Shortcuts / 20 August 2020

The US Elections: The US Vice Presidential Race

When you look across the news at the moment, there’s simply no escaping the US election. Of specific attention of late is Joe Biden’s choice of running mate, so in this episode of Squiz Shortcuts we take a look at the role of the Vice President of America, and learn a bit more about the current veep, Mike Pence, and the potential veep, Kamala Harris.

What is the role of the Vice President in the US?

The VP, or as it’s casually known, the veep, is a role that is written into the constitution, with the founding fathers seeing it as kind of a backstop in case the President should die. The idea is it’s a role that would hold very little other duties. While they are the second highest person in the executive branch of government and an officer in the legislative branch, as president of the Senate, they can’t even cast votes in the senate except if a vote is tied. And in that case, the Vice President is the person who would decide the vote. That can happen, and in fact current VP Mike Pence has done so a handful of times during the Trump Administration.

Over the years though, whilst it’s not official the Vice Presidency has grown to be a quite an important political role. The role varies administration to administration. It really relies on the the relationship between president and vice president. Some are quite isolated and have little to do with the daily goings on in the Oval Office. But some have been very involved. But long story short, there’s no set job description other than to be on call to step up if something happens to the president.

Who is the current VP?

Michael Pence, most commonly called Mike, is 61yo. He’s is the 48th vice president of the US. He was born in the state of Indiana, and is one of six children. He was raised a Democrat, but his time in college saw his political views shift considerably. Pence became an evangelical, born-again Christian, and saw his views become more conservative, and he has said that he identified with what he called the “common-sense conservatism of Ronald Reagan” at the time.

How did he get into politics?

Pence studied law at university and went on to work at a private law firm. It was not long after that, that Pence made his first foray into politics. Pence was in his late twenties when he ran, albeit unsuccessfully, for Congress after it emerged Pence had used political donations to pay the mortgage on his house, his personal credit card bill, groceries, golf tournament fees and car payments for his wife – something that wasn’t illegal at the time but didn’t pass the sniff test.

So instead of politics, over the course of the 90s, Pence made a name for himself when he began hosting a daily talk show ‘The Mike Pence Show’. That show was broadcast across Indiana and really gave him a profile… he has a few further tilts at politics before eventually being elected to the House of Reps in 2000. He remained there until he was elected Governor of Indiana in 2012.

Where does he sit on the political spectrum?

Like the state he represents, Pence’s politics is on the conservative end of the political spectrum. He’s been criticised for being anti-LGBTI, and also has a persistent focus on issues like abortion. In his own words, he’s “a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order.”

How did he become VP?

It was Pence’s socially conservative views that really lead to him becoming VP. It’s said that Trump picked him as his running mate in a move to win over conservative voters, particularly Christian evangelicals, who were still on the fence about Trump. And now he is said to be one of the most powerful people in the White House due to his close relationship with Donald Trump. More recently Pence was appointed by President Trump as the leader of the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

Who is Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s running mate?

Kamala Harris was born in Oakland, California in 1964, that makes her 55yo. She is the eldest of two children, and her mother was a cancer researcher from India, and her father an economist from Jamaica. Activism runs in her blood, with her parents meeting at university and sharing a passion for the civil rights movement. After she was born, they took young Kamala along to protests in a stroller.

Her parents divorced when she was 7 and eventually she and her sister moved to Canada with her mother for her teenage years. Harris was very close to her mother, and in a lot of her telling of her personal story, she talks about the discrimination her mother suffered as a single mum of Indian origin during this time despite her high level of education and intelligence. They were formative experiences.

How did she get into politics?

After making her way back to America for university where she studied political science, economics and eventually law, she also got into politics – interning for a California senator. But before she entered politics herself she worked her way up the legal ranks, eventually becoming the top public prosecutor in San Francisco in 2003. That was a springboard for the top job becoming the first woman and the first person of colour to serve as California’s attorney general in 2010, where she was known as a tough law enforcer.

As attorney general, Harris championed environmental protection, LGBT rights, law enforcement accountability, consumer protection and anti-truancy policies. And it’s her record as attorney general that political pundits in the US say has made her a good running mate for Biden. With law and order a top issue following the racial unrest a couple of months ago over police discrimination of black people, Donald Trump and the Republicans are going hard on the issue, siding with police. Harris’ appointment makes it harder for them to paint the Democrats as soft on crime because of her tough record in California.

But it’s also led progressives from within her own party – the Democrats – to say she’s not progressive enough. And how Biden supporters answer that is to point to the progressive things she did support as attorney general and while she was a member of the US House of Representatives, which she was elected to in 2016.

What has she done since entering Congress?

Since Harris went to the US Congress, she’s made a name for herself, particularly with the firm questions she put to Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. It seems like a lifetime ago, but Kavanaugh – Trump’s nominee to be appointed to the highest court of the land – had to face a confirmation hearing under a cloud of accusations he’d sexually assaulted a fellow student while at university. And it was Harris that really landed some blows during that process, and put it put her on the national radar. That led Trump to describe her as mean, horrible and nasty.

What’s her family life like?

She married for the first time six years ago to Douglas Emhoff and has talked quite a bit about her modern family. She says her two step kids, who are in their 20s, call her ‘momala’ and she’s joked that it’s a situation that’s “almost too functional’.

Squiz Recommends: 

NYT profile on Kamala Harris

Business Insider – Inside the 34-year marriage of Mike Pence

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