WASHINGTON — Before friends and family in a packed chamber, Kamala Harris was sworn in as California’s newest U.S. senator Tuesday morning. She became the first black woman the Golden State has sent to the Senate and the first Indian American to ever serve in the body.
Harris, 52, a Democrat, was sworn in by Vice President Joe Biden shortly after noon Eastern as Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and her new Senate colleagues looked on. Harris’ husband, Los Angeles attorney Doug Emhoff, her stepchildren, brother-in-law Tony West, sister Maya Harris, extended family as well as several state officials from across the country who traveled to celebrate with the now former state attorney general watched from the gallery.
“Whatever advice she wants, all she has to do is ask,” Feinstein said. “I have said to her that I would like to have a close relationship.”
Feinstein and Harris met repeatedly in the weeks since the election, with Feinstein sharing advice on how to set up the largest Senate office in the country, including how to deal with the up to 100,000 emails, letters and phone calls that can come into a California senator’s office in a given week.
Harris, one of seven new senators, replaces Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, who retired after 24 years in the Senate.
Feinstein said she isn’t going to try to recreate the relationship between her and Boxer, but will let a new one develop with Harris.
“This is a woman who is the sitting attorney general of the state of California. She is very smart and I think she will have her own way of doing things,” Feinstein said. “My job is to be helpful to her in any way I can.”
Boxer also met with Harris as she began organizing her Washington staff.
During her farewell speech on the Senate floor earlier Wednesday, Boxer praised Harris.
“I am, of course, ecstatic that my successor is Kamala Harris, who has served as attorney general in my state with great distinction and who will continue the tradition of having a strong, progressive woman in this seat,” Boxer said. “Kamala, you heard it here: a strong, progressive woman in this seat is what we need.”
Harris is already seen as a rising star within the Democratic Party. The Guardian listed her as one of the top Americans to watch for in 2017 and she has been floated as a potential presidential candidate as soon as 2020. Last week, there was a lot of political tea leaf reading when she hired Hillary Clinton’s Iowa spokeswoman as her communications director.
For her part, Harris has said she’ll wait and listen — at least at first. It’s common for senators to wait months to give their first floor speech, though that tradition has been broken a few times in recent years.
“I’m obviously a freshman and so generally speaking, especially being in a situation where there are a lot of people around me who have been doing it for a lot longer, I just think it’s a smart rule of thumb to listen and watch and kind of get a lay of the land,” she said in November.
As for her initial policy priorities, Harris has said repeatedly she will push back on efforts by Republicans and President-elect Donald Trump to deport millions of people in the country illegally.