What happens to Kamala Harris‘ Senate seat?

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Gino Spocchia
·3 min read
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<p>Vice president-elect Kamala Harris</p> (AP)

Vice president-elect Kamala Harris

(AP)

Kamala Harris will stand down as a senator on Monday, when she resigns her seat in Congress with less than two days until she is sworn in as vice president.

She had been expected to do so before being sworn in on Wednesday, when she and Joe Biden will become vice president and president of the United States.

The process will bring an end to Ms Harris’s four-year stint in the Senate, and see another Democrat, Alex Padilla, sworn in to replace her as a senator for California.

What does the law say?

Senators are replaced when they become president or vice president, when they are expected to resign their seat.

The 17th amendment to the US constitution explains that, when “a vacancy occurs due to a senator's death, resignation, or expulsion”, the legislature of the senator’s respective state is allowed to replace them.

While most states – including California – have authorised governors to appoint a successor to the Senate, a special election can take place to choose a new senator in five states, and in six others, the state governor must appoint a replacement of the same political party as the previous incumbent.

That chosen candidate will then complete the seat’s term, and will be able to stand at the next election, under laws in 35 states.

Joe Biden and Barack Obama were the last senators to be replaced after winnin the White House, when four Senate seats became vacant after senators Hillary Clinton and Ken Salazar were nominated for the positions in Mr Obama’s administration following his 2008 election win.

Mr Obama resigned his Illinois senate seat almost immediately after his election win, and Mr Biden waited until five days after they were inaugurated in January 2009 to resign his Delaware seat. Both were replaced by Democratic senators, who served the remainder of their terms.

Only one senate seat was vacated after Donald Trump’s election in 2016, when Jeff Sessions was appointed as attorney general.

Under California law, governor Gavin Newsom has the power to announce a replacement for Ms Harris, and has already done so.

When did the race to replace Ms Harris begin?

The race to replace the California Democrat began several months ago, when she was announced as Mr Biden’s running mate in August 2020.

She had been elected to serve in 2016, and was sworn in by Mr Biden in January 2017, having been endorsed by Mr Obama while running for the seat – and while serving as California’s attorney general.

Ms Harris was chosen as Mr Biden’s running mate when the Democrat candidate answered calls for a black woman to stand on the party’s presidential ticket.

That begun speculation began as to who would replace her in the event the Democratic ticket won November’s election, which they did.

Who will replace her?

Several leading contenders were suggested for Ms Harris’s senate seat, with calls for California’s governor, Gavin Newsom, to select another black woman.

Among those contenders were US congresswomen Barbara Lee and Karen Bass, who was previously tipped as a potential running mate for Mr Biden.

Latinos also called for representation, having never been elected to serve in the Senate despite representing 40 per cent of the state’s population.

According to Ms Harris’s aides, Mr Newsom was made aware of her intent to formally resign on Monday, CNN reported.

The move allows him to introduce her replacement, Alex Padilla, who is currently serving as California’s secretary of state.

Mr Padilla was announced as the vice president-elect’s replacement in December 2020, several weeks after the Democratic election victory against Donald Trump.

He will become California’s first Latino senator, and is expected to be sworn in on Wednesday, when Ms Harris and Mr Biden are sworn in as vice president and president.

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