Kamala Harris: a political profile
Following the Democratic victory earlier this month, Millie Browning charts the political background of Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.
On 7th November 2020, Kamala Harris made history as the first female, African American and South Asian-American Vice President-Elect of the United States of America. This was not the first time, however, that the California-born lawyer had reached such a landmark. She was the first person of colour to be District Attorney of San Francisco and the first woman, first African American and the first South Asian-American to hold the office of Attorney General of California. In 2016, she became the first South Asian-American and the second African American woman to serve in the US Senate.
At 78, Joe Biden is America’s oldest President-elect and so there is speculation as to whether he will want to run for another term in 2024, or whether he’ll support the Vice President-elect, should she choose to run. This means Harris’ political ideology is perhaps more important to the American public than that of her predecessors. Despite being labelled by the New York Times as a ‘pragmatic moderate’, she is considered by many to be a more liberal senator. In her three years within the US Senate, she has sponsored many controversial and successful bills, taking a firm position on a range of key political issues.
Like most Democratic Party members, among Harris’ key standpoints are the proposal of tax cuts for the majority of working or middle-class Americans; an increase in taxes for wealthier citizens and large corporations, and a commitment to the creation of a government programme to fund tuition fees for students attending public universities whose household income is $125,000 or less. She has also made consistent efforts in favour of gun control and was responsible for the introduction of the Background Check Expansion Act in 2019, which required background checks for both the sale and transfer of all firearms.
With Joe Biden, Harris has pledged to re-join the Paris Agreement once in office
The campaign that perhaps bought Harris into the political limelight was co-sponsoring the Green New Deal which recommends that the US overhauls its economy in order to tackle climate change, citing it as ‘an existential threat to all of us.’ Alongside Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Harris more recently introduced the Climate Equity Act, to aid Congress and the White House in working together to guarantee policies to help ‘protect the health and economic wellbeing of all Americans for generations to come’. Harris aims to end US support for international oil and natural gas extraction projects and, with Joe Biden, has pledged to re-join the Paris Agreement once in office.
Harris is a lifelong supporter of criminal justice reforms. As a senator, she voted for the First Step Act, a bill aimed at minimising re-offending rates of federal prisoners via job training programmes. Along with the rest of the Democratic Party, she is in support of reforming law enforcement but, unlike some of her colleagues, she does not speak out entirely in favour of defunding the police, but rather wants there to be a ‘reimagining of how we do public safety in America’. She is in favour of legalising marijuana and introduced the Marijuana Justice Act in 2019, stating that the US has not equally applied its laws on the drug and has ‘criminalised marijuana use in a way that has led to the disproportionate incarceration of young men of colour’. Mr Biden, however, has not given his support to marijuana legalisation or defunding the police, so it will be interesting to see how they tackle these two issues together after assuming office in January.
She has frequently advocated for comprehensive immigration reform
Harris’ personal support for women’s rights is a factor that might have convinced the majority of female US voters (56%) to vote Democratic in this election. She is a firm supporter of the pro-choice argument and taxpayer-funded abortions. During her 2020 presidential campaign she also put forward the idea of offering six months paid leave for personal or medical issues relating to domestic violence and advocated for companies to be “equal pay certified” to help close the gender pay gap. She was also particularly active in supporting pregnant women detained by ICE and was one of 22 senators to sponsor the Stop Shackling and Detaining Pregnant Women Act which accused the organisation of failing ‘to provide critical medical care to pregnant women in immigration detention’. Harris’ support is not confined to pregnant immigrants however, she has frequently advocated for comprehensive immigration reform. She led Democrats in a letter to the US Secretary of Homeland Security demanding that the Trump administration reunite 539 migrant children with their families and co-sponsored many other bills including, most recently, the Coronavirus Immigrant Families Protection Act.
These are just some of the issues that Kamala Harris has addressed in only three years as a US senator, proving herself a formidable politician. It remains to be seen what kind of legacy the Biden-Harris presidency will have, but whatever your political view, it is clear that her election is one that will go down in American history.