Sen. Kamala Harris of California officially became the Democratic Party's vice presidential nominee Wednesday night, making history as the first Black woman and Asian American on a major party's presidential ticket.
Harris, the child of Jamaican and Indian immigrants, accepted her party's nomination with a blistering speech that capped a star-studded night of programming on Night 3 of the virtual Democratic National Convention, during which former President Barack Obama attacked his successor with unusual force.
In an impassioned live speech from Joe Biden's hometown, Wilmington, Delaware, Harris took stark aim at President Donald Trump, too, painting him as an incompetent chaos creator — all while deftly weaving in details from her barrier-breaking biography.
"I've fought for children and survivors of sexual assault. I've fought against transnational gangs. I took on the biggest banks and helped take down one of the biggest for-profit colleges. I know a predator when I see one," she said in what seemed to be a veiled reference to Trump's character similar to an accusation she has leveled before.
Harris, a former prosecutor who was a 2020 presidential candidate herself, said she was eager to "prosecute the case" against Trump and blamed Trump's "failed leadership" for the mounting human and economic toll of the coronavirus in the U.S. However, issues of racism and sexism, she said, were systemic, not solved by a vaccine — or by voting Trump out of office.
"And while this virus touches us all, let's be honest, it is not an equal opportunity offender. Black, Latino and Indigenous people are suffering and dying disproportionately," Harris said. "This is not a coincidence. It is the effect of structural racism.
"This virus has no eyes, and yet it knows exactly how we see each other — and how we treat each other," she added. "And let's be clear — there is no vaccine for racism. We've got to do the work."
She also spoke at length about her mother, who immigrated to the U.S. from India at age 19 to "pursue her dream of curing cancer." Harris recalled how her parents had fallen in love "in that most American way — while marching together for justice in the civil rights movement of the 1960s." Harris' mother died in 2009.
Her speech also nodded to the barrier-breaking character of her nomination while paying tribute to the many women and people of color whose shoulders she stood on to arrive at this moment.
"That I am here tonight is a testament to the dedication of generations before me, women and men who believed so fiercely in the promise of equality, liberty and justice for all," she said.
Her speech was the climax of an evening that, unlike the convention's two previous nights, focused heavily on policy, discussing at length issues of immigration, climate change, women's rights and gun violence — mixed with clear and persistent attacks on Trump.
Nearly every segment — from Democratic luminaries like Hillary Clinton to music stars like Billie Eilish — included pleas, at times seemingly desperate, for Americans to turn out and vote.
Speaking before Harris, an emotional Obama implored people to "make a plan right now ... for how you're going to vote."
"Do not let them take away your power. Don't let them take away your democracy," he said in a live speech at the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia.
Obama tore into his successor as a self-absorbed and self-serving president who "hasn't grown into the job because he can't" and as someone with "no interest in treating the presidency as anything but one more reality show that he can use to get the attention he craves."
Presidential historians quickly noted that the remarks were unprecedented, because former presidents do not, as a matter of practice, viciously attack their incumbent successors at political conventions.
"I did hope, for the sake of our country, that Donald Trump might show some interest in taking the job seriously, that he might come to feel the weight of the office and discover some reverence for the democracy that had been placed in his care," Obama said.
"But he never did. He's shown no interest in putting in the work, no interest in finding common ground, no interest in using the awesome power of his office to help anyone but himself and his friends," he said.
He also offered a firsthand account of what it was like to work with Biden, who was his vice president, calling his former No. 2 his "brother" and someone he admired for "his resilience" and "his empathy."
"We need to ask ourselves: Why don't they want us to vote? Why is there so much effort to silence our voice? And the answer is because, when we vote, things change. When we vote, things get better. When we vote, we address the need for people to be treated with dignity and respect," she said.
In a segment devoted to gun control, the first of several that highlighted priorities for a Biden-Harris administration, former Rep. Gabby Giffords of Arizona, who became a gun control activist after she was shot in the head in 2011, made a moving plea for viewers to "vote, vote, vote."
"My recovery is a daily fight, but fighting makes me stronger. Words once came easily. Today I struggle with speech. But I have not lost my voice," Giffords said.
Her speech followed a montage cataloging several mass shootings that have occurred in recent years and the chilling words of a woman whose son was paralyzed in a shooting.
The evening's emcee, actor Kerry Washington, introduced several other montages highlighting policies advocated for by Biden and other Democrats, including immigration reform and Biden's plan to combat climate change. An underlying theme existed in each segment: a push to vote.
"Silence is not an option, and we cannot sit this one out," Eilish said before performing a song.
Trump hit Obama at a news conference Wednesday afternoon ahead of the program as "so ineffective" and "so terrible." Later, apparently during Obama's speech, Trump attacked Obama in a flurry of all-caps tweets. Biden immediately clapped back, tweeting a quote from Obama's speech that criticized Trump.
Meanwhile, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the party's 2016 presidential nominee, warned voters that they will have no excuse this election to underestimate "how dangerous" Trump is.
"For four years, people have said to me, 'I didn't realize how dangerous he was.' 'I wish I could go back and do it over.' Or worst, 'I should have voted,'" Clinton said in a live address from her living room in Chappaqua, New York.
"This can't be another woulda coulda shoulda election," Clinton said, urging people to "vote like our lives and livelihoods are on the line, because they are."
Clinton also referred to the fact that she had won the popular vote — but still lost the 2016 election.
"Joe and Kamala can win 3 million more votes and still lose. Take it from me," she said before reiterating a theme of the night. "We need numbers so overwhelming Trump can't sneak or steal his way to victory."
The segment also focused on the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment — which ostensibly gave women the right to vote, although the right was not guaranteed for Black women until decades later — with Clinton tying the selection of Harris as Biden's running mate to the "seven decades of suffragists marching, picketing and going to jail to push us closer to that more perfect union."
"This is our country's story: breaking down barriers and expanding the circle of possibility," said Clinton, who chose to wear all white, the color of the suffragist movement. She accepted the Democratic nomination four years ago in an all-white pantsuit.
The two-hour event Wednesday, with programming tied to the theme of "A More Perfect Union," focused on efforts to make the American promise a reality for everyone.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., speaking after Clinton, drew attention to the fact that a vast majority of the 105 women serving in the House are Democrats.
But Pelosi — also wearing all white — also named Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., as obstacles to bills related to immigration, LGBTQ rights, police brutality and economic relief to Americans suffering during the coronavirus pandemic.
"All of this is possible for America. Who is standing in the way? Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump," she said repeatedly.
The policies Democrats highlighted Wednesday night have little chance of advancing under a Biden administration should the party not flip control of the Senate, along with keeping control of the House.
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Later, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., speaking from an early childhood education center in her home state, drew further attention to the COVID-19 crisis that has unfurled under Trump. She pointed out how the illness and its subsequent economic consequences have disproportionately hit families of color.
"Donald Trump's ignorance and incompetence have always been a danger to our country. COVID-19 was Trump's biggest test. He failed miserably. Today, America has the most COVID deaths in the world and an economic collapse — and both crises are falling hardest on Black and brown families," she said. "This crisis is bad and didn't have to be this way. This crisis is on Donald Trump and the Republicans who enable him."