Staff Writer and Editor-in-Chief
On Tuesday, Aug. 11, Joe Biden announced his running mate on the Democratic ticket would be California Senator Kamala Harris, making her the first Black and Asian-American woman to be a part of a major party ticket for national office.
Harris, 55, is the daughter of Jamaican and Indian immigrants. Born in Oakland, CA, and raised in neighboring Berkeley, she attended prominent HBCU Howard University and studied at UC Hastings College of Law, ultimately pursuing a career in criminal justice. Harris served as San Francisco’s district attorney and later the attorney general of California; voters elected her to the US Senate in 2016, making her the second Black woman and the first Indian-American senator in US history. She will be the first Democratic presidential or vice presidential nominee in history to hail from the state of California.
The Biden campaign first broke the news in a text message to supporters. In a later tweet, Biden explained, “Back when Kamala was Attorney General, she worked closely with Beau.” Beau Biden was the former Attorney General of Delaware and Joe Biden’s eldest son. In 2015, he died at age 46 after a battle with brain cancer. “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,” Biden imparted.
Former President Barack Obama praised Biden’s choice in a statement released across social media platforms the same afternoon: “Joe Biden nailed this decision… This is a good day for our country. Now let’s go win this thing.”
In a Democratic primary debate in March against Senator Bernie Sanders, Biden promised voters that he would pick a woman to be his vice president, in addition to nominating a Black woman to the Supreme Court. Harris is only the third woman to be a vice-presidential nominee; the first, Geraldine Ferraro, was part of Walter Mondale’s ticket in 1984, and Sarah Palin was Senator John McCain’s running mate in 2008.
The Trump campaign wasted no time in attacking the Biden-Harris ticket, with Trump 2020 senior advisor Katrina Pierson remarking, “In her failed attempt at running for president, Kamala Harris gleefully embraced the left’s radical manifesto, calling for trillions of dollars in new taxes and backing Bernie Sanders’ government takeover of healthcare. She is proof that Joe Biden is an empty shell being filled with the extreme agenda of the radicals on the left.”
Reactions to the announcement ranged from pointed criticism on the left of Harris’s prosecutorial record to widespread applause, lauding the historic nature of the choice. In a clear effort to unite the party behind Biden and Harris, virtually every major Democratic political official, including liberal champions Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, offered glowing praise of the ticket. Harris was arguably one of the safest choices among the potential candidates, bringing both adaptable policy priorities and a relatively moderate national profile, although significantly more liberal than Biden.
Following the national Black Lives Matter protests ignited by the death of George Floyd, now one of the largest movements in American history, Biden faced heavy pressure from activists and many Democratic representatives and party officials to select a Black running mate. In addition, Biden’s primary campaign was saved from collapse after his landslide victory in the South Carolina primary, largely propelled by Black voters following his critical endorsement from SC Representative James E. Clyburn. In picking Harris to be his running mate, Biden may be recognizing the role Black voters—and Black women in particular—played in the strength of his campaign, as well as their role as the backbone of the Democratic party overall.
Harris’s career as a California prosecutor has come under greater scrutiny since the protests calling for racial justice engulfed the nation. Many progressive activists have condemned her handling of officer misconduct, the death penalty, and over-incarceration, among other things. In response, Harris has defended her record by citing progressive policies, but has also noted, “The bottom line is the buck stops with me, and I take full responsibility for what my office did.” While in the Senate, Harris pushed for many progressive criminal justice reforms, including a federal ban on lynching and reform of the bail system.
In a Crooked Media interview with Jon Favreau in 2019, Harris commented on her position as a trailblazing figure in state and national politics: “I fully understand and carry as a real weight of responsibility—understanding what it means in terms of my ability to break these barriers—what it will do, and can do, to provide a path for others. My mother used to have many sayings and one of them, she’d say ‘Kamala you may be the first to do many things; make sure you’re not the last.’ And I carry that with me as a great responsibility, some might even say a great weight of responsibility. I take it very seriously.”
(Sources: NYT, Washington Post, NBC, Politico, Vox, 538)