For Harris, an influential voice and a decisive vote

Kamala Harris

Kamala Harris (left) bumps fists with US President Joe Biden (right) after being sworn in as the 49th US Vice President on January 20, 2021, at the US Capitol in Washington, DC.

Photo credit: Jonathan Ernst | AFP

What you need to know:

  • Kamala Harris, 56, is sure to be far more than a 51st Democratic senator to Biden.
  • She will bring to her history-making role at the White House an array of skills that Biden will draw on.


Hours after she was sworn in as America’s 49th vice president, becoming the first woman and first woman of colour in the job, Kamala Harris will return to the US Capitol for what is likely to be her first official act: the swearing-in of three newly elected Democratic senators.

Harris will be acting in her constitutional role as president of the Senate when she gives the oath of office to two Democrats elected in a Georgia special election this month and to her own successor to the California seat she resigned Monday.

But the ceremony will also illustrate how important the Senate will be to the start of her tenure as vice president in the Biden administration.

With the Senate divided 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats, and President-elect Joe Biden hoping to pass ambitious legislation on the coronavirus, the economy, climate change and other policy matters, Harris — who as vice president will break any tiebreaking votes — may find herself returning often to the Capitol.

“There’s definitely going to be a demand, I think, in a 50-50 Senate, like I’ve never seen in the Senate before,” said Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.

“For the Biden-Harris agenda, she will be in Congress very, very often or reaching out to senators very often to try to push that agenda through,” Booker said.

An aide to Harris said she had already begun reaching out to other senators about White House nominations, including that of retired Gen. Lloyd Austin III to be secretary of defence.

But Harris, 56, is sure to be far more than a 51st Democratic senator to Biden. She will bring to her history-making role at the White House an array of skills that Biden will draw on, including the prosecutorial chops that she displayed in Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, her personal energy that balances Biden’s low-key approach and the voice she will offer to women and people of colour.

Racial justice lens

“She’ll bring a justice lens, a racial justice lens, racial equity, to everything and every policy and every decision that’s going to be made,” said Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., a longtime ally of Harris. “That’s so important, to have a Black woman, a South Asian woman’s perspective, on the big issues that this administration has to tackle.”

Current and former aides to both Biden and Harris say that while dealing with the Senate will be important to her job, she has not been assigned a specific issue portfolio, at least at the outset, and will instead serve as a governing partner to Biden on all of his top priorities. If fulfilled, that mandate could make her among the most influential vice presidents in history.

In one sign of how much she may be involved in legislative campaigns, Harris has been in touch with mayors around the country to preview Biden’s coronavirus relief package, the Biden aide said.

From the moment that Harris was chosen as Biden’s running mate, Republicans sought to paint her as a radical who would co-opt the more centrist Biden agenda and push any administration far to the left, often relying on sexist personal attacks in the process.

Yet while Harris and Biden had sharp disagreements on a number of issues during the primary, as his running mate she made a point at every turn to demonstrate that she not only embraced his agenda but also had studied his proposals in detail and was fully on board as his partner. (The New York Times)


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