Kamala Harris, a U.S. senator from California and former presidential candidate, is Joe Biden’s vice-presidential running mate, the Biden campaign announced Tuesday, via a tweet to supporters. Biden’s one-time opponent has made headlines for her sharp criticism of him on the campaign trail, alongside controversy over her time as a prosecutor in California.
Within minutes of the Biden campaign’s announcement, President Donald Trump tweeted a video lambasting Harris as “rushing to the radical left,” citing her support for tax hikes and Medicare for All.
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Harris is the first Black woman and the first candidate of Indian descent to be named on a major U.S. party’s ticket
Harris, 55, is the daughter of immigrants. Her mother was an India-born breast cancer researcher, who did her last decade of research at Berkeley Lab, which conducts research for the Department of Energy. Harris’s father is a Stanford University emeritus economics professor who was born in Jamaica.
“Hopefully it signifies a tremendous shift in the Democratic Party by finally recognizing how important Black people, and most specifically Black women, are to the base,” Angela Rye, a Democratic political strategist, and former Congressional Black Caucus executive director told the Los Angeles Times.
Despite her humble upbringing, Harris was well-known in San Francisco social circles
Harris’s parents divorced when she was 7 years old, and Harris was raised largely by her mother. “We moved a lot,” she told The New Yorker last summer.
But in San Francisco, a Democratic stronghold and home to Californian political families, such as the Feinsteins and Pelosis, she familiarized herself with the social scene.
“In San Francisco — this was especially true 25 years ago — there’s a group of people who socialize with each other, and are very supportive of the opera, the ballet, the arts,” Sharon Owsley, a longtime Harris friend, and former employee, told The New Yorker. “Entry into the group depends on your attributes — not if you have money, but if you are smart. That was the appeal of Kamala. She can turn a room into a group of bystanders.”
She didn’t like the Obama comparisons early in her career
Headlines labeling Harris “the female Obama” have followed her for years, from her time as a district attorney to the end of her bid for the presidency.
“One thing that above all else drives her crazy is getting reduced to a demographic stereotype,” Sean Clegg, a longtime adviser, told The New Yorker in 2019. “She was a prosecutor. They didn’t have the same life experience. She told us, ‘Don’t define me based on something a man did.’”
Still, Obama applauded the Biden campaign’s announcement, tweeting Tuesday, “She [Harris] is more than prepared for the job. He added, “This is a good day for our country.”
Her past as a prosecutor has been both a boon and a drawback
Criminal justice reform was a centerpiece of Harris’ presidential bid, highlighting the 13 years she spent as a prosecutor in Alameda County and across the bay in San Francisco. She bills herself as a “progressive prosecutor” and says she worked to reform the criminal justice system, often pointing at an initiative she launched in 2005 to help first-time drug offenders reintegrate into society. But critics have denounced some of her tough-on-crime policies, including an anti-truancy program that threatened jail time for parents whose children skipped school, and her handling of wrongful convictions.
One of the most controversial cases during Harris’ stint as a district attorney was that of Jamal Trulove, who served more than six years in prison on a murder charge from a 2007 shooting. He was acquitted in a retrial in 2015, and in 2018, was awarded $13.1 million dollars after a jury found police officers fabricated evidence against him and withheld evidence that would have helped his case.
In the wake of this summer’s protests against racism and police brutality, Harris’s background could be a turnoff for voters, especially younger and more liberal people of color. Harris has held elected office since 2003 — and hasn’t looked back. That year, she won the election for San Francisco district attorney and won reelection in 2007. Three years later, in 2010, she narrowly beat Republican Steve Cooley to become California attorney general. She was reelected in 2014 over Republican attorney Ronald Gold.
Harris took her political career a step further in 2016 when she defeated former Democratic Rep. Loretta Sanchez for election as U.S. senator from California. Harris kicked off her presidential campaign just halfway through her first term as senator
She announced her candidacy on “Good Morning America” on Jan. 21, 2019, which coincided with Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Her slogan, “Kamala Harris For The People” referenced her past as a prosecutor.
Despite her sharp criticism of Biden, Harris endorsed him for president in March. Three months after dropping out of the presidential race, Harris posted a video on Twitter in which she told supporters, “I believe in Joe.” “I will do everything in my power to help elect him the next President of the United States,” she wrote in the accompanying tweet.
The endorsement was a far cry from the campaign trail. In a viral moment during her first presidential debate in June 2019, she called out Biden for speaking warmly of his working relationships with segregationist lawmakers at a campaign event that month. She attacked his opposition to school busing in the 1970s to integrate schools.
“There was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bused to school every day,” Harris said. “And that little girl was me.” But within a day of her dropping out, Biden told reporters he would “of course” consider her as vice-presidential running mate.
“Senator Harris has the capacity to be anything she wants to be. I mean it sincerely,” Biden said in December 2019. “She is solid. She can be president someday herself. She can be the vice president. She can go on to be a Supreme Court justice. She can be an attorney general. I mean, she has the enormous capability.” (VOA/SP)