Kamala Harris embodies the dream for Democrats: to become America’s first female vice president. Harris comes to the spotlight with the dynamism of having been the first black woman to be elected attorney general in California and as the first woman of South Asian descent in the Senate.
Now with victory for the vice presidency – a position that puts her on the front line for the presidency if something happens to Joe Biden – Harris breaks the most significant barrier of her career. Given that the 77-year-old Biden is expected to only serve one term if elected, Harris would be uniquely positioned to win the presidential nomination four years later.
“My mother raised me to see what I could be, without the weight of the past,” the 56-year-old vice president-elect said on Twitter. Since she was chosen as Biden’s running mate in August, she has attacked Trump for his chaotic handling of the COVID-19 Pandemic crisis, but also for issues such as racism, the course of the economy and his aggressive migratory politics.
Both of Harris’s parents are immigrants. His father came to the United States from Jamaica and his mother from India, and their lives were marked by the narrative of the “American dream.”
Harris was born on October 20, 1964, in Oakland, California, which was then a hotbed of civil rights and antiwar activism. She graduated from Howard University in Washington, an icon of black culture in the United States, and that was the beginning of a brilliant career as a prosecutor, which led to her being elected twice as a district attorney in San Francisco and then California Attorney General in 2010.
But her speech that she was a “progressive prosecutor” has been questioned by critics who say she fought to uphold wrongful sentences and opposed reforms in California, such as a law that urged the attorney general to investigate shootings involving the police.
“Every time progressives asked her to support a reform of the penal system as a district attorney and later as a state attorney, Harris opposed or kept silent,” scholar Lara Bazelon wrote in The New York Times.
But her work was key in assembling a base and having resonance to launch a successful candidacy to reach the Senate in the 2016 campaign, becoming the second black woman to be elected to the Upper House. Her tenure as attorney general allowed her to get closer to Beau Biden, the former vice president’s late son, who held the same position as her in Delaware.
“I know how much Beau respected Kamala and her work, and to be honest with you, that weighed in my decision (to choose her),” Biden said during his first appearance with Harris as running mates.
Harris exudes charisma and can quickly go from her warm smile to the inquisitive prosecutorial style that made her famous. Excerpts of her questioning of then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions in 2017 during a Senate hearing on Russia went viral. “You can’t rush me any more, not that fast. This makes me nervous,” Sessions replied in exasperation at one point.
Harris also clashed with Biden during the first debate among Democratic candidates over the then-senator’s opposition to a 1970s program to incorporate minority children into predominantly white schools to fight segregation.
“There was a girl in California who was part of the second class to be integrated into a public school and was taken on the bus to that school every day,” she said, referring to the transportation of children to white school neighborhoods.” And that girl was me,” she added. That clash didn’t stop Biden from choosing her, which has energized a campaign choreographed to the millimeter, with very little exposure of the candidate.
During her only debate against Vice President Mike Pence, Harris raised her hand as he tried to interrupt her. “Mr. Vice President, I’m talking, I’m the one talking,” she snapped at Pence, managing to silence him. A few hours later, the phrase was printed on T-shirts that were sold online.