85 minutes as president. Kamala Harris’ place in history

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL November 19, 2021

Her DNA ensured Kamala Harris made history on November 3, 2020, when she became the first woman and the first black and South Asian to be elected vice-president of the United States.

On Friday (November 19) she notched up another history-making moment…or roughly 85 historically significant minutes.

She became the first woman to formally assume the powers of the presidency – albeit briefly – while Joe Biden underwent a routine colonoscopy.

Mr Biden transferred power to Ms Harris, as part of a process set out in the US constitution. It’s not a big deal really, as White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki has pointed out. This too was “the case when President George W Bush had the same procedure in 2002 and 2007,” Ms Psaki said in a statement. Mr Bush’s vice-president assumed the presidency for a short period.

No one paid particular heed at the time. But naturally, because Mr Bush’s vice-president was a man and men have always held the US presidency.

How then to parse the hype over Ms Harris’ achievement – for all of 85 minutes?

Well, it is historic, in that it has never happened before. But (and there is a but) the repeated shoehorning of Ms Harris into a ‘first’ and ‘only’ category in the history books brought back memories of Hillary Clinton’s run for the presidency in 2016. At the time, her bid to be commander-in-chief of America’s armed forces was touted as a vote for history, rather than the best candidate. It was a chance to shatter what Mrs Clinton once described, as “the hardest, highest glass ceiling”. I remember writing at the time that “it is almost as patronising for a woman to get a job on account of her gender as it is to be denied it for that reason.”

So too the history books.