Kamala Harris – the first woman vice-president

By BBC News

 

US Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) speaks to reporters after announcing her candidacy for President of the United States, at Howard University, her alma mater, on 21 January 2019 in Washington, DC. Harris is the first African-American woman to announce a run for the White House in 2020.
IMAGE COPYRIGHTGETTY IMAGES
image captionKamala Harris will have a second shot at the White House this year as Joe Biden’s vice-presidential pick

A year ago her own presidential dreams sputtered to a halt, but now Kamala Harris has made history by becoming the first female vice-president-elect.

How her fortunes have changed in the last 16 months.

The California senator had surged to the front of a crowded field of Democratic candidates on the back of a series of strong debate performances – and a searing critique of her rival Joe Biden over race in June 2019. By the end of the year, however, her campaign was dead.

Now the 55-year-old will be running the country alongside Mr Biden at a critical time in its history – trying to unite after a bitter few months and arresting the surge of coronavirus cases gripping parts of the US.

She will also be the first black and the first Asian American vice-president.

Here’s a look at Kamala Harris as she prepares to work in the White House.

The California Democrat was born in Oakland, California, to two immigrant parents – an Indian-born mother and Jamaican-born father.

After her parents’ divorce, Ms Harris was raised primarily by her Hindu single mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, a cancer researcher and civil rights activist.

Kamala Harris, left, and her younger sister Maya with their mother Shyamala Gopalan Harris
IMAGE COPYRIGHTKAMALA HARRIS
image captionKamala as child with her mother and younger sister Maya

She grew up engaged with her Indian heritage, joining her mother on visits to India, but Ms Harris has said that her mother adopted Oakland’s black culture, immersing her two daughters – Kamala and her younger sister Maya – within it.

“My mother understood very well that she was raising two black daughters,” she wrote in her autobiography The Truths We Hold. “She knew that her adopted homeland would see Maya and me as black girls and she was determined to make sure we would grow into confident, proud black women.”

Senator Harris’ early years also included a brief period in Canada. When Ms Gopalan Harris took a job teaching at McGill University, Ms Harris and her younger sister Maya went with her, attending school in Montreal for five years.

She attended college in the US, spending four years at Howard University, one of the nation’s preeminent historically black colleges and universities, which she has described as among the most formative experiences of her life.

Ms Harris says she’s always been comfortable with her identity and simply describes herself as “an American”.

She told the Washington Post in 2019, that politicians should not have to fit into compartments because of their colour or background. “My point was: I am who I am. I’m good with it. You might need to figure it out, but I’m fine with it,” she said.

In 2014, Senator Harris married lawyer Doug Emhoff – now a fixture at her campaign stops – and became stepmother to his two children.

Climbing the law and order ranks

After four years at Howard, Ms Harris went on to earn her law degree at the University of California, Hastings, and began her career in the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office.

She became the district attorney – the top prosecutor – for San Francisco in 2003, before being elected the first woman and the first black person to serve as California’s attorney general, the top lawyer and law enforcement official in America’s most populous state.

In her nearly two terms in office as attorney general, Ms Harris gained a reputation as one of the Democratic party’s rising stars, using this momentum to propel her election as California’s junior US senator in 2017.

Alameda County deputy district attorney Kamala Harris at the Alameda County Superior Court in Oakland, California on 28 March 1997.
IMAGE COPYRIGHTTHE MERCURY NEWS VIA GETTY IMAGES
image captionHarris began her career in the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office in Oakland, California.

Since her election to the US Senate, the former prosecutor gained favour among progressives for her acerbic questioning of then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and Attorney General William Barr in key Senate hearings.

White House aspirations

When she launched her candidacy for president to a crowd of more than 20,000 in Oakland, California, at the beginning of last year, her 2020 bid was met with initial enthusiasm. But the senator failed to articulate a clear rationale for her campaign, and gave muddled answers to questions in key policy areas like healthcare.

 

She was also unable to capitalise on the clear high point of her candidacy: debate performances that showed off her prosecutorial skills, often placing Mr Biden in the line of attack.

A California Democrat with a law enforcement resume, Ms Harris tried to walk the fine line between the progressive and moderate wings of her party, but ended up appealing to neither, ending her candidacy in December before the first Democratic contest in Iowa in early 2020.

In March, Ms Harris endorsed the former vice-president, saying she would do “everything in my power to help elect him the next President of the United States”.

She performed strongly against Mike Pence in October’s vice-presidential debate as the candidates exchanged fierce remarks on a range of topics.

Her “Mr Vice-President, I’m speaking” reminders to Mr Pence, after he repeatedly interrupted her, were noted online as a pointed effort by the first black woman in a vice-presidential debate to be heard.

Her record on crime and policing

Ms Harris’ 2020 run put her record as California’s top prosecutor under the spotlight.

Despite leftward leanings on issues like gay marriage and the death penalty, she faced repeated attacks from progressives for not being progressive enough, and was the subject of a withering op-ed by University of San Francisco law professor Lara Bazelon.

Penned at the start of Ms Harris’ campaign, Ms Bazelon wrote that Ms Harris has largely dodged progressive fights involving issues like police reform, drug reform and wrongful convictions.

The self-described “progressive prosecutor” tried to emphasise more left-leaning parts of her legacy – requiring body cameras for some special agents at the California Department of Justice, the first state agency to adopt them, and launching a database that provided public access to crime statistics – but she still failed to gain traction.

“Kamala is a cop” became a common refrain on the campaign trail, spoiling her attempts to win over the more liberal Democratic base during the primaries. But those same law enforcement credentials may prove beneficial in the general election when Democrats need to win over more moderate voters and independents.

And now, as the US grapples with an ongoing racial reckoning and there is scrutiny over police brutality, Ms Harris has taken a front row seat, using her sizable microphone to amplify progressive voices.

Kamala Harris and Joe Biden at a Biden campaign event
IMAGE COPYRIGHTGETTY IMAGES
image captionAfter quitting the race in January, Ms Harris endorsed Joe Biden two months later

On talk shows, she calls for changes to police practices across the US, on Twitter, she calls for the arrests of the police officers who killed Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old African-American woman from Kentucky, and she speaks frequently about the need to dismantle systemic racism.

When it comes to the contested progressive push to “defund” the police – the call for police departments’ budgets to be slashed and funds diverted to social programmes – which is opposed by Mr Biden, Ms Harris hedges, calling instead for a “reimagining” of public safety.

Ms Harris has often said that her identity makes her uniquely suited to represent those on the margins.

Now she has the chance to do just that from inside the White House.

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