'Kamala's Way': What we learned about the future madam vice president from new biography

Patrick Ryan, USA TODAY
·5 min read

Next week, Kamala Harris will make history as the first woman, Black person and South Asian American person inaugurated vice president of the United States.

Her climb from California attorney general to senator to vice president-elect has been well-documented in the news, as well as Harris' own books, including 2008's "Smart on Crime: A Career Prosecutor's Plan to Make Us Safer" and 2019's "The Truths We Hold: An American Journey."

"Kamala's Way: An American Life" (Simon & Schuster, 257 pp.), out Tuesday, promises a "revelatory" look at how a daughter of Jamaican and Indian immigrants "became one of this country's most effective power players," according to a press release.

Vogue: Kamala Harris' team says they were blindsided by controversial cover

The new biography was written by veteran California journalist Dan Morain, who covered Harris' career for decades at the Sacramento Bee and Los Angeles Times. He aims to show not only the confident former "top cop" known for her fierce takedown of Brett Kavanaugh at a 2018 Senate hearing but also the empathetic human fighting for racial justice, police reform and marriage equality.

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris speaking in Wilmington, Del., earlier this month. She is the subject of the new biography, "Kamala's Way," out Tuesday.
Vice President-elect Kamala Harris speaking in Wilmington, Del., earlier this month. She is the subject of the new biography, "Kamala's Way," out Tuesday.

Because Harris, 56, and her family declined interviews for the book amid President-elect Joe Biden's campaign, "Kamala's Way" isn't particularly revelatory, dryly detailing her early days in the Alameda County district attorney's office in California, as well as the political allies and adversaries she encountered during her rise. Although meticulously reported, it occasionally reads like a slapdash Wikipedia page rather than a compelling narrative.

But after the circus of the outgoing presidential administration, there is a level of comfort reading an exhaustive account of a lawmaker just putting in the work. It isn't a mere puff piece either, as Morain rightfully holds Harris accountable for her past support of capital punishment and mass incarceration policies.

Here are some of the more illuminating stories that we learned from "Kamala's Way" about her life on and off the political stage:

Kamala Harris' VP win: 'Powerful, emotional' moment for African American and South Asian American women

Harris once comforted a young girl who was scared of gun violence

Calling for smart gun safety laws, Harris would frequently bemoan the "slaughter of babies," as she recalled seeing harrowing autopsy photographs of young people killed by guns, Morain writes. She took this approach while speaking at an event in downtown San Francisco in late 2016, only to stop mid-speech.

"Erin, I am so sorry. I forgot," Harris said to Erin Lehane, a donor in the audience who had brought along her 7-year-old daughter, Rose.

Harris, who had known Rose since she was a baby, promised to talk to the young girl after the event. She pulled two chairs together as the room cleared out, and asked Rose if her remarks frightened her.

"Rose later told her mom that Harris told her not to worry, that there were so many people who would protect her – her mom, her teachers, the police," Morain writes.

"She tried to be reassuring," Lehane says in the book. "She asked if Rose had questions. She spent a huge chunk of time. There was no camera. There was no press. Nobody knew. She was very human in that moment and wanted Rose to feel safe."

Now-Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and husband, Doug Emhoff, on the campaign trail in Philadelphia last November.
Now-Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and husband, Doug Emhoff, on the campaign trail in Philadelphia last November.

She met her now-husband on a blind date

Harris' husband, lawyer Doug Emhoff, will make history as the first second gentleman of the United States. The couple met on a blind date in 2013, set up by Harris' good friend Chrisette Hudlin, a public relations consultant.

Hudlin and her husband arranged a meeting with Emhoff about a knotty legal issue, which they ended by asking if he was single. She told Emhoff about Harris, then-California attorney general and her friend of 30 years.

"I said, 'Oh, my god, she's hot,' " Emhoff, 56, told Chasten Buttigieg in an interview last year that's recounted in the book.

Hudlin gave Emhoff Harris' number, and they met in Los Angeles that weekend. The two kept their courtship under the radar and were engaged in 2014. They were married that summer in a ceremony incorporating both Indian and Jewish traditions.

The couple share two children – Cole, 26, and Ella, 21 – from Emhoff's previous marriage. The kids affectionately call Harris "Momala," which she proudly displays in her Twitter bio.

This undated photo provided by the Kamala Harris campaign in April 2019 shows her mother, Shyamala Gopalan, left, and her mother's friend, Lenore Pomerance, during a civil rights protest in Berkeley, Calif.
This undated photo provided by the Kamala Harris campaign in April 2019 shows her mother, Shyamala Gopalan, left, and her mother's friend, Lenore Pomerance, during a civil rights protest in Berkeley, Calif.

Her late mom is a beacon in political career

"Kamala's Way" touches on Harris' close relationships with her family, particularly her sister Maya Harris, 53, a lawyer who was also a senior adviser for Hillary Clinton during her 2016 presidential campaign. She has long been Harris' closest confidante and political adviser.

"During campaigns, Kamala and Maya would talk several times a day," Morain writes. "Often, a call with Maya was the first of the day and last at night. Their sense of humor is similar and the sound of their laugh is all but identical. They're brilliant, detail oriented, tough and competitive, sometimes even with each other in the ways big and little sisters can be."

The book also discusses Harris' private struggles as her mom, scientist Shyamala Gopalan, underwent chemotherapy for colon cancer in 2008. In a 2018 op-ed for the New York Times, Harris recalled how her mom continued to support her even while she was hospitalized, shortly before her death in February 2009 at age 70.

"I remember I had just entered the race for California attorney general and she asked me how it was going," Harris wrote. " 'Mommy, these guys are going to kick my a**,' I told her.

"She rolled over and looked at me and unveiled the biggest smile," Harris continued. "She knew who she'd raised. She knew her fighting spirit was alive and well inside me."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Kamala Harris: New biography shows empathy, confidence of future VP