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 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 also were there. 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, then erupted into 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.
Before she was in the Senate, Harris was the first woman and person of color to be district attorney of San Francisco and, later, California’s attorney general.
Harris received as standing ovation just before she presided over the swearing-in of three new Democratic senators in the upper chamber where she used to serve.
Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock of Georgia, and Alex Padilla of California, who is set to replace Harris, were sworn in Wednesday afternoon, handing the Biden administration razor-thin control of the government. The vice president will play a decisive role in the upper chamber, where she could cast a tie-breaking vote in the 50-50 split between Republicans and the Democratic caucus.
Harris, a former prosecutor, made headlines during 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, because she will likely deal with national security and foreign policy.
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.
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 focuses on tackling vaccine distribution planning, Harris might take the lead on congressional negotiations over 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, to which Harris belonged 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!”
In a nod to Alpha Kappa Alpha, Harris donned her signature pearls, which she has worn at major life events including graduating from Howard University, her swearing-in to the Senate and the vice presidential debate. The pearls are a symbol of her sorority, which refers to its founders as the “Twenty Pearls.”
Supporters of Harris launched a Facebook group of more than 458,000 women called “Wear Pearls on Jan 20 2021” in honor of the vice president’s milestone.
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 said 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’ 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 tweeted. “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