How Kamala Harris rose from California's 'top cop' to Joe Biden's potential vice presidential running mate

Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP
  • California Sen. Kamala Harris, an outspoken voice of the anti-Trump “Resistance,” ran for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination and is now on former Vice President Joe Biden’s shortlist of potential running mates.
  • After 25 years as a prosecutor and California’s “top cop,” Harris saw a rapid, dazzling political rise from San Francisco’s district attorney to presidential candidate in less than a decade.

Kamala Harris burst onto the national stage in 2016 when she was elected as the second-ever Black woman to serve in the US Senate, celebrated by Democrats as a bright spot in a dark period for the party.

After 25 years as a prosecutor and California’s “top cop,” Harris saw a rapid, dazzling political rise from San Francisco’s district attorney to presidential candidate in less than a decade.


Read more:


Kamala Harris is likely going to run for president, but her record as a ‘progressive prosecutor’ is facing renewed scrutiny

After dropping out of the Democratic primary race last December, Harris has allied herself with former Vice President Joe Biden, now the presumptive nominee. Now, Harris is reportedly on Biden’s vice presidential shortlist.


Becoming California’s “top cop”

Mario Anzuoni/REUTERS

Kamala Harris was raised in Oakland, California by an Indian mother and a Jamaican father, both immigrants who met as young activists in the civil rights movement.

After attending Howard University, the historically black college in Washington, DC, and law school at UC Hastings, Harris worked for eight years in the Alameda County District Attorney’s office, where she prosecuted child sexual assault cases.

She served as San Francisco’s district attorney from 2004 to 2011 and California’s attorney general from 2011 until 2017.


Pursuing reforms, cautiously.

Kevin Lamarque/REUTERS

As California attorney general, Harris caught the attention of national Democrats, including President Barack Obama.

In her home state, Harris developed a reputation as a shrewd, but cautious “top cop.”

She championed some progressive reforms in her home state, including instituting a program in San Francisco that offered first-time drug offenders education and work opportunities instead of jail time.

But she also defended the state’s death penalty and fought to more harshly punish the parents of chronically truant school children.


Finding a national stage.

REUTERS/Jason Reed

In 2012, four years before she ran for the US Senate, Harris drew national attention when she spoke at the Democratic National Convention. She was soon recognised as a rising star in the Democratic party.

Harris has already broken a series of glass ceilings. She was the first African-American woman to serve as San Francisco’s DA, the first woman of colour to serve as her state’s attorney general, and the first woman of colour to serve California in the US Senate. And she’s the second Black woman and first South Asian-American ever elected to the Senate.


A viral questioner

Reuters

During her first few years in Washington, Harris has emerged as a strong, media-savvy voice for the anti-Trump “Resistance.” Clips of her grilling former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, and CIA Director Gina Haspel on the floor of the Senate have gone viral.

And she’s secured a place alongside some of the most progressive members of her caucus with a voting record that matches other former 2020 contenders, including fellow Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand.


Making policy on the Hill

Chris Wattie/REUTERS

As a senator, she’s signed on to a host of progressive policies, including reforming the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, and legalizing marijuana. But she’s positioned herself as a more moderate, pragmatic alternative to leaders of the progressive left, including Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

One of her signature policy proposals is a tax credit that would provide lower-income families monthly cash payments of up to $US500. She’s also worked to advance bail reform legislation and policies that would fight maternal death.


A field full of women

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Harris was one of several women who ran in the 2020 Democratic primary. She was joined by fellow Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Amy Klobuchar and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard.


A past that could hurt her presidential prospects

AP Photo/ Damian Dovarganes

As a presidential candidate, Harris’ 25-year career in law enforcement – including her two terms as San Francisco’s district attorney and five years as California’s attorney general – faced renewed scrutiny.

Law professor Lara Bazelon accused Harris of upholding wrongful convictions, covering up prosecutorial misconduct, and pursuing only cautious reforms during her tenure as California’s “top cop.”

In a January 2019 New York Times op-ed, Bazelon argued that if Harris “wants people who care about dismantling mass incarceration and correcting miscarriages of justice to vote for her, she needs to radically break with her past.”


A 2020 campaign cut short by lack of funds and enthusiasm

Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

Harris announced her presidential bid on Martin Luther King Jr. Day – a clear recognition of the historic nature of her campaign.

She abruptly dropped out of the race in December 2019 as her campaign ran short on both funds and enthusiasm.


Harris confronts Biden on racial issues in viral debate exchange

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

In one of her most headline-grabbing campaign moments, Harris notably criticised Biden’s record on racial integration efforts and his collaboration with racist colleagues in the Senate.

“It was hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senators who built their reputations and career on the segregation of race in this country,” Harris told Biden in a June 2019 Democratic debate. “And it was not only that, but you also worked with them to oppose busing.”

She went on, “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.”


Harris embraces Biden

Scott Olson/Getty Images

Harris endorsed Biden on March 8, when the race had essentially been whittled down to Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders and several days after Biden dominated on Super Tuesday.

“I believe in Joe. I really believe in him, and I have known him for a long time,” she said in her announcement.

Harris has since campaigned alongside Biden and risen to the top of his list of potential running mates.

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