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Kamala Harris could be the first Black woman to be VP. Here’s what you need to know about her

Sen. Kamala Harris.
California Sen. Kamala Harris was picked Tuesday by Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, as his running mate.
(Spencer Platt / Getty Images)

Kamala Harris is a trailblazing choice for vice president, the first Black woman and first Asian American in history to run nationally on a major-party ticket.

Her ascension is not unexpected. She has been a rising Democratic Party star for years, gaining a national platform after being elected to the U.S. Senate in 2016 following two terms as California attorney general.

As a member of the Senate Judiciary and Intelligence committees, she’s been praised for her methodical approach to questioning during hearings with Trump appointees.

She attempted to leverage that political star power last year during her 10-month presidential campaign, in which she invoked her legal background and used the slogan “For the People” and promised to “prosecute the case” against President Trump.

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Though her presidential campaign faltered, she’s remained popular with Democrats and long has been considered a top contender for the No. 2 spot on the Democratic ticket alongside Joe Biden, despite their heated confrontation over busing and school integration during a June 2019 debate.

Here’s what you need to know about the woman who could be the next vice president.

She’s the daughter of immigrants

Harris was born in Oakland on Oct. 20, 1964, to breast cancer researcher Shyamala Gopalan and economist Donald Harris, immigrants from India and Jamaica, respectively, who met at civil rights protests on campus while they were graduate students at the UC Berkeley.

Harris’ parents divorced when she was a child, and she and her younger sister, Maya, lived with their mother in Berkeley and Montreal. Gopalan, who died of colon cancer in 2009, was a key figure in Harris’ life, and she has spoken about how her mother’s activism inspired her worldview.

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“We were raised to believe public service is a noble cause and the fight for justice is everyone’s responsibility,” Harris said during her campaign launch rally in Oakland last year. “In fact, my mother used to say, ‘Don’t sit around and complain about things, do something.’”

She lives in Los Angeles

Harris lives in Brentwood with her husband, entertainment lawyer Douglas Emhoff. The two were set up on a date by one of Harris’ friends, according to CNN, and have been married since 2014.

Emhoff was not well-known before her presidential campaign, but drew attention last year after he helped restrain a protester who confronted Harris on stage during an event. Harris has two stepchildren — from Emhoff’s first marriage — who call her “Momala.”

She’s a prosecutor by training

Harris graduated from Howard University in Washington, D.C., and the UC Hastings College of Law.

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She worked as a Bay Area prosecutor for more than a decade before being elected San Francisco district attorney in 2003, making her the first Black woman to serve as a district attorney in California. In that race, in which she beat an incumbent, she pledged to oppose capital punishment. Harris was criticized for keeping that promise — she did not seek the death penalty in 2004 for a man convicted of killing a police officer.

Despite what was seen at the time as her liberal record, Harris became the first Black American and first woman to be elected as California attorney general in 2010.

With P.V. Gopalan, an upright civil servant and doting patriarch, Kamala Harris forged one of the defining relationships of her life.

Despite branding herself as a “progressive prosecutor” during her presidential campaign, some critics said she didn’t do enough to reform a criminal justice system that disproportionately incarcerates Black and brown people. Harris has said she became a prosecutor to change the system from the inside, and make sure people like her were in the room.

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“Why is it that we should only be on the outside of the system?” she said during a June 2019 NAACP event in South Carolina. “Isn’t there a role for us to play being on the inside, where the decisions are made?”

She was the second Black woman elected to the Senate

Harris, who was elected to the Senate in 2016, is also the first South Asian American senator. She has been praised for deftly interrogating Trump officials, including Atty. Gen. William Barr and eventual Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh during Senate Judiciary Committe hearings and then-Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions during an Intelligence Committee hearing.

Harris also sits on the Homeland Security and Budget committees.

California’s Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom would pick her replacement in the Senate if her ticket wins.

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The appointment promises to be one of the most consequential of his political career, both in California and in regard to any ambitions he may have for White House.

She was good friends with Biden’s son Beau

Harris’ terms as California attorney general overlapped with Beau Biden’s time in the same role in Delaware. She and Joe Biden’s son worked closely together, as did their staffs.

“We were AGs together, and you couldn’t find a person who cared more deeply for his family, the nation he served, and the state of Delaware,” Harris tweeted last year on the anniversary of Beau Biden’s death in 2015.

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Joe Biden referenced the friendship between the two as he announced her as his running mate.

She clashed with Biden at a key debate

Harris’ presidential campaign started off strong with a massive rally in Oakland and a flood of donations, but by summer 2019 she was struggling to gain traction. Then came the June 27 debate in Miami, where Harris contrasted her personal story as a young child who benefited from school desegregation with Biden’s comments on his history of working with segregationists during his time in the Senate.

“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,” she said. “And that little girl was me.”

Biden later commented that he wasn’t prepared for Harris to attack him in that way, especially given her relationship to his late son. As speculation over whom Biden would pick as his running mate grew, some wondered whether Harris’ attack — and what some called a lack of remorse — would take her out of the running.

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But the two had clearly made peace even before the VP announcement. Last month Biden was photographed by the Associated Press with a sheet of paper on which he’d written down Harris’ name, along with five talking points: “Do not hold grudges.” “Campaigned with me & Jill.” “Talented.” “Great help to campaign.” “Great respect for her.”


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