Kerstin Emhoff practically spit out her wine, she recalled in an interview. This was not the pushed legal professional with whom she’d spent greater than twenty years, a person whose concept of a great time was spending hours on a golf course, endlessly watching sports activities on TV or attending professional basketball video games.
“I’m so a lot better than I used to be earlier than,” he stated.
Gobsmacked, his ex-wife smiled, and turned to Harris.
“I don’t know what you’ve accomplished to this man,” she stated. “But it surely’s nice.”
Simply three years later, the developed hubby has grow to be one of many surprising breakout figures within the 2020 marketing campaign, a headliner within the unconventional, pandemic-plagued race for the White Home. If his spouse and her operating mate, Joe Biden, are elected, Harris would accumulate a number of firsts: first feminine vp, first Black Veep, first No. 2 born to Indian American and Jamaican America parents.
Her husband additionally represents a probably gender-role-reversing and groundbreaking historical past maker. He’s the high-powered skilled who has sidelined profession to help his spouse’s sky-high aspirations — whilst his work life is making a prickly conundrum over attainable conflicts of curiosity if Harris takes workplace.
He wouldn’t solely be the primary male partner of a vp, making him — look forward to it, the primary second husband — however he has additionally grow to be the Nice Jewish Hope. A profitable Democratic ticket would make him the primary Jew within the quartet of presidents, vice presidents and their spouses. He’s been known as a mensch so many occasions that it could as effectively be on his enterprise playing cards.
“Clearly there’s an incredible quantity of nachas to have considered one of our personal in that function,” says Alex Weingarten, a former Emhoff legislation companion who’s a outstanding chief within the Los Angeles Jewish group, invoking a Yiddish phrase for pleasure.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), who can also be Jewish, envisions Emhoff as an antidote for “the poison that has contaminated the nation.”
On the path
On a vibrant fall afternoon in mid-October, Doug Emhoff spent his 56th birthday asking for votes in parking tons throughout Virginia. The common-or-garden settings couldn’t be extra completely different from his spouse’s perch that day: the elegant committee chambers contained in the Capitol the place senators have been contemplating whether or not to verify President Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court docket, Amy Coney Barrett.
At a Loudoun County park, Emhoff popped out of an enormous SUV to greet supporters who trickled previous him in honking vehicles after gathering election supplies. In his Biden-Harris T-shirt, denims and Stan Smiths, he’d nearly shed the look of the L.A. legal professional. However not fairly. The properly match, courtroom-ready jacket hints at what he was.
Within the year-and-a-half since, Emhoff has grow to be a such a success for posting candid moments from the marketing campaign and puppy-love photos of him and Harris that he’s spawned a hashtag: #Doughive, a play off the Beyoncé followers’ BeyHive.
Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), who has campaigned with Emhoff, known as the unassuming lawyer an election-year “sensation.” But Emhoff, a person of medium top with a receding, graying hairline, a relaxed method and far-from-imposing presence, continues to be a relative unknown to the typical voter.
Drawn by the sound of the drum, Cari Monroe, an off-duty nurse, wandered over together with her squirmy 3-year-old. Which man was Emhoff, she questioned. When somebody pointed him out, she stated: “He walked proper previous me! I didn’t even acknowledge him.”
Later that day, Emhoff ticked by marketing campaign speaking factors earlier than a socially distanced crowd of a number of dozen in Fairfax County: Trump is out to destroy Obamacare, the nation wants a “inexperienced revolution,” Republicans are as much as “shenanigans” to suppress turnout within the Nov. Three election. It’s bland as buttered toast. However the viewers hasn’t come for podium-pounding; they’ve largely come to see historical past within the making.
“What are we going to name him?” stated Mary Alexander, a 73-year-old retired naturalist.
Oops. She rapidly rejected that one as a result of it’s an acronym which means first girl of the US.
“FHOUS,” she questioned aloud.
No. First Husband of the US doesn’t sound correct, both.
“SHOUS!” she stated, saying it like “present us.” “That’s it. Second Husband of the US!”
Play it once more
Emhoff grasps the political artwork of deciding on an origin story after which setting it on repeat. His model goes like this: Born in Brooklyn. Raised in New Jersey. Glad reminiscences of Jewish summer season camp, the place he received some athletic awards. Moved to suburban Los Angeles when he was in highschool as a result of his father acquired a brand new job. Bar Mitzvah in a corny swimsuit.
