By Sandra G. Leon
Former Vice-President Joe Biden made history this week when he announced that California Senator Kamala Harris will be his running mate, making her the first African-American woman and also the first Indian-American on a major party presidential ticket.
Kamala (pronounced ‘comma la’) Harris, who also ran in the primary election for the Democratic nomination, is the junior US Senator from California and was previously elected as the California Attorney General.
Biden picked Harris from a short list of women that had made the short list of potential running mates after Biden had committed in the primaries that he would choose a woman to join him on the presidential ticket. During the recent and ongoing protests and action on race and criminal justice reform, Biden was also under increasing pressure to chose a woman of color to join him on the campaign.
TRump and Republicans were quick to criticize the pick but differed in their claims, with Trump calling Harris “nasty”, “mean” and “the most radical nominee for vice president in American history”, and Donald Trump, Jr. tweeting that “the radical left has officially captured Joe Biden”, while others called her “authorization” and “pro-cop.”
Some Democrats have been critical of Harris for her prosecution record while she was the San Francisco District Attorney and then as California’s Attorney General, but others believe her background in criminal justice insulates her from being labeled as too liberal or supporting the defund police movement over the past few months.
Both Biden and Harris have said they do not support defunding police departments but both support criminal justice reforms that include increased funding for social services, mental health, and crime prevention programs to help reduce police interactions with underserved communities.
Other women that made the final cut to be Biden’s running mate are former Obama National Security Advisor Susan Rice, Florida Congresswomen Val Demings and Karen Bass, and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, which are all African-Americans. US Senators Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, and Tammy Duckworth, as well as Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer were also in the running, as was New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, the only Latinx under consideration.
In the end, Biden chose a running mate that has experience as a presidential candidate and understands the stress and pressure of the national spotlight, as well as someone that many Democratic supporters thought was strong enough to play the part of a vice-presidential running mate, which in past campaigns, has been more aggressive in attacking the opponent.
Historically the debates among the vice-presidential running mates has proven to be more confrontational than the presidential candidates, but things may be different between Trump and Biden.
Trump famously linked Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, with military funding to Ukraine that was at the heart of last year’s impeachment investigation. Trump accused Hunter Biden of benefiting from his father’s position as then-Vice President when Hunter served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company. The impeachment centered around Trump’s request to the Ukrainian president that they investigate the Bidens, and witnesses claimed US foreign aid was withheld to pressure the Ukrainians.
Soon after Biden’s announcement of Harris as his running mate, social media posts called into question whether Harris could serve as President because her parents were not US citizens when she was born. Under the US Constitution, anyone born in the US is automatically a citizen, and the Constitution also requires that any Vice-Presidential candidate meet the same eligibility as the candidate for President. Similar claims were made against Barack Obama related to his birth in Hawaii, with Trump claiming Obama’s birth certificate was fake.
Harris was born in Oakland and raised in Berkeley, graduated from Howard University, a historically black university in Washington, D.C., and later from the University of California, Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco.
Her mother, a breast cancer scientist, had emigrated from India to pursue a doctorate at UC Berkeley, and her father emigrated from British Jamaica for graduate study in economics at UC Berkeley. Her father is a descendant of Irish-born sugar planter and Jamaican slave owner Hamilton Brown.