Vice President Kamala Harris: We must 'speak truth' about history of racism in America

Vice President Kamala Harris said Thursday in an exclusive interview with ABC’s “Good Morning America” that she did not think the United States was a “racist country” but that it was important to “speak the truth” about the role racism has played in the nation’s history.

Harris, the first Black vice president, was responding to GOP Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., who on Wednesday night delivered the Republican response to President Joe Biden’s address to a joint session of Congress.

PHOTO: Vice President Kamala Harris appears on "Good Morning America," April 29, 2021.

Scott, the only Black Republican senator, said “America is not a racist country” and took issue with what he called fighting “discrimination with different types of discrimination” and trying “to use our painful past to dishonestly shut down debates in the present.”

PHOTO: Sen. Tim Scott delivers the Republican response to President Joe Biden's address to Congress, in Washington, April 28, 2021.

“No, I don’t think America is a racist country,” Harris told “Good Morning America” co-anchor George Stephanopoulos. “But we also do have to speak truth about the history of racism in our country and its existence today.”

The vice president said that “we want to unify the country, but not without speaking truth and requiring accountability, as appropriate.”

“These are issues that we must confront, and it doesn’t–it does not help to heal our country to unify us as a people to ignore the realities of that,” she said.

PHOTO: Vice President Kamala Harris and Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi applaud as President Joe Biden addresses a joint session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, April 28, 2021.

The vice president praised Biden for calling white supremacy terrorism in his speech and noting U.S. intelligence agencies have determined it to be “the most lethal terrorist threat to the homeland today.”

During her interview with “Good Morning America,” Harris also addressed two major roles she now plays in the administration: leading the diplomatic effort to stem the flow of migration from Central America and, as Biden announced Wednesday night, shepherding the president’s $2.3 trillion infrastructure proposal through Congress.

Asked by Stephanopoulos how much the White House was willing to compromise with Republicans, who are widely opposed to Biden’s expansive package and the president’s ideas about how to pay for it, Harris would not say.

But she did say the administration was “very serious” and “very sincere in our hope that we can reflect the bipartisan nature of the American people on these issues.”

PHOTO: President Joe Biden fist bumps with Vice President Kamala Harris as Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi claps at the end of his address to the joint session of Congress in the House chamber of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, April 28, 2021.

“We have been in many meetings in the Oval Office with Republicans and Democrats together, talking about all of these issues and inviting their feedback, inviting their ideas,” Harris said. “We’re very serious about that — and very sincere in our hope that we can reflect the bipartisan nature of the American people on these issues, and come together in a way that is about, again, investing in families, investing in job creation, investing in the competitiveness of our country, vis-a-vis the world.”

When pressed by “Good Morning America” co-anchor Robin Roberts about why the president did not lay out a fulsome plan for addressing the situation on the southern border in his remarks to Congress, Harris would not say.

Instead, she laid out her work to address the lack of opportunity and threats causing many to flee the region.

“The way that we are then dealing with this,” she said, “is to say, ‘Hey, let’s, one, understand these are our neighbors in the Western Hemisphere, and let’s do what we can to give the folks there some hope, that if they stay, help is on the way.'”

Harris explained she has been working with Cabinet secretaries, including Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, as well as working with other world leaders to recommit to helping the region.

“It’s not a new issue but we are prepared to make the investment and to get in there for the long haul to do what is necessary to address the reasons people flee,” Harris added.

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