Skip to main content

Advertisement

Advertisement

Trailblazer Kamala Harris: America's first woman vice president

WASHINGTON — Madam Kamala Harris smashed through one of America's highest glass ceilings Wednesday (Jan 20), becoming the first woman, first Black American and first person of Asian heritage to be appointed vice president, blazing a trail in the most diverse White House ever.

Mdm Kamala Harris, flanked by her husband Mr Doug Emhoff, is sworn in as the 49th US Vice President by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor on January 20, 2021, at the US Capitol in Washington, DC.

Mdm Kamala Harris, flanked by her husband Mr Doug Emhoff, is sworn in as the 49th US Vice President by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor on January 20, 2021, at the US Capitol in Washington, DC.

WASHINGTON — Madam Kamala Harris smashed through one of America's highest glass ceilings Wednesday (Jan 20), becoming the first woman, first Black American and first person of Asian heritage to be appointed vice president, blazing a trail in the most diverse White House ever.

As running mate to now-President Joe Biden, she helped bring Mr Donald Trump's turbulent rule to an end, assailing him for his chaotic bungling of the Covid-19 pandemic, last year's unrest over racial injustices and his crackdown on immigration.

Mdm Harris, 56, enters the post having already forged a unique path, as California's first Black attorney general and the first woman of South Asian heritage elected to the US Senate.

"A new chapter begins today," Mdm Harris tweeted Wednesday. "Let's get to work."

As vice president, Mdm Harris will be a heartbeat away from leading the United States.

With Mr Biden, 78, expected to serve only a single term, Mdm Harris would be favored to win the Democratic nomination in 2024, giving her a shot at more history-making — as America's first female president.

"While I may be the first woman in this office, I won't be the last," Mdm Harris said in a Nov 7 speech, her first after US networks projected Mr Biden and Mdm Harris as the winners over Mr Trump and former vice president Mike Pence.

Mr Trump bitterly contested the results, peddling the lie that the Democrats only won due to massive election fraud.

During the campaign he routinely attacked Mdm Harris, branding her a "monster" after her October debate with Mr Pence. When asked about it, Mdm Harris curtly dismissed the president: "I don't comment on his childish remarks."

While Mdm Harris pushed back fiercely during the campaign, in the past two months she rose above the fray, pivoting to plans she and Mr Biden are unveiling to help struggling families and fix a reeling economy.

Mdm Harris wrote on Twitter that she and Mr Biden would set America on a "new path" and "bring the American people back together."

THE DECIDER

While the vice president's job is often seen as ceremonial, Mdm Harris will also be thrust into the powerful role of ultimate decider in the US Senate.

Thanks to two shock Democratic run-off victories this month in Georgia, the Senate will be evenly split, 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans.

That means Mdm Harris may spend considerable time on Capitol Hill acting as the tie-breaking vote on legislation on anything from judicial nominees to Biden's US$1.9 trillion (S$2.5 trillion) stimulus plan.

Mdm Harris was born to immigrants to the United States — her father from Jamaica, her mother from India — and their lives and her own have in some ways embodied the American dream.

She was born on Oct 20, 1964 in Oakland, California, then a hub for civil rights and anti-war activism.

Her diploma from historically Black Howard University in Washington was the start of a steady rise that took her from prosecutor, to two elected terms as San Francisco's district attorney and then California's attorney general in 2010.

However, Mdm Harris's self-description as a "progressive prosecutor" has been seized upon by critics who say she fought to uphold wrongful convictions and opposed certain reforms in California, like a bill requiring that the attorney general probe shootings involving police.

Yet Mdm Harris's work was key to molding a platform and profile from which she launched a successful US Senate campaign in 2016, becoming just the second Black female senator ever.

Her stint as an attorney general also helped her forge a connection with Mr Biden's son Beau, who held the same position in Delaware, and died of cancer in 2015.

"I know how much Beau respected Kamala and her work, and that mattered a lot to me, to be honest with you, as I made this decision," Mr Biden said during his first appearance with Mdm Harris as running mates.

'I'M SPEAKING'

Mdm Harris oozes charisma but can quickly pivot from her broad smile to a prosecutorial persona of relentless interrogation and cutting retorts.

Clips went viral of her sharp questioning in 2017 of then-attorney general Jeff Sessions during a hearing on Russia, and Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh the following year.

Mdm Harris also clashed with Mr Biden during the first Democratic debate, chiding the former senator over his opposition to 1970s busing programs that forced integration of segregated schools.

"There was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public school, and she was bused to school every day," she said. "And that little girl was me."

That showdown did not stop him from picking Mdm Harris, who brought that feisty energy to Mr Biden's carefully stage-managed campaign.

During her only debate against Mr Pence, Harris raised her hand as he tried to interrupt her.

"Mr Vice President, I'm speaking. I'm speaking," she said with a glare.

Mdm Harris has no children of her own. But she claims the role of "momala" to the son and daughter of her husband Doug Emhoff.

Mr Emhoff, a lawyer, will become the first-ever US "second gentleman," and the first Jewish spouse of a US vice president.

As for her mother Ms Shyamala Gopalan Harris, a scientist born in India who immigrated at 19, "maybe she didn't quite imagine this moment," Mdm Harris said in her November speech.

"But she believed so deeply in an America where a moment like this is possible." AFP

Related topics

Kamala Harris Joe Biden inauguration USA Donald Trump

Read more of the latest in

Advertisement

Popular

Advertisement

Stay in the know. Anytime. Anywhere.

Subscribe to get daily news updates, insights and must reads delivered straight to your inbox.

By clicking subscribe, I agree for my personal data to be used to send me TODAY newsletters, promotional offers and for research and analysis.