Kamala Harris Makes History as First Black Woman VP Nominee

It was one thing to talk about it, but a very different thing for it to actually happen.

After months of speculation and spurred by the killing of George Floyd by police which sparked nationwide protests and a concerted effort by Democrats to push for a black woman VP, Joe Biden named California Senator Kamala Harris as his vice presidential nominee. She makes history as the first African-American woman nominated for the position.

"You make a lot of important decisions as president," Biden wrote in an email from the campaign announcing the decision. "But the first one is who you select to be your Vice President. I've decided that Kamala Harris is the best person to help me take this fight to Donald Trump and Mike Pence and then to lead this nation starting in January 2021."

Harris was the only woman on his shortlist who had been elected statewide and was only the second black woman ever elected to the Senate.

"Biden is fighting to restore the soul of our nation and Kamala shows the promise of our nation that has not yet been fulfilled," Emmy Ruiz, a former senior advisor for Harris during her presidential campaign, told Newsweek.

"It's historic and transformational," said Sergio Gonzales, another former Harris senior advisor. "He represents experience, she represents good judgment. You have Scranton, Pennsylvania combined with a black woman leader, it's a generational bridge to the future of this party."

Harris would ascend to the next generation of Democratic leadership if Biden were to win and become the first black woman vice president, which would come after her primary run did not catch fire, and she dropped out in December.

Harris, who calls herself "a child of Oakland," is the oldest daughter of Indian and Jamaican immigrant parents. She was the first woman and first woman of color to become San Francisco district attorney. Then, when she came back from behind to win during her run for Attorney General of California against a moderate Republican, she became the first woman and woman of color elected to that position as well.

Her past positions drew the ire of liberals who found her record to be insufficiently progressive during the primary. They included making truancy a misdemeanor, lack of support for ballot initiatives that sought to lower nonviolent offenses from felonies to misdemeanors and legislation that would require cops to wear body cameras, and support for raising cash bail.

But as a senator, Harris has gained plaudits on the left. As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, she grilled controversial figures Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearing and Attorney General William Barr over the Special Counsel investigation in May 2019. When she pressed former attorney general Jeff Sessions about Russia in 2017 he asked her to slow down. "I'm not able to be rushed this fast," he said. "It makes me nervous!"

"Particularly on the Senate Judiciary Committee—which Joe used to lead—Kamala has distinguished herself as a fighter on behalf of the American people, on issues ranging from corruption, to women's rights and election interference," the campaign wrote in an email after the pick was made.

Recently, Harris took the lead on Democrats policing legislation along with Representative Karen Bass, who was also on Biden's shortlist, which called for banning chokeholds, limiting "qualified immunity" for cops protecting them from civil suits, ending the use of the kind of no-knock warrants that led to the killing of Breonna Taylor, and creating a national misconduct registry for officers.

But the selection of Harris did not come without its difficulties for the Biden campaign. A high-profile primary debate clash between the two on busing policies in the 1970s reportedly caused tension among campaign donors and within the vetting committee, and will instantly provide fodder for Republicans who see daylight between Biden and his new VP. Bryan Lanza, a former Trump campaign official in 2016, previewed those attacks from Republicans to Newsweek.

"You won't be able to trust her, that's obvious," he said. "If Biden were to be president he would have very little trust in his vice president. It would unprecedented."

"Joe Biden is no moderate, and with Harris as his 'political living will,' he is surrendering control of our nation to the radical mob with promises to raise taxes, cut police funding, kill energy jobs, open our borders, and appease socialist dictators," Trump campaign senior advisor Katrina Pierson said in a statement.

Supporters of Harris during the primary felt that she had to do everything "twice as good, but backward and in heels," arguing that as a black woman, she was held to a different standard than other candidates running. The sentiment was even echoed by one of her opponents, Julian Castro, when he dropped out.

Her selection comes as the nation is gripped by three concurrent crises: a pandemic affecting public health, an economic turndown with no end in sight, and a reckoning on race after the killing of unarmed black people by police.

But her choice also heartens Black women, who said Harris' face could soon be added to the mostly white faces of presidents and their vice presidents in textbooks.

"It's a final bit of diversity, not just for black girls and black boys, but for children of all backgrounds, understanding that no matter how they look or where they live they too are good enough, they too matter, they too are represented," said Angela Rye, whose Washington Post op-ed along with other Black women leaders in May laid down the gauntlet for Biden, calling for him to choose a Black woman as his running mate. "For Kamala, it was a hard won fight, but she probably shouldn't have had to fight this hard."

In recent months, Harris held many events for the Biden campaign, as candidates tried out for the role. She took part in a high-profile virtual fundraiser with DJ D-Nice and Diplo in July, which drew famous black women such as Oprah, Michelle Obama, and Rihanna, among others. Harris also took part in two roundtable events with Biden's campaign to tout his Build Back Better economic plan, a press call to outline COVID-19's impact on women with Senators Mazie Hirono and Kirsten Gillibrand, and a Women for Biden event.

Pandemic permitting, Democrats told Newsweek they look forward to Biden and Harris clasping their hands and raising their arms on stage as is traditional with nominees and their running mates, side by side with his wife and her husband, as well as Barack and Michelle Obama, optics they say would send a positive message through the TV screen to Americans.

Democrats say those people on stage—including the obvious racial unity—would look much different than what Trump's White House offers."The optics is turning the page," Gonzales said. "The president today is no longer dog-whistling, he's just saying racist things and trying to divide people based on race and class. A Biden-Harris ticket lifts up the entire country, it doesn't try to pit people against each other, it's about unity, really."

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California Senator Kamala Harris (C) hugs Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden after she endorsed him at a campaign rally at Renaissance High School in Detroit, Michigan on March 9, 2020. JEFF KOWALSKY / AFP/Getty