Who is Kamala Harris? The first female, Black and South Asian vice president

David Child
·4-min read
Senator Kamala Harris has dropped out of the race (REUTERS)
Senator Kamala Harris has dropped out of the race (REUTERS)

Kamala Harris has made history as the US’s first female vice president — and the first black woman and the first woman of South Asian descent to hold that office.

The former California Senator, 55, is a battle-tested former presidential candidate who will now work closely with President Joe Biden.

Ms Harris endorsed Mr Biden in March as the Democrats' challenger to Republican President Donald Trump for the White House after dropping out of the race herself.

With the confluence of crises confronting Mr Biden’s administration, and an evenly divided Senate in which she would deliver the tie-breaking vote, Ms Harris is shaping up to be a central player in addressing everything from the coronavirus pandemic to criminal justice reform.

Here's what you need to know about her:

Who is Kamala Harris?

The daughter of Jamaican and Indian parents, Ms Harris was born on October 20, 1964, in Oakland, California.

She went on to earn an undergraduate degree from Howard University and a law degree from the University of California and embark on a career in the law which would see her serve as a San Francisco district attorney and attorney general of California - the first African-American and first woman to do so - prior to transitioning into politics.

Ms Harris was elected to the Senate in 2016, becoming the second African-American woman and first South Asian-American senator in history, according to her website.

Ms Harris was elected to the Senate in 2016AFP via Getty Images
Ms Harris was elected to the Senate in 2016AFP via Getty Images

She has since served on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, the Select Committee on Intelligence, the Committee on the Judiciary, and the Committee on the Budget.

How did she do in the presidential race?

During her bid for the Democratic nomination, Ms Harris pitched herself as a history-making candidate who could appeal to both progressives and moderates.

But she dropped out of the race in December 2019 after suffering a decline in the polls, saying dwindling donations had made it "harder and harder" to compete.

Her wavering views on how to solve the nation's healthcare problems and whether to embrace her past as a prosecutor were among the missteps that dragged down the campaign after its glitzy launch at the beginning of that year.

When did her and Joe Biden start working together?

Ms Harris and Mr Biden clashed during a Democratic primary debate in June last year about the latter's past work with senators who favoured racial segregation and his previous opposition to a policy combating segregation in schools.

Mr Biden, who served two terms as vice-president to Barack Obama, America's first black president, later said he "detested" the segregationists' views amid a backlash over his work with with two southern Democratic senators, Mississippi's James Eastland and Georgia's Herman Talmadge, after joining the Senate himself in the 1970s.

Then, after dropping out, Ms Harris endorsed Mr Biden. She went on to win praise from a wide range of Democrats for being an outspoken advocate for police reform during mass anti-racism demonstrations sparked by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May.

In August, Mr Biden chose Mr Harris as his running mate for the election.

“I have the great honor to announce that I’ve picked Kamala Harris – a fearless fighter for the little guy, and one of the country’s finest public servants – as my running mate,” Mr Biden wrote on Twitter.

In a tweet, Ms Harris said she was “honored” to join Biden on the Democratic ticket and pledged to “do what it takes to make him our Commander-in-Chief”.

Mr Biden and Ms Harris knew each other prior to the 2020 presidential campaign, in part through Ms Harris’ friendship with Mr Biden’s deceased son, Beau.

But they never worked closely together.

After joining the ticket, Ms Harris made efforts to deepen their relationship and is in frequent contact with the president-elect, people close to Ms Harris say.

She has been closely involved with all of Mr Biden’s biggest decisions since winning the election in November, joining him for every one of his key meetings focused on Cabinet picks, the Covid-19 relief bill, security issues and more.

The two talk over the phone nearly every day, and she travels to Delaware sometimes multiple times a week for transition events and meetings.

Symone Sanders, Ms Harris’ chief spokeswoman, said that while the vice president’s portfolio has not been fully defined yet, she has a hand in all aspects of Mr Biden’s agenda.

“There are pieces that Biden may specifically ask her to champion, but outside of that she is at the table for everything, involved in everything, and giving input and feedback and being a supportive partner to him on all pieces,” she said.

Those involved in the transition say both have taken seriously Mr Biden’s insistence that he wants Ms Harris to be the “last voice in the room” on key decisions.

Mr Biden is known to turn to Ms Harris first during meetings to ask for her opinion or perspective on the matter at hand.

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