Kamala Harris makes history today as not only the first woman but first Black person as well as the first person of South Asian descent to become the Vice- President of the United States. FELIX NWANERI reports
It was optimism in the camp of United States (U.S.) Democrats, when then presidential nominee, Joe Biden, who takes oath of office today as the 46th president of the United States (U.S.) announced then California senator, Kamala Harris as his running mate after a month’s long process that saw nearly a dozen prospective running mates vetted by his campaign organisation.
Besides making the 55 year-old California senator the first Black woman and the first person of Indian descent to be nominated for national office by a major party and only the fourth woman in history to be chosen for one of their presidential tickets, the choice also fulfilled the former U.S. vice president’s pledge to select a female running mate.
Harris selection also lend racial diversity, gender parity and generational breadth to Biden’s campaign as well as represented a strategic decision by the former vice president to keep his ticket firmly within the more moderate wing of the Democratic Party.
High-wired politics had characterized the scramble to secure the number two spot on the Democratic presidential ticket. Among the contenders were Senator Harris; Obama-era veteran, Susan Rice and Congresswoman, Karen Bass.
Many had tipped Rice ahead of Harris, who battled Biden for the Democratic presidential nomination and it was evident that some of Biden’s supporters, including his biggest donors, waged a campaign against the California senator behind the scenes due to her attacks on Biden during the debates last year over his record on race relations. The donors also expressed concern that Harris is too ambitious for the role and would spend much of her time positioning herself for a presidential bid in 2024.
Despite the arguments against Harris, the vice presidential selection committee headed by former Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut, one of Biden’s oldest friends, rated her above the other contenders. Other members included Biden campaign co-chair, Eric Garcetti; the mayor of Los Angeles; Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, who represents Biden’s home state of Delaware in the House and Cynthia Hogan, who served as counsel to Biden in the Senate and later in the Barack Obama administration.
While insiders said Biden’s top priority had always been to select a vice president he can trust and someone with whom he can have the same deep personal relationship he had with President Obama during his eight years as vice president, most Democrats believe that the choice is an ideological match.
In an email to supporters, Biden explained his choice of Harris: “I’ve decided that Kamala Harris is the best person to help me take this fight to Donald Trump and Mike Pence and then to lead this nation starting in January 2021.
“I need someone who understands the pain that so many people in our nation are suffering; whether they’ve lost their job, their business, a loved one to this virus. This president says he ‘doesn’t want to be distracted by it.’
He doesn’t understand that taking care of the people of this nation, all the people, isn’t a distraction, it’s the job. Kamala understands that. “Back when Kamala was Attorney General, she worked closely with Beau,” tweeted Biden, referring to his late son, Beau Biden.
“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.” Harris, on her part, said: “Joe Biden can unify the American people because he’s spent his life fighting for us. And as president, he’ll build an America that lives up to our ideals. I’m honored to join him as our party’s nominee for Vice President, and do what it takes to make him our Commander-in-Chief.”
A first-term senator who served as California’s Attorney General from 2010 to 2016, Harris has a uniquely American biography. Her mother was a widely respected breast cancer researcher, who migrated to the U.S. from India in the 1960s. Her father, Donald Harris, is an eminent economist, who spent much of his career at Stanford University.
Also an immigrant, Harris moved to the United States from Jamaica around the time his future wife came from India. The Vice President-elect has drawn on her personal and professional experience to emerge as a leader in the Senate on racial justice issues.
“We’ve all watched her hold the Trump administration accountable for its corruption, stand up to a Justice Department that’s run amok, and be a powerful voice against their extreme nominations,” Biden said in his announcement of Harris as running mate.
He added: “She’s been a leader on criminal justice and marriage equality. And she has focused like a laser on the racial disparities as a result of the coronavirus.” A member of the Judiciary Committee, Harris in 2018 co-sponsored the first-ever bill to make lynching a federal crime.
The bill passed the Senate and the House overwhelmingly. She was also a coauthor of Democrats’ broader police reform legislation, drafted in response to the national uprising that followed the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man killed by Minneapolis police in May, and the fatal police shooting of Breonna Taylor, at her home in Louisville, Kentucky, in March. Former President Barack Obama, who was the first Black candidate to win the designation of a major party in a U.S. presidential election, said of the nomination then: “Choosing a vice president is the first important decision a president makes.
