Remarks By Vice President Harris At The House Democratic Caucus Annual Issues Conference
South Court Auditorium
Eisenhower Executive Office Building
EST THE VICE PRESIDENT: Majority Whip Clyburn, you have touched me so with that introduction. I am so honored to be your friend. I am so honored to be around you whenever we are near, to hear your words, to hear your stories, to hear the lessons you have learned and have yet to teach. You are a treasure for our country. Yes, you are a bulldog too. I’m a bison, but I respect. But you are an extraordinary leader of our country, and I’m so thankful to you, and I feel blessed to know you.
And to everyone — Speaker Pelosi — Nancy Pelosi; Majority Leader Hoyer; Assistant Speaker Clark; and the members of the Democratic Caucus: It is an honor to be with you tonight.
Chairman Jeffries, Vice Chair Aguilar: Thank you for inviting me to join you and for the honor of being a part of this conference.
As we all know, this is a critical moment for this caucus, for our party, and for our country. And it is a critical moment for a number of reasons that are obvious. But those — those reasons also tell us that we face big challenges that may also present opportunities if we have the ability and some- — sometimes just the courage to see what’s in front of us and to take it on.
As you all know, more Americans have died from COVID-19 than died in combat in both World Wars and the Vietnam War combined.
Fewer Americans are working today than were working in the aftermath of the Great Recession. So many of us worked together on that issue, both in terms of what was happening with foreclosures, what was happening in terms of predatory lending. People hurt then, and they are hurting now.
We’ve seen the tragedy of ice storms that have knocked out electricity for millions of families, where people froze to death, were without food or without drinkable water.
In my home state and so many on the western part of our country, wildfires have burned up millions and millions of acres and caused people to become homeless.
So I’m not telling you anything that you and your constituents don’t know. Many of you and your staff members were here also when the riots took place. The rioters attacked the United States Capitol and our democracy at the same time. And you have shown such strength and compassion in the wake of January 6th.
And on behalf of the President and myself, we thank you.
When President Biden and I were getting ready to take office, we knew what the country was up against. We knew we needed to be ready to go on day one. And all of you stood with us, making sure that we would not stand alone to do what needed to get done.
Together with you, we started to plan not with abstract problems in mind, but with real people in mind — the people in each of your districts, the people that we all serve:
The frontline workers who hold their breath from the time they leave home to the time they leave work, praying that their family stays healthy.
The small-business owners who keep changing their business model again and again; still feel like they may have to close their doors. They are innovative. They are trying. And still yet, they don’t know if they can remain open or open again.
The women who are juggling so many responsibilities, at work and at home, and women who wish they just had a job at all.
The students in rural America who are attending school virtually without a decent interconnection, if they have one at all.
And, of course, our seniors who feel isolated. Our young people who feel isolated.
The days — these days have been long for the American people. And in focusing on them, the path forward is nonetheless clear.
First and foremost, the American people, as you all know, need immediate relief. We have now gotten more than 50 million shots in arms. The President was talking about it again today, and, of course, the new arrangement that we have that is going to make even more vaccines available faster than we even predicted.
Weekly vaccine shipments are up to 15.2 million doses. New vaccination centers are opening around the country. In fact, I’m going to talk to some folks in Pennsylvania and Illinois tomorrow about the mass vaccination sites that are going to open there.
And through it all, we continue to remind the American people of how important it is to mask up. Yes, real leaders agree people still need to mask up and stay distanced. And, I guess, the point that I’m making on that, given the news that we heard today, is the significance of you as national leaders. You represent your constituents in your district, but you also represent the country, and you’ve been extraordinary in that leadership.
And so I want to thank you, on behalf of the President, for the most recent incredible work that you have done to meet the needs of the American people — to see their needs and to hear their voices when you, as members of the House Representative, passed — as Democratic members of the House Representative passed the American Rescue Plan.
With this plan, we have the opportunity to get millions more shots into arms; to send out millions of $1,400 checks to the people who need them; to save millions of jobs through small business relief; to safely reopen millions of schools. And again, today, the President talked about the priority around vaccinations for teachers.
We have an historic opportunity right now to lift up — and you did this by getting it through the House, and we now need to see it through to the Senate. But we have a historic opportunity to lift up one in three black Americans and Latino Americans, and to lift half of the children who live in poverty, out of poverty. Think about that: Half of the children in America who are living in poverty won’t be if we see this thing through.
And I know there are tough days on the Hill. I know there are days when it feels like we have to do more, we could do more, we must do more.
But I do want to say, last Saturday, you all did a whole lot. You did a lot. And in coming together to pass the American Rescue Plan, you brought the country this much closer to defeating this pandemic, to restoring our economy, and to getting us back to some semblance of normal — although I will say that I know when we are talking about normal, we’re not talking about back to what wasn’t working; we’re talking about normal as it should be for everyone.
So, again, I want to say thank you. And, you know, listen, we have to see it through. So let’s keep telling the nation why this legislation is so important.
And on the American Rescue Plan, we’ve been laser-focused, and we need that same discipline and determination, moving forward.
Last week, I had the opportunity to sit down with some of the members of the Congressional Black Caucus: Congresswoman Beatty, the Chair; and Hayes and Williams; and then, Congressmen Jeffries and Cleaver. And I look forward to meeting with all of the members of the Caucus.
