Kamala Harris will make history today when she becomes the first female, Black and South Asian vice president in US history. What will her term look like? And could she be president one day?
Has Kamala Harris always been a trailblazer?
After the election in November, Harris wrote on social media: “Every office I’ve run for, I was the first to win. First person of colour. First woman. First woman of colour. Every time.”
Harris was born in California in 1964. Her mother, Shyamala Gopalan, was active in the civil rights movement and would regularly take her two daughters along to protests. At 13, Harris staged her own protest. After high school, she studied at Howard University before studying law at Hastings College. In 2010, she was elected the first Black attorney general of California. Three years later, she became the first woman of South Asian heritage to be elected to the US Senate.
Is her inauguration more important than Biden’s?
Of course, Joe Biden is taking on a more important role. But for many, including Joel Goldstein, a professor at Saint Louis University in Missouri, this is the first election where the vice president’s election is “historically more significant than the election of the president”.
Indeed, Harris is only the third woman ever to be nominated on a presidential ticket – and the first to win. When she is sworn in, she will also be the first African American and South Asian vice president in history. Her husband, Doug Emhoff also makes history as the first second gentleman, as well as the first Jewish spouse of any president or vice president.
Will she still be a senator?
No. Harris has served as a senator representing California since 2017. She formally resigned her seat on Monday in preparation for her inauguration. However, as vice president, she automatically becomes president of the Senate.
This does not mean an end to decision making. As vice president, Harris holds the deciding vote in the event of a tie. And it’s likely that this will happen more often than usual. This is because the Senate is split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans.
Is the vice president really that important?
Yes, but it wasn’t always the case. Throughout the 19th Century, the Constitution was not clear on the role of vice president, and many presidents simply ignored their running mates after winning elections. During the 20th Century, the position gained more importance and several vice presidents went on to become president. During this time, one – Lyndon B Johnson – was forced to take over after John F Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. Joe Biden is one of just two vice presidents to be elected to the top job at a later date.
Today, the selection of a vice president is a major part of a campaign strategy. In August, press all over the world watched and reacted as Biden announced Harris as his running mate.
Will Harris have more power as vice president?
Very probably. The role of the vice president is still often seen as a symbolic one. But Harris’s added work in the Senate gives her more power than previous vice presidents might have had. Plus, Biden has already vowed that she will be the “last person in the room” making important decisions. He is modelling the plan on his relationship as vice president with Obama.
So, will she become president?
Maybe! As Biden’s vice president, Harris will automatically take over if he falls ill, dies in office or is impeached. At 78, he is the oldest president in history, and some have speculated that he might not manage to stay for a full term – meaning that Harris would have to take over.
Even if he does serve a full term, it is highly unlikely that he will run again. He has made it clear that he only ever plans to be a “bridge president”, serving just four years. In that case, the Democratic party will need a new candidate in 2024, Harris is now positioned for that role.
But for Harris, it is not just about personal success, as she expressed in her victory speech in November: “I may be the first woman in this office, but I will not be the last.”
- Should the voting age be reduced to 16 in all countries?
- You are interviewing Kamala Harris tomorrow morning. Come up with five questions you want to ask her.
- Shyamala was working at the time at McGill University in Montreal, where there was a rule against children playing on the grass in front of a faculty building. Kamala and her sister, Maya, protested successfully to overturn the rule.
- Howard University
- Once known as the “Black Harvard”, Howard University has a long, rich history of educating Black students. Famous alumni include author Toni Morrison and civil rights activist Vernon Jordan.
- Attorney general
- The top legal officer of a state or territory.
- The upper chamber of the United States Congress. It consists of 100 members, two from each of the 50 states.
- Second gentleman
- Historically, the spouses of vice presidents have always been known as second lady. As the first man in his position, Emhoff will be the first second gentleman.
- Biden served as vice president for two terms under the Obama administration, from 2008 to 2016.