When you’re in the Oval Office, weighing the toughest issues and the choice you make will affect the lives and livelihoods of the entire country, you need someone with you who’s got the judgement and the character to make the right call; someone whose focus goes beyond self-interest to consider the lives and prospects of others.
“Joe Biden nailed this decision. By choosing Senator Kamala Harris as America’s next vice president, he’s underscored his own judgement and character. Reality shows us that these attributes are not optional in a president. They’re requirements of the job.
And now Joe has an ideal partner to help him tackle the very real challenges America faces right now and in the years ahead.” Obama went on to note his own relationship with Harris, saying: “She is more than prepared for the job. She’s spent her career defending our Constitution and fighting for folks who need a fair shake. Her own life story is one that I and so many others can see ourselves in; a story that says that no matter where you come from, what you look like, how you worship, or who you love, there’s a place for you here.
It’s a fundamentally American perspective, one that’s led us out of the hardest times before. And it’s a perspective we can all rally behind right now.” Former U.S, First Lady Hillary Clinton, who made history in 2016 as the first woman to win a major party’s nomination for president, also lauded historic nature of the Democratic 2020 ticket.
“I’m thrilled to welcome Kamala Harris to a historic Democratic ticket. She’s already proven herself to be an incredible public servant and leader. And I know she’ll be a strong partner to Joe Biden. Please join me in having her back and getting her elected.” Clinton tweeted. Rice and Bass who lost out in the selection process also complimented Harris.
While the former described Harris as “a tenacious and trailblazing leader who will make a great partner on the campaign trail,” the latter described her as a “tenacious pursuit of justice and relentless advocacy for the people is what is needed right now.” Besides the top Democrats, some American celebrities took to the social media to congratulate Harris and showed their support for the 2020 ticket.
“Very happy for our friend and senator and future vicepresident, Kamala Harris, and very much looking forward to voting for the Biden-Harris ticket to begin the difficult work of recovering from this nightmare presidency and building an even better future,” said John Legend. Patton Oswalt joked: “Not cool, Joe. You know Pence can’t be alone onstage to debate Harris. Why put that poor, frail flower through all this angst?” Sharon Stone, on her part, wrote: “Congratulations @Kamala- Harris.
I am thrilled for you and relieved and excited for our country. God Bless America! I knew it would be you, because Joe Biden respects those who confront him with dignity. Bravo to both of you!” Rob Reiner said: “Finally a presidential ticket that looks like America!! Now we all go to work to restore the soul of our Nation. VOTE!!!!” Whoopi Goldberg said: “Senator Kamala Harris this is a great moment.
Let’s take care of her and make sure we are supportive of her because this is a no nonsense race and she is ready. Go Kamala!!” Rosie O’Donnell tweeted a photo of Harris and Biden with the caption: “AMEN!!” Lance Bass said: “This is great news!!
I can tell you from personal experience that Kamala Harris is one incredible person. Tough and with a huge heart. She would make the perfect VP! And her story as the first woman.” But, Donald Trump, who quits office today, in his response said he was ‘a little surprised’ that Biden selected Harris as his running mate, saying she had been “nasty” to the former vice president in primary debates.
“She was my number one pick” to run with Biden, Trump said at a news conference, adding: “I thought she was the meanest, the most horrible, the most disrespectful of anybody in the U.S, Senate.”
In the same vein, the Trump campaign, in a written response to Biden’s announcement, accused Harris of being both too progressive and not progressive enough. A Trump campaign spokeswoman said Harris attempted to “bury her record as a prosecutor in order to appease the anti-police extremists” yet also claiming her selection was proof that Biden would pursue “the extreme agenda of the radicals on the left.”
At last, Biden was proved right as Harris, who is equally considered a moderate Democrat and a pragmatic lawmaker rather than an ideologue helped to disprove Trump’s effort to portray Biden as a tool of the “radical left.”
She also brought to the race a far more vigorous campaign style even more than Biden’s, including a gift for capturing moments of raw political electricity on the debate stage and elsewhere as well as a personal identity and family story that many found inspiring. Harris said of her emergence as vice president: “While I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last, because every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities.”