Kamala Harris To Make History As First Female U.S. Vice President

Californian will also be the first Black vice president and first of Indian descent. Kamala Harris To Make History As First Female U.S. Vice President

Kamala Harris to Make History as First Female U.S. Vice President

Kamala Harris Was One Of A Record Number Of Women Who Sought The Democratic Presidential Nomination In 2020.

Sen. Kamala Harris of California was elected the first female vice president of the United States, putting a substantial crack in what former candidate Hillary Clinton called the “highest and hardest glass ceiling” between women and the White House.

With former Vice President Joe Biden declared the winner of the presidency by the Associated Press, Ms. Harris, the daughter of Indian and Jamaican immigrants, will also be the first Black vice president and first of Indian descent when the pair is inaugurated in January. Ms. Harris becomes the highest-ranking woman ever in the line of presidential succession, ahead of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Ms. Harris was one of a record number of women who sought the Democratic nomination in 2020. On the campaign trail in Iowa last year, Ms. Harris tried to address concerns that the country might not be ready to be led by a woman.

“I’ve heard this conversation in every campaign I have—and here is the operative word—won,” she said.

During the primaries, some Democratic voters said they were worried a female nominee would face a double standard after Mrs. Clinton’s loss in 2016. Mr. Biden, who had announced before securing the nomination that he would select a woman as his running mate, was urged by some Democrats to choose a Black woman, as protests over racial injustice swept the country after the killing of George Floyd, a Black man, in Minneapolis police custody.

Rep. Barbara Lee, a California Democrat who has known Ms. Harris for more than two decades and who started her own career working for Rep. Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman to run for president, said Ms. Harris becoming the first female vice president will be “the culmination of a heck of a lot of struggles and challenges” that Black women have faced.

Rep. Lee called Ms. Harris the “right woman, for the right time, for the right position” to take on the challenges facing the country. “I’ve known her all of these years to be someone who’s a unifier, and she is very smart and very prepared,” she said.

Kamala Harris to Make History as First Female U.S. Vice President

Young Kamala Harris, Left, With Her Sister, Maya, And Mother, Shyamala, In Berkeley, Calif., In January 1970.

While Ms. Harris’s election marks a milestone, some female leaders who lauded her achievement emphasized that her record of accomplishments should be recognized in its own right. “She is amazingly well-qualified for this job,” said Carly Fiorina, former chief executive of Hewlett-Packard Co. and a Republican who ran for president in 2016.

“She earned it, and she’s there, because she’s the best person for the job.”

Ms. Harris is taking on her new role as women and Black and Latino communities across the country have been especially hard hit by the economic fallout and disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic, which female voters also listed by far as their top issue, according to the The AP VoteCast survey, a major election survey of roughly 140,000 registered voters nationally.

Ms. Harris and Mr. Biden, who campaigned on a pledge to do a better job than Mr. Trump of steering the national pandemic response, got a boost from women voters, who made up 53% of the electorate, according to the survey. The Biden-Harris ticket built an 11-percentage-point advantage among female voters, while 52% of men backed Mr. Trump.

Ms. Harris, 56 years old, grew up in Berkeley, Calif., and was raised by a single mother who had immigrated from India at the age of 19. Before their divorce, Ms. Harris’s parents were active in the Civil Rights movement and participated in marches and sit-ins. In speeches, Ms. Harris has spoken of the influence her “family of fighters” had on her career.

She became the first woman to serve as California’s attorney general and was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2016. As attorney general, she supported re-entry programs aimed at keeping low-level offenders out of prison and required body cameras at the state Department of Justice, the first state agency to implement such a mandate. Still, some criminal justice advocates argued Ms. Harris didn’t do enough to end mass incarceration.

In the Senate, she became known for her tough questioning of Trump administration nominees who came before the Judiciary Committee. She also worked on legislation to overhaul the policing system and other bills focused on helping women and people of color.

“That lens is the kind of lens she will bring with her to the White House to make sure that these issues, which some might consider to be small issues or not top 10 issues, are actually top 10 issues,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, who worked with Ms. Harris on legislation to tackle maternal mortality.

