Sen. Kamala Harris, who was announced Tuesday as presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s running mate, sparked controversy in 2018 when she compared the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to the Ku Klux Klan in a Senate hearing.
Harris made the remarks at a Nov. 2018 confirmation hearing, asking Ronald Vitiello — who was President Trump’s nominee to lead the agency — if he was “aware of the perception” of a similarity between ICE and the KKK.
Harris had pointed to a tweet from Vitiello from 2015 in which he said the Democratic Party was comparable to a “liberal-cratic” or “neo-Klanist” entity. Vitiello apologized and admitted that those words were offensive.
“What is the history that would then make those words wrong?” Harris asked, to which Vitiello said the KKK would be labeled as a domestic terrorist group by today’s standards and was motivated by race and ethnicity and tried to use “fear and force.”
“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?” she asked.
Vitiello pushed back saying “I do not see any parallels” between the immigration enforcement agency and the white supremacist group and inquired whether she was asking him if the two were in the same category.
“No, I’m very specific about what I’m asking you. Are you aware of a perception that the way that they …” Harris went on, before the nominee said, “I see none.”
“Are you aware that there is a perception that ICE is administering its power in a way that is causing fear and intimidation, particularly among immigrants and specifically among immigrants coming from Mexico and Central America?” she asked again.
Harris ended her questioning asking whether Vitiello can lead the agency if he’s not aware of the negative views toward it.
“Sir, how can you be the head of an agency and be unaware of how your agency is perceived by certain communities?” she asked.
“There’s a lot of perceptions in the media and in the public that are incorrect about the agency and what it does,” Vitiello responded.
“But the perception exists, would you agree, whether or not it’s correct?” she asked. “And wouldn’t you agree then that if that perception exists, there might need to be some work done to correct the perception?”
The exchange prompted pushback from a number of Republicans, with RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel slamming Harris for “disgusting” partisanship.
“Kamala Harris is trying to launch her 2020 campaign off of comparing ICE officers to the KKK, and it’s absolutely disgusting,” she tweeted.
Fox News’ Lukas Mikelionis contributed to this report.