Emhoff, who declined to be interviewed for this story, graduated from Cal State Northridge, whose repute is miles behind the celebrated factories of the large College of California system universities. Aaron Jacoby, a former legislation companion of Emhoff, says his buddy’s second-tier undergraduate diploma could have impressed him to overachieve when he stepped it up a number of notches by getting his legislation diploma from the College of Southern California and later starting his authorized profession with an overriding urge to show himself.
After legislation faculty, Emhoff made the compulsory cease at a big agency however ultimately fashioned his personal apply with Jacoby and one other legal professional in a unusual former leisure firm constructing they present in Beverly Hills — a flowery residential Zip code, however faraway from the locus of Los Angeles authorized swagger within the glass towers of Century Metropolis.
Jacoby and Emhoff had met in a Lamaze class when their first wives have been pregnant, and so they noticed one another by every of their divorces. Whereas Jacoby was going by his break up, he says, Emhoff demonstrated a radar for detecting when he was lonely and wanted to be taken to dinner.
Their agency rapidly boomed, and so they grew to become regulars on the upscale lunch spots inside strolling distance, an outward signal of their success. Others might need wanted reservations, however they didn’t. Within the years to return, Emhoff straddled a line — rising star, however by no means too showy. An avid golfer with a handicap within the teenagers, based on associates, Emhoff joined Hillcrest, an traditionally Jewish nation membership fashioned when others not often admitted Jews. It wasn’t one of many fanciest of their image-conscious world, “however fancy sufficient,” Jacoby stated.
Emhoff was the convener, the rainmaker, the organized one, the one who noticed the long run. He persuaded Jacoby to beat his reluctance to fold into Venable, the place he was capable of scale their apply and supersize the bigger agency’s West Coast presence. Later DLA Piper lured him to do the identical.
Constructing groups was his forte, says Weingarten, his companion at Venable. Once they labored on circumstances collectively, they’d good-cop, bad-cop the opposing facet. Emhoff was at all times the great cop.
At Venable, he was arrange on a blind date with Harris, who was California’s legal professional common. Their origin story is finely honed, too, specified by Harris’s 2019 memoir, “The Truths We Hold.” Emhoff texted her from a Los Angeles Lakers sport. He left her a protracted, rambling voice mail by means of introduction; it was awkward however she discovered it endearing. She flew right down to Los Angeles for his or her first date. Early the following morning, Emhoff despatched her an e-mail: “I’m too outdated to play video games, or cover the ball. I actually such as you and I need to see if we are able to make this work.”
The budding relationship was sotto voce.
I’ve met somebody however “can’t say something about her,” Emhoff would say. Jacoby saved guessing it was a starlet.
Quickly, Kerstin Emhoff discovered herself inviting Harris and her ex to a Christmas Eve celebration. Harris clicked with Emhoff’s kids from his first marriage: Cole, who was named for jazz legend John Coltrane; and Ella, named for Ella Fitzgerald.
“We typically joke that our trendy household is nearly too practical,” Harris wrote in her memoir.
When Harris ran for Senate in 2016, Emhoff was largely a bystander, sometimes displaying up at occasions to say issues, equivalent to “Isn’t Kamala Harris nice? I like her,” he recalled in a singsong voice throughout a digital fundraiser with former late-night host David Letterman. Now he’s crisscrossing the nation as one of many marketing campaign’s major points of interest.
“On the marketing campaign path,” says Los Angeles Mayor and Biden-Harris nationwide co-chair Eric Garcetti, “he’s our secret weapon.”
Rats and canines
In August, Emhoff introduced a go away of absence from his legislation apply. He had continued working as an legal professional whereas Harris was California’s legal professional common, and through her campaigns for U.S. senator and the Democratic presidential nomination. This time it was completely different.
Political spouses seldom trigger a ripple, however typically they could be a legal responsibility. One other would-be Veep partner — John Zaccaro, an actual property titan who was the husband of Walter Mondale’s 1984 operating mate, Geraldine Ferraro — brought on an issue when he initially refused to launch his monetary data and his practices as a landlord have been criticized.
Emhoff presents a extra complicated set of questions. Over time, alongside the boilerplate company and actual property work, he has typically represented closely regulated corporations or companies that may be frowned upon on the left.
He represented Merck in circumstances involving allegations that the drug Fosamax brought on bone illness, an entanglement that would trigger look issues given Democrats’ criticism of the drug business. Much more sensitive, his purchasers have included Abbott Laboratories in an OxyContin fraud case, and the arms supplier Dolarian Capital in a dispute associated to a contract to switch weapons from Romania to the Afghan navy.
