REMARKS BY VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS AT WEST HAVEN CHILD DEVELOPMENT CENTER
West Haven Child Development Center
West Haven, Connecticut
5:03 P.M. EDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Hi, everyone. Sit. Sit. Sit. Sit. Sit. Sit. (Laughs.) Thank you, Mr. Secretary. It is so great to be here. And I have to tell you, I was downstairs with the incredible congresswoman, who I’m about to talk about, and the Secretary. And, you know, when I look at those children, our babies — because I was raised to understand that the children of the community are the children of the community — and I look at those — I mean, those kids are whip smart. They have all kinds of questions. I am positive there is one of them who will be President of the United States. (Applause.) She is just phenomenal.
But when I look at them — and we all know this; this is why we are here together. When a child is supported with the infrastructure that lets them know that they are loved, that lets them know that they have beautiful brains that must be fed, that lets them know they will be safe and they will be encouraged to be, that lets them know that they are respected in the context of themselves and their families, these children can and will be anything they choose. And in that way, our future is bright.
I want to talk about Rosa DeLauro for a second. So you mentioned our meeting in the Oval Office with the President when we were crafting the American Rescue Plan. And there was a handful of members of the House that were a part of that meeting — and for the various components of the American Rescue Plan, they were there because of their longstanding leadership. And I think Connecticut knows, and I don’t have to tell you, what a jewel you have in Rosa DeLauro. (Applause.)
She has been singularly and tirelessly — singularly, with a lot of people because also no one says “no” to her — (laughs) — been fighting for this — been fighting for it.
I was in the Oval Office with the President this morning before I came here, and he said — as I was walking out, I said, “I’m heading to Connecticut.” He said, “Please tell Rosa I love her.” That’s what he said. He said, “Please tell her I love her.” And — and so in front of all the friends, I just want to publicly thank you for all that you do. You tirelessly challenge our country and its leaders to see our children and to understand that when we lift them up, we lift up the entire country. Can we please just applaud Rosa? (Applause.)
Governor, it’s been great to spend the day with you. I want to thank you. The work that is happening here in Connecticut — and there’s a reason that we’re here. We have a big country, right? But so soon after the passage of the American Rescue Plan. And one of them is because of the work that you are doing together with my two buddies, the Senators Blumenthal and Murphy, and what is happening around leadership in Connecticut. Johanna Hayes is extraordinary and a real model for the country of what happens when we see our children, when we see them in the context of their families, and when we invest in them. So thank you to all of you.
So, I was raised by a mother, my sister and I. And my mother had two goals in her life: to raise her two daughters and end breast cancer. My mother was a breast cancer researcher. She was one of the very few women, much less women of color, in science at that time, but she was passionate about those two things: her children and the work that she was doing in research around breast cancer.
And she worked long days and she worked weekends. And so — and, in fact, it’s so funny, my aunt sent me a letter that I wrote to her when I must have been about, I don’t know, maybe 10 years old, and I was describing to her how Mommy would always — you know, when we would leave, make sure you have your lunch and make sure you have your house keys. She worked long days and weekends. But when she was working those long days and weekends, my sister Maya and I would walk two houses down to the house of Ms. Shelton — Ms. Regina Shelton, from Louisiana, who actually ran the daycare center that we lived above. And we would go to her house and that’s where we would be, and our mother would come to pick us up when she was finished with her work that day and on the weekends.
Ms. Shelton was a second mother to us. My mother went on — and now I know this because I’ve actually talked to Tony Fauci at NIH — my mother would go on to actually make certain discoveries in breast cancer. And every day of her life, she talked about the fact that — as it relates to the two passions she had in life: raising her two daughters and researching with a hope of ending breast cancer — would not have been achievable without Ms. Shelton.
It’s so fundamental. It’s so fundamental. It is about our children and all that a society should do, understanding that the children of the community are the children of the community, and, in that way, we have a collective responsibility. It is fundamental to say we should check ourselves sometimes when we say that we care about education. Well, we know, sometimes, not so much about the education of other people’s children.
It’s so fundamental to recognize — we did an earlier event with the governor and the senators — that we know that when children don’t have their basic needs, that they cannot perform. And then, we have to rush resources — the General knows this — rush resources from every other system to make up for our failure to invest in them at the earliest stages of their life in the first place.
It’s so fundamental what we are talking about, not only in terms of what is morally right, but what is right in terms of how we develop and craft a society that is not only functional, but that allows all people to thrive. A society that does not require that you are exceptional to thrive. A society that understands that with an investment, we reap great rewards. That’s what this is about.
