Here are five things you should know about Vice President Kamala Harris, including her personal and political history and where she stands on major issues.

Key Takeaways

  • Vice President Kamala Harris was raised by a Jamaican father and Indian-born mother.
  • She served as both district attorney for San Francisco and attorney general for California.
  • Harris’ record as a prosecutor is considered to be very centrist, while, as a senator, she has been seen as largely liberal.
  • While both President Biden and Vice President Harris are from the moderate wing of the Democratic Party, Harris’ Senate record is considered farther to the left than Biden’s was.

1. Harris Organized a Successful Protest at the Age of 13.

Kamala Devi Harris was born on Oct. 20, 1964, in Oakland, Calif. Her mother, Shyamala, who later had a career as a renowned breast cancer researcher, emigrated from India. Her father, Donald, an economics professor at Stanford University, came to the U.S. from Jamaica. When Harris was 7, her parents divorced. At age 12, she, along with her mother and sister, Maya, moved to Montreal. It was there that Kamala and her sister organized a reportedly successful protest against the owner of their apartment building, who would not let children play on the building’s lawn.

She began her legal career as deputy district attorney in Alameda County, Calif., focusing on sex crimes. From there, she became managing attorney of the Career Criminal Unit in San Francisco and in 2000 became chief of the San Francisco Community and Neighborhood Division of the DA’s office, where she established the state’s first Bureau of Children’s Justice.

2. Harris Served as San Francisco Attorney General.

As a student at Westmount High School in Quebec, Harris dreamed of becoming a lawyer. After graduation, she returned to the U.S. and entered Howard University in Washington, D.C., where she earned a B.A. in political science and economics. Then she went back to her home state of California and attended the University of California Hastings College of the Law, where she earned her J.D. in 1989.

In 2003, Harris defeated her former boss, Terence Hallinan, to become San Francisco district attorney. During her first three years, the conviction rate in San Francisco jumped from 52% to 67%. At the same time, she launched the “Back on Track” initiative that cut recidivism through job training and other programs for low-level offenders. She drew criticism in 2004 for refusing to seek the death penalty for a gang member convicted of killing police officer Isaac Espinoza.

During her tenure as San Francisco DA, Harris went from cop favorite to being shunned by police unions due to a reputation for only prosecuting the most airtight of cases and for failing to seek the death penalty in 2004. The 2004 controversy came about as the result of Harris’ often-stated personal opposition to the death penalty, as well as her campaign promise to never seek it.

3. She Was the First Woman and First Black Attorney General of California.

After narrowly beating Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley to become state attorney general in November 2010, Harris made an immediate mark by withdrawing from settlement negotiations with five of the country’s largest financial institutions for improper mortgage practices, only to eventually settle for five times the original proposed amount.

As attorney general, Harris created Open Justice, an online platform that makes criminal justice data available to the public at large. The database has helped improve police accountability by tabulating the number of deaths and injuries of those in police custody. She also presided over the creation of “Operation Boo,” a mandatory curfew for all homeless sex offenders on Halloween.

4. Harris Became a Senator for California and Known for Incisive Questions on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

When she defeated Loretta Sanchez in 2016, Harris became the first South Asian American to enter the U.S. Senate. Her pointed questioning of high-profile witnesses like then-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh drew her high praise from the left. In the Senate, Harris supported a single-payer healthcare system and introduced legislation to provide financial relief to those facing rising housing costs.

According to GovTrack, Harris joined bipartisan bills less often than all other Senate Democrats, and of the 471 bills she co-sponsored, only 15% were introduced by Republicans. On the other hand, she received bicameral (House and Senate) support on more bills than any other member of her Senate class and had the most co-sponsors on her bills of anyone in her class.

5. Biden and Harris Butted Heads During the Democratic Primary Before Teaming Up in 2020.

Harris announced she was running for president in January 2019. One high point came during the first Democratic debate, when Harris confronted her future running mate over his position on cross-district busing in the 1970s and delivered a stirring anecdote ending with the line, “And that little girl was me,” which became an immediate viral sensation. The resulting surge in poll numbers, however, did not last. Harris shut down her campaign in December 2019 and endorsed Biden in March 2020. He announced Harris as his VP pick in August 2020, saying, “Back when Kamala was attorney general, she worked closely with (my son) Beau. I watched as they took on the big banks, lifted up working people, and protected women and kids from abuse. I was proud then, and I’m proud now to have her as my partner in this campaign.”

Both Biden and Harris are generally considered to be in the moderate wing of the Democratic Party, though GovTrack labels Harris the most liberal member of the Senate. While the ticket has only one platform, Harris’ record in the Senate is to the left of Biden’s. Regarding healthcare, for example, Harris began by joining Sen. Bernie Sanders in his call for Medicare for All. However, she later backtracked, leaving her position uncertain. Biden does not support Medicare for All and instead has called for fixing and expanding the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Harris was a co-sponsor of the Green New Deal, which Biden does not support. The area on which they seem to agree most is immigration. Both favor a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants living in the U.S.; both favor protection of Dreamers, including a plan to fix Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA); and both would seek to reverse then-President Donald Trump’s Muslim ban.