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Harris Makes History As 1st Woman Of Color To Become Vice President

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Well, just before noon Eastern Time on this Inauguration Day, the country's first woman of color to be elected vice president took her oath of office. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor administered that oath as Kamala Harris held her right hand in the air and her left on two Bibles - one from her family, one owned by the late Justice Thurgood Marshall.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: I, Kamala Devi Harris, solemnly swear...

SONIA SOTOMAYOR: That I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States.

HARRIS: ...That I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States.

KELLY: It was a moment packed with meaning. And for more on that and on the road ahead for Vice President Harris, we're joined now by Errin Haines, editor-at-large of The 19th. Welcome back.

ERRIN HAINES: Thanks so much for having me - a historic day.

KELLY: It was, indeed. What went through your mind as you took in that historic moment, the oath with her hand on those two Bibles?

HAINES: Well, I have to say, I mean, I was thinking a lot about Vice President Harris and how she must have been taking in that moment and really the sweep of history. President Biden, in his speech, talked about the 19th Amendment and the women who, you know, during Woodrow Wilson's inauguration were marching for the right to vote and a trajectory that ends with her now as the second-most-powerful person in the country. There was a lot of symbolism. Justice Sotomayor, pioneering Latina, first on the Supreme Court - and also one of the Bibles that she used, Thurgood Marshall, the first Black person to serve on the Supreme Court.

There still has not been a Black woman. And Kamala Harris is the first woman and first Black person to have the role that she has. I know that she was thinking, as she said, that she probably would be, about her mother, Shyamala Gopalan, who came here as an immigrant to this country and didn't necessarily think her daughter would become vice president of the United States, but certainly came here filled with possibility. And that possibility was realized on that day - today.

KELLY: So a lot of symbolism packed into some very small moments today. Do we know what Vice President Harris's - first time for me to say that - Vice President Harris's portfolio might be? What issues, given her background, given her track record, what might she take the lead on?

HAINES: We don't yet know specifics. We do know that, similar to the relationship that former vice president, now President Biden had with President Barack Obama, she expects to be a full governing partner with him as they confront concurrent crises, not the least of which is the pandemic from both a public health and an economic perspective, but also, you know, things like racial inequality, which they have said they believe is one of the four crises that they inherit as they take office. And so certainly as a senator, she was somebody who was very out front on issues of inequality and injustice. And, you know, I expect that she brings that along with her lived experience as an African American and as a woman to this role, and that those are seen as assets by President Biden and part of why he chose her, so that she would weigh in in that way. And so it will be interesting to see how that specifically takes shape here as we head into their first hundred days, for sure.

KELLY: Yeah. And I suppose I'll note in passing too, as we look at what the action will be on Capitol Hill and a 50-50 tie in the Senate with Kamala Harris casting the deciding vote, she's going to have an awful lot of weight on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

HAINES: Absolutely. And actually, one of the - one of her first roles here, not only as vice president, but as president of the Senate - right? - is going to be swearing in that Democratic majority, her successor, Alex Padilla, as well as the two senators from Georgia who are also firsts. And so seeing her as a tiebreaker, but also, she says, somebody who wants to build bipartisan support when and where she can in her role as president of the Senate and somebody who is not a stranger to that body will also be interesting to watch in terms of her leadership.

KELLY: Right. Just briefly - we just have a few seconds left - but there are now zero Black women in the Senate. Harris was only the second, we should note. What are the next steps there?

HAINES: Well, you know, she says often that she may be the first, but she doesn't want to be the last to do something, only the second Black woman senator. You know, Black women say that they should never again be in a place where, you know, the loss of one means that there are now none. And so it'll be very interesting to see the political landscape where Black women want to follow in Kamala Harris's is footsteps and possibly get elected to the Senate in her absence.

KELLY: That is Errin Haines of The 19th. Thanks so much for sharing your insights with us today.

HAINES: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.