politics

Raised by a single mum and fighting for justice: Everything we know about Kamala Harris.

In 2020, Kamala Harris made history as the first female, first Black, and first South Asian Vice President of the United States. Now, she stands poised to break barriers once more by potentially becoming the next president.

On Monday morning, US President Joe Biden announced he would not seek re-election just four months before the election, citing the "best interest" of the Democratic Party and the country. He then endorsed Harris as the next leader of the US. 

Harris became Vice President-elect in November, 2020 when Joe Biden was declared the winner of the US election.

"We did it, we did it Joe," Harris told Biden over the phone while calling to congratulate him on their victory four years ago.

"You're going to be the next President of the United States."















We did it, @JoeBiden.

A post shared by  Kamala Harris (@kamalaharris) on

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It's not the first time Harris has made history.

She was also the first Black woman and Asian American to grace a major presidential party debate, appearing in the vice presidential debate against then-Vice President Mike Pence.

And besides a rogue fly, which took up residence on Pence's head for more than two minutes, one of the most discussed moments came with Harris' calm yet firm response to Pence attempting to interrupt her.

"I'm speaking, I'm speaking," she told him.

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Harris was also the first Black woman and Asian American to run on a major presidential ticket in the US, when Joe Biden announced her as his running mate in August 2019.

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To get you up to speed: Harris believes in Medicare for all, the dismantling of systemic racism in America, the protection of marriage equality and LGBTIQ rights, abortion rights, and a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

Harris' ethnic, racial and cultural biography represents a unique slice of the US population that's never been represented in the White House before.

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Here's everything you need to know about the woman who may become America's next president. 

She was raised by a single mother in a multicultural community.

Harris was born to immigrant parents, an Indian-born mother and a Jamaican-born father, in Oakland, California.

Her parents divorced when she was seven, and she and her sister Maya were raised predominately by their mother, a cancer researcher and civil rights activist. 

They lived in an apartment in a working-class neighbourhood that was primarily African-American. She grew up attending both the black Baptist church and a Hindu temple.

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"My mother understood very well that she was raising two black daughters," she wrote in her autobiography The Truths We Hold. "She knew that her adopted homeland would see Maya and me as black girls and she was determined to make sure we would grow into confident, proud black women."

It worked, and as she told Asian Week in 2003: "All my friends were black and we got together and cooked Indian food and painted henna on our hands, and I never felt uncomfortable with my cultural background."

She met her husband on a blind date and has two stepchildren.

Harris met her husband, Los Angeles lawyer Douglas Emhoff on a blind date in Chicago.

They married in 2014, honouring one another's cultural traditions with a flower garland placed around Emhoff's neck, as is common in Indian weddings, and the breaking of a glass at the end of the service to mark Emhoff's Jewish heritage. 

Emhoff has two children from a previous marriage, Ella, who's studying design, and Cole, who's a graduate of Colorado College. 

According to OprahMag, they affectionately call Harris "Momala". 

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"I love my husband," Harris once told Now This. "He is funny. He is kind. He is patient. He loves my cooking. He's just a really great guy."

Emhoff is fiercely supportive of his wife's political career and made a name for himself on her campaign trail for his affection and positivity. 

He's even earned himself a mini fan club who post under the hashtag #DougHive.

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Harris went from top prosecutor, to district attorney, to politics.

After graduating with a law degree, Harris shocked her family with her decision to use her qualifications to become a prosecutor. 

Growing up, she saw the impact of law enforcement on disadvantaged populations and wanted to use the law to protect the vulnerable and correct imbalances of power. 

In 1990, she took a job as a prosecutor with Alameda County in northern California. She specialised in child sex abuse trials and domestic violence cases.

Harris started her career as a prosecutor, before becoming a district attorney, attorney general and finally American senator. Image: The Mercury News/Getty. 

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She went on to work with career criminals, and family and children services, before becoming San Francisco's first ever female and African American district attorney in 2003.

In 2005, she introduced a program called "Back on Track" which offered low-level drug traffickers job training, life skill building and the chance to avoid prison. Two years after it launched, just 10 per cent of graduates had re-offended. 

In 2011, she became the first female, African American and South Asian attorney general of California, and after five years in that role she was sworn in as the second African American woman and first South Asian American senator in US history in 2017. 

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LISTEN: The Quicky looks into the past and the future of this fascinating woman. Post continues after podcast.


Her first bid for presidential candidacy.

Since her election into the US Senate, Harris has been praised for her questioning of the Trump administration, the then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, and campaigning for issues of racial injustice. 

In early 2019, she launched her candidacy for president in front of a 20,000 strong crowd in her home state of California. 

Harris launched her own candidacy for president in early 2019, but pulled out of the race by December. Image: Mason Trinca/Getty. 

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Throughout her campaign she repeatedly clashed with Biden during the primary election debates, including one particular take down where she criticised him for the "civil" working relationship he had with former senators who favoured racial segregation. 

WATCH: Harris's speech here. Post continues after video.


