Kamala Harris to resign her U.S. Senate seat Monday ahead of inauguration

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U.S. Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris will resign her Senate seat on Monday, two days before she and President-elect Joe Biden are inaugurated.

Aides to the California Democrat confirmed the timing and said Gov. Gavin Newsom was aware of her decision, clearing the way for him to appoint fellow Democrat Alex Padilla, now California’s secretary of state, to serve the final two years of Harris’ term.

Padilla will be the first Latino senator from California, where about 40 per cent of residents are Hispanic. Newsom announced his choice in December, following intense lobbying for the rare Senate vacancy from the nation’s most populous state.

Harris will give no farewell Senate floor speech. The Senate is not scheduled to reconvene until Tuesday, the eve of Inauguration Day.

Padilla’s arrival, along with Harris becoming the Senate’s presiding officer when she’s sworn-in as vice-president, is part of Democrats’ upcoming Senate majority. But the party still needs Sens.-elect Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock of Georgia to be certified as victors in their Jan. 5 elections and then be sworn in.

Harris will be the first Black woman and first woman of South Asian descent to serve as vice-president, but her Senate departure leaves the chamber’s roster without a Black woman. Harris was just the second Black woman senator, winning her California election 17 years after Democrat Carol Moseley Braun finished a single term representing Illinois.

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Among many potential successors to Harris, Newsom passed over at least two prominent Black women, U.S. Reps. Karen Bass and Barbara Lee. Bass also was among Biden’s finalists for running mate.

Democrats were in the minority during Harris’ four years on Capitol Hill. Perhaps her biggest mark came as a fierce questioner of judicial nominees and other witnesses as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Harris was viewed as a future presidential candidate almost immediately upon joining the Senate in 2017. She announced her White House bid in January 2019 but dropped out the subsequent December after a lacklustre campaign and before the ballots were cast in Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses. Biden, himself a former senator, invited her to join the national ticket in August.

The wins by Ossoff and Warnock in Georgia ensured a 50-50 Senate, positioning Harris as the tie-breaking vote for Democratic control. But Ossoff and Warnock cannot join the chamber until Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger certifies the final vote tally. Raffensperger, a Republican, has said he could act as soon as Tuesday, conceivably allowing Padilla, Ossoff and Warnock to join the Senate together as early as that afternoon’s session.

But Republicans will maintain a narrow majority until all three take office and Harris sits in the presiding officer’s chair.

Harris’ early departure from the Senate has multiple precedents.

Biden was the last sitting senator to be elected vice-president. He resigned his Delaware post on Jan. 15, 2009, five days before he and Barack Obama were inaugurated. Obama, a senator at the time of his election, had resigned his Illinois seat two months before Biden.

© 2021 The Canadian Press

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