Remarks by Vice President Harris in a Roundtable Discussion on Public Transit
University of Cincinnati
12:51 P.M. EDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Chairman Brown. My friend, Sherrod, thank you. Thank you for everything that you do. I — yes, I have traveled this beautiful state many times actually with your Senator. And he — I will just say: Whether the cameras are on or off, he is the same person. He is always fighting, in particular for the working people of Ohio, but for America. And you are a great national leader, Sherrod — Chairman Brown, so thank you for this. And thank you all for the time.
So I look forward to getting into this conversation, but, you know, I’ll put it in the context of also — again, back to the Chairman: He chairs a committee in the United States Senate that is named “Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee.” And I remember talking with the Senator when he first took the chairmanship, and he said, “You know, people always refer to it as the ‘Banking Committee,’ but the ‘Housing and Urban Affairs’ part of that committee is equally impactful, if not more, in terms of the direct impact on working people.” That’s who the Chairman is.
And so, when I think about the work that happens out of the United States Congress, the work we can do as an administration, I do think of it through the lens that he has talked about it, which is: “How are we going to have direct impact on working people? How are we going to improve the condition of their lives? How are we going to make it doable?” Because sadly, that’s, at some point, the goal — much less easy, but let’s just start with making it doable.
Can they raise their families, get to work, get to the grocery store, satisfy their basic responsibilities and functions to raise a family and to be productive in their community and in their lives? And so, that’s the context in which I think about this very important subject, which is the subject of public transit.
And, you know, when I think about it, I think about: Good transit equals vibrant communities. Right? So if we think about it in terms of an investment in public transit, it is an investment in job creation. It is an investment in improving communities. It is an investment increasing access to opportunity.
Literally, if there is a bus line that was — is within — and a bus stop that is within walking distance and not half a mile from someone’s house, what that means in terms of their ability to have access to the job that may be miles away from where they live. And often it is the case for working people in America that they cannot afford to work where they live, and they need to then travel some distance. And it shouldn’t require that you have the financial ability to own a car, pay insurance, pay for new tires to be able to go to work.
So I think about public transit in that context. I think about it in the context of what it means for a working parent to be able to take her children, to take his children to school and not have to walk long distances or figure out some other way to get a ride from somebody to take one’s child to school, especially the youngest of our children.
I think of it in the context of the fact that in so many communities, sadly we are still at a place where we talk about food deserts; where we talk about the unavailability of grocery stores that sell fresh food, much less fruits and vegetables. And people have to travel distances. Well, our public transit allows that to happen. It is that basic on that assumption.
And then let’s think of it in the context of what the pandemic did. And in the midst of extraordinary loss, we also saw the pandemic as an accelerator in the — in that it — it highlighted and, for so many people, illuminated longstanding fissures and failures in our systems. And it highlighted the importance, on this point, of the importance of public transit, where so many of our first responders, our healthcare workers, we- — our homecare workers relied on public transit to get to work every day to continue doing the work, which was about saving lives — often the lives of people who were perfect strangers to them.
I think about it in the context — and the President talks about this; he talked about it a couple of days ago at his — at his me- — at his — the meeting of the joint session of Congress — about good jobs — good jobs. And the jobs are about the jobs that will include growing the infrastructure around public transit. The good jobs are the jobs about all of the folks who work to make public transit work, including a wonderful leader that we talked to before we walked in here.
It’s about what we’re going to do in the American Jobs Plan — $110 billion — that’s with a “B” — for transit agencies: $85 billion to modernize and expand transit and $25 billion to electrify transit buses — something that we talked about here, Mr. Haley.
And then there is the last point that I’ll make about transit being good for public health and the climate. Because that means a lot of folks can get on a bus, and those folks then are not driving. And we are reducing greenhouse gas emissions. We are reducing emissions that are harmful to our climate.
It is about what you’re doing here in Cincinnati — and it’s happening around our country. And the American Jobs Plan will help grow that exponentially, which is also the creation of electric vehicles and electric transit — public transit.
So there’s so much good work happening here and happening around our country as an extension. And let’s continue to invest in public transit in America, understanding that it’s about supporting working families; it’s about supporting our infrastructure, our economy, and our public health.
So, with that, I will turn the mic back to the Chairman so we can begin our discussion. And thank you again.
(The roundtable discussion begins.)
(The roundtable discussion concludes.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Well, this has been a very insightful conversation and I have taken copious notes. But I think that what — what this conversation has revealed are the many dimensions and therefore the many people in the various capacities of their lives — how they are impacted by public transportation.
And we can start with the workers and the — and the fact they are essential workers — and, by the way, should not be sacrificial workers. And that means understanding what they need, in terms of being in the workplace and a safe environment and giving them the support that they deserve as well as — as the Chairman and I always talk about — recognizing the dignity of that work and the value of that work, and recognizing it in every way, including pay and benefits.
It means understanding the significance of — and, Mr. Koen, you said it so well — we have to pay attention to racial equity because to not is to neglect the reality of the need to pay attention to racial inequity based on longstanding inequities.
But thinking of it in terms of — also, the opportunities, be it for Mr. Haley, in terms of what you’re doing with this transit authority or the Chamber of Commerce, and what this can do in investment in public transit that is about job creation; building up the economy; bringing — building up productivity; building on the cultural institutions of a community which always have an impact on the wellbeing and the quality of life of any community — access to arts, access to sports, access to those things — and hopefully that our public spaces, Professor, that create a quality of life that every person should be entitled to receive.
