Kamala Harris, supporter of Green Card reform, is now on the U.S. presidential ticket

Ms Harris, 55, is the first woman of Indian descent and black woman to be on presidential ticket of a major political party in U.S.

Updated - August 18, 2020 04:55 pm IST

Published - August 12, 2020 03:35 pm IST

U.S. Senator from California Kamala Harris. File

U.S. Senator from California Kamala Harris. File

U.S. Senator from California Kamala Harris has been named running mate of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, as per an announcement from Mr. Biden on Tuesday.

Ms. Harris, 55, is the first woman of Indian descent and black woman to be on the presidential ticket of a major political party in the U.S. The move puts her in a powerful position to lead the Democratic party in the near future and with a shot at the presidency in four to eight years.

Born to Shyamala Gopalan, a cancer researcher originally from Chennai, and Donald Harris, an economics professor from Jamaica, Ms Harris has decades of public service to her name. In 2010, she became California’s Attorney General - the first Black woman to hold the position. In 2016, she was elected to the Senate.

The announcement ends months of speculation, as Mr. Biden worked through a list of close to a dozen potential Vice President (VP) candidate choices.

Also read: She has her head on her shoulders, says uncle on Kamala Harris

Ms Harris said she was honoured to be on Mr. Biden’s ticket. “Joe Biden can unify the American people because he's spent his life fighting for us. And as president, he’ll build an America that lives up to our ideals,” she said on Twitter.

Trump reaction

Responding to the announcement, U.S. President Donald Trump said he was “ a little surprised ” Mr. Biden picked Ms Harris and characterised as “ extraordinarily nasty” Ms. Harris’s questioning of then Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh during his Senate confirmation. Ms Harris had questioned the candidate Justice on multiple sexual assault accusations and any links he might have had with the Mueller probe into Russian meddling into the 2016 U.S. elections.

Ms. Harris, herself a former presidential candidate, dropped out of the race in December after campaign funds dried up. Considered one of the moderate candidates in a large field, Ms Harris did not always see eye to eye with fellow moderate Mr. Biden. In a dramatic clash at a primary debate last year, she attacked Mr Biden for opposing mandatory busing of children across school districts, a policy that would racially desegregate schools.

In a country that is in the throes of a debate on race and policing Ms Harris’s African- American heritage but also her former role as a prosecutor is expected to come to the fore. As a presidential candidate, she outlined her plans for criminal justice reform that included legalising marijuana, abolishing the death penalty and banning private prisons. However, her record as California Attorney General has been criticised, especially by the progressive wing of the Democratic party, for its “tough on crime” policies.

On Tuesday, however, former presidential candidates progressive Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, welcomed the VP announcement . “She understands what it takes to stand up for working people, fight for healthcare for all, and take down the most corrupt administration in history. Let’s get to work and win,” Mr. Sanders tweeted.

More recently, following the killing of unarmed black man George Floyd in Minneapolis by police, Ms Harris co-sponsored legislation in the senate for justice reform.

In April, she introduced legislation to address the impact of COVID-19 on minority communities, whom the disease affects disproportionately.

Support for Green Card reform

Last year, Ms Harris was a lead co-sponsor for legislation (which ultimately did not pass), whose impact would be to increase the number of green cards that could go to countries like India and China, which normally max out their annual resident visa quotas.

On her ethnic origins, Ms. Harris has said she has not spent a lot of time trying to categorise herself. “You might need to figure it out, but I’m fine with it,” she said in an interview to The Washington Post. In her book, The Truths We Hold,  she talks about being raised with a “ strong awareness and appreciation” of Indian culture. Her Indian mother, who was also a civil rights activist, knew that American society would view Kamala and her sister Maya Harris as black, so raised them to be “ confident, proud black women.”

Around 1.3 million Indian Americans are likely to vote in November – a small but rich and increasingly politically active demographic. The Biden-Harris ticket is likely to mobilise funds from Indian Americans.

“Indian Americans have already become a source of support and funding as evidenced by the 2020 primaries where several million dollars were raised by all the presidential candidates,” said M.R. Rangaswami, founder of diaspora organisation Indiaspora.

“Kamala Harris is an incredibly charismatic person who will resonate with our community,” Mr. Rangaswami told The Hindu . Fundraisers are already being organised for her to raise “several millions [ of dollars] more” he said.

Impact, an advocacy group and Political Action Committee (PAC) that describes itself as helping Indian Americans run and win political office, announced that it plans to raise $ 10 million for “candidates who share our values like Senator Harris.”

Mr. Biden’s choice of Ms Harris as running mate is likely to impact funding more than voting choice, according to Devesh Kapur, a professor of South Asia at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

“Given how polarized the country is, most voters have already made up their minds. They will not change their vote. Her nomination will make a difference only to the relatively small number of undecided (Indian American) voters, Mr. Kapur told The Hindu.

With many Indian American voters are in deep-blue (highly Democrat) states and the Northeast, shifts in their votes will not have a major impact as per Mr Kapur. While the number of Indian Americans has been growing in Florida, Georgia, Texas, their relatively small numbers (many are non-citizens) will not have an impact unless the elections are close in those states.

“ …The most substantive impact of her nomination will be more fund-raising for the campaign from the Indian American community,” Mr. Kapur said.

Not surprised, very happy: family in India

Ms Harris’s maternal uncle, G. Balachandran , speaking to The Hindu from New Delhi, said he was not surprised by the news but was “ very happy” to hear it. As a follower of U.S. politics, Mr. Balachandran said he thought his niece “was one of the best” of all the VP candidates being considered.

“Anybody who has listened to a Senate hearing would know, she can grill them like nobody’s business.” Mr. Balachandran, an academic and one-time journalist with The Hindu, said. A second reason for his not being surprised was Ms Harris’s middle of the road approach to issues. “She’s not very dogmatic.” he said .

“My sister Shyamala would have been extremely happy… and my parents [Ms Harris’s grandparents] would have been very happy,” he observed.

Ms. Harris is married to Douglas Emhoff, an attorney,​ and has two step-children through him.


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