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Kamala Harris Is Biden's VP Choice

Kamala Harris

Joe Biden has chosen Kamala Harris to be his running mate.

The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee made the announcement via Twitter today, noting Harris's extensive qualifications as well as her friendship with his late son, Beau Biden, who was attorney general of Delaware. In March, at the final Democratic presidential debate of the primary season, he had pledged to pick a woman to run for vice president, and many observers predicted he would choose a woman of color.

"You make a lot of important decisions as president. 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," Biden wrote in an email from his campaign to supporters.

Harris, currently a U.S. senator from California, becomes the first Black woman and first woman of South Asian heritage on a major party’s presidential ticket. She is the daughter of two immigrants — her mother was born in India and her father in Jamaica.

She is a former rival of Biden's for the presidential nomination, and she famously clashed with him in the first presidential debate of the current race over his opposition to busing to integrate schools in the 1970s. “There was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bused to school every day. And that little girl was me,” she said in the June 2019 debate. Biden responded that he did not oppose busing overall, just a federal mandate for it. However, that exchange did not make for a permanent split between the two. In March, Harris endorsed Biden for the nomination, saying she would do all in her power to assure his election as president.

Before being elected to the Senate in 2016, Harris was California’s attorney general and, before that, district attorney for the city and county of San Francisco. She began her career in the district attorney’s office in neighboring Alameda County. The California native earned her law degree from the University of California Hastings College of the Law after doing her undergraduate work at Howard University, one of the nation’s preeminent historically Black universities.

Harris has a long and strong record of supporting LGBTQ+ rights. In 2010, one of her signature issues in her campaign for attorney general was her opposition to Proposition 8, the voter-approved ballot initiative that revoked marriage equality in California in 2008, undoing the state Supreme Court decision that allowed same-sex couples to marry. Both she and Jerry Brown, who was elected governor in 2010, said they would not defend Prop. 8 in court, and Brown’s predecessor as governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, had done the same. If Steve Cooley, Harris’s opponent in the AG race, who had pledged to defend Prop. 8, would have won, it might have changed the ballot measure’s fate. As it was, the proposition’s supporters had to defend it against court challenges, and courts all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court agreed they didn’t have legal standing to do so, and because of that Prop. 8 was struck down. After Prop. 8 bit the dust in 2013, she officiated the first post-Prop. 8 same-sex marriage in the state, between Kris Perry and Sandy Stier, who had been part of the court case. (Many same-sex couples had married in the window between when the California Supreme Court decision went into effect in June 2008 and when Prop. 8 was passed; the first two couples to do so were Robin Tyler and Diane Olson in Beverly Hills and Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon in San Francisco.)

As AG, she went on to lead efforts to abolish gay and trans “panic” defenses in criminal trials. She received some criticism for a position she took as AG, backing the state of California when it sought to deny gender-affirmation surgery to a transgender prisoner. But Harris has pointed out that when she was attorney general, the state’s Department of Corrections was a client of hers, and she had to represent its interests — but she worked behind the scenes to get the policy changed so that any inmate requiring such procedures could receive them. “I have a long-standing commitment to fighting for the rights of transgender people, for the dignity of transgender people,” she said in an interview with the National Center for Transgender Equality last year.

Harris also showed her support for LGBTQ+ equality as San Francisco district attorney; in 2004, when Mayor Gavin Newsom declared same-sex marriage legal in the city, Harris conducted marriages for same-sex couples (the marriages were later nullified, however). She established a hate-crimes unit in the DA’s office as well. As a senator, Harris has continued to be a champion of LGBTQ+ rights. She’s introduced a bill to mandate insurance coverage of pre-exposure prophylaxis, the HIV prevention method, and she notably stumped Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh with a question on marriage equality during his confirmation hearings. Harris also has said she supports decriminalizing sex work for consenting adults, but some advocates for sex workers have pointed to her history of resisting decriminalization, a position they say has hurt LGBTQ+ people.

During her run for president, which she ended last December, she said she would push for the Equality Act, reinstate President Obama’s executive orders banning anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination in federally funded programs, reverse the trans military ban, roll back Donald Trump’s “license to discriminate” orders, and fight for LGBTQ+ equality around the world. She released a comprehensive plan for LGBTQ+ rights that included establishing an advocate within the White House.

Given the scrutiny on police and prosecutors amid heightened awareness of police brutality against Black Americans, some activists have criticized Harris's record in law enforcement. Law professor Lara Bazelon, for instance, wrote in a New York Times op-ed that as California AG and San Francisco district attorney, Harris sought to uphold wrongful convictions and did not fight for meaningful criminal justice reform. However, Harris has described herself as a "progressive prosecutor" and pointed to her moves to require body cameras for some officers of the California Department of Justice and to improve public access to crime statistics. She has also called out systemic racism, urged the arrest of the police officers who killed Black woman Breonna Taylor of Louisville, Ky., and pushed for a "reimagining" of law enforcement.

LGBTQ+ groups and others were quick to praise Biden's choice of Harris. “Senator Kamala Harris is nothing short of an exceptional choice for Vice President,” Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a press release. “Throughout her groundbreaking career, Senator Harris has been an outspoken advocate for the LGBTQ community, standing with us when many, even sometimes those within her own party, did not. As a presidential candidate, Harris spoke with deep understanding of and empathy for the issues our community faces. It’s clear the Biden-Harris ticket marks our nation's most pro-equality ticket in history. Now it's time to come together, unite like never before, and turn the page on the Trump-Pence brand of lies and hate.”

Rick Chavez Zbur, executive director of Equality California, issued a statement with similar sentiments: "Senator Kamala Harris is an exceptional choice to serve as the next vice president of the United States, and Equality California is proud to stand with her and Vice President Biden in their historic campaign to take back the White House and restore the soul of America. Throughout her career, Senator Harris has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to civil rights and social justice for all LGBTQ+ people. As vice president, we are confident she will continue Vice President Biden’s tradition of using the office to champion and advance full, lived LGBTQ+ equality — and equality for the diverse communities to which LGBTQ+ people belong."

“Harris deeply believes that all people deserve equal treatment regardless of sex, gender, race, or ability — and her career has been focused on turning that into reality," added Rahna Epting, executive director of MoveOn. “Her allyship with the LGBTQ community was front and center when she officiated at California’s first same-sex marriage [post-Prop. 8], presiding over the union of Kristin Perry and Sandra Stier. Her work to establish the Back on Track LA initiative, a program designed to provide nonviolent offenders with educational opportunities instead of incarceration, provided a blueprint for the way states treat nonviolent offenders."

“Kamala Harris has been a trailblazer her entire career," said Shaunna Thomas, executive director of women's group UltraViolet Action. "As the first Black woman Attorney General of California as well as the first Black woman Senator from California, she’s led with boldness and resiliency. She is not afraid to ask the tough questions and get the job done, holding corrupt corporations and government officials accountable. She’s championed criminal and social justice reform, such as ending the death penalty, limiting recidivism, protecting LGBTQ rights, and environmental protection. Harris has been incredibly effective at making the case against Trump, emphasizing her own values, and helping to unify the Democratic Party. Harris’ positions, accomplishments, and years of service will make her an effective leader of the United States."

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