it becomes law. And that is what we have lacked. That is what has been missing. We need universal background checks. You know, various states have done it. But there's no universal approach to this and so what ends up happening, people can move from one state to another depending on what the law is. We need to have a federal standard and that is going to be accomplished by the way we have structured our democracy when the United States Congress acts. The House has acted. Now it's in the hands of the Senate.

"CBS This Morning" co-host Anthony Mason: But madam...

Harris: The president is prepared to sign it.

Mason: Madam Vice President, as it stands right now, you do not have the votes. Failing that, is the president prepared to take executive action?

Harris: We should first expect the United States Congress to act. I'm not willing to give up on what we must do to appeal to the hearts and minds and the reason of the members of the United States Senate. I served in that body, and I believe that it is possible, it has to be possible that people agree that these slaughters have to stop. And this is, again reject the false choices, stop pushing it for sure. Stop pushing the false choice that this means everybody's trying to come after your guns. That is not what we're talking about.

King: Yeah, most reasonable people get that. Ted Cruz said something interesting yesterday. He called this conversation "ridiculous theater," that the gun laws that are being proposed, the changes, would have done nothing to stop those shootings. Does he have a point? Is this a uniquely American failure? Does he have a point?

Harris: Well, this is what every time there is a slaughter, a mass shooting, someone who does not want to be accountable for what we need to do says, 'Well, that wouldn't have prevented this thing.' You know, arguably if you took this approach to any law, you would argue that we shouldn't pass any laws that are designed to protect the health and well-being of the American people. So listen, yet again we have a situation where there are seven children who have lost their father. Where there are families in two big states of our country who are mourning the loss, forever will be without their family members, their friends, who were innocent, who were going about their lives, and were gunned down. And but guys, I want to be again, I'm going to start with where -- where I started. Which is what I thought Sandy Hook would be...

Mason: Right. But it didn't.

Harris: The thing that compelled everyone. But it didn't.

Mason: I agree with you. But it didn't. My question is how do you change minds in the Senate? You were in the Senate. You know...

Harris: Elections matter. Elections matter and you know there are a bunch of folks, Moms Demand Action, folks from Gabby Giffords to the Brady folks too. Let's join them and let's say we're going to hold our elected people accountable. If they're not going to be with us in terms of what we need in terms of reasonable gun safety laws.

Mason: But Madam Vice President, we heard from the head of Moms Demand Action earlier in the broadcast who said the president has it in his power to do something right now.

Harris: And the president has said he is prepared to sign legislation.

Mason: But he can also take executive action.

Harris: I don't think the president is excluding that. But again, I want to be clear that if we really want something that is going to be lasting, we need to pass legislation.

Mason: Alright, Vice President Harris stay with us. We want to ask you about your personal reaction to the recent racial attacks and also get your take on the situation unfolding at the border.

Harris: Okay.

Mason: But first, we're going to take a quick break.

Harris: Sure.

King: Vice President Kamala Harris is still with us as our exclusive interview with her continues. Madam Vice President, these are such difficult times. We were all still reeling from the shootings in Atlanta. The flags had been lowered half-mast and were back up and now they're lowered again for what's happened in Colorado. But many people are very frustrated with the shooting in Atlanta because it has not been called a hate crime. Should it be?

Harris: Listen. I mean Gayle look, you've got six Asian American women in Asian American businesses, and you know when you look at it you have to ask this question which is what is going on. And the seriousness of AAPI hate crime especially over the course of the last year is profound, people are being assaulted, people are being you know, cursed out, people are being treated, people are being denied service because they are Asian American. And look, I think we have to be clear that we have a history in America that we need to deal with. A history that included the Chinese exclusion act, as a law, that we interned Japanese Americans who also fought for the liberty of Americans in war, and we have this rise in hate crimes. And when I was attorney general in California, I published a hate crime report every year. It is not new, but it has grown and it must be confronted and dealt with.

King: What do we do?