Ms. Harris ran for the Democratic nomination for president last year, but she struggled to gain traction with voters and dropped out before the primaries started. Despite a surge of attention and in fundraising early in her presidential campaign, Ms. Harris struggled to identify a geographic focus and campaign message.

Mr. Biden chose her as his running mate in August, calling her “one of the country’s finest public servants.” Republicans criticized her as too liberal, pointing out that she had taken positions on issues such as fracking that were to the left of Mr. Biden, who campaigned as a relative moderate.

Ms. Harris’s earlier embrace of a ban on fracking, a drilling practice in which oil and gas are extracted from shale, was used by Mr. Trump against Mr. Biden, who has said he would limit fracking on federal lands.

As the Democratic vice-presidential nominee, Ms. Harris was deployed by the Biden campaign to try to connect with voters in immigrant and minority communities. Her campaign events typically featured discussions with Black women, Latino small-business owners, and Black and Latino activists. She was also a prolific fundraiser, bringing in tens of millions for the campaign.

Ms. Harris frequently repeats the advice her late mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, gave her when she was growing up. “My mother would look at me and she’d say, ‘Kamala, you may be the first to do many things, but make sure you are not the last,’ ” Ms. Harris has said in interviews and speeches.

In 2016, Mrs. Clinton was the first female presidential nominee by a major party. Two women had previously been nominated for vice president—Democrat Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 and Republican Sarah Palin in 2008—but both lost.

Her husband, Douglas Emhoff, will make history, too. He will be the first man and first Jewish person to serve as a spouse to a president or vice president. Harris is Baptist.

And everyone from political strategists to racial justice activists are waiting to see whether those firsts will be mere symbolic wins or the beginning of a sea change on gender and race relations and the launch of an enduring Democratic coalition.

The symbolism alone is important. Strategists say Black women are the backbone of the Democratic Party. They vote in large numbers, help staff its volunteer efforts and power its wins in key races, but they have not always been well-represented among its candidates or in its policy decisions.

In an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes” last month, Harris vowed that she would bring her diverse perspective to the Biden administration.

“What I will do, and I promise you this — and this is what Joe wants me to do, this was part of our deal — I will always share with him my lived experience as it relates to any issue that we confront,” she said. “And I promised Joe that I will give him that perspective and always be honest with him.”

Immigrants’ Daughter

That experience includes being the daughter of an Indian immigrant and a Jamaican-born father. She was raised biracial and interfaith. She is a Christian, but also attended Hindu temples with her mother.

That side of Harris’s background could help galvanize Asian-American voters, the fastest-growing racial or ethnic group in the U.S. and one both Democrats and Republicans have tried to woo.

We did it, @JoeBiden. pic.twitter.com/oCgeylsjB4
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris)
November 7, 2020

That experience also means being the first graduate of a historically Black college in such a high office. Harris attended Howard University in Washington and is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha, the nation’s oldest Black sorority. Members have turned up at her events and been active donors, many giving $19.08 to note the year the group was founded.

Harris, 56, has not shied away from using her background as a touchstone for outreach. She attended virtual campaign events with South Asian celebrities such as actress Mindy Kaling, comedian Aasif Mandvi and former U.S. attorney and Trump antagonist Preet Bharara.

And she had a starring role in Biden campaign ads targeting both Black and Asian-American voters, including one that featured words in Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Tamil, Hindi and Filipino.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted congratulations to Harris — and Harris alone — saying her election is a “matter of immense pride not just for your chittis, but also for all Indian-Americans.” Chittis is the word for “aunts” in Tamil.

Heartiest congratulations @KamalaHarris! Your success is pathbreaking, and a matter of immense pride not just for your chittis, but also for all Indian-Americans. I am confident that the vibrant India-US ties will get even stronger with your support and leadership.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi)
November 7, 2020

Overlooked Voters

Cheryl Hori, founder of Democratic consulting firm Pacific Campaign House, said that as the highest-ranking elected Asian-American in U.S. history, Harris has a huge opportunity to help Democrats rethink their approach to a politically influential group of voters who have often been overlooked.

