Kamala Harris delivers historic speech commending Americans for choosing 'unity, decency, science, and the truth'

Kamala Harris speech: Vice President-elect commends US for choosing ‘unity, decency, science, and truth’

Harris is the first woman, African-American, and Asian-American to serve as VP

Griffin Connolly
Washington
Tuesday 10 November 2020 16:58
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Vice President-elect Kamala Harris commended her and Joe Biden’s supporters for sending a “clear message” of repudiation against the last four years of Donald Trump’s chaotic leadership, and signaled a message of hope for the future of the United States in a historic speech on Saturday.

“You delivered a clear message. You chose hope and unity, decency, science, and the truth,” she said on a stage outside the Chase Center in Wilmington, Delaware, Mr Biden’s hometown.

“You chose Joe Biden as the next president,” she said.

Ms Harris began her victory address on Saturday by quoting the late civil rights icon Congressman John Lewis of Georgia, who wrote shortly before his death that "democracy is not a state. It is an act.”

“What he meant was that America's democracy is not guaranteed. It is only as strong as our willingness to fight for it,” Ms Harris said, as Mr Trump refused to concede the election and launching unfounded broadsides questioning the  integrity of the US electoral system.

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Ms Harris did not mention Mr Trump by name in her roughly 10-minute victory speech, instead focusing on the historic nature of her election to vice president as a black and Asian-American woman and underscoring the Biden campaign’s overarching message of unity.

“We, the people, have the power to build a better future,” she said. “And when our very democracy was on the ballot in this election, with the very soul of America at stake and the world watching, you ushered in a new day for America,” she said, to a screech of cheers and car horns, the signature sound of Mr Biden and Ms Harris’ 2020 drive-in rallies held in such a fashion to mitigate the spread of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic as they barnstormed the country.

Ms Harris thanked Biden campaign organisers for turning out voters in record numbers, as well as the foot soldiers who churn the gears of democracy in this country: state and local election officials and volunteers, who have been meticulously counting and recording the unprecedented avalanche of mail-in ballots this week that Americans cast on and before Election Day, another legacy of the pandemic.

The vice president-elect saluted her mother, an immigrant from India, as “the woman most responsible for my presence here today.”

Despite her historic personal achievement, Ms Harris took care to keep the focus of her speech squarely on her boss, Mr Biden, the man who held her new position just four years ago.

“We have elected a president who represents the best in us — a leader the world will respect and our children will look up to. A commander-in-chief who will respect our troops and keep our country safe. And a president for all Americans,” she said.

Historic victory

The Biden-Harris victory spells a series of firsts in the White House.

Ms Harris will be the first woman vice president in US history, after two previous vice presidential running mates of major-party candidates, Geraldine Ferraro (1984) and Sarah Palin (2008), lost their races.

She will also be the first African-American and Asian-American to ever serve in the position.

Ms Harris’ husband, lawyer Douglas Emhoff, will become the first male and Jewish spouse of a president or vice president.

“What a testament it is to Joe's character that he had the audacity to break one of the most substantial barriers that exists in our country, and select a woman as vice president,” Ms Harris said.

The vice president-elect then made a bold prediction about the future of American women.

“While I may be the first one in this office, I will not be the last,” she said.

Outsize influence?

Mr Biden has highlighted again and again that the most important factor for him when weighing potential running mates was their ability to step in as president from Day One at a moment’s notice.

And while the American vice presidency has largely been a ceremonial role throughout most of the country’s history, that has not been the case in recent decades.

Two administrations ago, Barack Obama largely viewed Mr Biden more as a partner and less as a subordinate, former aides have said.

And while Mr Obama made all final decisions, Mr Biden was consulted on virtually every one of them. His input was well-regarded.

Mr Biden envisions a similarly comprehensive advisory role for Ms Harris, he has said.

He wants her to be the “last person in the room” on every big decision during his presidency, he told ABC News in August in their first joint interview as running mates.

In addition to being top general advisers, most modern vice presidents have been delegated certain policy areas to take the lead on.

Dick Cheney, George W Bush’s vice president, commanded a semi-autonomous workspace separate from the Oval Office that had unprecedented control over a certain portfolio of issues such as Middle Eastern Affairs.

In 2009, Mr Obama tasked Mr Biden with shepherding through a massive bipartisan automobile industry bailout bill.

Donald Trump appointed Vice President Mike Pence to lead his administration’s coronavirus task force.

With a clear background in law enforcement as the former district attorney of San Francisco and attorney general of California, Ms Harris could be Mr Biden’s point person on criminal justice reform.

Law enforcement is the central constitutional purpose of the executive branch, which was established by the US founding fathers to (literally) execute laws passed by Congress.

“Most of the executive branch is tasked with implementing and enforcing laws, and that's true whether we focus on law enforcement narrowly defined — such as the FBI, Department of Justice, US attorneys offices, Homeland Security — or more broadly, which then includes, for example, enforcement of environmental provisions through the EPA, Interior Department, [and others,” Amy Steigerwalt, a professor of political science at Georgia State University told The Independent.

As one of just two black Democratic senators, Ms Harris was a chief author of the Senate version of a robust policing reform bill this summer that went nowhere in Mitch McConnell’s Senate but passed in the Democratic-controlled House.

Two Senate runoff races in Georgia appear likely to decide whether Democrats or Republicans control the Senate in the first two years of the Biden-Harris administration, which will determine the scope of how much they can accomplish legislatively.

Foreign experience

Ms Harris could also make her mark in foreign affairs, where she is no novice. For the better part of the last four years, she has served on the Senate Intelligence Committee, whose members receive exclusive access to top secret information about the US government’s involvement around the world.

As vice president, the senator should “play an important role in relationships with foreign nations,” Ms Steigerwalt said.

While Ms Harris has never directed US administrative policy on international relations — something Susan Rice, her top rival for the VP slot, could boast — her regular briefings on the intel panel should endow her with a vast and up-to-date breadth of knowledge about the intricacies of US foreign policy and operations.

Ms Harris has also demonstrated a willingness to look political opponents in the eye and challenge them directly, Democrats believe.

Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and Attorney General William Barr, two Trump appointees, sat through particularly memorable grillings by Ms Harris at Judiciary Committee hearings in 2018 and 2019.

The senator’s tough demeanour at those hearings previewed how she might confront hostile foreign leaders as Mr Biden’s deputy abroad, Democratic strategists have suggested.

Replacing Senator Harris

The internal Democratic party debate over who should replace Ms Harris as the junior senator from California is already percolating in Capitol Hill circles.

Ms Harris must give up her seat to become vice president, and whomever California Governor Gavin Newsom chooses as her replacement will serve out the rest of her term. That Senate seat’s next scheduled election is November 2022.

At least two names are already getting substantial buzz.

The first is Congresswoman Katie Porter, a vociferously progressive House freshman who won re-election after flipping her seat blue in the 2018 midterms. Ms Porter has made a name for herself on Capitol Hill by running circles around witnesses on the Financial Services Committee, backing several high-powered banking executives into rhetorical corners with tough questions.

The other is Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Karen Bass, who was on the shortlist at one point to be Mr Biden’s running mate before he chose Ms Harris.

Ms Bass would likely have the backing of her fellow black Democratic House members — whatever that is worth in such a deliberation.

And she has deep connections in both the California and national Democratic party. Ms Bass rose to the position of speaker of the California assembly in 2008 before winning her first federal congressional race in November 2010, launching her career in Washington.

Other names being floated are California Secretary of State Alex Padilla and state Attorney General Xavier Becerra, a former US House member.

Both would be California’s first Hispanic senators.

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