Niger Innis vs. CNN's Symone Sanders: Sen. Kamala Harris Needs To Apologize


CNN's Chris Cuomo leads a discussion on Senator Kamala Harris' line of questioning to Ronald D. Vitiello, the acting director at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Congress of Racial Equality spokesman Niger Innis said Harris needs to apologize for likening ICE to the Ku Klux Klan. Bernie Sanders campaign alum and CNN contributor Symone Sanders disagreed.

From Friday's 'Chris Cuomo Tonight' on CNN:

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: Senator Kamala Harris had this line of questioning for Trump's pick to head ICE


RONALD VITIELLO, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S NOMINEE TO LEAD ICE: Well, the Klan was what we could call today a domestic terrorist group.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D) CALIFORNIA: Why would we call them domestic terrorist groups?

VITIELLO: Because they try to use fear and force to change political environments.

HARRIS: And what was the motivation for the use of fear and force.

VITIELLO: Based on race and ethnicity.

HARRIS: Right. Are you aware of the perception of many about how the power and the discretion at ICE is being used to enforce the laws? And do you see any parallels.

VITIELLO: I don't want see any parallels between --

HARRIS: I'm talking about perception.

VITIELLO: -- officers and agents --

HARRIS: I'm talking about perception.

VITIELLO: I do not see a parallel between what is constitutionally mandated as it relates to enforcing the law --

HARRIS: Are you aware there's a perception --

VITIELLO: I see no perception that puts ICE In the same category as the KKK.


CUOMO: What say the great debaters? Niger Innis and Symone Sanders. Symone Sanders, too far?

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, I think -- what we didn't play, Chris, was before that the question of the KKK came up because Senator Harris was referring to comments that the President's nominee made calling the Democratic party a neo-klannists, which I'm not sure what that is. And so without context, yes, I think folks would argue that equating the KKK to ICE is reckless and irresponsible but frankly that's not what Senator Harris did and her spokesperson is on record saying that's not what she said. She was talking about the perception and it is a fact that there are many people out there across the country -- myself included, that feel as though ICE currently operates with surgical precision in terms of picking out and hunting down folks in communities across this country based upon the color of their skin.

CUOMO: Based upon their legal status.

SANDERS: Based upon their legal status but it also plays the color of their skin. I mean, let's not forget Joe Arpaio who would literally would have officers stop folks driving because they looked --

CUOMO: Joe Arpaio got censured by the courts for exactly that and found in contempt because he refused to stop it but let's get to you on this, Niger. Is this a question of context?

NIGER INNIS, CONGRESS OF RACIAL EQUALITY: Absolutely not. What it is, is a perversion of history. It is Senator Kamala Harris spitting on the graves of thousands of African Americans that were terrorized by the most powerful political domestic terrorist organization in the history of our country.

CUOMO: How so?

INNIS: It is her showing -- how so? Is she spitting on those graves?


INNIS: By comparing what ICE is doing in upholding the constitution of the United States and the laws of our land and trying to pursue those who are breaking those laws versus the Klan that was actually trying to burn the constitution, erode the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendment of the constitution written for black Americans so that they could be considered full citizens. The Klan as an organized arm of the Democratic Party --

CUOMO: All right.

SANDERS: All right, all right, now we've gone -- now this is a bridge too far. Let's just be fair here.

CUOMO: Why it is a bridge too far?

SANDERS: Senator Harris --

INNIS: What did I say that's untrue, Symone.

SANDERS: Senator Harris is on record saying that she's talking about perception. When the nominee sitting in the hearing said you should not equate -- she said I'm talking about perception. But to say that, you know, she's spitting on the graves of black people.

INNIS: Yes, she is.

SANDERS: I think is just very ridiculous language frankly and absolutely not what's happening.

CUOMO: So let's push past the hyperbole and get to the actual policy behind it. Do you believe that whether or not ICE should be abolished, is that a legit question for Democrats to be asking in your opinion, Symone? Is that really something that you guys should be considering?

SANDERS: You know, I think for Democrats that have come out on record that said they want ICE to be abolished people should be asking those folks about abolishing ICE. But I think an overwhelming number of Democrats have come out and said we need to fix our broken immigration system, which needs to be a bipartisan effort and when it comes to ICE perhaps we need to revisit it and currently there are many Democrats, myself included I believe ICE is not currently operating inside its mission. It's not fully funded. It doesn't have the resources and the real directives and the oversight that he needs to carry out a stop properly. Let's be clear, ICE's job is not to enforce the border. That is -- there's a separate entity for that.

CUOMO: Are you open to that suggestion, Niger? That it's not about abolishing? That the last thing we need is less people keeping the border safe but in terms of how they do their job what their mandate is and how it's executed, is that something you would be open to reviewing?

INNIS: I have strong libertarian instincts and any government entity needs proper oversight, supervision and direction. But that is not what some of the extremists in the progressive movement are doing. They are demonizing the thousands of decent ICE officers that are trying to enforce our laws, including Senator Harris with her perception comparison of the Klan to ICE. She -- don't run away from it, Symone. It was disgusting what --

SANDERS: I'm not running. It's on the record. I'm sorry.

INNIS: And she is spitting -- I will say it again, spitting on the memories of those who fought in the civil war and the civil rights revolution against the Klan that terrorized black folk for over 100 years.

CUOMO: All right.

