Vice President Kamala Harris steps into history as first woman of color to hold the office

WASHINGTON – Vice President Kamala Harris took the oath office in a barrier-breaking ceremony Wednesday, becoming the first woman, first Black American and first South Asian American to hold the office. 

Harris, the daughter of an Indian mother and a Jamaican father, was sworn in by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, a trailblazer in her own right as the first Latina justice on the high court.

Dressed in a purple dress and overcoat, the vice president took the oath with her husband and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff looking on. Emhoff’s two children from his first marriage were also in attendance. After taking the oath, Harris hugged Emhoff and gave a double fist bump to President Joe Biden. 

Harris used two bibles, one that belonged to the late civil rights icon and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, whom Harris has said inspired her career path, and one owned by family friend Regina Shelton, who was like a second mother to Harris and her sister. Harris used Shelton’s bible when she took the oath of office as California Attorney General and later as a U.S. senator. 

The crowd of lawmakers, family and friends fell silent as Harris made history, only to erupt with applause after she was sworn in. 

“Ready to serve,” Harris wrote in her first tweet on the official Vice President Twitter account.

Harris is used to breaking barriers. Before she resigned from her Senate seat on Monday ahead of the inauguration, Harris was one of 10 Black lawmakers and only the second Black woman to serve in the upper chamber. Harris’ resignation means no Black women are serving in the U.S. Senate. 

Prior to the Senate, Harris was the first woman and person of color to serve as the district attorney of San Francisco and later as California’s attorney general. 

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Harris, a former prosecutor, made headlines during the Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s contentious Senate confirmation hearing, in which she was criticized by some of her Republican colleagues for her pointed and direct cross-examination of the now-justice.

She also served on several Senate committees, including Budget, Judiciary, Intelligence and Homeland Security. Her time on the Intelligence and Homeland Security committees will benefit her in her new role, as she will likely deal with national security and foreign policy issues. 

Biden and Harris take office while the country faces several pressing issues, including the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic ramifications, a nationwide reckoning over racial justice and the effects of climate change. The pair’s inauguration comes two weeks after a violent mob attacked the U.S. Capitol, leaving five people dead. 

More:How the Kamala Harris pick is playing with Indian Americans, a fast-growing and influential voting bloc 

(L-R) Doug Emhoff, U.S. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, Jill Biden and President-elect Joe Biden wave as they arrive on the East Front of the U.S. Capitol for the inauguration on January 20, 2021 in Washington, DC. During today's inauguration ceremony Joe Biden becomes the 46th president of the United States.

A Biden transition aide who spoke on background to discuss the Biden-Harris relationship said the administration will use a hand-in-hand approach to address the crises. As an example, the aide said, while Biden takes the lead on vaccine distribution planning, Harris might take the lead in trying to congressional approval for the funding needed for that plan.

Many lawmakers, activists and groups celebrated Harris’ groundbreaking ascent.

“Today we witnessed one of the most historic moments in the history of this country,” read a tweet from the account of Alpha Kappa Alpha, the country’s first Black sorority, which Harris belonged to at Howard University.  “The swearing-in of our FIRST Female Vice President of these United States of America. The glass ceiling has been broken!! WE SALUTE YOU MADAM VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS!”

Rep. Sara Jacobs, D-Calif., told USA TODAY that as a young woman, it was “incredible” to see the nation’s first female vice president sworn in.

She plans to focus on the “work we need to do to rebuild our country” and looks forward to working with Biden and Harris.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., honored Harris’ historic role as the first South Asian and Black vice president.

“As the first South Asian American woman elected to the House, I’m deeply proud to call Kamala Harris OUR Vice President—the first woman, first South Asian American, and first Black woman to hold this position of public trust,” Jayapal wrote in a tweet. “A powerful moment in history!”

Quentin James and Stefanie Brown James, founders of The Collective PAC, which is dedicated to electing more Black people to public office, said in a statement that “today is a day of pride for Black America, and for all who believe in equality, fairness and the rule of law.”

“We’re hopeful the Biden-Harris administration will not only restore dignity to the offices they now hold but will work to support and build up all Americans; giving a voice to the many communities that have been disrespected, shut out and pushed aside by the Trump administration,” they said said in the statement.

Contributing: Rebecca Morin, Maureen Groppe, and Nicholas Wu

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