Who is Kamala Harris, Joe Biden’s Vice-Presidential Running Mate?

Joe Biden described Kamala Harris as “a fearless fighter” in a tweet announcing her as his running mate.

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(This story was originally published on 23 January 2019 and is being republished from The Quint's archives in the light of the vice presidential debate between Kamala Harris and Mike Pence scheduled for Thursday, 7 October, ahead of the US elections.)

Video Editor: Puneet Bhatia
Video Producer: Debayan Dutta

Democratic Presidential Candidate Joe Biden announced California senator Kamala Harris as his running mate for the upcoming United States presidential elections on 3 November.

Harris, 55, born to an Indian mother and Jamaican father, is the first American of Indian descent to be named for the vice presidential post in the United States.

“I have the great honor to announce that I’ve picked @KamalaHarris – a fearless fighter for the little guy, and one of the country’s finest public servants – as my running mate,” Biden tweeted at 1:47 am IST on Wednesday, 12 August.

Senator Harris was the first person of colour and the first woman to hold the post of attorney general of California, the first south Asian and second black woman to be elected to the US Senate.

Harris had declared her own candidacy for the 2020 presidential elections on 21 January 2019 – Martin Luther King Jr Day, in what many said was a nod to her Jamaican heritage. She, however, bowed out on 3 December and has since been a vocal supporter of Biden.

An Indian-African-American from California

Harris was born in Oakland in 1964 to an Indian mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, a breast cancer scientist, and a Jamaican father, Donald Harris, an economics professor at Stanford University.

Her sister, Maya Harris, was one of three senior policy advisers who were appointed to lead the development of an agenda for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.

A picture of young Kamala with her mother, Shyamala. 
A picture of young Kamala with her mother, Shyamala. 
(Photo Courtesy: Twitter/@mihirssharma)

In 1998, after graduating from Brown University and getting her law degree from the University of California, Harris joined the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office, where she was made in-charge of the Career Criminal Unit.

In 2003, she was selected as the district attorney of the city and county of San Francisco.

Upon completing two terms as the district attorney of San Francisco, Harris then made history by being elected as the first person of colour and first woman to serve as California’s attorney general in 2011. 

She held the post till 2011, until she assumed a greater role in 2017 as the junior United States senator for California.

Fight For Racial Justics & LGBTQ Rights

Harris has been a prominent advocate of racial-justice legislation after the death of George Floyd in late May. She has also lent strong support for the legalisation of gay marriage, as well as her speeches regarding the importance of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement, gained her a massive base of support among Democrats.

Among the most powerful statements she had made on gay marriage, which won her great favour among the community, was:

“I declined to defend Proposition 8 because it violates the Constitution. The Supreme Court has described marriage as a fundamental right 14 times since 1888. The time has come for this right to be afforded to every citizen.”

Harris proclaims to favour the ‘Left’ ideology as per her presidential campaign, and has now been an active supporter of measures such as providing basic monthly incomes to low-income families, “Medicare for All”, and legalisation of recreational marijuana.

She has also spoken about reforming the education system to lessen the debt on those seeking a college degree, allowing tax-breaks to middle-class and working families, promoting environmental sustainability, and equal rights for all American citizens.

Speaking of her vision for the future, she said:

“A country where for-profit prison businesses  –  a billion-dollar industry – are a thing of the past. We’re going to fight FOR an America where all our civil rights are respected.”

Taking on Power Structures

In January 2019, while interrogating Brett Kavanaugh, former Supreme Court Justice who was accused of multiple cases of harassment, Harris delivered a moving speech on how important it is to have the right people on a seat as important as a Supreme Court Justice.

In the same hearing, she had a tense interaction with Kavanaugh that was lauded by Democrats.

She also schooled Kirstjen Nielsen, Secretary of Homeland Security, for saying that she ‘didn’t know’ if Norway was ‘predominantly white’ when asked, during the furore over Trump’s infamous “sh*thole countries” comment. Harris lashed out at Nielsen, saying that her selective ignorance of an issue as important as this caused her concern about Nielsen’s job, and whether she was fit for carrying out the duties of Secretary of Homeland Security at all.

In another hard-hitting speech about women, Harris had said, “When you lift up women, you lift up families, you lift up communities and you lift up economies and you life up America.”

Weathering Criticism

Harris has often been criticised for her hard-lined approach in cases, during her time as Attorney General of California. 
Harris has often been criticised for her hard-lined approach in cases, during her time as Attorney General of California. 
(Photo: AP)

Many people – even in her own party – had criticised her for being weak on the criminal justice reform system , accusing her of not being the “progressive prosecutor” she presents herself to be.

In a scathing New York Times op-ed, Harris was chastised for a number of issues that the author said proved she was hardly progressive.

Some of these include appealing a county ruling that the death penalty was unconstitutional, championing legislation that would punish parents of ‘habitually truant’ children despite concerns this would disproportionately affect low-income families, opposing a Bill that would require her to investigate all shootings involving officers, and refusing to support standards to regulate use of body-cameras worn by police officers – all positions she was criticised from the Left for.

Harris has offered a defence, saying many of the positions she took were out of obligation towards her clients who she ‘couldn’t fire’, but critics maintain that this is insufficient to explain away many of her illiberal positions.

Harris also faced criticism for defending misconduct by prosecutors and sheriff’s deputies. Her refusal to prosecute Steve Mnuchin, then the head of California's OneWest Bank, who had been accused of potentially illegal foreclosure practices that led to the financial crisis (where the state faced a shortfall of at least $11.2 billion, that was projected to top $40 billion between 2009–2010), despite extracting $20 billion from Wall Street to compensate the California homeowners – amid many other instances that worked against her, an article by Business Insider claimed.

Harris on Trump

In her article published on Medium, Harris lashed out President Donald Trump’s policies regarding immigration, and his propagating an America filled with “white supremacists”.

However, she emphasised that her campaign was not directed against Trump and his policies, but rather a focus on bringing about a better country for its people.

“I want to be clear: Ours will not be a campaign against our current president. It will be a campaign FOR the very future of our country. FOR the people.”
Kamala Harris in Medium post
Harris served as the Attorney General of California from 2011 to 2017.
Harris served as the Attorney General of California from 2011 to 2017.
(Photo: AP)
“Together, we will fight FOR a country with strong public schools in every zip code. A country where one job is enough to pay the bills. A country with full, universal health care for every single American.”
Kamala Harris in Medium post

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