Harris: What do we do? We have to do a number of things. One is we have to hold the people who commit hate crimes accountable, we also need to speak the truth about our history and not gloss over it. We need to also talk about what we must do, to really think about how we define who is an American. And understand that it is the very essence of the strength our nation that we are a land of immigrants, people who have come from around the globe here and contributed to our vitality, our strength. And all people are part of it. The Chinese helped build the railroads of America.

King: Isn't it part of holding people accountable though? At least calling it a hate crime. I think, In Atlanta now, it's been now a week. They still aren't calling it what you know it's like. If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, smells like a duck, it's a duck. There's been such a reluctance to call it that.

Harris: Well I'm not prosecuting that case, so I am not going to tell it how, but I've spoken very clearly about it. Which is exactly, that we are looking at a situation where Asian women have been killed. Let's also talk about the reality of race and sex in terms of the intersectionality of it all. And what we have seen in terms of crimes against Asian women in particular in our country. Recently and historically.

King: Yeah, your voice matters in this conversation.

Mason: Madam Vice President, the White House has been criticized by members of its own party for not having enough Asian Americans in the high levels of the government at this point. Senator Tammy Duckworth in particular, very critical of the absence there. What's being done to change that? Are there enough?

Harris: Yeah, well, Anthony you're right. Well first of all, let's just speak truth. Representation matters and when you look at the composition of the United States Congress, less than 4% of those serving in Congress are Asian American, AAPI — Asian American and Pacific Islander. You look at the CEOs of our major companies and corporations in America, less than 3% are Asian American and AAPI. So we need to talk about this. Representation matters and we've got to address it. We are very proud that among our Cabinet we have majority people of color. We are very, and it's historic in that way. We are proud that we have an equal number of women and men, but there's still more work to be done. There's no question about that.

King: Let's talk a look at what's happening at the border. Rightly or wrongly people are coming in record numbers because they believe the Biden administration has encouraged certainly children to come. What are you going to do about that? It's chaotic. Some are calling it a crisis and you all, your team is under fire because both Republicans and Democrats said look, if you're going to change the Trump policy, the previous policy, at least have a game plan. And there doesn't appear right now to be a game plan.

Harris: Well ok, look it's a huge problem. I'm not going to pretend it's not. It's a huge problem and are there, are we looking at overcrowding at the border? Particularly of these kids? Yes. Should these kids be in the custody of HHS, the Health and Human Services instead of the Border Patrol? Yes. Should we be processing these cases faster? Yes. This is, however, not going to be solved overnight. There are things that we need to do especially since there was a system in place previously before the last administration to allow us to process these kids in their country of origin. That was dismantled; we have to reconstruct it. It's not gonna happen overnight, but you know we have senior administration officials right now in Mexico and Guatemala also dealing with in addition what needs to happen at the border the root causes...

King: Will you and the president be going down to the border anytime soon?

Harris: At some point, absolutely we will go down to the border and I've been down to the border and our secretary of the Homeland Security Alex Mayorkas has been down there twice. Senior administration officials have been down there and yes we will go. But the reality also is that in addition to the border, we also need to deal with the root causes. We need to deal with what's happening in the Northern Triangle and address it in a way that is about not only diplomacy but bringing our allies together. Dealing with what we need to do around aid in a way that is about developing those countries so that we also deal with the cause of why people are coming into our country.

Mason: That's a long-term proposition. In the meantime...

Harris: It is.

Mason: In the meantime there are 500 children...

Harris: But we can't give up on that.

Mason: Understood, but there are 500 children a day and we don't have enough housing already who are crossing into the border. What do we do in the meantime to stop it?

Harris: Well, we do what we need to do to actually reconstruct the systems, Anthony, that are about processing these cases and that is taking some time. Look, we've been in office less than 100 days. We're addressing it, we're dealing with it but it's gonna take some time. And are we frustrated? Are you frustrated? Yes, we are.

King: Are you enjoying the job? And then we gotta go. Yes or no.

Harris: I am enjoying this job, thank you. I feel very, I feel a great sense of responsibility to make sure we address the needs of the people.

King: Well, everybody's watching. Thank you very much Vice President Harris.

Harris: Thank you, good to be with you both. Thank you.

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