Senator Kamala Harris offered a preview Wednesday afternoon of how she might respond to attacks from President Donald Trump if she runs against him in 2020: by appealing to Americans’ sense of compassion.
“What would you have said to President Trump about his—his mocking of [Christine Blasey Ford’s] memory at his campaign rally last night?” asked Laurene Powell Jobs, who was interviewing Harris at The Atlantic Festival in Washington, DC. (Powell Jobs is the founder of Emerson Collective, which is the majority owner of The Atlantic.)
There was a short pause, as the California Democrat considered the question. “Stop being mean,” she replied, simply but firmly.
The president has been roundly criticized for his remarks on Tuesday night mocking Ford, the California professor who testified that she had been sexually assaulted by Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, at a high-school party in the early 1980s. “I had one beer!” Trump told a crowd at a rally in Southaven, Mississippi—part of his dynamic reenactment of Ford’s recent testimony.
“How did you get home?” Trump continued, this time mimicking the prosecutor Rachel Mitchell, who was questioning the professor.
“I don’t remember,” he said, acting as Ford.
“How did you get there?”
“I don’t remember.”
The re-creation got big laughs from the Mississippi crowd, but many lawmakers characterized it as unnecessarily cruel. Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine, in an interview with CNN, said Trump’s comments were “just plain wrong.” Her Republican colleague Jeff Flake of Arizona, who helped initiate the FBI investigation into the allegations against Kavanaugh, agreed: “I thought it was obviously insensitive and appalling, frankly.” Even Lindsey Graham, one of Kavanaugh’s and Trump’s staunchest defenders, said Wednesday at The Atlantic Festival that he “didn’t particularly like” Trump’s mockery of Ford.
Harris joined them in condemning Trump’s remarks at length, and in her response, she seemed to implore the audience to expect more compassion from their elected leaders.
“I think it was Senator [Patrick] Leahy who asked [Ford] what—‘what do you remember most?’” Harris said, recalling last week’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. “It was a very poignant, moving moment. She said, ‘I remember their laughter.’”
“Now we have, last night, the president of the United States at a rally urging a crowd to laugh at her,” Harris continued. “I can’t think of anything more—inappropriate is not descriptive enough—it’s mean. It’s mean. It’s completely without any level of empathy.”
While she didn’t indicate whether she plans to run in 2020, Harris, who went on to discuss the urgent need for bipartisanship in Congress, positioned herself on Wednesday as a candidate who might take a calmer approach to Trump than some of the other 2020 presidential hopefuls—people like former Vice President Joe Biden, who said in May that he would have “beat the hell” out of Trump in high school, or a progressive bomb-thrower like Senator Bernie Sanders.
“What was the purpose of saying that and doing that?” Harris asked of Trump’s remarks. “I can’t understand it, and I’m embarrassed that the president of the United States would do that to this woman.”
This article originally appeared in The Atlantic.