Video via The Guardian/NBC/https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S6-UC8yr0Aw

While her bid was met with initial enthusiasm, she failed to articulate a clear rationale for her campaign, and by December she'd pulled out of the race citing a lack of financial resources as her reason for not continuing.

"I’m not a billionaire. I can’t fund my own campaign," she said in a video explaining her decision to drop out. "And as the campaign has gone on, it has become harder and harder to raise the money we need to compete. In good faith, I can’t tell you, my supporters and volunteers, that I have a path forward if I don’t believe I do."

For four months, Biden's camp had spent time deciding on his running mate, before finally announcing his decision in August 2019. 

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"Big news," Biden said in an emailed message to supporters. "I've chosen Kamala Harris as my running mate. Together, with you, we're going to beat Trump."

In an Instagram upload, Biden cited Harris's working relationship with his late son, which many believed helped sway his decision.

What she stands for.

Here's a quick fire round on where Harris stands on key issues. 

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  • Climate change: She thinks action is needed to combat climate change. As California's attorney general she launched an investigation into reports that an oil and gas giant had lied for decades about the risks they posed and criticised Trump for pulling out of the Paris climate accord. 
  • Education: She wants free education to be available at public colleges and universities. 

Democratic presidential candidates former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris after a Democratic Presidential Debate in September, 2019. Image: Win McNamee/Getty. 

  • Guns: She wants assault rifles and the sale of high-capacity magazines banned.
  • Healthcare: She wants "Medicare for all". 
  • Immigration: She's opposed to a border wall and wants to "start from scratch" with the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement policies. 
  • Social issues: She wants abortion to be legal and same-sex marriage stay legal. 
  • Death penalty: She wants to abolish it.

The criticisms.

Soon after Harris' appointment as Vice President nominee, Trump released a schmick 30-second political advertisement denouncing Harris and everything she stands for.

The ad said she "called for trillions in new taxes," "attacked Joe Biden for racist policies," and was already voted out of the race because voters spotted a "phony". 

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Trump's smear campaign went on to label his Democratic opponents "Slow Joe and Phony Kamala: perfect together, wrong for America". 

In a press conference he made the comment, "She was very, very nasty to... Joe Biden. She was very disrespectful to Joe Biden."

After the vice presidential debate, Trump insulted Harris as "a monster".

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"This monster that was on stage with Mike Pence, who destroyed her last night by the way, but this monster, she says no no there won’t be fracking, everything she said is a lie," Trump said in an interview with Fox Business.

He continued, labeling her "horrible", "totally unlikeable" and a "communist".

But as political scientist Ian Bremmer pointed out, Biden had the guts to back the person who "landed the most solid punch against him in the primary. Respect."

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In August 2020, the New York Times ran a story which stated Harris "had the opportunity to do something about police accountability" as the city’s district attorney. But she "was either not visible, or when she was, she was on the wrong side."

Criticisms like these, the Times noted, have led progressives to ask: "Is Harris essentially a political pragmatist, or has she in fact changed?"

"Kamala is a cop" became a common refrain on her campaign trail, spoiling her attempts to win over the more liberal Democratic base during the primaries, as she faced repeated attacks for "not being progressive enough."

In an op-ed, University of San Francisco law professor Lara Bazelon wrote that Harris has largely dodged progressive fights involving issues like police reform, drug reform and wrongful convictions.

How has she responded to Biden's endorsement?

After Biden announced his withdrawal from the presidential race and endorsed Harris as his replacement, the 59-year-old shared a statement of her own, expressing confidence in her ability to win. 

 She started off my thanking Biden for his service, and said she her goal was to win and beat Trump.

“On behalf of the American people, I thank Joe Biden for his extraordinary leadership as President of the United States and for his decades of service to our country,” she said.

“I am honoured to have the President’s endorsement and my intention is to earn and win this nomination. Over the past year, I have travelled across the country, talking with Americans about the clear choice in this momentous election. And that is what I will continue to do in the days and weeks ahead.” 

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“We have 107 days until Election Day. Together, we will fight. And together, we will win.” 

She has since garnered support from high-profile Democrats, including the Clintons.

"We are honoured to join the President in endorsing Vice President Harris and will do whatever we can do to support her," they said in a joint statement.

However, while the Obamas praised Biden for stepping down, they have not yet formally endorsed Harris.

“Joe Biden has been one of America’s most consequential presidents, as well as a dear friend and partner to me," wrote Barack Obama in a statement. 

“Today, we’ve also been reminded — again — that he’s a patriot of the highest order.

“We will be navigating uncharted waters in the days ahead. But I have extraordinary confidence that the leaders of our party will be able to create a process from which an outstanding nominee emerges.

“I believe that Joe Biden’s vision of a generous, prosperous, and united America that provides opportunity for everyone will be on full display at the Democratic Convention in August.”

This article was originally published on August 12, 2020, and has since been updated with new information.

Feature image: Ethan Miller/Getty.