Kamala Harris laughs off Nikki Haley's criticism: 'Let's see what Iowa says to her!'

Haley has made the vice president a frequent target on the campaign trail.

January 15, 2024, 7:00 PM

Vice President Kamala Harris weighed in on the Republican primary field in an exclusive interview with ABC News on Monday, hours before the Iowa caucuses commenced.

Harris responded to attacks from Republican Nikki Haley, who has made Harris a frequent target on the campaign trail, arguing that the vice president is who she's really running against -- because of President Joe Biden's advanced age -- and that Harris is a drag on the 2024 Biden reelection ticket.

"Let's see what Iowa says to her!" Harris told ABC News' Chief White House Correspondent Mary Bruce, letting out a laugh.

ABC News spent the day with Harris in Columbia, South Carolina, her second trip to the state with 19 days to go until Democrats first-in-the-nation primary. It's also Haley's home state and the state which gave Biden his first big win of the 2020 race.

As former President Donald Trump remains the clear front-runner in the primary polls -- even as challengers like Haley, a former U.N. ambassador, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis hope to gain ground on him in Iowa -- Harris was asked if her concerns for the country are the same no matter who wins the Republican nomination for president.

"Let me just tell you this, no matter who the Republican nominee is, we're winning. We're winning," she said.

But it's that confidence that has some Democrats sounding the alarm, concerned that the Biden-Harris team isn't being aggressive enough in light of Biden's anemic approval rating and lengthy string of poor or mediocre polling.

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks outside the South Carolina State House in Columbia, South Carolina, Jan. 15, 2024.
Kevin Wurm/Reuters

Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., a close ally to the Biden-Harris campaign, has shared his apprehensions about building enthusiasm among Black voters ahead of November's election, and former President Barack Obama reportedly suggested the campaign be more assertive as Trump appears on path to secure the Republican nomination.

Asked by Bruce on Monday if she views Trump as a forgone conclusion to top the GOP ticket, Harris was blunt.

"I don't know. But look, if it is Donald Trump, we've beat him before and we'll beat him again," she said flatly. "When you ... look at all of the issues that are at stake, including our standing in the world, I think that the people of America want more in terms of the outcome of this election and charting the course for the future of our country."

Republicans, for their part, are seeking to paint Biden and Harris as incompetent at handling high inflation and immigration numbers, among other issues.

On the trail on Monday, Harris delivered the keynote address at the South Carolina NAACP's annual "King Day at the Dome" event honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

There -- echoing what is a key campaign message – she warned against "extremists" whom she said are engaged in "a full-on attack on hard-fought, hard-won freedoms," focusing, in particular, on abortion and voting rights.

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks with ABC News, Jan. 15, 2024, in Columbia, S.C.
ABC News

Drawing comparisons between King's civil rights fight and the fight Democrats face entering an election year, Harris did not call out any of the Republican candidates by name but delivered thinly veiled swipes at Trump, Haley and DeSantis.

"Today, extremists pass book bans! Books ban -- in this year of our Lord 2024! And then they even try to erase, overlook and rewrite the ugly parts of our past. For example, the Civil War, which must I really have to say was about slavery?" she said from the South Carolina State House steps. "They insult us in an attempt to gaslight us in an attempt to divide and distract our nation with unnecessary debates."

Harris also made an afternoon campaign stop at Big T's BBQ to thank supporters and encourage turnout for the Feb. 23 primary.

"Elections matter. Elections matter. So I'm here to say thank you," she told the group of mostly Black supporters, many of whom had chanted "four more years" as she walked in.

"Let's make sure everyone does what they know how to do and have always done to show the leadership of South Carolina for our nation. It's first in the nation and sets the tone for everything that comes," Harris said. "And when I think about what is at stake, there is so much."