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5 things to know about Kamala Harris, Joe Biden’s pick for the vice presidential nomination

Senator Kamala Harris.
Senator Kamala Harris.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff/The Boston Globe

Senator Kamala Harris, who was just chosen to be former vice president Joe Biden’s running mate, is no stranger to politics. She rose to prominence in California as a district attorney in San Francisco and later as the state’s attorney general before she ran for Senate in 2016.

Harris was also a central figure during the early Democratic presidential primary debates, challenging Biden on his record on race and other issues, before she dropped out ahead of the Iowa caucuses.

Here are five things you might not know about Harris:

She has an extensive background working in criminal justice — and it was an issue for her during her presidential run

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Harris’s background drew scrutiny both during her run for Senate and later for president, with criminal justice reform advocates questioning whether nominating someone who worked as a prosecutor during the era of mass incarceration was wise.

“Time after time, when progressives urged her to embrace criminal justice reforms as a district attorney and then the state’s attorney general, Ms. Harris opposed them or stayed silent,” law professor Lara Bazelon wrote in a New York Times op-ed critical of Harris last year.

Amid earlier speculation that she might be chosen as Biden’s vice presidential nominee, Harris has reached out to reform advocates, participating in a virtual town hall with community organizers in the wake of marches over police brutality, the Globe reported last month.

“To have those activists on the outside coupled with having some of us on the inside,” she said at the town hall, “that’s where I believe the beauty is, in the ability to actually force the change to happen against — and believe me — very powerful forces that are against that change happening.”

She has been a critical voice during Senate Judiciary Committee hearings

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While in the Senate, Harris has been a critical figure on the Senate Judiciary Committee with sharp questioning of a number of high profile Trump appointees, including then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

During the 2018 Kavanaugh hearings, Harris grilled the judge on his views of Roe v. Wade, asking Kavanaugh if he believes a woman has the right to terminate a pregnancy. As Kavanaugh refused to directly answer the question, Harris pressed in a number of different ways before changing her approach.

“You’re not answering that question, and we can move on. Can you think of any laws that give government the power to make decisions about the male body?” she asked, to initial silence from Kavanaugh.

“I’m not thinking of any right now, Senator,” he eventually said.

She is the daughter of immigrants from South India and Jamaica

Both of Harris’s parents were academics who came to the United States to study. Harris is the daughter of Shyamala Harris, the late cancer researcher and civil rights activist who emigrated to the United States from South India to attend a UC Berkeley Ph.D. program, which she completed at age 25. Her father, Donald Harris, a retired Stanford University economics professor, emigrated from Jamaica.

She lived in Canada for a short time

Born in Oakland, Calif., Harris spent her high school years in Canada, moving there after her mother got a job as a cancer researcher at McGill University in Montreal. She graduated from Westmount High School in 1981.

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Harris discussed her time there briefly in her 2019 memoir, “The Truths We Hold: An American Journey,” describing her struggle to learn French.

“I used to joke that I felt like a duck, because all day long at our new school I’d be saying, ‘Quoi? Quoi? Quoi?’” — “What? What? What?,” she wrote, according to a profile of her time there from The Mercury News.

She loves to cook

Harris has spoken often of her love of cooking, telling New York magazine in 2018 that she reads recipes as a way to unwind.

“Everything else can be crazy, I can be on six planes in one week, and what makes me feel normal is making Sunday-night family dinner. If I’m cooking, I feel like I’m in control of my life,” she said in the interview.

Harris once appeared in a cooking video with writer and actress Mindy Kaling and made masala dosa, a South Indian dish. And after Senator Mark Warner posted a confusing cooking video in which he used a microwave to make a tuna melt, Harris responded (kindly) with a video of her own, demonstrating her own recipe.



Christina Prignano can be reached at christina.prignano@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @cprignano.