WASHINGTON – As America’s first second gentleman, Doug Emhof attended an American naturalization ceremony in New York, served spaghetti and chocolate milk to children at a YMCA near New Orleans and reminisced with sophomores in Detroit about a first job at McDonald’s.
Emhoff has visited 31 states over the past year, meeting with doctors, parents, community leaders and small business owners everywhere from Albuquerque, New Mexico, to Allentown, Pennsylvania. The most important part of these trips, however, may be getting home in time for dinner, when his wife, Vice President Kamala Harris, will launch that evergreen conversation starter, “How was your day?”
“It allows me to really talk about the people I meet,” Emhoff told The Associated Press. He added that if he’s “with the president or the first lady or a cabinet secretary – or one of their heads – you really do it, you can really bring back details and turn that into a response or an action. “.
After Emhoff met BB Beltran, an advocate for victims of domestic violence, during an April visit to Oregon, she was then invited to participate in a federal roundtable on how the government can better support legal aid initiatives.
“I felt supported and validated by Mr. Emhoff,” said Beltran, executive director of Sexual Assault Support Services in Eugene, Oregon.
Emhoff, 57, sees himself as an intermediary between Americans and President Joe Biden’s White House. His training as a lawyer, he says, taught him the value of “listening rather than talking and really trying to understand issues, understand people and understand an issue.”
It meant playing a role that has been largely ceremonial — “seconds” rarely get much attention — and making it more substantive, trying to support the administration from a non-politician’s perspective.
Being a link between the administration and the public is a quietly powerful role commonly played by first ladies. Kate Andersen Brower, who has written books on presidential spouses and the vice presidency, said that during the Iran hostage crisis in 1980, when President Jimmy Carter stopped campaigning for re-election, his wife, Rosalynn, traveled the country for her and “people come up to her all the time and talk to her about their problems.
Andersen Brower noted that Hillary Clinton pushed her husband, President Bill Clinton, to appoint Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the Supreme Court after Betty Ford unsuccessfully pressured her husband, President Gerald Ford, to choose a woman for the high court. Nancy Reagan helped control access to President Ronald Reagan and influenced staffing decisions.
The second ladies sometimes got in on the act as well. Pat Nixon helped organize schedules for her husband, President Richard Nixon, and contributed speeches when he was vice president. Barbara Bush traveled more than a million miles outside of Washington and reported to then-Vice President George HW Bush.
“People are always talking about pillow talk,” Andersen Brower said. “It’s a bit of a different aspect to this – seeing a man play that role.”
Emhoff says he understands “I wouldn’t be here if the country hadn’t elected the first female vice president.” And he stresses that men must “step up” and better support the career of their spouse.
“So many women have had to, unfairly, take a step back from the workplace because of COVID,” Emhoff said. He said he wanted “not just to talk about it, but hopefully set an example of someone who stepped away from his main career to support my wife.”
Born in Brooklyn and raised in New Jersey, Emhoff was a Los Angeles-based attorney specializing in entertainment and intellectual property law who won nearly $3 million in 2019, before quitting his job before Inauguration Day. He and Harris have two adult children from Emhoff’s previous marriage, and the second gentleman now teaches at Georgetown Law School.
Emhoff said nearly a year in his position has taught him that “the role I have is more of a generalist, where I’m just going to go where it’s needed.”
He has been to COVID-19 vaccination clinics most often, visiting more than 20. On a March trip to Mary’s Center, a community health facility in Silver Spring, Maryland, outside of Washington, he calmed down a woman who was nervous about being vaccinated, by talking to her. briefly in Spanish and smiling broadly behind his mask.
Emhoff was “interested in the process. You could tell it wasn’t just for show,” said Dr Tollie Elliott, CEO of the centre.
“It’s really nice to see, when you meet people in these spaces, that they’re human, they’re genuine, and they’re not there just for a picture or for political gain,” said Elliott.
Emhoff has also been active in combating misinformation surrounding the coronavirus vaccine after hearing Americans tell him lies.
“It wasn’t necessarily political. They were people from all walks of life coming back to me with pure misinformation,” Emhoff said. He said he was considering pushing back against the falsehoods like preparing for court cases.
Emhoff says he’s seen vaccine misinformation evolve from misconceptions about cost and availability to claims focused on vaccines causing health problems despite “a year of data” now refuting that. The most persistent misinformation is that people think COVID-19 vaccines were developed too quickly to be effective, even though they derive from years of research, said Emhoff.
“No,” he says emphatically about the falsehood, “it’s not the fact.”
U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy praised Emhoff’s fights against misinformation, saying he “understands the urgency of the issue so viscerally.”
Shortly before Christmas, Emhoff joined Murthy and first lady Jill Biden in visit a children’s hospital near Waukesha, Wisconsin, where a man drove an SUV into a parade, killing six people. Murthy said Emhoff approaches such moments “thinking about his role as a father and a husband, and then he draws his empathy from his identity.”
“You can talk to him like you would talk to anyone else,” Murthy said.
Emhoff said his dinner conversations with Harris often focused on day-to-day issues, adding that they tried to ignore the political criticism the vice president had faced on topics such as US-Mexico border policy and the departures of several senior staff from his office.
“She doesn’t pay attention to it,” Emhoff said of his wife. The couple’s biggest challenge on a night out, he said, is sometimes deciding what to watch on Netflix — especially when there are so many to choose from that they never make one.
Emhoff said the couple would finally think, “‘We should watch this.'”
“And then we realize it’s getting late, and we’ve had a long day, and we’ve got a big day tomorrow,” he said, “and we just don’t watch it.”
Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.