Kamala Harris Is Biden's VP Pick; First Black and South Asian Woman on a Major-Party National Ticket

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California Sen. Kamala Harris endorses Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden as she speaks to supporters during a campaign rally in Detroit, Michigan on March 9, 2020. (Jeff Kowalsky/AFP via Getty Images)

After an exhaustive and unusually public vetting process, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden announced Tuesday via Twitter that California's 55-year-old junior Sen. Kamala Harris is his pick to join him on the ticket as his party's vice presidential candidate in November.

"I have the great honor to announce that I've picked @KamalaHarris – a fearless fighter for the little guy, and one of the country's finest public servants – as my running mates," Biden said in a tweet around 1:20 Pacific Time.

The Biden campaign said the two will deliver remarks in Delaware soon.

As the Oakland-born child of a Jamaican American father and a mother who emigrated from India, Harris will be the first Black or Asian American woman to run as vice president on a major-party presidential ticket. She will also be the first California Democrat ever to be in that position.

In a statement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi praised Biden's choice.

“Joe Biden’s naming of Senator Kamala Harris as the Democratic nominee for Vice President marks an historic and proud milestone for our country. As the Vice President of the United States, Senator Harris will continue her legacy of trailblazing leadership to move our nation forward," Pelosi said.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who was one of four people on the team vetting VP candidates, offered congratulations to Harris, saying they had been "friends for many years."

"She is passionate. She is powerful. She is brilliant. She is compassionate. Kamala Harris will help Joe Biden unite the American people, restore our nation's soul, and rebuild our country so it's even stronger than it was before," Garcetti said in a statement.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who replaced Harris when she was elected to the U.S. Senate, praised Biden's choice and said a Biden/Harris win would be good for California.

"And so I think what it means is all the innovation, all those ideas, all that energy, all that forward-leaning motion that California is known for will be there present in the White House. And I think that's good for everybody. As goes California, so goes the country," Becerra told KQED.

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The Republican National Committee greeted news of Harris' selection with scorn, calling her policies "radical" and "extreme."

"Kamala Harris’ extreme positions, from raising taxes to abolishing private health insurance to comparing law enforcement officials to the KKK, show that the left-wing mob is controlling Biden’s candidacy," said RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel. "These radical policies might be popular among liberals, but they are well outside the mainstream for most Americans."

Former Democratic California Sen. Barbara Boxer, whose seat Harris now holds, said the most important policy records for voters to consider are Joe Biden's and President Trump's.

"I think that every single person who's ever held public office has a record that can be attacked, and Kamala has a record that can be attacked," Boxer said. "It also can be supported. So right now, she's not running on her record. She's running to help Joe Biden get elected. And the record that's going to be in front of us is really his record. Joe's and Trump's."

Setting aside animosity from the primary campaign where Harris invoked Biden's opposition to busing school children during the 1970s as a personal affront to her, the former vice president made clear he was holding no grudges.

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden (L) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) during the Democratic Presidential Debate at the Fox Theatre on July 31, 2019, in Detroit, Michigan.
Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden (L) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) during the second Democratic presidential debate at the Fox Theatre on July 31, 2019, in Detroit, Michigan. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Given Biden's age (77), the possibility he will serve only one term if he wins and the leg up Harris would have among Democrats seeking the nomination in 2024, the number two spot on the ticket holds unusually high value this year.

In fact, in becoming Biden's pick Harris had to overcome doubts about her loyalty and whether her own political ambitions to be president would prevent her from being a trustworthy partner in a Biden administration.

Biden announced he would name a woman as his vice presidential nominee during a Democratic debate earlier this year, and as the killing of George Floyd by police in Minnesota energized the Black Lives Matter movement and raised the profile of racial injustice as a top national issue, the imperative of naming a woman of color grew.

In addition to strong national name recognition stemming from her unsuccessful presidential campaign and high-profile questioning of nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court, Harris brings solid fundraising ability, charisma and a compelling personal story to a ticket headed by an elderly white man who just six months ago was written off as politically wounded.

Harris launched her own campaign for president with an impressive rally in her hometown of Oakland in January 2019, just two years after joining the U.S. Senate. Harris was seen as a top-tier contender for the nomination, a former state attorney general whose slogan "Kamala Harris: For the People" was intended to underscore her credentials as "a progressive prosecutor."

Despite the early promise of her candidacy, Harris stumbled out of the gate, backing off her early support for "Medicare for All" and creating the impression among some voters that she lacked core convictions and was more driven by poll-tested opinions and politically expedient positions on issues of the day.

With her campaign rife with infighting and her fundraising lagging, Harris dropped out of the presidential contest in December of 2019, in time to assure that her name would not appear on the California March primary ballot where she seemed heading for a weak finish.

Harris began her political career in 2003 by taking on a liberal district attorney in San Francisco. Harris ran as a centrist, to the right of her former boss, incumbent District Attorney Terence Hallinan, who was a champion of liberal causes but despised by law enforcement groups. Harris won support from much of the city's political establishment, including her mentor, former Mayor Willie Brown, whom she briefly dated in the 1990s.

Harris defeated Hallinan in a runoff, 56% to 44%, in the same election where Gavin Newsom was elected mayor. Harris said she would professionalize the office, with a focus on rehabilitation and preventing crime. Her pledge to never seek the death penalty was immediately put to the test when a San Francisco police officer was shot and killed by a gang member during her first months in office.

True to her word, Harris didn't seek the death penalty. But the decision, announced before the officer's funeral, infuriated the city's police union and generated a public rebuke from Sen. Dianne Feinstein at the memorial service.

Harris was reelected district attorney in 2007, then ran for California attorney general in 2010, narrowly edging out Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley, a Republican who supported some progressive initiatives such as reforming California's three-strikes law.

As attorney general, Harris took credit for refusing to join a settlement negotiated by the Obama administration after the mortgage meltdown. Instead, she negotiated California's own settlement with more than $25 billion in debt relief, although critics said she was too lenient on banks and overstated the amount of relief homeowners would get.

Her 2016 election to the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Barbara Boxer prompted former "Today Show" host Matt Lauer to call Harris "the female Obama," a superficial reference to the biracial background she shares with the former president.

Harris quickly rose in the Senate, earning spots on the prestigious Intelligence and Judiciary committees, where her prosecutorial skills were used to mixed effect in her pointed questioning of President Trump's nominees, including Supreme Court Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.

Her assertive style with former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions prompted him to say that her questioning "makes me nervous."

Democrats hope Harris will use that prosecutorial acumen against Vice President Mike Pence when they hold their one and only debate on Oct. 7 in Utah.

Recent polls have shown Biden with a solid and consistent lead nationally and in key battleground states.

If the Biden/Harris ticket prevails in November, Gov. Gavin Newsom would appoint someone to serve out the remainder of Harris's term until the 2022 election.