Doug Emhoff Is 'Learning About Wallpaper' and Says Karen Pence Has Been 'Very Gracious in Giving Advice'

When Kamala Harris was picked as Joe Biden's running mate, life "changed on a dime, without any time to breathe or reflect," Emhoff tells TIME in a new story

Kamala Harris
From left: Doug Emhoff and Sen. Kamala Harris after she accepted the Democratic vice presidential nomination on Wednesday night in Delaware. Photo: OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty

In less than a year, Doug Emhoff has traveled to 30 states in his job as second gentleman. On Tuesday, he's joining his wife, Vice President Kamala Harris, in Paris on a trip to meet with French President Emmanuel Macron.

And, yes, he's also "learning about wallpaper," which is another important aspect of his role, he tells TIME in a new profile of the country's first-ever spouse of a female vice president.

"I'm doing things that I probably wouldn't have done," Emhoff, 57, said of a supporting role to his wife of seven years that includes traditionally "genderized" tasks like picking china and wallpaper, "because one: it's part of the job. And two: it helps her."

Emhoff has tackled a range of new responsibilities — the White House says he's focused on equality and human rights; and he's made trips to spotlight food insecurity and other issues. But it's been an adjustment for someone who used to practice entertainment law in Los Angeles before setting up the second gentleman's office in the Eisenhower Executive Building, next to the White House and overlooking the Washington Monument.

When Harris was picked as Joe Biden's running mate late in the summer of 2020, life "changed on a dime, without any time to breathe or reflect," Emhoff told TIME. "It was just like a rocket ship."

Vice President Kamala Harris visits with her husband, Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2021, in the Second Gentleman’s Office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building of the White House.
From left: Vice President Kamala Harris and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff. Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson

As he's immersed in the trappings of the White House, presidential protocol, the intense security and heat of the political spotlight, Emhoff has learned as he goes — and had only minor missteps.

Asked about a buzzed-about moment during the inauguration in January, when he forgot where to stand as his wife approached on the steps of the Capitol, Emhoff told TIME he "just got overwhelmed."

During President Joe Biden's first address to a joint session of Congress, Emhoff admits he "looked like Forrest Gump" when he waved at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and blew kisses at Harris while the country's two most powerful women waited for the commander in chief to take his speak to the nation inside the Capitol.

"He never used the word lonely, but I think there's so much stuff that he can't do," a friend tells TIME of how Emhoff has adjusted to a level of scrutiny that might consider blowing kisses to your wife a blunder.

jill biden, doug emhoff
From left (center): Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden. CAROLYN KASTER/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Despite being first at being second, Emhoff isn't on his own and has received help from former second ladies, like Vice President Mike Pence's wife, Karen Pence, and, of course, First Lady Dr. Jill Biden who served as second lady during Barack Obama's years in the White House and quickly became a buddy to Emhoff when their spouses ended up in a campaign together.

"Mrs. Pence," Emhoff tells TIME, has been "very gracious in giving advice."

Emhoff has also bonded with fellow political spouse Chasten Buttigieg, who is married to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and says that his pal's easy and natural approach to his political position is refreshing.

"In politics, you're expected to be very guarded," Chasten, whose friendship with Emhoff stretches back to the Democratic presidential primary, told TIME. "But he would see me down the hallway and he would shout my name across hundreds of people."

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