Doug Emhoff has now had a week and a half to adjust to being second gentleman of the United States. It’s been a ride.
Emhoff recently had a private tour of the Library of Congress, where he learned the history of second ladies who came before him, and also got to touch historical items such as Rosa Parks’ bible and Abraham Lincoln’s law notes.
“I just love this stuff!” he said excitedly to the camera, along for the tour to capture Emhoff’s thoughts.
The optimism, while not naïve, is somewhat in the vein of the blush of the new.
Emhoff spent most of his life until now as a Southern Californian, working at big-time law firms, first as managing director, then as partner, negotiating and navigating contracts and litigating on behalf of clients, many of whom were in the entertainment industry. Now he’s got an albeit small Secret Service detail, a mini-motorcade, a bedroom at historic Blair House and — last but not least — a United States vice president as a spouse.
Emhoff, who has been married to now-Vice President Kamala Harris since 2014, was somewhat used to Washington, DC,’s machinations, mostly via Harris’s previous job as United States senator, but when she joined the presidential campaign, Emhoff truly got a taste of politics.
By last August he was taking a leave from his law firm; by Inauguration Day, Emhoff had severed ties completely, not wanting to incur conflicts of interest. Giving up a home state, friends, family, even a career, and doing so with grace and expectancy, is often the case for political spouses of this magnitude, the only difference here is that the spouse is a man, and the vice president is a woman. In an essay for GQ earlier this month, Emhoff called the campaign, “a pretty humbling experience,” admitting, “no one knew who I was.”
This week, that began to change. Emhoff had experienced on the trail a smidge of the policy questions, personal queries and general curiosity of the American public and the press, but now, and henceforth, his place in history as the first second gentlemen cemented, that will only intensify.
“Will food insecurity be one of your issues?” asked a reporter on Thursday afternoon as Emhoff was making his way back to his Suburban after his first solo public appearance, at an inner-city, nonprofit gardening program designed to help those in need receive healthy food. Emhoff turned and faced the small group of reporters who had tagged along to capture the second gentleman spread his wings: “It’s an issue for everyone,” he responded. “It’s got to be an issue for everybody. So, I want to do what I can to amplify it.”
During his half-hour visit and tour of the facility, Emhoff — bundled against freezing temperatures in a coat, scarf, gloves and, yes, mask — was taught how to compost (“Learn something new every day!”), what the group does with leftover vegetables for soup (“Great on a cold day!” he quipped) and how volunteers have dedicated themselves to the project. It was perhaps the first of what will likely be dozens of visits to community events and tours of schools, farms, factories and other places that will roll out the red carpet in the hopes of illustrating to Emhoff the second gentleman the importance and urgency of issues he would only be perhaps minimally exposed to as Emhoff the L.A. lawyer.
“This is just so amazing to see the passion, the way these folks are approaching it, coming to a school on a plot of land that hadn’t been used and actually grow food and serving the community that way and also to educate the community about what’s going on,” he said to the press of his thoughts on what he had just witnessed. “And it’s also cool learning about the center they’re going to build and how they are doing to approach it in the future. This is great. We’re in very good hands.”
He is also the father of two adult children, 21-year-old Ella and 26-year-old Cole, the former of whom is also finding newfound fame in the public eye, this week being signed to IMG Models as one of the venerable agency’s fresh faces. Emhoff, 56, was married to movie producer, Kerstin Mackin, for 16 years.
In an interview with Irish Times after the inauguration, Ella Emhoff commented on the bizarre situation her family is now part of: “I think the idea of sharing our parents with the world is kind of insane. Like, it’s a really cool thing to wrap your head around — because you get to share all the great things, but it’s also like, Huh?!” Cole added, “It’s weird to turn on CNN and see my dad. I’m, like, “Wait, you don’t belong there! But I guess you do?”
Emhoff hasn’t completely turned off his former self. On Thursday, the same day he ventured out to his first solo appearance, he also taught his first class at Georgetown University Law Center, where he is now serving as Distinguished Visitor, teaching an “Entertainment Law Disputes” class, once a week for the spring semester. Asked how his first day had gone, Emhoff answered simply, “Great!”
The event, press and secret service and staff in tow, and the new teaching gig, are all part of Emhoff’s new Washington world, where he will for a time feel like most newcomers in the political fishbowl: observed and judged. If he is intimidated, he did not show it on Thursday. He was most excited to get home to Blair House — where he and the vice president are living across the street from the White House for several weeks while planned renovations at the VP’s Observatory Circle mansion take place — and share what he saw that day with his wife.
“I always do. Every time I do something, every time I learn something, it’s like notes from the field,” said Emhoff. “We’ll talk about it tonight.”
Just like normal.