INNIS: Disgusting and Kamala Harris --

SANDERS: Just so we don't conflate history, to be clear, than civil war -- look, Senator Harris is not apologizing for anything. I think that can be sure. Because she has been very clear about what her position is. But let's not --

INNIS: Of course, she has to apologists like you, Symone, defending her.

SANDERS: Did you just call me an apologist?

INNIS: Yes, I sure did.

SANDERS: I think you need a history lesson, sir. But as it comes to ICE right now --

INNIS: Oh, please, give it to me, Symone. I want it.

SANDERS: I definitely think that there's room to have a conversation about the lack of oversight that this government entity has and how they're carrying out their mission. There are questions and concerns many folks have.

CUOMO: I hear you about that. And Niger even walks that walk with you a little bit about oversight and being clear about it and, making sure that there's no violation within a mandate but, you know you were pretty quick to say, hey, talk to those people who say they want to get rid of ICE. But I'm saying as a party you going to have to figure out where you are on that, and who you endorse for positions of power whether it's congressional leadership or who is going to be on the ballot in 2020. They're going to have to be straight on that position because I think you guys are looking for a nice beating on that issue if you talk about abolishing ICE.

SANDERS: Well, Chris, look I think the overwhelming majority of Democrats and even potential people that might want to throw their hat in the ring for President have been clear that it's not just about ICE, it's about our immigration policy as a whole and we need oversight and I think if you ask folks about what changes need to happen, sure, ICE is part of that conversation but it's a smaller piece than the whole.

CUOMO: Right. Look, I think the more --

SANDERS: We literally have --

CUOMO: -- meat on the bones you guys the better.

SANDERS: -- on the border, yes.

CUOMO: I mean, I talked about this with Nancy Pelosi, and I got to be honest, Niger, I don't know if you heard the interview, but I said got me a little bit on this. I was like, you haven't gone toe to toe with Trump, you let him run the immigration game, you let him run the fear and loathing and we all saw that it was a ruse, he stopped talking about it right after the Election Day, the caravan all of a sudden, caravanished as we're all joking about it now it's not funny, the demonizing that he was doing that certainly, you weren't in high dungeon about that the way you are now but let's stick apples to apples.

And she said I told the candidates, not them, you won't beat him on his lies, you won't beat him during the campaign, he just going to lie. You won't be able to beat him. Now we'll take him on, so I want to see what the Democrats do.

Now, let's assess where we are by the way. Blue wave, Trump says no, no, no, I won, too, you don't make enough about my two seats that I won in the Senate. Niger, here is my point, he should have won more. This map was all about you guys, you have Democrats sitting in states they don't belong in anymore. Tester, I know he's from Montana but that place isn't voting the way Tester is now, but you lost. Joe Manchin, all about Trump, you lost that race. I think you should have won more. Arizona, that's Flake's seat, you should have won, you lost. Why do you deserve a pat on the back for two seats when you should have had five?

INNIS: I'm not going to spin here. The reality is even in seats that we won, that Republicans won --

CUOMO: Tight.

INNIS: Be it Georgia.

CUOMO: Tight.

INNIS: Be it the battle in Florida. Extremely tight. Way, way to tight for comfort and, you know, there is one thing to spin on air and give a particular perception, it's another thing what's going on behind closed doors. What's going on behind closed doors I guarantee is that Republicans and conservatives, those who want to keep this country a constitutional republic and not become some Western European style Democratic socialist entity are very concerned about our electorate and very concerned about our upcoming elections.

CUOMO: Well, look, you know, reality is perception and I'll tell you what, Symone, the way you should be seeing it and what I've heard from your side, I want to hear if you agree is, no, no, it's not about the fear of becoming a socialist republic, it's about not becoming an autocracy, and that people rejected Trump because they don't like the talk, they don't like the strong man talk, this is America, you know, this isn't the Philippines. And that what is about. What does that mean to your side in terms of how the capitalize?

SANDERS: I think it was also -- in addition to that Chris, I would agree and say it's also about the issues. You look at places like Nebraska who expanded Medicaid, Nebraska, Utah, who expanded Medicaid through a ballot measure when the Republican governors in those state would not.

Democrats now control -- now sit in the governors seats in Wisconsin, in Michigan and Pennsylvania, places that if you are member, we didn't do too well in 2016 but are vital if we want to do well in 2020. So what I would say is, Democrats should look at the midterms and say, look, we have a fighting chance and to borrow something that my good friend Tad Devine said early other day is, as long as Donald Trump is President, I think Democrats have a fighting chance everywhere but we have to show up, we have to knock on doors and we have to bring a message. And that's what happened in this midterm election.

We didn't get caught up in just talking about Donald Trump. Democrats talked about health care, they talked about wages and the economy for middle-class hard Americans. And they talked about putting a check on the President when it came to the United States House of Representatives.

CUOMO: Last word, Niger.

INNIS: One of many silver linings in this election is an exit poll showed that in Florida where DeSantis won showed that 18% black women voted for DeSantis, the Republican candidate, now governor-elect. That's a good sign.

SANDERS: Which exit poll was that?

INNIS: Rasmussen polls show 36% --

CUOMO: Rasmussen.

INNIS: -- support approval for Trump.

SANDERS: Which exit poll? Hmm.

INNIS: There is gold in the hills, in the minority community for Republicans in the conservative movement, they got to go find that gold. They better go find that gold or else we're going to be in trouble in 2020.

CUOMO: Right, but just pick the right polls otherwise you're looking for fool's gold my brother. Thank you for being with me on a Friday night. Always a pleasure. Symone, thank you. Niger, equally, thank you. Best to both of you.

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