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Doug Emhoff on the role of second gentleman

Second gentleman Douglas Emhoff
Second gentleman Douglas Emhoff 08:22

Few VIPs would let anyone watch them in the very personal act of getting a haircut, even if it is to highlight small businesses during Hispanic Heritage Month. But Doug Emhoff is used to venturing into uncharted territory. "Knowing that in your career you've not covered a haircut, I feel very honored!" he said.

As the husband of Kamala Harris, the first female vice president, Emhoff is the first male to be a vice presidential spouse: there wasn't even a name for it. "A bunch of us were talking about what to call me, since there's never been one of me before!" he said. "It sounded about right: First lady, second gentleman."

Vice President Kamala Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff exit Air Force Two upon arrival at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama, en route to commemorate the 59th anniversary of "Bloody Sunday" in Selma, on March 3, 2024.  SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

Emhoff, who is 59, gave up a successful Los Angeles law practice when his wife became vice president. He now teaches law part-time at Georgetown University. He's content to keep a low profile, quietly attending a small ceremony on September 11 at the memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and having private conversations at the local firehouse with first responders.

"I said, 'Well, someone needs to be here in Shanksville,' and I wanted it to be me," he said. "I really focused on them as people. I wanted to hear their stories."

Braver asked a question all political wives get: "Are you also an advisor to your wife?"

"No," he replied. "I am her husband. She has plenty of people around her giving her advice on her role. I'm just there to support her, to be there for her."

Second gentleman Douglas Emhoff.  CBS News

"When she gets classified briefings, aren't you curious?"

"No," Emhoff replied. "It's surreal sometimes when I know she's in the Situation Room, and I'll see something on the news, like, 'Hmm, I wonder what's happening?' And then when it's not classified it could be, 'Hey, that mighta been what was happening!'"

First lady Jill Biden, who was previously "second lady" during the Obama administration, said Emhoff is a natural. "I think he likes people, he likes dealing with people, he connects with people, and I think that is really important," she said.

Last month she and Emhoff hit the campaign trail in Michigan together, where he talked about the Supreme Court striking down abortion rights: "What they are doing on reproductive freedom, and freedom in general, is just outrageous."

What advice did Jill Biden give Emhoff when he started? "'Doug, don't waste your platform. Choose what you wanna to do and make it yours.'"

Joe Biden And Kamala Harris Hold Campaign Rally In Support Of Abortion Rights
First lady Jill Biden and second gentleman Douglas Emhoff speak at a "Reproductive Freedom Campaign Rally," at George Mason University on January 23, 2024 in Manassas, Virginia. Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Emhoff is not only the first second gentleman, he's also the first Jewish person ever to be in the "big four," as the top two national couples are called. Emhoff and Harris proudly showed "Sunday Morning" a mezuzah, traditionally hung on doorposts of Jewish homes, that they placed on the vice president's house; and Emhoff has taken a leading role in fighting antisemitism.

Harris said, "The work that Doug is doing is really extraordinary. I mean, fighting antisemitism, especially at this moment in time when so many people are living in fear and also just, you know, concerned about what's happening in our country."

Emhoff said, "She said this issue found me – she literally said, 'Now you've got to step up.'"

That was all before the Hamas attacks on Israelis last October. Now, Emhoff is front-and-center, as when he stood in the Rose Garden with the president and vice president at a ceremony in May marking National Jewish Heritage Month. "I know a lot of us are feeling alone, afraid, and in pain," he said. "There is an epidemic of hate, including a crisis of antisemitism in our country and around the world."

Emhoff told Braver, "I process that to this day as a Jewish person – the impact, the emotion, the rage, all these things that so many of us feel."

"What about Palestinian and Muslim Americans who say, 'We're hurting, too'?" asked Braver.

"All hate is bad," Emhoff replied. "The work I've been doing has centered not only on fighting antisemitism, but fighting hate of all kinds, letting people know that a hate against one is a hate against all."

It is a far cry from his former life in California. Born in Brooklyn, he was raised in New Jersey until he was 16, when he moved to Los Angeles.

Correspondent Rita Braver with second gentleman Douglas Emhoff. CBS News

And what was it like to move there? "So cool!" he said. "It was in the early '80s, so it was almost like 'Fast Times at Ridgemont High.'"

But Emhoff always had his eye on his future: "Put myself through college right here in Northridge, and then I got into USC law school. And I worked really hard, set a goal of being an entertainment lawyer. And I made it happen."

Emhoff acknowledged it wasn't Kamala Harris' prowess as attorney general of California that attracted him when a mutual friend wanted to fix them up in 2013. When asked if he actually exclaimed "She's hot," Emhoff said, "I think that's a true statement. It was love at first sight, and we've been together ever since."

They married in 2014, and Harris became stepmom to Emhoff's children, Ella and Cole, from his first marriage, even presiding at Cole's wedding last year.

Doug Emhoff and Kamala Harris, with Cole and Ella.  Instagram

Emhoff's kids have a special name for Harris: "Momala." And the two of them together? "Dougala."

Cole remarked, "I do have to say that Doug is a lot better cook now that he's met Kamala."

But as much at the vice president's family loves her, only a minority of Americans approve of the job that she and President Biden are doing, according to recent polls.

Asked for his response to those who are critical of his wife, Emhoff said, "I'm her husband. Nobody wants to see anyone they love criticized or attacked. But that said, she's vice president of the United States, so this all comes with the territory.

"She's the toughest person out there," he said. "She's so tough. It just bounces right off of her."

And as for second gentleman Doug Emhoff, he is not California dreaming. Asked if he thinks about moving back West if things don't work out in D.C., he stated, "We're gonna win this election. We have to win this election. Literally our country and our world depends on us winning this election.  That is what's gonna happen."

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Story produced by Jon Carras. Editor: Lauren Barnello. 

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