On Wednesday afternoon, as Joe Biden for the first time publicly spoke alongside running mate Kamala Harris, he took a moment to address yet a potentially historic aspect of the California senator’s presence on his presidential ticket.
It wasn’t that Harris would make history as the nation’s first female, first Black and first Asian American vice president if Biden wins in the fall. It was that her husband, Doug Emhoff, an accomplished entertainment lawyer, would make history, too: He would be the nation’s first second gentleman.
“Doug, you’re going to have to learn what it means to be a barrier-breaker yourself in this job you’re about to take on,” Biden said.
Emhoff’s path to that prospective first-of-its-kind title has been anything but intentional. Along the way, as Harris has emerged as a rising political star, he’s spoken candidly about his love for his wife, has had to defend her from attacks both physical and online and has even enjoyed a bit of his own fandom on social media.
UNITED STATES – MAY 22: Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., makes her way to the Senate Policy luncheons in the Capitol on May 22, 2018. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
U.S. Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) arrives for a town hall meeting in Sacramento, California, U.S., April 5, 2018.REUTERS/Bob Strong
WASHINGTON, DC – MARCH 14:Senate Judiciary Committee members Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) (L) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) talk during a hearing about the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill March 14, 2018 in Washington, DC. Federal Bureau of Investigation Acting Deputy Director David Bowdich testified that the FBI could have and should have done more to stop the school shooter Nikolas Cruz after it receieved several tips about him.(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
U.S. Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) holds a town hall meeting in Sacramento, California, U.S., April 5, 2018.REUTERS/Bob Strong
Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) speaks about the Senate Intelligence Committee findings and recommendations on threats to election infrastructure on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., March 20, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
California gubernatorial candidate, Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom arrives with Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) at a campaign rally in Burbank, California, U.S. May 30, 2018. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
WASHINGTON, DC – MAY 23:U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) (2nd L) shares a moment with Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) (R) as Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM) (L) looks on during a news conference on immigration in front of the U.S. Capitol May 23, 2018 in Washington, DC. Sen. Harris, joined by other female Democratic congressional members, held a news conference ‘to show support for immigration and refugee policies that protect the rights and safety of women and children.’ (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC – MAY 23:U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) (C) speaks during a news conference on immigration in front of the U.S. Capitol May 23, 2018 in Washington, DC. Sen. Harris, joined by other female Democratic congressional members, held a news conference ‘to show support for immigration and refugee policies that protect the rights and safety of women and children.'(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
US Senator Kamala Harris attends the United State of Women Summit at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, on May 5, 2018. (Photo by CHRIS DELMAS / AFP)(Photo credit should read CHRIS DELMAS/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC – MARCH 14:Senate Judiciary Committee member Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) questions witnesses during a hearing about the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill March 14, 2018 in Washington, DC. Federal Bureau of Investigation Acting Deputy Director David Bowdich testified that the FBI could have and should have done more to stop the school shooter Nikolas Cruz after it receieved several tips about him.(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC – OCTOBER 25:Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) speaks during a news conference with fellow Democrats, ‘Dreamers’ and university presidents and chancellors to call for passage of the Dream Act at the U.S. Capitol October 25, 2017 in Washington, DC. President Donald Trump said he will end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) and has asked Congress to find a solution for the status of the beneficiaries of the program, called ‘Dreamers.'(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC – OCTOBER 18:Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) walks to the Senate chamber for a series of 6 roll call votes regarding the Fiscal Year 2018 Budget Resolution on Capitol Hill, on October 18, 2017 in Washington, DC.(Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC – JULY 13:Senate Intelligence Committee members Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) (C) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) (R) arrive for a closed-door committee meeting in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill July 13, 2017 in Washington, DC. Some members of the committee have demanded that Donald Trump, Jr. testify before the intelligence committee after it was revealed that he and Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort met with a Russian lawyer in hopes of getting opposition information on Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election.(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC – APRIL 27: Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)(L) walks with Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) (C), to a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence closed door meeting at the U.S. Capitol, on April 27, 2017 in Washington, DC.The committee is investigation possible Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election.(Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC – MAY 16:Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) heads for her party’s weekly policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol May 16, 2017 in Washington, DC. Many Republican and Democratic senators expressed frustration and concern about how President Donald Trump may have shared classified intelligence with the Russian foreign minister last week at the White House.(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Emhoff has talked about what he’s learned from being on the campaign trail with Harris during her own presidential bid — remarks that may represent a preview for how he positions himself amid much more public attention now.