“This will be historic for Asian-Americans, full stop,” she said. “This is a situation where all ships rise. Even if you are not Indian-American, this is a great achievement.”

But Hori said those voters come from very different backgrounds and don’t always see their interests as linked, noting that immigrants from Pakistan and India, for example, don’t necessarily see themselves as the target audience for ads aimed at Asian-Americans. She said Harris could help with Democratic outreach to Asian voters in places like Pennsylvania, Texas, Wisconsin and Michigan.

Harris’s husband will also have an opportunity to set an example. Emhoff could be a role model for boys and men or take an active role promoting key issues. He posted a photo of the couple hugging upon learning she had been elected.

So proud of you. pic.twitter.com/Orb1ISe0dU
— Doug Emhoff (@DouglasEmhoff)
November 7, 2020

Ronald F. Levant, co-author of “The Tough Standard,” said that Emhoff has already shown a different path for men by taking a step back from his own career as a successful corporate lawyer to support his wife. While the vice president’s wife often does not receive the same kind of attention as the first lady, Levant said Emhoff will attract more attention simply because he’s the first man to hold the job.

That could give him an opportunity to address some of the problems facing young boys, Levant said, especially if he works with President-elect Joe Biden, who also modeled a very different form of masculinity than his opponent, President Donald Trump, during the election.

“This was an election where masculinity was very much on the ballot,” Levant said.

And in case all of those firsts weren’t enough, Emhoff, also 56, has also attracted attention because of his religion, with the Jewish magazine Forward calling him “our hot Jewish dad crush” and the Times of Israel calling him the “Democrats’ newest Jewish star.” Some Jews have even noted that his kids’ nickname for their stepmother — “Momala” — is close to the Yiddish word “mamele,” which means “little mother.”

Updated: 1-26-2021

Kamala Harris Is Good For The Economics Profession

Her ascendance to one of the country’s top offices will encourage more Black women to participate.

For more than 50 years, the economics profession has sought to increase the number of Black people and women in its ranks. But one event might achieve as much for the intersection of those groups — Black women — as any of the best-intentioned initiatives: the emergence of Kamala Harris as vice president of these fractured United States.

When Harris took the oath of office, millions witnessed the shattering of the glass ceiling that has kept Black women out of the country’s highest offices — including, potentially, the presidency. (By emphasizing the vice president’s blackness, I do not mean to erase her South Asian heritage. I’m simply acknowledging that many Americans will see her as Black.)

In 1986, when Harris graduated from Howard University with a bachelor’s degree in economics, women represented only 34% of the recipients of such degrees. Unfortunately, the data on women for that year are not broken further down by race and ethnicity — reflecting the flawed assumption that gender operates the same across different races (and that race operates the same across genders).

More recent disaggregated data illustrate just how far Black women are being left behind.

There’s been a lot of talk about how toxic the economics profession is for female graduate students and faculty. Yet with the exception of the American Economic Association’s climate survey, which asks people about incidents of discrimination and harassment, such conversations do not consider the specific experiences of Asian, Black or Hispanic women. Doctorate-level Native American economists are so rare that even the climate survey does not include them.

So how will Harris help? For one, women who aspire to be like Harris — especially Black and Asian women — will take economics courses, hopefully from professors who include race and inequality in their lectures and who inform all students about career opportunities.

Also, Harris’s success will attract more attention to Howard University, where she studied. Howard will be the first historically Black institution to host the American Economic Association Summer Training Program, welcoming its first cohort of students this summer. It’s already the No. 1 producer of Black graduates who go on to complete a doctorate in economics.

Finally, Harris’s biracial heritage might inspire those interested in increasing diversity to rethink how data are analyzed. I hope this will encourage more disaggregation, to help identify the factors that influence outcomes and craft more tailored and effective policies.

I don’t want to overstate what one person can do. The election of a Black and South Asian woman as vice president doesn’t mean the economics profession should relax its other efforts to become more diverse. On the contrary, it should redouble them. That said, examples can be powerful. Let’s hope Harris’s will be so.

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