Kamala Harris: The First Woman Vice President

Kamala Harris is a historic figure in American politics. She is the first woman and the first person of color to serve as the vice president of the United States, as well as the first person of Indian and Jamaican descent to hold the office. She is also a former senator from California and a former attorney general of California, with a long and distinguished career in public service.

Early Life and Education

Kamala Harris was born on October 20, 1964, in Oakland, California, to immigrant parents. Her father, Donald Harris, was a professor of economics at Stanford University, and her mother, Shyamala Gopalan, was a cancer researcher and civil rights activist. Kamala grew up in a multicultural and progressive environment, attending both a black Baptist church and a Hindu temple. She was also influenced by her maternal grandfather, who was a diplomat and a freedom fighter in India.

Kamala attended Howard University, a historically black university in Washington, D.C., where she majored in political science and economics. She was also active in student government and joined the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority. She then earned her law degree from the University of California, Hastings College of the Law, in 1989.

Legal and Political Career

Kamala began her legal career as a deputy district attorney in Alameda County, California, where she prosecuted cases of gang violence, drug trafficking, and sexual abuse. She rose through the ranks and became the district attorney of San Francisco in 2003, the first woman and the first person of color to hold the position. She was re-elected in 2007 and gained a reputation for being tough on crime, but also for implementing progressive reforms, such as creating a reentry program for low-level offenders and refusing to seek the death penalty.

In 2010, Kamala ran for attorney general of California, the chief law enforcement officer of the state. She faced a close and contentious race against the Republican candidate, Steve Cooley, but ultimately prevailed by a margin of less than 1 percent, becoming the first woman and the first African American to be elected as attorney general of California. She was re-elected in 2014 and continued to pursue her agenda of fighting for justice, equality, and the environment. She also gained national attention for her role in negotiating a $25 billion settlement with the nation’s largest banks over the foreclosure crisis, and for defending the Affordable Care Act and same-sex marriage in court.

In 2016, Kamala decided to run for the U.S. Senate, following the retirement of Barbara Boxer, a longtime Democratic senator from California. She faced another Democrat, Loretta Sanchez, a congresswoman from Orange County, in the general election, as California has a top-two primary system that allows the two highest vote-getters, regardless of party, to advance to the runoff. Kamala won the election with 62 percent of the vote, becoming the second African American woman and the first South Asian American to serve in the U.S. Senate.

As a senator, Kamala served on several influential committees, including the Judiciary, Homeland Security, Intelligence, and Budget committees. She advocated for health care reform, immigration reform, criminal justice reform, climate change action, and economic justice. She also gained a national profile for her pointed and effective questioning of Trump administration officials during Senate hearings, such as Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, and Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, who was accused of sexual assault.

Presidential and Vice Presidential Campaigns

In January 2019, Kamala announced her candidacy for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, joining a crowded and diverse field of contenders. She launched her campaign with a rally in Oakland, where she drew a crowd of over 20,000 people. She presented herself as a pragmatic progressive who could unite the party and the country, and who had the experience and the vision to take on the challenges of the 21st century. She also highlighted her personal story and her identity as a woman of color, saying, “I’m running to be president of the people, by the people, and for all people.”

Kamala’s campaign initially generated a lot of excitement and momentum, especially after her strong performance in the first Democratic debate in June 2019, where she confronted the frontrunner, Joe Biden, over his past stance on school busing and his record on racial issues. However, her campaign soon faced difficulties in fundraising, messaging, and strategy, as well as criticism from both the left and the right over her record as a prosecutor and her policy positions on health care, immigration, and other issues. She also struggled to gain traction in the early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire, and in the polls nationally and among key constituencies, such as African American and Latino voters. She ultimately decided to end her campaign in December 2019, citing a lack of resources and a clear path to victory.

Despite her withdrawal from the presidential race, Kamala remained a prominent and influential figure in the Democratic Party and the national political scene. She endorsed Joe Biden for president in March 2020, and became one of his most vocal and effective surrogates, especially during the coronavirus pandemic and the nationwide protests over racial injustice and police brutality. She was also widely considered to be one of the top contenders for Biden’s running mate, as he had pledged to choose a woman for the role. In August 2020, Biden announced that he had selected Kamala as his vice presidential nominee, making her the first woman of color and the first person of Asian descent to be on a major party’s presidential ticket.

Kamala accepted the nomination at the Democratic National Convention, where she delivered a powerful and inspiring speech that introduced herself to the American people and made the case for Biden’s presidency. She also made history as the first woman of color to participate in a vice presidential debate, where she faced off against the incumbent vice president, Mike Pence, and defended Biden’s record and vision, while also criticizing the Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic, the economy, and other issues. She also campaigned vigorously across the country, especially in key battleground states and among communities of color, women, and young voters.

On November 3, 2020, Kamala Harris and Joe Biden won the presidential election, defeating Donald Trump and Mike Pence, in a historic and decisive victory. They received more than 81 million votes, the most ever for a presidential ticket, and secured 306 electoral votes, well above the 270 needed to win. They also flipped five states that Trump had won in 2016: Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Kamala Harris made history as the first woman and the first person of color to be elected as vice president of the United States, shattering one of the highest glass ceilings in American politics and inspiring millions of people, especially women and girls, around the world.

Vice Presidency

Kamala Harris was sworn in as the 49th vice president of the United States on January 20, 2021, at the U.S. Capitol, in a ceremony that was scaled down and secured due to the coronavirus pandemic and the aftermath of protests by Trump supporters on January 6. She took the oath of office from Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina on the Supreme Court, using two Bibles: one that belonged to Thurgood Marshall, the first African American Supreme Court justice, and another that belonged to Regina Shelton, a family friend who was like a second mother to Kamala. She was accompanied by her husband, Doug Emhoff, who became the first second gentleman of the United States, as well as the first Jewish spouse of a president or vice president.

As vice president, Kamala Harris plays a vital role in the Biden administration, serving as a close partner and advisor to the president, as well as a tie-breaking vote in the Senate, where the Democrats have a slim majority. She is also tasked with leading the administration’s efforts on several key issues, such as addressing the root causes of migration from Central America, expanding access to broadband and clean water, advancing voting rights and democracy, and promoting racial equity and justice. She also represents the administration on the world stage, engaging with foreign leaders and allies, and advancing U.S. interests and values.

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