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Kamala Harris’ path to the Democratic presidential ticket

California Senator Kamala Harris solidified her national reputation during her campaign for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. But for most of her career, she was a prosecutor. How have her personal background and professional trajectory led her to this moment, in which she becomes the first Black woman to join a major party presidential ticket? Lisa Desjardins reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, we want to take a closer look now at Kamala Harris and her career up until this moment of her being Joe Biden's running mate.

    Here's Lisa again with that.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    When Kamala Harris tells her story, it starts with parents who raised her with a sense of justice.

  • Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif.:

    My parents first met as graduate students at U.C. Berkeley…

    (LAUGHTER)

    … where they were active in the civil rights movement.

    My mother used to say — I think she was basically saying, you got to get up and stand up and don't give up the fight.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Harris was born in 1964 in Oakland, California, to immigrant parents. Her mother, Shyamala, came from India to study science at U.C. Berkeley. Her father, Donald, immigrated from Jamaica to teach economics at Stanford.

  • Sen. Kamala Harris:

    They came in pursuit of a dream.

    And that dream was a dream for themselves, for me, and for my sister, Maya.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Growing up in Oakland, she was an early participant in a school busing program aimed at integrating the public schools.

    When she was 12, with her parents separated, Harris moved to Montreal with her mother, where she graduated high school.

    After decades of attending predominantly white schools, Harris wanted change. In 1983, she enrolled at Howard University, the preeminent historically black college in Washington, D.C.

  • Sen. Kamala Harris:

    This is where it all began.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    It was at Howard that Harris explored her interest in politics. She ran for student council, joined the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, and demonstrated against apartheid in South Africa.

  • Sen. Kamala Harris:

    Howard University is one of the most important aspects of my life.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Harris returned to the San Francisco Bay Area for law school at the University of California-Hastings. Back home, her career took off.

    In 2003, Harris unseated San Francisco's top prosecutor to win election, as California's first black district attorney.

  • Sen. Kamala Harris:

    This is a celebration not just about me, but about all of us and about our great city.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    It was the start of a decades-long career in law enforcement that has come under increased scrutiny as she seeks higher office.

  • Sen. Kamala Harris:

    And to be a prosecutor is to really be engaged in one of the most noble professions that anyone could do and have.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Harris is personally opposed to the death penalty.

  • Sen. Kamala Harris:

    In San Francisco, it is the will, I believe, of a majority of people that the most severe crimes be met with the most severe consequences, and that life without possibility of parole is a severe consequence.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    As the city's top prosecutor, she promised to never impose it, even in a high-profile case about the death of a police officer.

  • Sen. Kamala Harris:

    Yes, you did commit a crime. Accept it. Own up to it. And then let's talk about what we can do to change the circumstances going forward.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    She also pioneered a program to give nonviolent first-time offenders educational and job skills to prevent them from re-offending.

  • Sen. Kamala Harris:

    When we're talking about serious and violent crime, lock them up. But when we're talking about nonviolent crime, that is the crime that is occupying the bulk of our public resources and beds in our state prison system.

    And we need to have a meaningful system to reduce the likelihood that that revolving door will continue.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    At the same time, Harris had some get-tough policies, including on families whose kids skipped school.

  • Sen. Kamala Harris:

    When they don't receive the benefit of a good public education, the odds-on favorite is that they will not lead a productive life.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    And she opposed decriminalizing sex work. Some critics say those things disproportionately hurt people of color.

  • Sen. Kamala Harris:

    This is not about being compassion. And, frankly, this is not about that movie "Pretty Woman." Go home and rent it if you would like to see it.

    But if you want to prep pass Proposition K, you're going to have the exact opposite effect, which is, you're going to basically give a green light to the sexual exploitation of women and girls.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    After nearly a decade as district attorney, Harris made her next move and, in 2011, was elected California attorney general.

  • Sen. Kamala Harris:

    Justice will be swift and certain in the state of California.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    During that time, she gained national recognition for her prosecution of gangs and pursuing predatory for-profit colleges.

