Kamala Harris Becomes the First Black Female Vice President in U.S. History

By: Michelle Konstantinovsky  | 

Kamala Harris
Kamala Harris is sworn is as U.S. vice president at the inauguration of U.S. Joe Biden on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 20, 2021. She becomes the first-ever Black woman to be elected vice president. Rob Carr/Getty Images

"That day when a little girl from Oaktown became the first black woman to be a major-party vice-presidential nominee..." When lawyer Maya Harris tweeted that congratulatory sentiment, she succinctly summed up the pride and historical significance of her sister's triumph. On Aug. 11, 2020, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Bidenofficially announced former California Sen. Kamala Harris as his vice presidential running mate for the 2020 presidential election.

His selection meant Harris (Biden's former opponent in the race) would become the third woman in history (and first Black woman and first Asian American woman) to be nominated for vice president by a major political party.

But Harris made history again when she and Biden won the presidential election. These were perhaps the most disputed election results ever after Donald Trump claimed the election was rigged. But finally on Jan. 6, 2021, after a deadly insurrection on the U.S. Capitol, Biden and Harris were officially certified as the winners of the electoral college. Harris became the first-ever woman to be sworn in as vice president of the United States on Jan. 20, 2021.

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Harris' Early Life

Born in Oakland, California on Oct. 20, 1964, Kamala Devi Harris had two major role models from the start: Her mother, Shyamala Gopalan (whom Harris has described as the most important influence on her life) was a breast cancer researcher from India, and her father, Donald Harris, immigrated to the United States from Jamaica and worked as an economics professor at Stanford University. Her parents met during graduate school at UC Berkeley while attending political protests, and although they divorced when Harris was a child, both are said to have had a significant influence on her professional trajectory and political leanings. (Gopalan died from colon cancer in 2009 and Harris retired early from Stanford in 1998 and has since worked as a researcher and economic consultant for the Jamaican government.)

Harris earned her undergraduate degree from Howard University in 1986 and her law degree from the University of California, Hastings three years later. She then kicked off her career in the Alameda County district attorney's office and worked as an Oakland deputy district attorney from 1990 to 1998. In that role, she garnered a reputation for being tough on issues like gang violence, drug trafficking and sexual abuse.

In 2003, she became the district attorney of the City and County of San Francisco, and six years and two terms later, was elected attorney general of California by a margin of less than 1 percent. The narrow win made history as Harris became the first female and the first Black person to hold the post.

One of Harris' hallmark moves during her time as attorney general was refusing to defend Proposition 8, the 2008 California ballot measure that banned same-sex marriage in the state and was later deemed unconstitutional in federal court. In 2013, Harris officiated the first same-sex marriage in California shortly after the federal appeals court decision.

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Harris Makes History as Senator

In November 2016, Harris defeated Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez for a seat in the U.S. Senate, becoming the second Black woman and the first South Asian American ever to enter the legislative branch. She served on the chamber's Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Select Committee on Intelligence, Committee on the Judiciary and Committee on the Budget. Harris was known for her support of a single-payer health care system and introduced legislation to increase outdoor recreation site access in urban areas and to provide financial relief to those facing rising housing costs.

In 2017, Harris made headlines while serving on the Judiciary Committee for her rapid-fire and pointed questioning of then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions and again in 2018 for "grilling" Supreme Court Justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

In 2019, Harris published her memoir, "The Truths We Hold: An American Journey," and soon after announced that she was seeking the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. She dropped out of the race in September 2019, at which point Biden said he would "of course" consider her as his running mate.

"Senator Harris has the capacity to be anything she wants to be," Biden said December 2020. "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 enormous capability."

Harris submitted a formal letter of resignation to California Gov. Gavin Newsom ending her four years in the Senate on Jan. 18, 2021, to assume her duties as vice president.

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Harris as Vice President

Despite the memorable exchange during the 2019 debates in which Harris challenged Biden over school busing, Harris and Biden have said in multiple interviews that they plan to tackle their administration as partners. "There's not a single decision I've made yet about personnel or about how to proceed that I haven't discussed with Kamala first," Biden told CNN's Jake Tapper in their first joint interview on Dec. 3, 2020. Harris agreed saying she plans on being a full partner.

"We are full partners in this process," Harris told Tapper. "And I will tell you that the President-elect has been, since the first day he asked me to join him on the ticket, been very clear with me that he wants me to be the first and the last in the room. And so on every issue that impacts the American people I will be a full partner to the President-elect and the President, and whatever our priorities are I will be there to support him and support the American people."

Originally Published: Aug 11, 2020

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