Kamala Harris accepts vice presidential nomination — and a place in history
California’s junior U.S. senator, the daughter of Indian and Jamaican immigrants, accepts the vice presidential nomination, making history on Day 3 of the Democratic National Convention.
Stepping into history as the Democratic nominee for vice president, Kamala Harris offered her life story Wednesday night as a model of what America can achieve when it chooses diversity over division and unshackles itself from prejudice and pessimism.
In a moment without precedent, California’s junior senator — the daughter of a mother from India and father from Jamaica — became the first woman of color to run on a major party ticket. She is the first Black woman and the first South Asian woman ever nominated and the first politician from west of the Rockies chosen by Democrats.
The third night of the Democratic National Convention, which has nominated Joe Biden for president, began with an intense collection of videos featuring victims of gun violence and their families.
They included an Indiana mother of a child who was severely disabled by a gunshot to the back of his head while he was dancing at a party, and former Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head from less than three feet away.
“I have known the darkest of days,” Giffords said, after the video showed her in speech therapy and walking slowly with a limp across the room. “Words once came easily, but today I struggle to speak. But I have not lost my voice. America needs all of us to speak out, even when you have to fight to find the words. ... We can let the shooting continue, or we can act.”
An 11-year-old girl American girl named Estela Juarez, whose mother — a 20-year resident of this country — was recently deported, read a letter to President Trump, spliced together with clips of him railing against immigrants. She told the president that her dad is a Marine who voted for him.
“My dad thought you would protect military families, so he voted for you,” Estela said. “He said he would not vote for you again after what you did to our family. Instead of protecting us, you have torn us apart. Now my mom is gone.”
Harris’ acceptance speech capped the evening. According to her prepared remarks, she will cite the vision instilled by her mother of “a country where we may not agree on every detail, but we are united by the fundamental belief that every human being is of infinite worth, deserving of compassion, dignity and respect,” according to prepared remarks.
“Today, that country feels distant,” she will say. “Donald Trump’s failure of leadership has cost lives and livelihoods.”
Harris will call the November election a choice between an incumbent president who sows chaos and division and “a president who will bring all of us together — Black, white, Latino, Asian, Indigenous — to achieve the future we collectively want.”
In unusually direct criticism of his successor, former President Obama said that Trump never grew into the presidency or put in the work required, and instead has sought to incite division, help his friends and seek attention for himself.
“The consequences of that failure are severe,” Obama said, citing the 170,000-plus Americans who have died in the COVID-19 pandemic and the tens of millions who have lost their jobs.
“Our worst impulses unleashed,” Obama asserted, “our proud reputation around the world badly diminished, and our democratic institutions threatened like never before.”
The night’s program also included several path-breaking women, including the Democrats 2016 presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, as well as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.
Nearly four years after a lack of enthusiasm helped cost Democrats the White House, one speaker after another warned against complacency. More specifically, they vowed to aggressively fight Republican efforts to restrict voting by mail and hobble the U.S. Postal Service.
“For four years, people have said to me, ‘I didn’t realize how dangerous he was,’” Clinton said, speaking live from her home outside New York City. “Or worse, ‘I should have voted.’ Look, this can’t be another woulda, coulda, shoulda election.”
A day after the 100th anniversary of women getting the right to vote, the event looked back — virtually — at the suffrage movement and looked ahead toward implementing a progressive agenda that confronts economic inequality, climate change and school violence.
“I know something about the slings and arrows [Harris] will face,” Clinton said. “And believe me, this former district attorney and attorney general can handle them all.”
A tribute to Pelosi, the most powerful woman in America and third in line for the presidency, chronicled her rise, and her combat with Trump.
“I’ve seen firsthand Donald Trump’s disrespect for facts, for working families, and for women in particular — disrespect written into his policies toward our health and our rights, not just his conduct,” Pelosi said in remarks broadcast from her San Francisco district. “But we know what he doesn’t: that when women succeed, America succeeds.”
“We are unleashing the power of women to take our rightful place in our national life,” Pelosi said.
Harris’ role on the Democratic ticket is carefully prescribed: to take the fight to Trump and let Biden stay on a relatively higher plain. The former prosecutor, who thrilled Democrats nationwide by lacerating Trump’s aides and nominees in Senate hearings, will take to the chore with relish.
“We have a president who turns our tragedies into political weapons,” she will say.
In her address, Harris plans to focus heavily on Biden and why he is the right leader at this fraught moment.
But the ultimate testimonial for Biden may come from Obama, who will speak just before Harris.
Obama and Biden were rivals in the 2008 presidential campaign before Biden dropped out of the race. Earlier, serving together in the Senate, Obama had chafed at what he considered Biden’s verbosity and self-import. His decision to pick Biden for vice president was purely pragmatic: Biden’s vast experience filled glaring holes in Obama’s thin resume.
That all changed, Obama said, when they served together in the White House.
“Twelve years ago, when I began my search for a vice president, I didn’t know I’d end up finding a brother,” Obama said. “Joe and I came from different places and different generations. But what I quickly came to admire about him is his resilience, born of too much struggle; his empathy, born of too much grief.”
“Joe’s a man who learned early on to treat every person he meets with respect and dignity, living by the words his parents taught him: ‘No one’s better than you, but you’re better than nobody,’” Obama said.
Obama joined Clinton in delivering an urgent warning about efforts to suppress the vote and undermine the integrity of the election.
“This president and those in power, those who benefit from keeping things the way they are ... know they can’t win you over with their policies,” the former president said. “So they’re hoping to make it as hard as possible for you to vote, and to convince you that your vote doesn’t matter. That’s how they win.
“That’s how a democracy withers, until it’s no democracy at all,” Obama said. “We can’t let that happen. Do not let them take away your power. Don’t let them take away your democracy.”
The issue has grown more acute as Trump has sought to undermine confidence in the election and the U.S. Postal Service has cut back service despite an expected flood of mail-in ballots during the pandemic as voters seek an alternative to in-person voting.
Warren, one of more than two dozen Democrats who competed against Biden for the nomination, sounded familiar themes from her fist-shaking populist campaign and expressed confidence that items on her agenda would become his priorities as well.
“These plans reflect a central truth: Our economic system has been rigged to give bailouts to billionaires and kick dirt in the face of everyone else,” said Warren, whom Biden considered as a running mate before he chose Harris. “Joe’s plan to ‘build back better’ includes making the wealthy pay their fair share, holding corporations accountable, repairing racial inequities and fighting corruption in Washington.”
All of that, however, was a preamble to Harris’ boundary-shattering nomination.
Born in Oakland, she spent much of her childhood in Berkeley before starting her political career across the bay in San Francisco. She was elected district attorney in 2003 and after nearly two terms used that as a springboard in 2010 to become California’s attorney general.
Harris was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2016, but even then had her sights set on higher office. When she launched her White House bid in January 2019 with a splashy Oakland rally, she immediately established herself as one of the Democratic front-runners.
Her faltering performance failed to match the superlatives that surrounded her entry, however, and she was the first major candidate to drop out in December, before any votes were cast.
It was the first election Harris ever lost, but her efforts were hardly for naught.
Her time on the national stage was one of the important factors that made Biden select her as his running mate — notwithstanding a heated clash at the first Democratic debate in June 2019 — setting the stage for Wednesday’s walk into the history books.
Halper reported from Washington and Barabak from Milwaukee.
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