Sun | Mar 7, 2021

New chapter opens in US politics

Published:Thursday | January 21, 2021 | 12:16 AM
Kamala Harris is sworn in as the 49th US vice-president by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor on Wednesday, January 20 at the Capitol in Washington.
Kamala Harris is sworn in as the 49th US vice-president by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor on Wednesday, January 20 at the Capitol in Washington.

WASHINGTON (AP):

Vice-President Kamala Harris broke the barrier Wednesday that has kept men at the top ranks of American power for more than two centuries when she took the oath to hold the nation’s second-highest office.

Harris was sworn in as the first female US vice-president – and the first Black woman and person of South Asian descent to hold the position – in front of the US Capitol by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

The moment was steeped in history and significance in more ways than one. She was escorted to the podium by Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman, the officer who single-handedly took on a mob of Trump supporters as they tried to breach the Senate floor during the Capitol insurrection that sought to overturn the election results. Harris was wearing clothes from two young, emerging Black designers – a deep purple dress and coat.

After taking the oath of office, a beaming Harris hugged her husband, Douglas Emhoff, and gave President Joe Biden a first bump.

Her rise is historic in any context, another moment when a stubborn boundary falls away, expanding the idea of what’s possible in American politics. But it’s particularly meaningful because Harris is taking office at a moment when Americans are grappling over institutional racism and confronting a pandemic that has disproportionately devastated Black and brown communities.

Those close to Harris say she’ll bring an important – and often missing – perspective to the debates on how to overcome the many hurdles facing the new administration.

“In many folks’ lifetimes, we experienced a segregated United States,” said Lateefah Simon, a civil rights advocate and long-time Harris friend and mentee. “You will now have a Black woman who will walk into the White House not as a guest but as a second in command of the free world.”

Harris – the child of immigrants, a stepmother of two and the wife of a Jewish man – “carries an intersectional story of so many Americans who are never seen and heard.”

Harris, 56, moves into the vice-presidency just four years after she first came to Washington as a senator from California, where she’d served as attorney general and as San Francisco’s district attorney. She had expected to work with a White House run by Hillary Clinton, but President Donald Trump’s victory quickly scrambled the nation’s capital and set the stage for the rise of a new class of Democratic stars.

After Harris’ own presidential bid fizzled, her rise continued when Biden chose her as his running mate last August. Harris had been a close friend of Beau Biden, his elder son and a former Delaware attorney general who died in 2015 of cancer.

The inauguration activities included nods to her history-making rise and her personal story.

Harris used two Bibles to take the oath, one that belonged to Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, the late civil rights icon whom Harris often cites as inspiration, and Regina Shelton, who helped raise Harris during her childhood in the San Francisco Bay Area. The drumline from Harris’ alma mater, Howard University, joined the presidential escort.