Not Real News: A look at false claims around Kamala Harris

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FILE – In this Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020 file photo, Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden stands at left as his running mate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., speaks at the Hotel DuPont in Wilmington, Del. On Friday, Aug. 14, 2020, The Associated Press reported on stories circulating online incorrectly asserting Harris is not eligible to serve as president because her parents were immigrants. Harris, 55, was born on Oct. 20, 1964, in Oakland, Calif., making her a natural-born U.S. citizen. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

A roundup of some of the most popular but completely untrue stories and visuals of the week. This week the Not Real News focuses on false news that spread about Sen. Kamala Harris after presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden announced Tuesday she would be his running mate. Here are the facts:

CLAIM: Harris is not eligible to serve as president because her parents were immigrants. If Biden is unable to serve a full term as president, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi would be next in line to become president.

THE FACTS: Harris is a natural-born U.S. citizen who is eligible to serve as president. Facebook users are spreading a false claim that that if Biden were elected president this fall and then became unable to serve out a full term, Harris would be skipped over to serve as his successor. Instead, the inaccurate claims say, Pelosi would be next in line to become president. Harris, 55, was born on Oct. 20, 1964, in Oakland, California, making her a natural-born U.S. citizen.

Her father, an economist from Jamaica, and her mother, a cancer researcher from India, met at the University of California, Berkeley as graduate students. Since Harris was born in the U.S., she is regarded as a natural born citizen under the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, and she is eligible to serve as either the vice president or president, Loyola Law School Professor Jessica Levinson told The Associated Press on Thursday. “Full stop, end of story, period, exclamation point,” Levinson said.

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CLAIM: Harris called Biden a racist when they were facing off as potential Democratic candidates for president in 2019.

THE FACTS: Harris criticized Biden on certain topics related to race during a debate in June 2019, but she prefaced those remarks with, “I do not believe you are a racist.” In the moments after Biden announced he had selected Harris as his running mate, social media users seized on a heated exchange between the two politicians during a debate in Miami in June 2019. “So @JoeBiden just picked @KamalaHarris for his VP… She literally called him a racist! #wakeupamerica,” wrote one conservative personality in a tweet retweeted nearly 3,000 times in an hour. Similar claims were made by prominent political figures including Katrina Pierson, a senior adviser to the Trump campaign, in her response to Biden’s running mate pick. These claims are false. Though during the debate, Harris did condemn Biden for working with segregationists in the Senate and for opposing aspects of mandatory busing for school desegregation.

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CLAIM: Harris identified herself as Indian American when she was sworn into Congress, and now says she’s Black.

THE FACTS: Harris for years has identified herself as both Black and Indian American. In interviews, she has regularly talked about how her mother, who was from India, raised her as Black. Social media users are falsely suggesting that Harris only recently began identifying as Black. The posts falsely claim that in 2017, when she was sworn into the U.S. Senate, she only identified as Indian American. In 2016, when Harris was elected to the Senate, The Associated Press reported, “Harris will enter the chamber as the first Indian woman elected to a Senate seat and the second black woman, following Carol Moseley Braun, who served a single term after being elected in 1992.” In a 2016 interview with The New York Times, ahead of her Senate election, Harris talked about how her mother raised both her and her sister in a Black neighborhood in Berkeley, California: “She had two black babies, and she raised them to be two black women,” Harris said. Harris also attended a historically Black college, Howard University, telling her alma mater’s magazine in 2016 that her time on the campus was “formative” to her development as a Black woman.

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CLAIM: Harris supposedly said once President Trump is no longer in office “and we have regained our rightful place in the White House,” his supporters will feel the “vengeance of a nation.”

THE FACTS: This fabricated quote originated in a satirical article. There is no evidence Harris ever said this, but social media users periodically share posts claiming she did. “And once Trump’s gone and we have regained our rightful place in the White House, look out if you supported him and endorsed his actions, because we’ll be coming for you next,” says text written over a photo of Harris. “You will feel the vengeance of a nation. No stone will be left unturned as we seek you out in every corner of this great nation. For it is you who have betrayed us.” One post, which was viewed more than 105,000 times in 24 hours on Facebook, attributes the quote to Harris on June 18. “Yes, she really said this,” it adds for emphasis. But the quote first appeared online far before June 2020. It was included in a satirical Bustatroll.org article in August 2019. Though Harris has been vocal in her criticism of Trump, an online search for the words in the post returned no evidence she had ever said them. Chris Harris, the senator’s communications director, also confirmed the quote is not real.

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CLAIM: Harris was Alameda County district attorney when 22-year-old Oscar Grant was fatally shot by police on an Oakland, California, train platform.

THE FACTS: The Associated Press reported at the time of the 2009 shooting that the Alameda County district attorney was Tom Orloff, not Harris. But posts on Facebook and Twitter falsely suggest Harris was overseeing prosecutions in Alameda County when Grant, a 22-year-old black man, was fatally shot by a white Bay Area Rapid Transit officer on a train platform on New Year’s Day in 2009. Grant and other train passengers were taken off the train after police received reports of fighting as passengers were heading home from New Year’s Eve celebrations. The AP reported in 2009 that Orloff’s office investigated the incident and filed a murder charge against the officer, Johannes Mehserle. Nancy O’Malley was appointed to serve as district attorney following Orloff’s retirement. During her time as district attorney, she oversaw Mehserle’s murder trial and later his conviction for involuntary manslaughter. According to the State of California Department of Justice website, Harris worked in the Alameda County District Attorney’s office from 1990 to 1998, more than a decade before Grant’s fatal shooting. She joined the office after graduating from University of California, Hastings College of the Law and prosecuted child sexual assault cases. She served as deputy district attorney in Alameda County before leaving to work in the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office. Harris served as attorney general of California from 2011 to 2017. Grant’s death, which sparked massive protests, was one of the first police shootings captured on video by bystanders.

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CLAIM: CNN confirmed Biden plans to “step aside” after winning the 2020 election, making Harris president.

THE FACTS: CNN made no such confirmation. There is no evidence of any plan for Biden to step down during his presidency. A column published Wednesday by CNN editor-at-large Chris Cillizza is being spun into a false narrative that Biden chose Harris as his running mate not for her vice presidential qualifications, but so he could step down immediately upon becoming president. “BOMBSHELL!” read a headline by the Infowars host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. “CNN CONFIRMS BIDEN PLANNING TO ‘STEP ASIDE’ AFTER ELECTION, INSTALLING HARRIS.” A screenshot of the article circulating on Instagram was viewed nearly 15,000 times, and several other right-wing sites published unsubstantiated claims about a grand plan to install Harris as president as soon as January 2021. Cillizza’s column suggested several reasons why Biden may have chosen Harris as his vice presidential nominee, from her experience in government to her ability to tap into the needs of a younger generation. It used the words “step aside” while referring to Biden and Harris, but in a different context. “What Biden did is make the pick that maximized his chances of continuing to make the race a straight referendum on Trump while also selecting someone, in Harris, whose resume suggests will be ready to step in if and when Biden decides to step aside,” Cillizza wrote. In the column, Cillizza pointed out Harris’s experience running for president, serving as a senator, and holding the seat of California attorney general as potential reasons Biden may have chosen her. He did not confirm or suggest there is any plan for Biden to relinquish his seat if elected. As Biden’s vice presidential nominee, Harris would be next in the line of succession to serve as president if Biden won and one day became unable to serve. Cillizza did not respond to a request for comment.

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