Doug Emhoff, husband of Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, is preparing for his new job as the country’s first Second Gentleman in a different way than future First Lady Dr. Jill Biden is.
While Dr. Biden plans to continue working as a college professor, Emhoff plans to leave his job as an entertainment lawyer by inauguration day to support Harris in her new role and also start his own, according to the Associated Press.
Both of those choices are valid. Some people choose to step down from paid work to support their spouses or families. Others don’t. It’s an individual choice and one that women make more often than men in our society. Dr. Biden and Emhoff are both rewriting the social script in an important step toward equality.
Emhoff’s law firm, DLA Piper, has lobbied the federal government on behalf of some of their clients, such as Comcast and the Puerto Rican government, Axios reported. Emhoff left his position in preparation for his new role, but he likely also wanted to get ahead of potential ethical conflicts from working at a firm that has lobbied the government, even though he himself isn’t a lobbyist, the AP reported.
Historically, the First and Second spouses work on their own projects, often related to social issues. It’s unclear exactly what Emhoff plans to take on, though during a fundraising event on the campaign trail he said he wants to focus on “access to justice,” according to USA Today.
He said experiences he had as a young lawyer going to the Los Angeles’ Superior Court affected him. People who needed legal help would stand in the halls. “Just tugging at my, at that time, double-breasted jacket to say, ‘Help. Help,'” he said, according to USA Today. “It was just so impactful.”
Barbara Perry, director of presidential studies at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, told The Guardian that second ladies have traditionally worked on “soft power” issues related to healthcare, nutrition, and literacy.
“We tend to put women who’ve been in these roles in these boxes, and we don’t let them beyond a certain limit,” Perry told The Guardian. “And it will be interesting to see how we treat Doug Emhoff. Will the difference in gender allow him to do more?”
In past interviews, Emhoff has said that he spent so much time campaigning as hard as he could for Biden and his wife that he hadn’t given much thought to what his title would be. He told Marie Claire in October that he’s just a “guy.”
“I’m just a guy. I’m not a politician,” he said in the interview. “I’m a lawyer; I’m a guy; I’m a dad.”
Emhoff’s “just a guy” attitude was a hit on the campaign trail. He was often sent out on the trail alone — one Biden-Harris campaign official called him their “secret weapon” — and he would speak to people one on one.
In an interview with Chasten Buttigieg, the husband of former presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, Emhoff said the smaller campaign events in more rural areas were really meaningful to him. For example, he spoke to children in Nevada who lost their parents to drug overdoses, and Flint, Michigan residents who don’t have clean drinking water.
“It just really opened my eyes, and it made me a better surrogate because I was able to bring what I’d call `Notes from the Field,'” Emhoff told Chasten Buttigieg. “I would always come back from these trips and do a download and just say, `Look. This is what’s going on and we need to focus on this, this and this.’ You get overwhelmed because you just want to help all these folks and you want to help the campaign.”
Whatever Emhoff does in his role as Second Gentleman, he’s sure to be breaking barriers just like his wife, who will be the first woman, first Black person, and first Asian-American person to become vice president. Emhoff, in addition to being the first man in the role, will also be the first Jewish spouse of a president or vice president.
At the end of the day, though, Emhoff says he isn’t in it for the politics. “I was just a lawyer with kids trying to make a living,” he told Marie Claire. “I’m not overly political. I’m overly her husband.”