Who is Kamala Harris? A bio of the Democratic presidential candidate
Editor's note: This story is part of PolitiFact’s ongoing coverage of the 2020 campaign; these reports will be updated as the campaign continues. For more candidate profiles and fact-checking, go to www.politifact.com/2020/
Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris is relatively new on the national scene, but she's quickly become recognized for her tough questioning of Trump administration appointees. In her presidential campaign, she has emphasized teacher pay, enhancing health coverage, tightening gun laws, and pay equity.
Harris — whose Sanskrit-derived first name is pronounced ‘Comma-luh’ — was born in Oakland in 1964, the daughter of two immigrants, a medical scientist from India and an economist from Jamaica. She would become the first African-American woman and first person of Indian descent to be a major-party nominee for president.
Harris grew up in a black middle-class neighborhood in Berkeley, where her parents would often join civil rights protests. Her parents separated when she was five. When she was about 12, Harris moved with her mother and sister to Montreal for several years after her mother took a research position there.
Harris earned her bachelor’s degree at Howard University and her law degree at the University of California in 1989. She worked as a prosecutor in Alameda County (Oakland) and in San Francisco, then was elected San Francisco district attorney in 2003 and 2007. In 2010, she was elected California attorney general, then was re-elected in 2014.
Since winning her Senate seat in 2016, Harris has spoken out against Trump’s border wall proposal and his decision to pull out of the Paris climate agreement. Harris supports a $15 minimum wage, is a cosponsor of the Green New Deal, has released plans to improve teacher compensation and eliminate pay equity, and supports universal background checks and an "assault weapons ban." She has said she’d in favor of "Medicare for All" but has made conflicting statements about whether this would involve eliminating private health insurance.
Perhaps her biggest obstacle in the presidential race has been her criminal justice record, since the party’s base has moved to the left since she was prosecuting offenders. Harris did work to reduce recidivism, eliminate bias in law enforcement, and — to wide controversy — did not seek the death penalty for a man suspected of killing a police officer.
However, as attorney general in 2016, she opposed a bill to require her office to investigate shootings by police, and she declined to weigh in on state ballot measures to legalize recreational marijuana and to reduce penalties for nonviolent crimes. And despite her personal opposition to the death penalty, Harris defended it in court as attorney general.
Name: Kamala Harris
Current occupation: U.S. Senator from California
Party: Democratic Party
Federal offices: Elected to the U.S. Senate in 2016.
Key votes: Voted against the Trump tax bill, 2017; against efforts to overhaul the Affordable Care Act in 2017; and against Supreme Court nominations of Neil Gorsuch in 2017 and Brett Kavanaugh in 2018.
State and local offices: Prosecutor in Alameda County and San Francisco, 1990-2003; elected San Francisco district attorney, 2004-2011; elected California attorney general, 2011-2016.
Private sector work: None
Books authored: "The Truths We Hold: An American Journey" (2019); "Smart on Crime: A Career Prosecutor's Plan to Make Us Safer" (2009)
Education: Howard University, B.A.; University of California Hastings College of Law. J.D.
Birth date: Oct. 24, 1964
Personal life: Douglas Emhoff (husband); two adult stepchildren
Top issues: Education, especially teacher pay; pay equity; criminal justice; health care; climate change; immigration
Endorsements: California Gov. Gavin Newsom; Reps. Nanette Diaz Barragán, Katie Hill, Barbara Lee, Ted Lieu.
Major donors: The top five listed affiliations for Harris' donors during her congressional career have been the University of California, WarnerMedia Group, Alphabet Inc. (Google), the law firm Venable LLP, and 21st Century Fox.
Miscellaneous: Harris’ late mother was born in India, and her father was from Jamaica. She spent a portion of her childhood in Canada, when her mother was a medical researcher in Montreal.
Other coverage: New York Times, "Kamala Harris, a ‘Top Cop’ in the Era of Black Lives Matter," May 25, 2016; NBC News, "Meet Kamala Harris, the Second Black Woman Elected to the U.S. Senate," Nov. 8, 2016; New York Times, "Kamala Harris Declares Candidacy, Evoking King and Joining Diverse Field," Jan. 21, 2019; Washington Post, "Kamala Harris enters 2020 presidential race," Jan. 21, 2019; PolitiFact California, "Kamala Harris: Criminal justice reformer, or defender of the status quo? The record is mixed," Jan. 29, 2019
Campaign website: https://kamalaharris.org/