In her first sit-down interview since being announced as the Democratic candidate for vice president, Sen. Kamala Harris emphasized the underlying riskiness of her selection as Joe Biden’s 2020 running mate — the first non-White woman on a major party’s presidential ticket.
“Joe Biden had the audacity to choose a Black woman to be his running mate. How incredible is that? And what a statement that is about Joe Biden,” Harris said during a wide-ranging conversation at The 19th Represents Summit. “That he decided he was going to do that thing that was about breaking one of the most substantial barriers that has existed in our country — and he made that decision with whatever risk that brings.”
Harris has, as the only Black woman serving in the U.S. Senate, made access to the ballot box a policy priority — particularly in a pandemic, which has already created worries about whether people will be able to safely vote in person. She highlighted the obstacles Americans may face in voting this November, and the challenges that could bring.
On Thursday, President Donald Trump suggested he would block funding for the United States Postal Service, which “means they can’t have universal mail-in voting.”
Even without the pandemic, Harris said, the Supreme Court’s 2013 gutting of the Voting Rights Act allowed many states to impose new barriers for voters, including voter ID laws, which have disproportionately targeted Black people as well as students and Native Americans. Harris said that while voting rights and access may be addressed at the local and state level, voters — especially minorities — will have to jump over obstacles to casting their ballots this fall.
“Some of them we’re going to fight against and get rid of before the election — some of them are still going to be in place,” she said. “So here’s the thing. Everybody has to remember this and ask this question of yourself. Why don’t they want us to vote? Why are they creating obstacles to us voting? Well, the answer is, when we vote, things change.”
Harris also previewed a general election message focused on addressing national inequities based on race and gender — a message in some ways reflected by her own historic candidacy and underscored as the nation approaches the centennial anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which gave White women the right to vote.
“In a Biden-Harris administration, women are going to be a priority, understanding that women have many priorities and all of them must be acknowledged,” Harris said.
That, she said, means emphasizing policy items that more often affect women, and in particular non-White women, such as paid family leave, affordable child care and assistance for older Americans to live at home. All three are issues with disproportionate gender impact. Women are more often in caregiver roles for both children and older relatives, and they constitute the majority of the country’s 65+ population.
The California senator also spoke of the need to consider systemic racism in addressing issues such as climate change — people living in places severely afflicted by air pollution are disproportionately not white — and how the government handles worker protections. Harris joined protests this summer sparked by the killing of unarmed Black Americans.
In the latter case, she pointed to Democratic candidate Joe Biden’s economic recovery plan, highlighting wage standards for home health workers – who typically make about $12 an hour and often rely on public assistance — as well as domestic workers. Both industries predominantly employ women, and the labor standards in those professions face minimal federal regulation.
Harris’ own domestic worker policy, which she touted as part of the Biden-Harris platform, emphasizes areas such as overtime pay, guaranteed paid sick leave, paid meal breaks and wage protections.
“When we talk about domestic workers — be clear, we are talking about predominantly women of color, who are spending hours upon hours night and day taking care of other people’s children, other people’s parents and grandparents,” she said.
Harris also spoke about her and Biden’s shared emphasis on family — arguing that their personal experiences influence how they approach issues such as health care and labor policy. She also previewed the role her husband Douglas Emhoff might assume – both in the campaign, and as, potentially, the nation’s first-ever Second Man.
“He and Jill [Biden] have an incredible relationship,” she said. “They bonded actually when we were all running. And I do believe that their relationship is a very special one that America’s also going to witness.”