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Vice President-elect Harris’ win brings many historic firsts

Kamala Harris gave her victory speech wearing all white on Saturday night after her glass ceiling-shattering win as Vice President-elect. Barbara Perry, Director of Presidential Studies and co-chair of the Presidential Oral History Program at the University of Virginia's Miller Center, joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss the historic nature of Harris’ election and the road it took to get here.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Kamala Harris is not the first woman to be on the vice-presidential ticket, but with yesterday's victory, she is the first to become vice president-elect, breaking not just one glass ceiling, but many.

    I spoke with Barbara Perry, Director of Presidential Studies and co-chair of the Presidential Oral History Program at the University of Virginia's Miller Center, about the historic first for the country.

  • Barbara Perry:

    Well, as a woman, I have to say it's so inspiring, particularly given that four years ago, many of us thought we would see the first woman elected to sit in the Oval Office at the Resolute Desk. But failing that, this is the next best thing. And not only a woman in Kamala Harris, but a woman of color. It's just spectacular.

    And I mentioned that I was wearing my late mother's earrings today. She would have turned 100 next week. And it makes me think that almost gives me chills to think that she would have been born just after the amendment passed, the 19th Amendment, giving, giving women the franchise and that her own mother, it made me do some math, her own mother would have been 27 before she would have been allowed to cast her first vote in a presidential election. So within the span of three generations, I now see the first woman vice president and maybe she will go on at some point to be president running in her own right.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Well, Kamala Harris is the first to be vice president-elect. She's not the first to be on a major party ticket.

  • Barbara Perry:

    Yes, it takes us all the way up to 1984 before we get a woman on a major party national ticket in the person of Geraldine Ferraro. And yet I think back to that campaign as she ran on the ticket with Walter Mondale, that was doomed to a landslide defeat to Ronald Reagan, not because of Geraldine Ferraro, but she was a bit condescended to by then-Vice President George H.W. Bush in the debate and she called him out on it. But she was also attacked for her husband's business dealings, his real estate dealings in New York.

    And I thought, well, that's the problem for women. They rise to at or near the top, and then they're still brought down by their husband's business dealings. And then in the case of Sarah Palin, I actually think that set the cause of women back on national tickets because she was so blatantly unqualified to serve in that role or to be a heartbeat away from the presidency. But the good news is it didn't take long for women to overcome that with Kamala Harris' nomination, and now, victory.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    And it's ironic that the, the male establishment that tried to keep women from voting for so long, ever since that vote, have been well, these have been massive margins, and how important women have been in elections, deciding presidents.

  • Barbara Perry:

    Yes, and particularly women of color, 90-plus percent and men of color as well, certainly African-American men and women, the backbone of the Democratic Party, and yet particularly in the case of, of Black women, have been so unrewarded.

    It's sad to think on the opposite side that as Kamala Harris leads herself into the vice presidency, and I thought it was so symbolic that in his victory speech, Joe Biden included her not only on the stage, but had her speak first and introduce him. That–that's unprecedented in president-elect victory speeches.

    But in going on to the vice presidency, that will mean there is not a Black woman in the Senate and that Kamala Harris was only the second Black woman in all of our history to serve in that body.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Barbara Perry from UVA's Miller Center. Thanks so much for joining us.

  • Barbara Perry:

    Thank you, Hari.

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