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'A fearless fighter': Who is Kamala Harris, Joe Biden's pick for his vice-presidential running mate?

The selection is the latest success in a remarkable career.

Senator Kamala Harris will become a key part of Joe Biden's campaign.
Senator Kamala Harris will become a key part of Joe Biden's campaign.
Image: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

THE CHOICE OF Kamala Harris as Joe Biden’s running mate in the US presidential election is the latest history-making moment in a decades-long career. 

Described by Biden last night as a “fearless fighter for the little guy”, Harris will become the first female vice-president of the US if Democrats win in November.  

“My mother used to have a saying,” the 55-year-old Harris is fond of recounting. “She would say to me ‘You may be the first to do many things but make sure you’re not the last.’”

Harris was the first black attorney general of California, the first woman to hold the post, and the first woman of South Asian heritage to be elected to the US Senate.

Now, she becomes the first black woman to be selected as the vice-presidential nominee on a major party ticket.

And with the 77-year-Biden expected to serve only a single term if elected, Harris would be favored to win the Democratic presidential nomination four years from now.

That could give her a shot at more history-making – as the first female president of the United States.

“Joe Biden can unify the American people because he’s spent his life fighting for us. And as president, he’ll build an America that lives up to our ideals,” she tweeted last night. 

“Senator Harris is a tenacious and trailblazing leader who will make a great partner on the campaign trail,” said Susan Rice, who served as national security advisor under president Barack Obama and was also under consideration to be Biden’s running mate.

Since ending her White House run and endorsing Biden, Harris has stepped up her criticism of President Donald Trump on a host of issues – from his handling of the Covid-19 outbreak to race to immigration.

“Trump’s repeated racist rhetoric tries to place blame for his coronavirus failures on anyone but himself,” she tweeted recently. 

“It’s dangerous and it’s wrong – and has real life consequences for Asian Americans and Asian immigrants.”

Background

Harris’s own parents were immigrants to the United States – her father from Jamaica, her mother from India. Born in 1964 in Oakland, California, her father was an economics professor and her mother a breast cancer researcher. 

Her parents separated when Harris was about five years old and she and her sister Maya were raised by her mother, who died in 2009.

Harris earned her undergraduate degree at historically black Howard University in Washington and is a proud member of ‘Alpha Kappa Alpha’ the oldest African-American sorority.

She earned her law degree from the University of California, Hastings College of Law, became a prosecutor and served two terms as a district attorney in San Francisco.

She was elected attorney general of California in 2010 and re-elected in 2014. 

As attorney general, Harris developed a working relationship with Biden’s late son Beau, who held the same position in the state of Delaware. Beau Biden died of cancer in 2015.

Her failure, however, to enact bold criminal justice reforms while attorney general dogged her presidential campaign and did not sit well with many voters during the primaries.

Harris was elected to the Senate in November 2016, becoming just the second black female senator ever.

As a senator, she has employed tough questioning skills honed as a prosecutor, notably during the Senate confirmation hearing of Supreme Court justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

election-2020-biden-vp Kamala Harris speaking during a presidential primary debate. Source: John Minchillo/AP/Press Association Images

Trump himself recalled that briefing yesterday, when he commented that “she was extraordinarily nasty to Kavanaugh, Judge Kavanaugh, now Justice Kavanaugh”. 

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“She was nasty to a level that was just a horrible thing the way she was, the way she treated now-Justice Kavanaugh. And I won’t forget that soon.”

“Can you think of any laws that give government the power to make decisions about the male body?” Harris asked Kavanaugh. 

Democratic presidential nominee campaign

Harris launched her campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination on Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday in January 2019 at an event attended by 20,000 people in Oakland.

She clashed with Biden during the first Democratic debate, chiding the former senator over his opposition to 1970s busing programs that forced integration of segregated schools.

“There was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public school, and she was bused to school every day,” she said. “And that little girl was me.”

It provided her with a breakout moment and a bump in the polls but it was to prove short-lived. Harris dropped out of the race in December 2019 and endorsed Biden in March.

Despite their debate clash, Biden has made it clear he does not hold a grudge, describing Harris as a “first-rate intellect, a first-rate candidate and a real competitor”.

Harris voted for Trump’s impeachment at his Senate trial and to defeat him she has invoked the need to rebuild the “Obama coalition” – African Americans, Hispanics, women, independents and millennials.

A tireless campaigner, Harris is said to have a knack for personal connection and a steely demeanor. 

Along with her experience in the judicial, executive and legislative branches of government, Harris is expected to provide a jolt of energy to a White House campaign overshadowed by the coronavirus and economic crisis.

With reporting from Dominic McGrath

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