What You Need to Know About Vice President Kamala Harris
Kamala Harris is officially Vice President of the United States. The former California senator made history on Wednesday when she became the first woman, first Black person, and first South Asian person to hold the nation's second-highest office.
Harris has had a long career leading up to this point. When she was elected to the U.S. Senate, she became the second-ever Black woman to serve there, jumping from her position as San Francisco's district attorney and California's attorney general to a place on the national stage.
Read on for everything you need to know about the newly-minted vice president.
Where did Kamala Harris grow up?
Harris was born in Oakland, California, and raised by her Indian mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, and Jamaican father, Donald Harris. The couple met during the civil rights movement and are both immigrants.
The vice president studied at Howard University, a historically Black college in Washington, D.C., and graduated in 1981. She soon returned to California, where she earned her J.D. from the University of California, Hastings College of the Law in 1989. After law school, Insider reports that Harris worked for Louise Renne, San Francisco's city attorney, with a focus on prosecuting child sexual assault cases.
How did she get her start in politics?
According to ABC News, Harris went on to serve as district attorney of San Francisco from 2004 to 2010 — and was the first African-American woman to be elected to that position — before she was the attorney general of California, from 2011 to 2017. Her work in California drew the attention of President Barack Obama, especially her work with criminal justice reform. As attorney general, she instituted a program that allowed first-time drug offenders to opt for education and work opportunities instead of serving jail time.
In 2012, Harris captured the national spotlight when she spoke at the Democratic National Convention. As a rising star in the Democratic party, she broke barriers for women and people of color, becoming the first woman of color to serve California in the U.S. Senate, and the second Black woman and first South Asian-American ever elected to the Senate.
Her time in Washington came with a multitude of viral moments, with clips of her questioning Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, and CIA Director Gina Haspel going viral on social media. She's seen as one of the most progressive members of the Democratic party, with a voting record that parallels both Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand.
Harris is also a published author, having released a memoir, The Truths We Hold: An American Journey, and a children's book, Superheroes Are Everywhere.
What has Kamala Harris done as a Senator?
On Capitol Hill, Harris has fought for executive actions to counter gun violence, including an outright ban on assault weapons and near-universal background checks. She supports the idea of Medicare for all, although a new proposal would allow for private health insurers to continue providing service, "as long as they abide by federal government regulations," ABC notes. Harris also opposes tax increases on middle-income Americans and supports decriminalizing marijuana at the federal level.
Critics have called her out for flipping on her previous policy in California. From 2011 to 2017, while she was attorney general of California, Harris's policies had tens of thousands of residents in the state being arrested every year for marijuana infractions, according to a 2016 Drug Policy Alliance report. In response to that criticism, Harris said that "times have changed."
Harris has also proposed the reform of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) as well as worked to advance bail reform legislation.
Why did she drop out of the Democratic primary?
Before she was a frontrunner for vice president, Harris ran in the 2020 Democratic primary along with Warren, Gillibrand, Amy Klobuchar, and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard. Harris announced her bid on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, only to drop out of the race in December 2019.
During one of the Democratic debates, Harris and Biden came to a head over racial tensions.
"It was hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senators who built their reputations and career on the segregation of race in this country," Harris told Biden in the June 2019 debate. "And it was not only that, but you also worked with them to oppose busing. 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. And that little girl was me."
In January 2019, The New York Times published an op-ed by law professor Lara Bazelon. She wrote that if Harris "wants people who care about dismantling mass incarceration and correcting miscarriages of justice to vote for her, she needs to radically break with her past." She cited Harris's time as California's attorney general and her upholding wrongful convictions, concealing prosecutorial misconduct, and only passing "cautious reforms."
Harris would go on to endorse Biden on March 8. "I believe in Joe. I really believe in him, and I have known him for a long time," she said in her announcement.