Kamala Harris is the 49th vice president of the United States. She is the first woman, as well as the first Black American and South Asian American to ever hold the role. Harris is the successor to President Joseph Biden. Previously, she served as California's attorney general from 2011–2017 and as a California senator from 2017–2021. She ran as a Democratic candidate for the United States 2020 presidential election but suspended her campaign in December 2019. In August 2020, she was chosen as Biden's running mate.
Harris was born on October 20, 1964, to parents Shyamala Gopalan and Donald Harris in Oakland, California. Her father was an economics professor at Stanford University and her mother was a researcher of breast cancer. Her parents were both emigrants, her mother from India and her father from Jamaica. They were strong political activists and brought young Harris along to civil rights demonstrations. The experiences inspired her to pursue a career as a prosecutor. Harris has one sibling, a sister named Maya. Harris's parents divorced in 1972, and she and her sister were raised primarily by their mother in California.
Harris attended religious services as a child at a Hindu temple and a Black Baptist church. She and her sister sang in the church's children's choir. Harris's parents made sure their daughters were connected to their heritage and felt proud of their ethnicity growing up in a predominantly white area. They visited their parents' homelands of India and Jamaica, where they met their grandparents and traversed the lands where their parents had walked when they were children.
Harris attended elementary school at Thousand Oaks Elementary School. For her middle and high school years, she lived in Montreal, Quebec due to her mother's job change. There, she attended Notre-Dame-des-Neiges for most of middle school and was a student at F.A.C.E. School for her eighth-grade year. For her high school years, she attended Westmount High School and graduated in 1981.
She studied political science and economics at Howard University, was a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, and was a member of the school's student council as a freshman class representative. She graduated in 1986. Next, Harris went on to law school at University of California, Hastings College of the Law and graduated in 1989 with a Juris Doctor. She took the bar exam that year and failed, but took it a second time and passed the following year, making her part of The State Bar of California.
Harris's first job out of law school was as the deputy district attorney for Alameda County in California. She officially started working there in 1990 but interned at the office in the summer of 1988. At the end of the internship, she was offered the future job of deputy district attorney, set to begin after her graduation and successful completion of the bar exam. During Harris's time as deputy district attorney, she was appointed to both the California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board and the Medical Assistance Commission by her boyfriend at the time, Willie Brown, who was speaker of the state assembly in California.
In 1998, Harris began working at the San Francisco district attorney's office as the managing attorney of the Career Criminal Unit. She focused on prosecuting three-strike cases and repeat offenders.
Harris served as San Francisco's district attorney for two consecutive terms from 2004–2010. She was the first woman to ever be elected to the role, the first Black American woman and South Asian American woman to hold the role in California, and the first South Asian American district attorney in the United States. In 2007, she ran for her second term unopposed and won 98 percent of the vote. She was sworn into office for the second time in January 2008.
Harris announced her intention to run for California's attorney general in 2008. She was elected in 2010 and was the first Black American and South Asian American to hold the role. Votes were split almost fifty-fifty between Harris and her Republican opponent, Steve Cooley; Harris won by a narrow margin of 0.8%. She served a total of two consecutive terms. She was first sworn into office in January 2011 and again in January 2015. She did not serve a full second term as she was elected to the United States Senate in November 2016. Xavier Becerra replaced her position as California's attorney general in January 2017.
On November 8, 2016, Harris won the race for the United States Senate as California's representative against opponent Loretta Sanchez. Both are Democrats. As Harris's election coincided with Donald Trump's election to the presidency, much of her time as senator was spent pushing back on his policies. She was involved in several high-profile government hearings in which she was known as a tough questioner of witnesses, something she has been both criticized and praised for. She was reprimanded by Republican Senators John McCain and Richard Burr during the 2017 hearing regarding the firing of FBI director James Comey when she questioned Jeff Sessions, who stated Harris's "rushed" questions were making him "nervous."
Other Trump administration changes that Harris opposed included the nomination of Betsy DeVos for secretary of education; the confirmation of Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh; and the January 2017 signing of Executive Order 13769, popularly referred to as the "Trump travel ban" or "Muslim ban," which restricted citizens from countries with a majority population of Muslims from entering the United States for ninety days.
Harris announced her intention to run for president on January 21, 2019. Within twenty-four hours, she had raised $1.5 million for her campaign. Her polling numbers throughout the race fluctuated in response to her performance in the various Democratic presidential debates––she hit a high of fifteen percent support after a successful debate in June, but her polling percentages steadily dropped into the single digits for the remainder of her campaign.
Grievances against Harris during her campaign included her history as a prosecutor and attorney general, something criticized mainly by Democrats and leftists who viewed her judicial decisions as too tough on crime and not progressive enough. While she was called out for specific controversial rulings that she and her office made, Harris also received criticism for merely having been a prosecutor, as some progressives argued that it made her implicit in a flawed and racially biased justice system. For this, Harris became the subject of a series of internet memes called "Kamala Is a Cop," in which various out-of-context photos and videos of her were posted online with disparaging captions alluding to her controversial policy decisions.
In early December 2019, Harris suspended her campaign, citing a lack of financial resources. In August 2020, Harris was chosen as Biden's running mate, five months after he publicly stated he would choose a woman to be his vice president.
Biden won the 2020 presidential race with over 81 million popular votes and 306 electoral votes.
Harris was sworn into office on January 20, 2021. Some of her first assignments in office were to figure out the causes of undocumented immigrants from Central America in the United States and to come up with a plan for national voting reform. The 2020 election resulted in a 50-50 split between party members in the Senate, making Harris the tiebreaker for chamber votes. Harris made fifteen tiebreaking votes in 2021, more than any vice president has had in one calendar year.
Tensions between Harris's team and Biden's team of White House aides were reported in November 2021. Harris was said to have told several confidants that she felt politically "constrained," and others have suggested she's being "sidelined." Harris became the first female acting president for a brief time on November 19, 2021, when President Biden was undergoing a medical procedure.
Harris married Douglas Emhoff in 2014 and is the step-mother to Emhoff's daughters from a previous marriage, Ella and Cole.
Harris has written three books: Smart on Crime (2009); Superheroes Are Everywhere (2019); and The Truths We Hold (2019).
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