But I’ll tell you, in that meeting, we talked about how getting back to normal isn’t enough, because the way it was just wasn’t good enough; because for too many Americans, “normal” means working multiple jobs and still struggling to make rent. And in the America that we envision, we all know nobody should have to work more than one job to keep over — a roof over their head and food on the table. “Normal” means not being able to save enough money to pay off debt, much less start a business. That’s the normal for before. “Normal” has meant a childcare bill that’s equal to a paycheck.
The truth is inequity has become the norm, and the pandemic has been an accelerated. It has accelerated the flaws and the fissures and the failures in our systems and in our structures.
So the work in front of us is to fix those problems, to call them for what they are, to be clear-eyed, to speak the truth, and then to fix the problems.
And it’s an incredible opportunity, if you think about it. For so long, we have talked about creating an economy that works for all. And part of the — the opportunity of this moment is to know that now we have a chance to do it, or at least get closer to it. We just need to have the courage as individuals, as leaders, and as a country to be bold, and the courage to go big, and the courage to see what can be, what should be, unburdened by what has been.
So there is one area on this point that I’d like to focus on, among the many that deserve focus. But one area, if we are in the month of March, that I’d like to focus on today, and that is the topic, the issue, the national emergency about women in the workforce.
So, Congresswomen Rosa DeLauro and Barbara Lee were generous enough to meet with me and Senators Murray, Cortez Masto, and some of the other women leaders recently. And in that meeting, we talked about the challenges that women face right now between mass job loss, small business closures, and a lack of childcare. We also talked about how these challenges, while acute in this moment, are not new.
As many of you may know, my mother — God rest her soul — was a scientist. She was a breast cancer researcher. My mother had two goals in her life: to raise her two daughters and breast cancer. And every weekday and on many weekends, if not most, she went to work in the lab. And when she did, my mother would go to work and my sister, Maya, and I would walk two houses down to the home of Mrs. Regina Shelton from Louisiana, who became a second mother to us. Without the care Mrs. Shelton provided, my mother would not have been able to go to work. My mother thanked Ms. Shelton every day. Without the care Mrs. Shelton provided, my mother would not have been able to make the contributions she did to help find a cure for breast cancer.
And I’m sharing this with you all to make a point, which is a lived point for so many of us. For women, childcare has often been a prerequisite for work. And for many other women, childcare is their work. So we need to take a 360 view of women in the workforce. And as I think about it, think about a whole new ecosystem. Think about it as a cycle, starting with childcare. So let’s make sure childcare is available everywhere, including in rural America and all of those childcare deserts.
And we need to make childcare affordable for everyone. In doing that, we also have to think about childcare workers, because, of course, that’s how we have the childcare we need in most situations, especially if you don’t have the blessing, as a working woman or parent, of Mrs. Shelton living two doors down.
And let’s make sure that these childcare workers and all workers are paid fairly and are treated with dignity and treated with respect.
And finally, we know that a lot of childcare centers — okay? — because here’s what I’m talking about in terms of the cycle and the circle of it all — and we know that many childcare centers are owned by women. So we are talking, yes, about women-owned small businesses.
So let’s think about how we are supporting women entrepreneurs and giving them the support they need so their business can survive and thrive. And in that way, let’s make sure that as our public policy around women in the workforce grows, that we also pay attention to equal access to capital.
So, to all the friends, I really do believe that now is a time when we can build an economy that works for all people and that we must pay attention to all of the folks that we represent, including making sure that it works for women, knowing that, among those who are now out of the workforce — and we’ll talk about this a little later — two and a half million womens [sic] are now — the numbers I’m seeing may be permanently out of the workforce. And we should think about it in a way that we think about what we do that is about everyone getting that kind of support.
And when we do that, we will create the kind of change that lasts for generations. And, you know, I’ll tell you, being — having been the first woman in most of my jobs, people have often asked me to talk about women’s issues. You know, these reporters will come up to you. It’s a — you know, I guess they think it’s a — the original question. “Tell us about women’s issues,” they’d say. And I always look at them, and I say, “You know what? I am so glad you want to talk about the economy.” Because that’s the truth, isn’t it?
When we recognize the inequities, when we lift up the economic status of women — let’s realize, when we lift up the economic status of women, we lift up the economic status of families and communities, and all of society benefits.
So there are those who will continue to say that what we’re doing now is too big and too bold. I would remind them that our nation is at its best when we do big things. Think about it: the New Deal; the Great Society. In America, when we shoot for the Moon, we plant our flag on it.
And for those of us here today, it is important to remember that for the first time in a decade, Democrats have a majority in the House, Democrats have a majority in the Senate, and Democrats are in the White House. And some of us have never experienced this before. But let’s own it by working with Republicans when we can and by driving ahead when we must.
We won’t have complete agreement on everything. In a democracy, that’s always the case. The Speaker and I agree that “diversity is our strength, [and] unity is our power.” We’ve all heard her say that so many times, and it couldn’t be more true.
So let’s not let this moment pass us by. We have the responsibility and the ability, and the wherewithal and the commitment and the conviction, to confront the crises that are before us now. And we have the opportunity to create lasting change for generations to come. Because again, we are talking about looking at the systems, looking at the inequities, and seeing this moment of crisis as a way to finally fix the flaws and the failures and the fissures.
So let’s seize this moment, knowing the people — the people will feel it when we do. If we seize this moment, history is going to remember.
And the last point I’ll make is that the President and I look forward to partnering with you in the days ahead. We are so thankful for the work you tirelessly do every day. There, you have been holding it down, as — as Whip Clyburn said these last four years, being a voice of conscience, a voice of clarity, truth telling. And we thank you so much. Let’s do this together.
And may God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America. Thank you all.
END 8:45 P.M. EST