Kamala Harris has been sworn in as vice-president, becoming the first woman in American history – as well as the first woman of African American and south Asian descent – to hold the post.
The former California senator was sworn in by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina on the supreme court. Harris chose to be sworn in using two Bibles, one from the late Thurgood Marshall, the first Black supreme court justice, and one from Regina Shelton, a close family friend who was something like a surrogate mother for Harris and her sister when they were growing up.
“Ready to serve,” Harris tweeted from her new vice-presidential Twitter account shortly after being sworn in.
Harris’s inauguration marks a turning point in American history. Women have run on presidential tickets as would-be vice-presidents but until Joe Biden’s win, none were victorious.
Wearing a face mask, Harris was escorted through the Capitol by Eugene Goodman, the African American Capitol police officer who was hailed as a hero for helping to distract rioters from invading the Senate floor during the attack this month.
As the newly sworn-in vice-president left the Capitol, she mingled with attendees and gave a hug to Barack Obama.
Harris’s elevation fulfills a major a goal of Biden’s presidential arc: to install people of color and women in powerful positions in his administration, oftentimes where, historically, only white men have been.
Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who offered introductory remarks before Harris took the oath of office, noted that Harris “stands on the shoulders of so many on this platform”.
Klobuchar added that with Harris as vice-president, “little girls and little boys across the world will know that anything and everything is possible. And in the end, that is America.”
Harris spoke with the now former vice-president, Mike Pence, earlier this week and Pence left a note in the vice-president’s office for his successor. Pence sat feet away from Harris as she took the oath of office.
Harris’s congressional and California colleagues, as well as fellow Howard University alumnae, hailed her new job. Democrat Karen Carter Peterson, a Louisiana state senator running for Congress who also attended the university, tweeted: “Madam Vice President Harris!”
Republicans offered cautious greetings to Harris and the new Biden administration.
Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, the only Black Republican in the Senate, said Wednesday marked a peaceful transition of power. He did not mention Harris directly.
Brandon Davis, a veteran Democratic political strategist who runs a firm specializing in working for Black candidates, said Harris “will likely have a larger profile given the historic nature and her high profile, but she will be able to learn and strengthen her personal politics from a key position”.
It “will be interesting to see how she tacks her politics on issues of race, particularly criminal justice reform, and how she builds a record on the economy,” Davis added in an email. “No matter what, she is a HUGE player in the Democratic Party / Left for the next decade.”
Harris often says that she wants to be a “person that sees everyone”, said the Democratic strategist Minyon Moore, who had been advising Harris when she became vice-president-elect and helped set up the staffing for her office. “I think what the president did by appointing her as his nominee at the time, he was signaling to the world: we see everyone in America.”
Governor Phil Scott of Vermont, a Republican and one of the most popular governors in the country, issued a statement extending “my sincere congratulations and best wishes to the president and vice-president on their swearing-in to lead our nation.”
“The challenges we face are great: confronting a global pandemic and its economic fallout; strengthening America’s position in the world and our alliances; combating systemic racism; addressing climate change; building a stronger and more diverse economy that reduces economic inequality for all Americans in every community; and so much more,” Scott said.
Even as she becomes vice-president, Harris’s portfolio remains unclear. Biden and Harris have described their ideal relationship as similar to that between Biden and Barack Obama when the latter was president. Biden was to be the last voice in the room on any major decision.
But that dynamic will not be perfectly replicated. Biden spent decades in the Senate while Harris was in her first term when she first ran unsuccessfully for president and then was selected as Biden’s running mate.
Unlike recent vice-presidents, though, Harris is expected to often play a deciding role in the Senate because of the 50-50 split.
Harris will reside at the Naval Observatory, the traditional home of the vice-president. Her husband, Doug Emhoff, will join her there and become the first man married to a vice-president. He will be referred to as the second gentleman.
Harris, a lawyer, is the former attorney general for California. She attended Howard University in Washington DC for her undergraduate degree and often references her time there.
Harris becomes vice-president with a relatively new team in her office. Her chief of staff, Tina Flournoy, was not a member of her campaign staff. Harris’s chief spokeswoman, Symone Sanders, also a woman of color, served as a top adviser to Biden throughout his successful presidential campaign. Sanders began traveling with Harris near the end of the campaign and stayed on with Harris through the transition.