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Kamala Harris Breaks Boundaries For Black Women as First Black Woman Nominated for National Office

Senator Kamala Harris of California, whom Joseph R. Biden Jr. announced on Tuesday as his pick for vice president, will be the first Black woman and the first person of Indian descent to be nominated for national office by a major party. A pragmatic moderate and one of Mr. Biden’s former rivals in the presidential race, Ms. Harris was a barrier-breaking prosecutor before being elected to the Senate in 2016.

Ms. Harris, 55, was born in Oakland, Calif. (Her first name is pronounced COMMA-lah.) She is a former attorney general of California and a former San Francisco district attorney.

When she announced her own bid for the presidency — on Martin Luther King’s Birthday in 2019 — she pitched herself as a history-making candidate, paying homage to Shirley Chisholm, the New York congresswoman who became the first woman to seek the Democratic Party’s nomination for president.

Prosecutorial Background

Ms. Harris’s record as a prosecutor — she was the San Francisco district attorney from 2004 to 2011, and the California attorney general from 2011 to 2017 — was a major theme of her presidential campaign and will almost certainly be discussed in the general election, especially given the national outcry over police brutality and systemic racism since the killing of George Floyd.

Ms. Harris has described herself as a “progressive prosecutor” and argued that it is possible to be tough on crime while also confronting the deep inequities of the criminal justice system. She has said she became a prosecutor because she believed she could best change the system from within, a message that became a key part of her pitch as a presidential candidate: that voters could trust her to overhaul the justice system because she knew it “from the inside out.”

Senate Career Elected to the Senate in 2016, Ms. Harris was the first Black woman in the chamber in more than a decade. During her relatively brief time as California’s junior senator, she has become known for her intensive interrogations of Trump administration officials and nominees, including Brett M. Kavanaugh during his Supreme Court confirmation hearing and Attorney General Jeff Sessions during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing.

In recent years, she sought to align herself more with the Democratic Party’s left wing, initially supporting Senator Bernie Sanders’s “Medicare for all” bill before shifting her position during the presidential campaign. She has also backed proposals to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour and revise the country’s bail system.

Ms. Harris has been a vocal supporter of racial justice legislation in response to the killing of Mr. Floyd, supporting proposals to overhaul policing and make lynching a federal crime. She serves on several high-profile committees in the Senate, including the Intelligence Committee and the Judiciary Committee.

During her presidential campaign, Ms. Harris appealed in particular to more moderate Democrats and those drawn to her biography. She could reinforce Mr. Biden’s appeal with Black women, suburban women and women generally who are eager to see themselves reflected in the country’s leadership.

Ms. Harris also has another potential secret weapon: her connection to the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, which she joined as an undergraduate at Howard University and whose roughly 300,000 members and multimillion-dollar budget could help provide fund-raising and organizational might across the country.

But the progressive left, including some supporters of Mr. Sanders, will most likely be disappointed in Ms. Harris’s selection, viewing her as far more supportive of incremental change than the kind of broad, revolutionary proposals they champion. And her long career in law enforcement could be off-putting to some voters, especially younger voters, who are eager to see a police-reform movement with unqualified backing from the White House.


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