So, the President and I, and all of us who are a part of this, are really excited about the American Rescue Plan, because through this plan, we are going to lift half of America’s children out of poverty.
Now, why should we care about that? We care about it because lifting folks out of poverty means dealing with issues like food insecurity, which is a fancy new way of saying people are hungry in America. We care about it because it’s about saying, “Let’s invest in our childcare centers and our childcare workers.” (Applause.) Can I get a witness? (Laughs.) Understanding that when they are well resourced and are appropriately valued for the gift they give the society, that we all benefit.
Let’s relate it to what we need to do when we think — you know, I do many things with the President every day. We, of course, are focused on foreign policy. We understand that we need to compete as a nation in a global economy; that these investments will reap huge rewards as a return on the investment when we think about investing in our children at their earliest stages — knowing what we do then will then compound the interest in the investment so that we can compete as a nation and be strong. All of these things are connected.
And this was the intentional purpose of the American Rescue Plan, which was to look at childcare, to look at our childcare workers, to look at our children, to bring them out of poverty, and to do what has long been overlooked, which is to understand that, you know, our children — we cannot, in public policy, subordinate them as, you know, is — because, I guess, they’re little people, little problems — and instead, understand.
Again, if you just want to go to what our friends in the private sector — how they judge themselves: What is the return on the investment? If you invest in our children, you’re going to get a huge return on the investment.
And so that’s what we’re talking about, and we hope to build on it. But a large part of our success is going to be the success that you have here on the ground. I know there are childcare workers here, there are educators here, there are parents here, there are young leaders here. And the work that you are doing, in terms of the implementation of this plan, is going to make all the difference.
And the other way that we’re thinking about it is also pointing out that these things are actually possible when we have the will and the courage to focus on our children and that there will be support.
You know, the President is very proud — you may have seen his press conference the other night — but that there is bipartisan support for this approach. Right? That there are certain issues in our country that should not even be bipartisan, but nonpartisan, and one of them should be our children.
So we are doing this together. We are all doing this together. And we’re doing it also with an understanding that in order to best help the child — let us also not get into that situation that has happened at times on policy, affecting children, where it can get a bit paternalistic — let’s make sure that we are also agreeing that one of the best ways to help a child is in the context of the family in which that child is being raised. And that means supporting that family also.
And so that’s what we did in terms of the extension of unemployment benefits, what we did in terms of the $1,400 check to help people out in terms of direct payments, so we can get people back up and running.
But I’ll close by saying this: I believe in that — that saying that in every crisis there is an opportunity, if we see it for what it is. This pandemic resulted in so much loss to human life; people lost their jobs, loss of normalcy. So much loss and devastation. And this pandemic was in many ways an accelerator, meaning, for whom things were bad before, they got even worse. And it also magnified, then, the fissures and the failures and the fractures in our system. So you say, “Kamala, okay, talk about the opportunity now.” Right?
The opportunity is: More people are seeing that, yeah, affordable childcare is a big deal. More parents are seeing the value of educators when they had to bring their kids — (laughs) their kids — (applause) — and say, “We’re not paying them nearly enough.”
We started to talk about things like paid sick leave and paid family leave, because guess what? We’re all in this together.
So therein lies the moment of opportunity that we all collectively, I know, are going to take full advantage of in terms of saying, “You know what? There’s consensus. We’re all in this together.” Everyone can see something that maybe only some of us could see before. So let’s get to it.
And let’s not be incremental. Let’s leapfrog over the problems and get into the next phase of all of this. Invest in our childcare workers. Invest in our childcare centers. Invest in our children. Pull people out of poverty. Agree that it is not okay in the United States of America that children go hungry.
This is the opportunity before us right now: the opportunity to address longstanding racial disparities in every one of these systems, be it healthcare, education, the economy. Deal with the fact that over 2 million women left the workforce, in large part because of dual responsibilities and the need to address those responsibilities.
We are at a moment, I believe, that should cause us to have great optimism about what is possible. And we are all a part of it.
So, it’s Friday. (Laughs.) It’s the second weekend of spring. I left D.C. and it — I think the cherry blossoms are about to come out soon, and flowers are blooming, and at least we see those little buds. And we have a moment where we can see, kind of, a spring.
So let’s go into this with all of the wounds we carry, but let’s go into it with a sense of optimism about what we are capable of doing when we do it together. Thank you all. (Applause.)
END 5:17 P.M. EDT