U.S. Presidential: Four things you should know about Democratic Senator Kamala Harris, Joe Biden’s running mate
At the age of 55, this former prosecutor was chosen by the Democratic candidate to become his vice-president if elected against Donald Trump in November 2020.
She will therefore be Joe Biden’s “ticket” to the US presidential election: Kamala Harris has been named as the Democratic candidate’s running mate, who announced his choice on Twitter on Tuesday 11 August. The 55-year-old former prosecutor and senator could therefore become vice-president of the United States, a role without official power but which is, in fact, the president’s right-hand man and the second in command of the American executive.
While Kamala Harris is not the first woman to be nominated as a running mate – although there are only two exceptions, Democrat Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 and Republican Sarah Palin in 2008 – she is nonetheless the first woman of colour to be nominated for the vice-presidency. In the midst of the anti-racist movement after the death of George Floyd, American commentators expected Joe Biden to make such a choice, the candidate having announced as early as March that his “ticket” would be female.
The former prosecutor, a graduate of Howard University and the University of California, was thus chosen from eleven candidates. With less than three months to go before the American presidential election, franceinfo looks back at what it is necessary to know about Kamala Harris, who could well play a decisive role in the final stretch of the campaign.
1-Her parents are Indian and Jamaican
Kamala Harris’s striking biography could, as the New York Times wrote, give Joe Biden a “family and personal identity that many find inspiring”. His mother, Shyamala Gopalan, is an Indian cancer researcher. His father, Donald, is from Jamaica and teaches economics at Stanford University.
Kamala Harris likes to say that her parents met at civil rights protests in California in the 1960s. By the age of one, Harris had been running the protests in a stroller, according to The Atlantic magazine. Her identity-building is also shaped by the beliefs of her grandparents, whom she met on her travels to India: a prominent independence official and women’s rights activist.
Raised by her mother after her parents’ divorce, she claims her dual origins: “My mother understood very well that she was raising two black girls,” Harris later wrote in her autobiography. And she was determined to make us proud and confident black women.” For her bachelor’s degree, Kamala Harris went to Howard University, considered “the Black Harvard” of Washington.
2-His prosecutor’s record is criticized
Kamala Harris repeats it: she wants to “reform the system from within”. From the moment she entered politics, she took advantage of her long career as a magistrate in California. As district attorney for the District of San Francisco from 2004 to 2011 before being promoted to attorney general of California from 2011 to 2017, Kamala Harris describes herself as “progressive”. In fact, she is opposed to the death penalty and has initiated a program offering first-time offenders the opportunity to drop charges in exchange for professional training. Her initiative to set up an internet portal to record judicial data on police violence has been welcomed by civil rights activists. It is also the one that has required California law enforcement agencies to train their officers against discrimination and other “facial” arrests.
On the other hand, the left wing of the Democratic Party reproaches her for a rather lukewarm record compared to the positions she defends. According to the New York Times, she has rarely prosecuted police officers responsible for the deaths of civilians and has refused to authorise advanced DNA tests that could have exonerated Kevin Cooper on death row. Faced with a bill that would make systematic independent investigations into the “use of deadly force” by police officers, she also refrained from taking a stand.
3-His style is very incisive
Entering politics in 2017, Kamala Harris has distinguished herself by her incisive style which will undoubtedly be a campaign asset for “Sleepy Joe”, the nickname given by Donald Trump to Joe Biden. A fierce opponent of the Trump administration, she is known for her muscular interrogations of the conservative Supreme Court candidate Brett Kavanaugh in 2018, which she attacks in particular for its proximity to the President of the United States.
Former prosecutor Jeff Sessions, accused of interfering with Russia during the 2017 presidential campaign, was notably the victim of Kamala Harris’s acid tone. After three and a half minutes of persistent questioning of the Senator, Sessions lost his nerve and declared: “I can’t be in such a hurry! It makes me nervous.”
Her main supporters praised her oratory skills: “Her team’s argument was that she could take control of any debate, including against Donald Trump, and that she would not be intimidated by the President’s style of politics”, deciphers the New York Times.
4-She hadn’t spared Joe Biden…
Kamala Harris ran for president in 2019, but gave up due to lack of money at the end of last year. At the start of the Democratic primaries, she was considered a favourite, with a progressive agenda that was much bolder than her past commitments. She suggested federal oversight to limit restrictions on abortion in some states.
Her very tense debate with Joe Biden in July 2019 had been one of the highlights of the primaries: “I don’t think you’re racist,” had launched Kamala Harris to her rival for the Democratic nomination while she was reproaching Joe Biden for his “segregationist” positions in the 1970s and his opposition to busing, i.e. the transportation of students from disadvantaged neighbourhoods to better schools to promote school and racial mixing.
The phrase had led Joe Biden to drop, in the ensuing debate, “Go easy on me, kid.” The footage went viral, but in the end it did not harm Kamala Harris, described by Joe Biden on Twitter as “a brave defender of the little people and one of the greatest servants of the state”.