Dec 29, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Doug Emhoff steps into his own

Photo illustration of Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff in front of a gavel and gavel block and various shapes

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

America's first "second gentleman" is quietly building a policy portfolio that draws inspiration from his past pro bono work.

Why it matters: Doug Emhoff, an entertainment and media lawyer, stopped practicing when his wife, Vice President Kamala Harris, took office.

What we're watching: Emhoff earlier this month kicked off an annual legal aid roundtable with Attorney General Merrick Garland focused on how the federal government could simplify its processes for people seeking legal aid.

  • "I've seen firsthand — both as a lawyer and seeing many other lawyers over the years — the difference a lawyer can do," he said at the event.
  • "In many cases, it's life or death. It's being able to get benefits; it's being able to get food; it's being able to keep a roof over your head."

Emhoff has quietly participated in about a half dozen listening sessions since August of last year, visiting pro bono clinics and meeting with legal aid providers and their clients.

  • He has an office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building and comes to the White House campus almost every day, administration officials told Axios. He's also teaching at Georgetown Law School, and will continue to do so next year.

What they're saying: Emhoff‘s office declined an interview request. At the event with Garland, he recalled being a young lawyer and experiencing "gratitude and thanks and that feeling of purpose as a lawyer when you were able to keep somebody in their home."

  • "Everyone should have access to legal representation," a White House official told Axios. "Through a whole-of-government approach, we will build on our efforts to reform the justice system, and address the most urgent legal needs of communities across America."

The big picture: COVID has increased the number and frequency of cases in which lower income folks encounter situations where they might need legal help.

  • Those relate to housing and employment issues, and instances of domestic violence among other matters.
  • President Biden last year directed DOJ to reopen the Access to Justice Office, which was shut down under former president Trump.

Zoom out: Besides the law, Emhoff has looked to his faith — there has not previously been a Jewish spouse of a U.S. vice president or president — and his gender to blaze a trail.

  • He became the face of the administration's response to antisemitism following antisemitic comments from rapper Ye, and former President Trump's dining last month with white nationalist Nick Fuentes.
  • Emhoff has also put the spotlight on his wife's historic role, highlighting gender equity and the importance of having women in positions of power.
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