After Kamala Harris pulled out of a South Carolina criminal justice forum because its organizer gave Donald Trump an award, the president duly lashed out.
“Badly failing presidential candidate Kamala Harris,” Trump wrote on Saturday morning, “will not go to a very wonderful largely African American event today because yesterday I recieved [sic] a major award, at the same event.”
The California senator trails the frontrunners in the Democratic primary, having faded after a strong performance in the first debate, but is still in the top five in polling averages. She has qualified for the next contest, in Georgia in November.
Her campaign said on Friday she would skip the 20/20 Bipartisan Justice Center event at Benedict College in Columbia, a historically black college, in objection to the group’s decision to give Trump its Bipartisan Justice Award, which she received in 2016 with the Republican South Carolina senator Tim Scott.
In his speech on Friday, Trump belittled Barack Obama’s record on criminal justice.
He said on Saturday he won the award because he had been “able to produce & sign into law major Criminal Justice Reform legislation, which will greatly help the African American community (and all other communities), and which was unable to get done in past administrations despite a tremendous desire for it.”
The reform was greeted as a bipartisan success but it is not without its critics, among campaigners and even those who supported it. In December Kevin Ring, the president of Families against Mandatory Minimums, which backed the bill, told the Guardian it was “a small first step, but it is finally a step in the right direction”.
On Saturday Trump also made a familiar claim, writing: “This and best unemployment numbers EVER is more than Kamala will EVER be able to do for African Americans!”
Factcheckers have said Trump’s regular claim about African American unemployment being at its lowest point ever is, at least under modern methodology, accurate – up to a point. He has also regularly claimed strong support among African Americans, a claim which is not backed up by polling evidence.
Harris also complained that only a handful of Benedict students were given tickets for Trump’s appearance. Most seats were occupied by administration officials and Trump supporters.
“Donald Trump is a lawless president,” the California senator said in a statement on Friday. “Not only does he circumvent the laws of our country and the principles of our constitution, but there is nothing in his career that is about justice, for justice, or in celebration of justice.”
Harris had been among 10 Democrats expected to attend the Benedict College forum. Soon after her announcement, the mayor of Columbia, a co-host, said he was organizing an alternative event. Harris’ campaign confirmed she would be there.
“I honestly wanted to give everyone else another option,” the Columbia mayor, Steve Benjamin, said about his event, which will be held with the theme “students first” in a college chapel.
As of Friday night, Benjamin said, Cory Booker, Joe Biden and probably Bernie Sanders planned to attend his event, as well as the original forum.
On Saturday morning, shortly before appearing at the main event, Booker said on Twitter: “Donald Trump was given a platform unchecked for close to an hour. The Bipartisan Justice Center allowed him to create some illusion of support from this community when, in fact, he excluded it.”
Booker also appealed for more hard work on criminal justice reform.
“This is bigger than any one of us,” he wrote. “This is bigger than what we say here today. This is about redeeming and repairing, and finally building a justice system that treats all people equally under the law.