Joe Biden has chosen Kamala Harris to be his running mate, making the senator from California the first Black vice presidential nominee. She is also the first South Asian American nominee on a presidential ticket, and only the third woman nominated for vice president.
Harris also ran for the Democratic nomination for president, but she dropped out of the race in December and endorsed Biden in March. Harris, 55, is currently the only Black woman serving in the Senate.
Kamala Devi Harris was born on October 10, 1964 in Oakland, California. Her mother, Shyamala Gopalan, was a Tamil breast cancer scientist who emigrated from India in 1960 to pursue a doctorate in endocrinology at the University of California, Berkeley. Her father, Donald Harris, emigrated from Jamaica in 1961 to study at UC Berkeley and was a professor at Stanford University. She has a younger sister, Maya, who is now a close political adviser.
Gopalan died in 2009 from colon cancer. Harris would often reference her mother while on the campaign trail, attributing quotes from her mother in her speeches. “My mother would always say, ‘Kamala you might be the first to do a lot of things, make sure you aren’t the last,'” Harris frequently said.
Harris received her undergraduate degree at Howard University, where she was a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority. Her sorority, known as AKA, has an influential political network. Harris received her law degree University of California, Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco.
Top Dems praise Biden’s choice of Harris
Harris’ long career as a prosecutor may be a boon for Biden, although critics have raised concerns about her record as a district attorney and California attorney general. After graduating law school in 1990, Harris was hired as a deputy district attorney in Alameda County, California. She also served on the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board and later the California Medical Assistance Commission.
In 1998, she was hired as an assistant district attorney in San Francisco. Two years later, she joined San Francisco city government in the office of the city attorney, where she ran the Family and Children’s Services Division. Harris was elected district attorney in 2003 after a contentious race against Terence Hallinan, who initially recruited her to the district attorney’s office. Harris served as San Francisco district attorney until 2010, when she won the race to become the state attorney general.
Harris’ critics argue that she did not do enough while attorney general to reduce California’s prison population or to investigate police shootings. They also point to her record on upholding high sentences for wrongful convictions. However, Harris argues that she was tough against gangs and traffickers, but also promoted some progressive programs like job training for low-level offenders.
Harris was elected to the Senate in 2016, after the seat was vacated by retiring Senator Barbara Boxer. As a member of the influential Senate Judiciary and Intelligence Committees, Harris has raised her profile by grilling Trump administration nominees such as Brett Kavanaugh. However, Harris has also worked with Republican senators on legislation, and has been praised Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham as “smart” and “tough.”
She announced she was running for president on January 21, 2019, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and her campaign logo was inspired by Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman to run for president nearly five decades ago. She drew more than 20,000 at her campaign kickoff rally in late January and was viewed as a top-tier contender. She received a boost from her debate attack on Biden on busing, but within days, her on view on the topic became muddled.
And Harris changed her positions on Medicare for All during the presidential campaign. Although she was a sponsor of Senator Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All bill in the Senate in 2017, she diverged from that stance on the campaign trail. Unlike Sanders, Harris did not call for fully eliminating private insurance. Her campaign proposed a system in which people could either purchase government-administrated Medicare plans or buy Medicare plans from private companies.
After struggling with fundraising, she ended her presidential campaign in December 2019, before any votes were cast. “I’m not a billionaire. I can’t fund my own campaign,” she said. “And as the campaign has gone on, it’s become harder and harder to raise the money we need to compete.”
Although she has been criticized by some progressives for her time as attorney general, Harris has largely signed onto progressive bills while in the Senate. Along with the Congressional Black Caucus and Senator Cory Booker, she is a co-sponsor of the wide-ranging police reform bill called the “Justice In Policing Act of 2020” which passed in the House in June.
Harris married Doug Emhoff in 2014. Emhoff has two children from a previous marriage, who call Harris “Momala.” Emhoff is an attorney who focuses on entertainment, sports and complex business, real estate and intellectual property litigation disputes.