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Sen. Kamala Harris: 7 things you need to know about Joe Biden's vice presidential pick

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By Roey Hadar

Associate Producer

U.S. Senator Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) has been selected as former Vice President Joe Biden’s running mate on the Democratic presidential ticket in 2020. Biden announced Harris would be his choice to be vice president in an announcement to supporters on August 11, calling Harris “a fearless fighter for the little guy and one of the country’s finest public servants.”

Harris challenged Biden in the 2020 Democratic presidential primaries, notably attacking Biden for his previous stances on busing as a method of school integration. She dropped out of the race in December 2019 and endorsed Biden in March. Harris will now be both the first Black woman and the first Asian-American woman to run on a major party presidential ticket.

Here are seven things you need to know about her:

  • She is a member of the Senate Judiciary and Intelligence Committees. In her role on the Judiciary Committee, Harris has earned a reputation as a tough questioner of many of President Trump’s nominees to his Cabinet and to posts as federal judges.
  • Before being elected to the Senate in 2016, Harris spent two decades in law enforcement. She worked her way up to become District Attorney in San Francisco and then Attorney General of California. As San Francisco District Attorney, Harris published a book with proposals to reduce and prevent crime based on plans her office developed. Progressives have criticized Harris' tough approach to crime, particularly an anti-truancy proposal she introduced that threatened prosecution for parents of children who were repeatedly absent from school.
  • Harris played a significant role in overturning a same-sex marriage ban in California. As Attorney General, she declined to defend Proposition 8, a 2008 referendum that banned same-sex marriage, before the Supreme Court. When the Supreme Court overturned the ban in 2013, Harris officiated the state’s first same-sex wedding, marrying the two plaintiffs who had filed the lawsuit.
  • As a presidential candidate, she was a strong advocate for Medicare for All. On the campaign trail, Harris has said that healthcare “should be a right” and has suggested her proposal would ultimately seek to cut out the role of private insurance providers through a gradual transition to a new system of coverage.
  • As California’s attorney general, Harris took an aggressive approach to challenging corporations. Harris led a nationwide lawsuit against mortgage lenders for unfair practices and continued to push the lawsuit even when the Obama administration pushed her to settle. Instead, Harris won a judgment in 2012 that was billions of dollars higher than the one originally offered. She also launched an investigation into ExxonMobil in 2016, after reports that the oil and gas giant lied for decades about the risk of climate change.
  • Harris has long supported prison reforms and changes to sentencing policy. As a local prosecutor, Harris made the controversial decision to not pursue the death penalty for the offender in the homicide of a San Francisco cop. As part of broader support for reforming sentencing policy, she announced her support for decriminalizing sex work and became the first major 2020 candidate publicly support the idea. After the death of George Floyd in May, Harris was a leading sponsor of a bill to make lynching a federal hate crime. She also joined Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) in introducing legislation to ban police chokeholds, end the use of “no-knock warrants” in drug cases and limit “qualified immunity” protections for police officers. The House passed similar legislation but the Senate did not agree to it.
  • She is the first Indian-American to ever serve in the U.S. Senate and she is also California’s first African-American Senator. Both her parents were immigrants. Her mother was an Indian immigrant who worked as a cancer researcher and her father, who came to the U.S. from Jamaica, is a professor emeritus of economics at Stanford.

Note: This article was first published in April 2019, when Kamala Harris was a candidate for president. It has since been updated to reflect her announcement as former Vice President Joe Biden’s running mate on August 11.