“To actually meet people of all kinds all around the country and really listen and really hear what’s going on in their lives…For a kid who grew up in New York and L.A., and spent most of my life in New York, L.A., San Francisco and D.C., it just really opened my eyes,” Emhoff said about Harris’ failed 2020 bid during an April virtual Biden campaign event.
An entertainment lawyer from Brooklyn
Emhoff, who like Harris is 55, was born in Brooklyn and spent the first few years of his life there, before his father, a women’s shoe designer, moved the family to New Jersey. When Emhoff was in high school, the family moved again, to Los Angeles.
“We went from like central Jersey to ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High’ era L.A.,” Emhoff quipped in April.
He stayed in the area for college and law school, earning degrees from California State University, Northridge and the University of Southern California Gould School of Law.
Emhoff later entered the field of entertainment law, working as a litigator at various firms. He is currently a partner at DLA Piper, based in the firm’s Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles offices.
Emhoff has two adult children — Cole and Ella, named for jazz legends John Coltrane and Ella Fitzgerald — with his first wife, Kerstin Emhoff. The marriage ended in divorce but the pair “remain incredibly close,” Emhoff has said. Both Emhoff and Harris have spoken frequently about the warm relationship between Harris and her stepchildren, with both noting that they refer to their stepmom as “Momala.”
Blind date with the ‘hot’ state AG
Emhoff was working in Los Angeles when a client meeting led to a blind date with Harris that both he and she have often joked about.
“I was just a dude, a lawyer, and then I met Kamala on a blind date, set up by legendary filmmaker Reginald Hudlin, who did ‘House Party,'” and his wife, Emhoff said.
Emhoff recalled that, at a business meeting with Hudlin and his wife Chrisette, a close friend of Harris, Chrisette said she wanted to set him up with her pal. Emhoff said that as soon as Hudlin mentioned Harris’ name, he remembered she was the attorney general and responded, “Oh my god, she’s hot.”
Hudlin gave Emhoff her number and he texted that night from a Los Angeles Lakers game. As Harris described in her 2019 memoir, “The Truths We Hold,” Emhoff called her, too — a bold move, Harris wrote, that she found “endearing.”
“The morning after our first date, Doug emailed me with a list of his available dates for the next couple of months. ‘I’m too old to play games or hide the ball,’ the email read. ‘I really like you, and I want to see if we can make this work,'” Harris recalled in her memoir.
Amid a months-long romance that spanned the state of California, the couple fell in love and were engaged in March 2014. They got married later that year in a small ceremony officiated by Harris’ sister Maya.
Entering the world of politics
Emhoff has recalled in multiple interviews that his emergence as a political spouse was gradual. It wasn’t until Harris’ run for an open U.S. Senate seat in California in 2016 that it dawned on him what it meant to be married to a fast-rising political star.
“When we met, when she was attorney general, it was just two busy professionals at that age…trying to balance two jobs and two cities,” he said in April. “But it really hit me after we got married…and when Sen. Barbara Boxer decided not to run.”
“That was really ‘welcome to politics.’ In that race is when I really became a political spouse, doing events,” he said.
By the time Harris launched her presidential run he was a regular on the trail.
He recalled “freaking out” while waving to the crowd at Harris’ announcement for her White House run in January 2019.
“It’s like, holy ‘F’,” he said. “We thought there’d be 5,000 people there” — but more than 20,000 attended the event in Oakland, Calif., her campaign estimated.
Later in 2019, during a stop in Flint, Michigan — a visit where Emhoff quietly met with community leaders about the city’s water crisis — that he was deeply moved. “That was probably the most impactful thing I ever did. It just stuck with me,” he has said.
At the same time, Emhoff also created a fun persona on social media throughout his wife’s presidential campaign. He frequently posted photos of himself in campaign gear and, memorably, a video of him dancing at San Francisco Pride, in 2019, to help boost fundraising.
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