I — the points that you have made, Professor, about public spaces, I think, is so important. And I really — I appreciate the point that you were making also about thinking of the realities of sidewalks, streetlights as being part of the transit ecosystem.
If that parent — if that mother or father can’t walk that stroller because the sidewalks are uneven or are falling apart, and she’s got a child in a stroller and a toddler, well, that’s going to mean that — that that will take at least twice as much time for her to get up, get down — and hopefully have somebody help her with the stroller — to get to the bus stop. Lights, and what that means in terms of the safety for both the workers and the — and the folks who use the system.
So, I think this is — this has been an incredible group to really highlight all of the facets and all of the relevancy of an investment in public transportation — which, again, infrastructure — and the Chairman and I’ve talked about this — infrastructure, you know, it’s a fancy word for just how do you get to where you need to go. (Laughs.)
That’s really what it’s about: How do you get to where you need to go, hopefully without struggle and with some level of ease. Because, usually, where people need to go — they need to go to work, their children need to go to school, they need to go to the grocery store, they need to go to the place where they worship, they — these — they need to go to a sports game from time to time.
So I appreciate you all for this conversation and all the work you do. And I plan to highlight it. And, of course, the President thanks you for the work that you’re doing. This is a great model for what our country will and can do.
Thank you. And, Mr. Chairman, thank you again.
SENATOR BROWN: Thanks. Thank you very much, Kamala. Thank you.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
SENATOR BROWN: Thank you, everybody. This is really enlightening.
Q Madam Vice President, could you speak to the crisis in India right now concerning COVID? And what lessons do you take from that?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: It — there is no question that it is a great tragedy what we’re witnessing, in terms of the loss of life. And as I have said before and I will say again: We — we, as a country, have made a commitment to the people of India to support them. And we’ve made already a commitment, in terms of the dollar amount, that will go to PPE and a number of other things.
But it is tragic. And, you know, my prayers go to the — to the people and the suffering that’s — that — the blatant suffering that is happening.
Q Does it give you any concern about how their experience could affect what’s happening in the United States, concerning COVID?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I mean, we are all part of a world community. And to the extent that any of us, as human beings who have any level of compassion, see suffering anywhere around the world, it impacts all of us. You know, it impacts us all.
Q Madam Vice President —
SENATOR BROWN: Could I — could I — could I answer that briefly too? I — this President and Vice President have reengaged with the world already: Paris Climate Accord, reentering the World Health Organization. We all know that the World Health Organization, with the U.S. as the leader, eradicated smallpox, essentially with public health; eradicated polio; kept Ebola virus from spreading here and elsewhere.
So we know they — they are committed to reversing the policy of the last four years to disengage from the world. And that — that will only mean more good news for a terribly suffering country of India now.
AIDE: We’ll take one more question.
Q Madam Vice President, regarding infrastructure, as you’re continuing to push the American Jobs Plan: What’s your message and how are you going to approach Republican voters or voters in general who may be skeptical of this expanded definition of infrastructure? Because the conversation here right now was focused on infrastructure as, you know, hitting all corners of life, but a lot of voters feel that it should just be roads and bridges.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I am willing to bet you that when the people of Cincinnati get on those buses being driven by Troy Miller’s members, they do not ask, “Are you a Republican or a Democrat?” I’m willing to bet you.
When we are talking about those moms who need to walk on the sidewalk to get to the bus — pushing a stroller and walking a toddler — they are not identifying their problems through the lens of who they voted for in the last election.
When we are looking at the capacity to grow the economic vitality of communities, including small businesses, and increase the productivity of a workforce, much less expand the workforce, what — what we know is that the reality is that people — regardless of who they vote for and with which party they’re registered with — that’s what they want. And that’s what they want to see their government focus on.
Q Thank you.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
Q Can you speak to your priority for broadband, Madam Vice President?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: It is a high priority for me. And I am — it is something I’ve worked on for quite some time. It is — it is an extension of this conversation, frankly.
I gave a speech yesterday talking about this. I was in — and you will appreciate this, Chairman — I was with our former colleagues Maggie Hassan and — and Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire, visiting the New Hampshire Electric Co-op. And I met with some workers there who were part of a legacy of folks at that co-op who helped build electrification for rural New Hampshire. And it was on the basis of the work — literally, the physical basis of the work they did, as a result of the 1936 Rural Electrification Act — which was about saying, “Let’s get electricity to everybody” — to say, “Now, let’s get broadband to everybody,” because it’s the same point.
Kids can’t do their homework without access to the Internet. You know, some of us had Encyclopedia Britannica. Well, let me tell you, that is a day gone by. (Laughs.)
Our seniors — we now know the capacity of access and affordable access to broadband to bring healthcare through telemedicine.
Again, our small businesses — we — it has become very clear: For a small business to actually survive, much less thrive, they need access to high-speed Internet to be able to move their product, to advertise their product, and to engage with their customers.
So it costs — crosses all levels, all communities. And, you know, in the past, with electrification, I think it was one of the great examples of the role and responsibility of the federal government to meet the needs of the people where they are and to invest in America in a way that we will be competitive going forward. Broadband is the next — is the next example of that.
Q And do you see any bridges in this area qualifying for that top-10 list?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I can tell you that I know about the Brent Spence Bridge. And it is a very important bridge in America. And I am sure that there will be a lot of conversation about its qualifications for some support out of the American Jobs Plan.
1:41 P.M. EDT