The former California Attorney General often compared to outgoing President Barack Obama was sworn in on Tuesday as California’s newest — as well as first black and first Asian — U.S. Senator, as Democrats grasp for the future of their party.
Harris has been loaded with heavy hopes from some Democrats who see her and her tight affiliation with outgoing President Barack Obama as the future of the party. Still, the party chose to keep their establishment faces in congressional leadership following Hillary Clinton’s second failed attempt at the presidency.
At 52-years-old, Harris is the daughter of a Stanford University economics professor from Jamaica and a breast cancer physician who immigrated from India. Harris’s parents both attended graduate school at the University of California, Berkeley. Harris was born in Oakland and grew up surrounded by adults, marching as part of the civil rights movement, according to her own account. She counts Thurgood Marshall, Charles Hamilton Houston, and Constance Baker Motley as “idols” of her youth and “architects of the civil rights era.” Her parents divorced while she was still young. She and her sister were raised by their mother.
Harris attended Howard University for undergraduate studies and the University of California, Hastings College of the Law to obtain her law degree.
She went on to become the first female District Attorney in San Francisco in 2004. During her time in that position, she served as California co-chair for then-Senator Barack Obama as he made a play for president in 2008. She announced her candidacy for Attorney General within days of Obama’s victory.
In 2010 Obama campaigned for Harris as she sought election to the office of California AG, according to CNN. Upon her ascension to the office in 2011, she became the state’s first female, first black, and first Asian to hold the position in the state, according to her campaign website.
In July 2016, both Obama and Vice President Joe Biden endorsed Harris for U.S. Senate over fellow Democrat, Rep. Loretta Sanchez. Obama’s support of Harris was so staunch that he starred in a campaign ad for her.
Former Mayor of San Francisco and one-time Assembly Speaker Willie Brown told Politico that Harris would not “allow herself to be vandalized” by speculations that she is on a list of Democrats who may run for President in 2020 or that she is the next Obama. He added that she understands “She will only create problems for herself if she ever shows some belief in those lists.” Her political strategist Sean Clegg also downplayed the lists, attempting to divert attention instead to her “representing California in the U.S. Senate.”
As Biden conducted Tuesday’s Senate swearing-in, Harris became not only the first black Senator from the Golden State, but also the first Senator of Indian decent and the first biracial woman to serve in the governing body, according to ABC7 News.
Democratic political consultant Garry South, in comments to Politico, called the shallow bench of Democrats the party’s “dirty little secret.” South has advised politicians including California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, former Gov. Gray Davis, and former Sen. Joe Lieberman (CT). He said of potential 2020 presidential candidates, “People are casting about for attractive new faces to put on the list.” He named Harris, Newsom, and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) among them, adding that Obama had only served two years as a freshman Senator when he announced his candidacy for president.
Harris replaces long-serving Senator Barbara Boxer, who chose to retire from the position. Boxer first assumed the office in 1993, directly after serving ten years in the U.S. House of Representatives. Harris now takes her place alongside California’s senior Senator Dianne Feinstein, who first assumed office in 1992.
Feinstein has publicly said that she desires a close relationship with Harris, according to the East Bay Times.
Though some Democrats may have high hopes for Harris, they stuck with familiar faces when it came to choosing their top leadership in the Senate and House. In the House, Democrats picked Hillary Clinton supporter Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California as Minority Leader. In the Senate, Democrats chose long-running Sen. Chuck Schumer to replace retiring Sen. Harry Reid as Senate Minority Leader.
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