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Second gentleman Doug Emhoff talks historic role, Harris criticism in first interview

CHICAGO — Doug Emhoff said in his first one-on-one interview as second gentleman that Vice President Kamala Harris has likely been treated differently because she is a woman of color and defended Harris from Republican criticism on her role addressing the root causes of migration.

"She has faced challenges as a groundbreaker her whole career," Emhoff said in an interview with NBC News. "When you're breaking barriers, there's breaking involved and breaking means you might get cut sometimes, but that's OK,"

Emhoff, the country's first-ever second gentleman, sat down with NBC Wednesday just hours after the White House announced that Harris would visit the U.S.-Mexico border for the first time since taking office.

Harris has been criticized by Republicans for not making the trip sooner. She defended her decision not to visit the border despite the humanitarian crisis in an interview with NBC's Lester Holt earlier this month, saying that she would do so "at some point."

The announcement came shortly after House Republicans said they would join former President Donald Trump for an event at the border next week.

While Emhoff said that "no one wants to see anyone they love attacked or criticized," he said that was "part of what she signed up for in this life of public service" and that certain criticism was "part of the territory."

Emhoff shrugged off suggestions that Harris' decision to go to the border now was motivated in part by the former president.

"This is just the next phase in coordination with other parts of the administration," he said. "Kamala Harris is not driven by any political issues or political pressure."

As the first male spouse to occupy the U.S. Naval Observatory, Emhoff said that he hoped to use his historic position to pave the way for future second gentlemen and to set an example of a supportive partnership for other men.

"Men have to step up and step up for the people that they love and actually show it," said Emhoff. "Don't keep it inside, don't hide it, but it's OK to show it. It's manly to love and care about others."

"I'm only in this role because the country elected the first woman vice president and that happens to be my wife, Kamala Harris. So I just start there. I also start with: I'm a husband and a father first and just support her in any way I can," he added.

Emhoff was in Chicago Wednesday as part of the administration's nationwide tour aimed at encouraging people to get the Covid-19 shot. It is unclear what policy issues Emhoff will chose to focus on beyond the pandemic, but as the first Jewish spouse of a vice president, he said he hoped to continue to use his position to speak out against anti-Semitism.

"I'm going to keep doing what I've been doing which is advocate on these issues," he said. "Kamala Harris has had a long history with the Jewish community, not just because she married me. So this isn't just me. It's the entire administration."

Emhoff also spoke about the number of life changes he has had to adjust to since becoming the second gentleman. He left his job at a corporate law firm in Los Angeles earlier this year, started teaching at Georgetown University Law Center and has gotten used to Secret Service officers joining him wherever he goes.

Emhoff has also had to adapt to constantly being in the limelight, a lesson he said he quickly learned on Inauguration Day after a video of him struggling to decide which side of Harris to stand on went viral on TikTok.

"When you look around you realize that just about everything you do is in the public eye," Emhoff said. "That’s when you realize there are no private moments."

As for whether he and Harris have discussed a second presidential run, Emhoff said they are "not talking about that."

"We've spent zero seconds talking about that. Just so focused on task at hand," he said.

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