Senator Kamala Harris made history as the first Black and South Asian woman to be nominated on a major party ticket when she became the 2020 Democratic candidate for vice president this August. Before the campaign, Kamala Harris was already making historical waves in her political career. Since 2017, Harris has represented California as a United States senator, where she is the second Black woman and first South Asian-American senator in history.
If you watched Wednesday night’s vice presidential debate and walked away wanting to learn more about the woman who could become the next vice president, here’s what you need to know. After all, Election Day is just 26 days away.
1. She was born in Oakland and raised by immigrant parents
Kamala Harris was born and raised in Oakland, California. She is the daughter of Shyamala Gopalan, a cancer researcher from India, and Donald Harris, an economist from Jamaica. Harris pursued a degree in political science and economics at Howard University, and later earned her law degree from University of California, Hastings.
She is married to Douglas Emhoff, a lawyer, and has two step-children.
2. Her name is pronounced COMMA-LA
Harris’ full name is Kamala Devi Harris, which means “lotus” or “pale” in Sanskrit. Meena Harris, founder of the Phenomenal Woman Action Campaign, and Harris’ niece, spelled out the pronunciation of her aunt’s name in a tweet.
Rather than referring to her as “stepmom,” her step-children, Cole and Ella, call her “Momala.”
3. She ran for president
Senator Harris announced that she was running for the Democratic nomination for president in 2020 on January 21, 2019. She was part of an historic field in the Democratic primary, but ultimately suspended her campaign on December 3, 2019, before voters began voting or caucusing during the primary process.
4. She believes climate change is a priority
Kamala Harris expressed her concern for the planet during the June 2019 Democratic primary debate, referring to the “climate crisis” as an “existential threat to us as a species.” In July 2019, Harris worked with Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York to unveil legislation that represents low-income communities impacted by climate change.
5. She spent two decades in law enforcement
Prior to arriving in the Senate, she was San Francisco’s district attorney in 2004 and became California’s attorney general in 2011. Harris had a mixed record as an attorney general—she has characterized herself as a progressive reformer, but critics disagree.
According to Vox, she has resisted some attempts to hold police accountable for misconduct.
Despite criticism, Harris released a plan while running for president designed to transform the criminal justice system by ending mass incarceration and investing in resources for vulnerable communities.
6. She’s known for her sharp questioning
During a Senate Intelligence hearing, Kamala Harris garnered attention for her questioning of Attorney General Jeff Sessions about his relationship with Russian nationals.
Harris gained praise for grilling now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh about reproductive rights. She asked, “Can you think of any laws that give government the power to make decisions about the male body?”
Harris didn’t ask many questions at Wednesday night’s vice presidential debate, but with more than three weeks remaining until Election Day, it may yet come back into play before this election is over.
7. She is an advocate for the LGBTQ+ community
Kamala Harris is a champion for marriage equality. When elected as San Francisco district attorney in 2004, she formed a hate crimes unit to prosecute anti-LGTBQ violence. She also declined to defend Proposition 8, which defined marriage between a man and woman. Harris officiated the first same-sex marriage after the proposition was overturned in 2013.
8. She is against the U.S.-Mexico border wall
Senator Kamala Harris has been very vocal about her views against the U.S.-Mexico border wall. On ABC’s The View, Harris stated, “By the way, because I was a prosecutor for many years, including the Attorney General of California, I specialize on trans-national criminal organizations. That wall ain’t gonna stop them.”
As a district attorney in San Francisco, her public policy work on immigration included establishing job training programs for ex-convicts, including undocumented immigrants.
9. She will fight for women’s rights
Senator Kamala Harris has stated that she is pro-choice and spoke up about the future for women and their reproductive health after the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.
Back in October 2019, Harris voiced her opinions on women’s access to reproductive health care during a Democratic primary debate. “This is the sixth debate we have had in this presidential cycle,” Harris said. “And not nearly one word, with all of these discussions about health care, on women’s access to reproductive health care, which is under full-on attack in America today. And it’s outrageous.”