Kamala Devi Harris, is an American attorney and politician who is the junior United States Senator from California, serving since 2017. A member of the Democratic Party, she previously served as the 32nd Attorney General of California from 2011 to 2017.
Born in Oakland, California, Harris is a graduate of Howard University and University of California, Hastings. In the 1990s, Harris worked in the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office and City Attorney’s Office. In 2004, Harris was elected District Attorney of San Francisco. Harris was elected California’s Attorney General in 2010 and reelected in 2014. On November 8, 2016, she defeated Loretta Sanchez in the 2016 Senate election to succeed outgoing Senator Barbara Boxer, becoming California’s third female U.S. Senator and the first of Jamaican or Indian descent.
Harris was born on October 20, 1964, in Oakland, California to a Tamil Indian mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris (1938–2009), and a Jamaican father, Donald Harris. Her mother was a breast cancer researcher, who emigrated from Chennai (then Madras), Tamil Nadu, India, in 1960, and her father a Stanford University economics professor who emigrated from Jamaica in 1961 for graduate study in economics at University of California, Berkeley. Her name, Kamala, comes from the Sanskrit word for lotus, and is an alternate name of the Hindu goddess Lakshmi. She was extremely close to her maternal grandfather, P. V. Gopalan, an Indian diplomat, and as a child, she frequently visited her family in Besant Nagar, in Chennai, Tamil Nadu. She has one younger sister, Maya.
The family lived in Berkeley, California, where both of Harris’ parents attended graduate school. Harris’ parents divorced when she was 7 and her mother was granted custody of the children by court-ordered settlement. After the divorce, her mother moved with the children to Montreal, Québec, Canada, where Shyamala took a position doing research at the Jewish General Hospital and teaching at McGill University.
After graduating from Montreal’s Westmount High School in Quebec, Harris attended Howard University in Washington, D.C., where she majored in political science and economics. At Howard, Harris was elected to the liberal arts student council as freshman class representative, was a member of the debate team, and joined the Alpha Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.
Harris then returned to California, earning her Juris Doctor (J.D.) from University of California, Hastings College of the Law, in 1989. She was admitted to the State Bar of California in 1990.
After Democratic United States Senator Barbara Boxer announced her intention to retire from the United States Senate at the end of her term in 2016, after which she would have been California’s junior senator for 24 years, Harris was the first candidate to declare her intention to run for Boxer’s Senate seat. Media outlets reported that Harris would run for Senate on the same day that Gavin Newsom, California’s Lieutenant Governor and a close political ally of Harris, announced he would not seek to succeed Boxer. Harris officially announced the launch of her campaign on January 13, 2015.
After holding a flurry of fundraisers in both California and Washington, D.C., Harris was reported to have raised $2.5 million for her campaign. In December, the National Journal released a story describing Harris’ use of funds on hotels, the laying off of campaign staff and the inordinate totals, which had contributed to her money on hand being closer to that of another candidate, Loretta Sanchez, who had $1.6 million.
Harris was a frontrunner from the beginning of her campaign. In January 2015, weeks after Harris announced her campaign, a survey by Public Policy Polling showed Harris leading by 41% to former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s 16%, who was seen as a potential candidate. In May, a Field Poll was released, showing that although 58% of likely voters did not have a favored candidate, Harris was most preferred out of the field, with 19%. October saw the release of a Field Poll with Harris at 30%, fellow Democratic candidate Loretta Sanchez in second place at 17%, the former having increased her support by 11% since the Field Poll in May despite being noted by The Sacramento Bee as not being active in campaigning since appearing at the California Democratic Party’s convention.
In late February 2016, the California Democratic Party voted at its state convention to endorse Harris, who received 78% of the vote, 18% more than the 60% needed to secure the endorsement. The party endorsement did not secure any candidate a place in the general election, as all candidates would participate in one primary election in June, after which the top 2 candidates from any party would advance to the general election. Harris participated in debates with the other major candidates for the seat, her front-runner status causing her to be at the center of discussion. Governor Jerry Brown endorsed Harris on May 23. Harris came in first place on primary day, June 7, with 40% of the votes, entering a runoff with fellow Democratic candidate Loretta Sanchez. On July 19, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden endorsed Harris.
In the June 2016 primary election, with results detailed at the county level, Harris won 48 of 58 counties. Harris won seven counties with more than 50% of the vote: Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Cruz, and Sonoma. The highest percentage was San Francisco, with 70.4% of the vote. She faced Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, also a Democrat, in the general election. This assured that the seat would stay in Democratic hands; it was the first time a Republican did not appear in a general election for the Senate since California began directly electing Senators in 1914.
In the November 2016 election, Harris defeated Sanchez with 62 percent of the vote, carrying all but four counties. Following her victory, Harris promised to protect immigrants from the policies of President-elect Donald Trump.
Following her election to the United States Senate, Harris announced her intention to remain California’s Attorney General through the end of 2016 and resign shortly before being sworn in as Senator on January 3, 2017. Governor Jerry Brown announced his intention to nominate Congressman Xavier Becerra as her successor.
In an April 6, 2017 statement, in response to the Khan Shaykhun chemical attack, Harris charged President of Syria Bashar al-Assad with attacking Syrian children and the attack supported “the clear fact that President Assad is not only a ruthless dictator brutalizing his own people-he is a war criminal the international community cannot ignore.” She called on President Trump to interact with Congress regarding his administration’s “lack of clear objectives in Syria and articulate a detailed strategy and path forward in partnership with our allies.”
In February 2018, Harris was one of seventeen senators to sign a letter arguing against President Trump’s having the legal authority to launch a preemptive strike against North Korea.
On May 8, 2018, after President Trump announced the United States was withdrawing from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Harris released a statement saying the decision “jeopardizes our national security and isolates us from our closest allies” while calling the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action “the best existing tool we have to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons and avoid a disastrous military conflict in the Middle East.”
While she was an Alameda County Deputy District Attorney in the 1990s, she dated Willie Brown, then Speaker of the California State Assembly. They broke up shortly after he was elected Mayor of San Francisco.
On April 7, 2014, Harris announced that she was engaged to be married to California attorney Douglas Emhoff, the partner-in-charge at Venable LLP’s Los Angeles office. They married on August 22, 2014, in Santa Barbara, California. Harris’s sister is Maya Harris, MSNBC political analyst, and her brother-in-law is Tony West, General Counsel of Uber and a former U.S. Justice Department senior official. Harris has one niece, as well as two stepchildren, one in college and one in high school.