  • Sen. Kamala Harris:

    The people of our state should not be the subject of other people trying to make money off of them simply because they want to get an education.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    She also officiated the first same-sex wedding in the state.

  • Sen. Kamala Harris:

    By the state of California, I now declare you spouses for life.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Her A.G. tenure coincided with the rise of the Black Lives Matter after the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

  • Protesters:

    Hands up!

  • Protesters:

    Don't shoot!

  • Protesters:

    Hands up!

  • Protesters:

    Don't shoot!

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Amid national calls for police accountability, Harris refused to take a position on a bill that would have required her office to launch an investigation into any officer-involved shooting.

    But she did mandate implicit bias training California's officers in 2015.

  • Sen. Kamala Harris:

    We have developed and implemented a policy on implicit bias and racial profiling.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    During her six-year stint as attorney general, Harris befriended a fellow A.G. from across the country. Delaware's Beau Biden, son of then Vice President Joe Biden.

    Now a recognized name in the Democratic Party, Harris was a clear choice to run for the newly open Senate seat in California.

  • Sen. Kamala Harris:

    I intend to fight for truth and transparency and trust.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    She won in a landslide and was sworn in by Biden in 2017.

    In the Senate, Harris has sponsored bills on race and criminal justice, including a bill to declare lynching a federal hate crime.

  • Sen. Kamala Harris:

    And call it what it is, which is that it is a crime that should be punishable with accountability and consequence.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    But her most shining moments have come in her prosecutorial questioning during Senate hearings, first of attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions in 2017.

  • Sen. Kamala Harris:

    Are you aware of any communications…

  • Jeff Sessions:

    Although a lot of the people were at the convention. It is conceivable that somebody came up to me.

  • Sen. Kamala Harris:

    Sir, I have just a few…

  • Jeff Sessions:

    Will you let me qualify it? If I don't qualify it, you will accuse me of lying. So, I need to be correct as best I can…

  • Sen. Kamala Harris:

    I do want you to be honest.

  • Jeff Sessions:

    But I'm not able to be rushed this fast. It makes me nervous.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    And in the Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

  • Sen. Kamala Harris:

    Have you discussed Mueller or his investigation with anyone at Kasowitz, Benson & Torres, the law firm founded by Marc Kasowitz, President Trump's personal lawyer?

  • Brett Kavanaugh:

    I…

  • Sen. Kamala Harris:

    Be sure about your answer, sir.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    All of it set up what seemed inevitable, a run for the White House in 2020.

  • Sen. Kamala Harris:

    I stand before you today to announce my candidacy for president of the United States.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    By her side in that campaign, her husband of six years, Douglas Emhoff, who amassed a social media following based on never-ending support for his wife's career.

    In the campaign, Harris fired some of the first shots at primary opponent Joe Biden over his opposition of the school busing programs in the 1970s.

  • Sen. Kamala Harris:

    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.

    And it was not only that, but you also worked with them to oppose busing. And 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.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    But that viral moment was not enough to grow momentum in Iowa, especially as she fielded questions on her prosecutorial record.

  • Jake Tapper:

    When you were attorney general, you opposed legislation that would have required your office to investigate fatal shootings involving police officers. Why did you oppose that bill?

  • Linsey Davis:

    You used to oppose the legalization of marijuana. Now you don't. You used to oppose outside investigations of police shootings. Now you don't.

    You have said that you changed on these and other things because you were — quote — "swimming against the current, and, thankfully, the currents have changed."

    But when you had the power, why didn't you try to effect change then?

  • Sen. Kamala Harris:

    There have been many distortions of my record.

    I made a decision that if I was going to have the ability to reform the system, I would try to do it from the inside.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    She dropped out of the race in December.

  • Sen. Kamala Harris:

    I will keep fighting every day for what this campaign has been about: justice for the people.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Harris eventually endorsed her former opponent Biden in March, joining him at a rally in Michigan, and immediately entering the most-watched list to be Biden's V.P.

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