Administration

Kamala Harris’s inauguration is historic milestone

Kamala Harris will make history Wednesday when she becomes the first female vice president in the nation’s history. 

Harris will also be the first Black vice president and first female vice president of South Asian descent. And when she takes the oath of office, the former senator and California attorney general will be one step closer to shattering the highest glass ceiling: the presidency. 

“As important as a Vice President Harris will be politically, she will be just as important culturally,” said Democratic strategist Joel Payne. “There is an entire generation of young women who will grow up watching a woman of Black and South Asian descent help lead our country. 

“The impact is incalculable,” Payne added. 

Harris, 56, will take office just two weeks after a mob of rioters, some carrying Confederate flags, overwhelmed Capitol Police and stormed the building in an attempt to prevent lawmakers from certifying the election results. 

The inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden and Harris also comes months after cases of police brutality resulted in protests around the country in support of Black lives. Racial inequalities — including in the coronavirus pandemic and in record high unemployment — have also become a huge part of the national dialogue and a challenge to address for the incoming administration.

That’s what makes Harris’s moment particularly significant. 

“At a moment of growing racial and political tensions, she’s going to inspire the next generation of Kamala Harrises in the same way Shirley Chisholm inspired her,” said Democratic consultant Mike Nellis, who served as a senior adviser during Harris’s presidential campaign. “She’s changing what we think a vice president looks like. That’s something people will remember for a really long time.”

On Tuesday, before leaving his home state of Delaware, an emotional Biden reflected on the symmetry between 2021 and 2009, when he joined President-elect Barack Obama on the way to the White House. 

Biden recounted Obama greeting him on a train platform in Delaware as they made the journey to Washington — and the White House — together. Now, he was departing his home to “meet a Black woman of South Asian descent” who would become his vice president. 

“There’s something profoundly poetic about it,” said one former Obama White House aide. 

When Harris became the vice president-elect in November, clad in suffragette white, she nodded at the history-making occasion. 

“While I may be the first woman in office, I won’t be the last,” Harris said at the time. 

Sources close to Harris say the magnitude of the moment is not lost on her. 

While she’s proud to be the one to push aside the barriers for women and girls after her, “she definitely feels the weight,” said one source familiar with her thinking. 

“As a Black woman, she knows she would not be given the same benefit of the doubt and she feels like she can’t mess this up,” the source said. “She knows the consequences of her mistakes would be paid by others. It’s something I know is on her mind.” 

As she makes history, she is also putting together a diverse staff to reflect the moment — and many of them are women. 

Her advisers include three Black women, Tina Flournoy, Symone Sanders and Ashley Etienne, as well as Rohini Kosoglu, her Senate chief of staff who is of Sri Lankan descent. Kosoglu will be Harris’s domestic policy adviser in the White House. Flournoy most recently served as former President Clinton’s chief of staff, Sanders served as a senior adviser on Biden’s campaign, and Etienne is an Obama administration veteran who will head up her communications team. 

The hiring of her staff is “definitely intentional,” said one source close to Harris. 

When Nellis met Harris in 2006 when she was running for the Senate, he said he knew she was going to break barriers. 

“Within five minutes of meeting Kamala, I could see she was going to go very far,” he said. “She had the confidence and compassion I’d never seen from a politician before. You know it when you see it, and she had it. 

“Kamala is the real deal,” he said.

Tags Ashley Etienne Barack Obama Biden transition Inauguration Joe Biden Symone Sanders Tina Flournoy

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