Harris’ presidential campaign account tweeted an apology, calling a video of the incident that was circulated on social media “upsetting,” and denied she had heard the offensive term.
“I didn’t hear the words the man used in that moment, but if I had I would’ve stopped and corrected him. I’m sorry. That word and others like it aren’t acceptable. Ever,” she wrote on Twitter.
The questioner at the candidate’s Londonderry, New Hampshire, town hall on Friday identified himself as being from Chennai, India, the same hometown as Harris’ mother, and said he had spent “all this effort” to live the American dream and then Trump was elected.
“Somehow a racist bigot gets into the White House and then he says if you’re not my color you need to go back to your own country,” said the man, who spoke with a thick accent. “So I am scared for this country. I am scared for the people of color in this country.”
He then asked Harris what she would do, “in the next one year, to diminish the mentally retarded action of this guy?”
The man received a round of applause and laughter from the crowd. Harris too laughed and responded, “Well said, well said.”
“I plan to win this election, I’ll tell you that,” Harris said to applause.
“It’s going to be about working as hard as I possibly can to get there, because over the course of this next year that’s what it’s going to take to unseat him,” she told him. “Thank you for having the courage to stand up and say it is that there are a lot of people living with extreme fear right now in our country, extreme fear.”
The video made the rounds on Twitter Saturday afternoon, just hours after Harris had taken the stage at the New Hampshire Democratic Party Convention.
From there, the tweets compounded.
Before the California Democrat issued the apology, she spoke with various media organizations and called the term offensive.
“I would never condone anyone using that word in any way, shape or form, even including the guy — against the guy I’m running against,” Harris said to NBC News in Manchester, New Hampshire, and highlighted her recent disabilities plan proposed through her campaign. “I have worked my entire career to do a number of things, including to ensure our disability community receives the dignity and the rights that they deserve.”
To CBS News, Harris denied that she had heard the term, saying, “I heard him talk about the other stuff. And then that came later. And it was not something that I really heard or processed, you know, in any way.”
In her comments to media organizations on Saturday, Harris said, “You would think that in the year 2019, people would have a much better understanding how hurtful a term like that can be — but also the history behind it, which is the history of really ignoring the needs and the realities and the capacity of our disabilities community.”
CNN’s Rashard Rose contributed to this report.