Kamala Harris: A trailblazing ‘fearless fighter for the little guy’

Joe Biden’s running mate known for tough questioning of Trump administration officials

A look at the career of Joe Biden's running mate for the US presidential election, Kamala Harris, the first black woman and the first person of Indian descent to be nominated for US national office by one of the country's major parties. Video: NYT

 

Just a year ago, Kamala Harris and Joe Biden were sparring on a debate stage over racism. Harris, then a Democratic presidential candidate, attacked her rival over his past opposition to mandated busing to integrate racially segregated schools.

“I do not believe you are a racist,” Harris told Biden. “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. That little girl was me.”

A year later, Harris is once again sharing a stage with Biden, after agreeing to serve as the former vice-president’s running mate in his bid to unseat Donald Trump. Biden announced his selection of Harris on Tuesday, making the California senator the first woman of colour to join a major political party’s presidential ticket.

Harris, the daughter of Jamaican and Indian immigrants, will be the first black and Asian American vice-president if she and Biden defeat Trump in the November presidential election.

Harris’s career has been defined by trailblazing. In 2003, after several years in the Alameda county district attorney’s office, she became the first black woman to be elected as San Francisco’s district attorney. Seven years later, she made history again as the first black woman to be elected as California attorney general.

“I’m proud to call @KamalaHarris my dear friend and sister – and next year, I’ll be even more proud to call her our Vice President,” tweeted fellow senator Cory Booker. “This is history. Kamala is a trailblazer who will serve this country well as the first Black and Asian American woman on a major party’s ticket.”

Tough questioning

As a member of the Senate judiciary committee, she quickly became known for her tough questioning of Trump administration officials, such as former attorney general Jeff Sessions, who said Harris made him “nervous”.

During the tense supreme court confirmation hearing for Donald Trump’s controversial pick Brett Kavanaugh, Harris earned praise from liberals for her line of questioning.

“Can you think of any laws that give the government the power to make decisions about the male body?” she asked the conservative judge as she grilled him on his views on Roe v Wade, the landmark 1973 case that recognised a woman’s constitutional right to abortion.

However, while Harris’s past roles appear to have prepared her well for committee hearings, her prosecutorial record has also attracted criticism, with many criminal justice activists arguing Harris did not go far enough to crack down on police misconduct.

That criticism hampered Harris’s own presidential campaign, which came to an end in December. The rising star had originally been considered a frontrunner for the nomination, and she jumped in the polls after she confronted Biden at the first Democratic debate.

But Harris’s post-debate polling bump was short-lived, and she was forced to suspend her campaign late last year as her fundraising dried up. After her withdrawal, Harris and Biden indicated they were on excellent terms, despite their debate dust-up, and she endorsed her former rival in March.

Close friendship

There had been widespread speculation that Harris would join the Democratic presidential ticket, particularly because she worked with Biden’s late son. Harris and Beau Biden simultaneously served as state attorneys general, and the pair developed a close friendship as they worked on cases together. Beau died of brain cancer in 2015 at age 46.

“Back when Kamala was attorney general, she worked closely with Beau,” Biden said in a tweet announcing his selection. “I watched as they took on the big banks, lifted up working people, and protected women and kids from abuse. I was proud then, and I’m proud now to have her as my partner in this campaign.”

The selection of Harris could further improve Biden’s standing among black voters, who were instrumental in his successful bid to capture the Democratic nomination. During her presidential campaign, Harris frequently cited her degree from Howard University, a historically black university, and her membership in Alpha Kappa Alpha, the nation’s oldest black sorority, to help her develop closer ties with African American women.

Harris’s presence on the presidential ticket could help boost African American turnout, but she will also probably face continued criticism over her long prosecutorial career, particularly as the nation experiences a reckoning over racism and policing.

In the weeks after the death of George Floyd, an African American man who was killed by a white Minneapolis police officer, Biden was urged to choose a black woman as his running mate. However, many progressives complained Harris’s background as a prosecutor made her an inappropriate choice.

Those critiques were clearly not enough to sway Biden, who described Harris as “a fearless fighter for the little guy, and one of the country’s finest public servants”. – Guardian

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