The first second gentleman: Doug Emhoff, husband of Kamala Harris, breaks new ground

It’s an unpaid position, but Doug Emhoff says he is approaching the role…

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Francesca Chambers
 |  McClatchy Washington Bureau

Washington — It’s an unpaid position, but Doug Emhoff, husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, says he is approaching the role of being the first second gentleman like a full-time job.

He and his team have offices within the vice president’s suite in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building adjacent to the White House, and aides to the former entertainment attorney who was active on the campaign trail said Emhoff has fully immersed himself in his new position.

Emhoff said this week that he has spent much of the first six weeks of the administration conducting research on White House priorities and connecting with experts as he builds out his portfolio.

“As second gentleman I’m taking every opportunity I can to educate myself, ” Emhoff said. “I’m taking it very seriously, I’m putting a lot of time into it.”

The position of second gentleman was created for Emhoff after Harris became the first woman vice president. Sources familiar with the conversations could not pin down when exactly he landed on second gentleman as the title he would use but said it was one that he was comfortable with.

Emhoff gave up his job as a partner at the law firm DLA Piper, which has offices in Los Angeles and Washington after his wife was elected vice president. He currently teaches a two-credit course at Georgetown Law that meets once a week.

Current and former aides to Emhoff said that he views his responsibilities as second gentleman largely to be supportive of his wife’s efforts.

“I think he wants to continue to be a supportive partner, a great father and contribute to the goals of the administration,” Courtney O’Donnell, chief of staff to Emhoff during the campaign and transition, said in an interview.

“He’s referenced how the vice president often says, she’s the first but she won’t be the last. And I think he truly wants to ensure that there will be many supportive spouses who follow him,” O’Donnell said.

Emhoff has been taking advice from first lady Jill Biden on the role that she filled for eight years as second lady when her husband was vice president in the Obama administration.

Since the inauguration, Emhoff has taken an early interest in caregiving and nutrition issues, making calls to nurses and food banks and visiting businesses that provide families with access to healthy meals.

He said during the campaign that “access to justice” would be a focus of his work, and a spokeswoman said he will further define his equity work in the future.

“The big difference is the fact that there’s a man speaking out on some of these issues,” Emhoff spokeswoman Katie Peters said of the effect that he can have in the role.

Peters said it is a little “unexpected to see a man engaging in these spaces and that can be some of the value of his platform.”

“He can broaden the type of people who are talking about issues that matter to all Americans but sometimes people have always put in a certain box unnecessarily,” she added.

Emhoff participated in a roundtable this week with Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser at a business that has been feeding workers in the hospitality industry during the pandemic. He promised at the end to share workers’ stories directly with his wife that night at the dinner table.

When a winter storm caused Texans to lose power, he called a food bank in Austin and one that he had visited during the campaign in San Antonio.

Derrick Chubbs, president and CEO of the Central Texas Food Bank in Austin, said he was told about the call just before it took place, learning from his assistant that if he received a call from a strange number, he should pick up.

“I did thank him for his interest and said I hoped that food and security, not only for us but across the country, could possibly be something that they can focus on,” Chubbs said about the call that lasted four minutes. “My hope is that if there’s anything he could do, is to keep it on the forefront of our thinking — that that is a challenge that we have in this country.”

Emhoff has made recent visits to historical sites in Washington such as the Library of Congress and the National Archives. And he has been spotted having coffee with another Biden administration spouse, Chasten Buttigieg, the husband of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

Next week, Emhoff will travel with Harris to Nevada and Colorado before taking his first solo trip as second gentleman to New Mexico.

“He recognizes the significance of this role being the first man in this space,” Peters said. “I think he also truly appreciates the work that’s been done before and understands the responsibilities that come with the role.”

On the campaign trail Emhoff acted as Harris’ chief documentarian, capturing photos and videos of Harris at key moments, including when President Joe Biden called her to say they had won the election.

When they were apart, Emhoff’s former chief of staff said they would exchange texts and photos in between events, including one of Harris dancing in the rain under an umbrella at a Jacksonville, Florida, rally while wearing her signature Chuck Taylors.

Harris and Emhoff married in 2014, while she was attorney general of California. Emhoff has two adult children, Cole and Ella, from a previous marriage. He moved to Washington at the beginning of the pandemic last year.

The couple currently resides at Blair House, the presidential guest house, across the street from the White House. They have been living there temporarily while renovations are made to the official vice president’s residence at the Naval Observatory.


Emhoff acknowledged this week that teaching a class at Georgetown Law has given him a new appreciation for educators and admitted that he’s still settling into the second gentleman role that is significantly different from the legal work he did for high-profile clients.

“I do miss it. I did it for 30 years. I thought I was good at it and successful, but what an opportunity, if I’m going to leave, to be able to be in this administration and also to support my wife,” Emhoff said. “I’m so proud of her, and I get to do what I hope a lot of people will do is to support their spouse and give them an opportunity to really succeed.”

Our special thanks to:detroitnews.com

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