The circumstances which have gotten essentially the most consideration recently, although, have been the quirkiest. He succeeded in shielding an promoting company from paying an enormous judgment in a case involving the origins of the Chihuahua featured in Taco Bell ads. And he has represented Jukin, a California media firm, in copyright infringement lawsuits associated to a viral video of the so-called Pizza Rat dragging an enormous slice in a New York subway, and others with titles equivalent to “2nd story beer pong dunk fail.”
The issue for Emhoff is that his present agency, DLA Piper, has a Washington lobbying presence. Even when he might work out a technique to construct a firewall between his authorized work and the firm’s lobbying and government work, it’s probably that actual or perceived conflicts of curiosity could be alleged by his spouse’s political opponents. DLA Piper could also be uncomfortable with Emhoff returning to the agency, based on two folks aware of the agency’s tradition who spoke on the situation of anonymity to debate personal conversations. DLA Piper declined to reply questions on Emhoff’s future.
There isn’t a clear-cut conflict-of-interest rule governing vice-presidential spouses, stated Larry Noble, a authorities ethics knowledgeable who served as common counsel for the Federal Election Fee in Republican and Democratic administrations. However that received’t be Emhoff’s largest downside, he stated.
“The issue with appearances of conflicts of curiosity is that they undermine the general public’s confidence of their authorities,” he stated.
Deutch, the Florida congressman who has campaigned with Emhoff and is chair of the Home Ethics committee, stated he’s assured that Emhoff’s skilled choices might be pushed completely by what he can do to assist Harris succeed. The choices made by Deutch — who can also be an legal professional — might be a information. When he was elected, he stated, his “capability to characterize purchasers ended.”
The closest parallel for Emhoff could also be Marilyn Quayle, the spouse of President George H.W. Bush’s vp, Dan Quayle. She made inquiries about resuming her authorized profession when her husband took workplace, however her plans fizzled amid conflict-of-interest sniping and reluctance inside companies to open themselves to undo scrutiny.
“She gave up every thing for her husband,” stated Christian Josi, a longtime Quayle adviser and confidant. “My take is she was by no means completely blissful about it. However she sucked it up for the nation and her husband.” (Marilyn Quayle couldn’t be reached for remark.)
Though Emhoff’s future as a lawyer has generated unease, the potential of his turning into the second gentleman has stirred curiosity amongst some within the Jewish group.
“They ask me if he actually is Jewish — no matter which means,” stated Jacoby, Emhoff’s former legislation companion. “And also you say: ‘There’s a complete listing of issues. He’s pro-Israel. They did break a glass at their marriage ceremony.’ All this stuff they need to know which might be proving his degree of Jewishness. It’s type of humorous.”
Emhoff establishing his Jewish bona fides might act as a counterweight to the slice of Jewish right-wingers who help Trump for exhausting line pro-Israel rhetoric and for transferring the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem whilst an amazing majority of American Jews oppose him and a few outstanding teams have labeled him an anti-Semite.
Associates say Emhoff isn’t a member of a temple and describe him as a lower than observant Jew, who nonetheless identifies deeply with Judaism and has been formed by its values. On a visit final 12 months to Michigan, he went to Temple Israel in West Bloomfield with Marseille Allen, a neighborhood activist. When Allen informed him that she’d not too long ago transformed to Judaism, the low-key Emhoff shocked her by throwing up his arms.
“Welcome to the tribe!” he stated.
An unsure future
Emhoff has been imprecise about his plans if his spouse is elected.
He talked about his curiosity in pro-bono authorized work through the latest digital fundraiser with Letterman. He alerted his lawyer associates within the viewers to count on a name from him in search of their help with efforts to “assist folks get entry to authorized companies.” He additionally made some indirect references to serving to his spouse, and Joe and Jill Biden, convey collectively a rustic wracked by “a lot ache” and troubled by a authorities that’s mistrusted at dwelling and overseas.
Not way back, he participated in a digital discussion board with PL+US, a gaggle that advocates for paid household and caregiver go away, stated Katie Bethell, the group’s founder and govt director. The group’s digital occasions often draw a number of hundred attendees. When Emhoff appeared, they acquired 60,000.
“I’m doing what I at all times do: supporting Kamala, being there for her, loving her,” Emhoff informed the viewers, “and giving her no matter help she wants.”
Afterward Bethell says a girlfriend of hers despatched a textual content message.
It learn: “I need a Doug.”
Alice Crites contributed to this story.