REMARKS BY VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS AT WOMEN-LED SMALL BUSINESS ROUNDTABLE
Providence Innovation Center
Providence, Rhode Island
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Madam Secretary. And I just want to say to Rhode Island: Thank you for so many things, including the Secretary — Ms. Gina Raimondo — and your former governor. I worked with her before when she was governor. I am so excited to — doing the work we’re doing together.
As you being the Secretary of Commerce — having a leader who is the Secretary of Commerce; who understands business; who understands people; who understands local government, state government; understands the impact and the influence of the federal government — especially at this moment in time as we attempt to see our way out of the depths of this pandemic, to have Gina Raimondo in this position of leadership as the Secretary of Commerce, is so important to our nation. So, thank you, Rhode Island, for that.
Listen, the — we — as the Secretary said, we have seen devastation across the board take place over the last year and some months because of the pandemic. But, in many ways, the pandemic was an accelerator; it accelerated for those for whom things were bad and made it worse. It accelerated certain inevitabilities that were based on the failures and the fissures of our systems. And so, predictably, we saw that among those who suffered the most, women were among that group.
And for the reasons that the Secretary has mentioned –when we look at the fact that women are disproportionately more likely to be the caregivers in a family of not only children, but elderly relatives — and then the pandemic, of course, highlighted the fact that our children could not go to school and they would be at home, and so that’s where their mothers needed to be.
With elderly relatives, what needed to happen in terms of the particular care, especially because so many of them had to be isolated, and therefore did not have the ability to go out of a home — to go out of where they live — to meet their basic needs.
And so, we saw almost 2 million women leave the workforce during the course of the pandemic, highlighting a number of issues. That includes also understanding that you combine that with the fact that when you lift up the economic status of women, you lift up the economic status of families, and all of society benefits. Then, the point of the desperate impact on a particular woman — one must understand how that can extend itself to the impact on families and all of society. So that is the lens through which we look at this issue.
And for the President, for our administration, for the Secretary, focusing on small businesses has been very purposeful and intentional when we think about recovering, but also growing our economy.
Half of America’s workforce works for small business or runs a small business. So — and then, we also know that one third of small businesses here in Rhode Island, and nationally, went out of business because of the pandemic.
So, as we attempt to get through the worst of the pandemic, get folks back on their feet, it is also our intention to address the longstanding failures of our systems in a way that we support women-owned small businesses, understanding that impact — that impact which is profound on all of society.
So we’re here to talk about small businesses, and we are here to talk about women-owned small businesses and what it means to be a woman running a small business so that, as we move forward, we can incorporate all of the intentions of not only the American Rescue Plan, but the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan in a way that we address longstanding challenges, but also that we address the potential and the opportunity that is present when we look at how women-owned small businesses run and function and contribute to their communities.
So, with that, I thank you all, and I turn it back over to the Secretary to moderate our conversation.
(The roundtable discussion commences.)
(The roundtable discussion concludes.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you, each of you. You are inspiring many people that you may not meet but will hear your stories and your courage and your commitment, your drive, your ambition — your fabulous ambition.
And the reason that I am here is to highlight the work that you all have been doing. It is to carry your stories as the story of America’s economy and the potential of America’s economy.
You know, I often — have come up with this phrase that I’ve been using a lot, which is, you know, “American aspiration” — our ability to see what can be, unburdened by what has been.
And in the midst of, then, this pandemic and all that it created in terms of loss and pain, there are certain things that should come out of that that are about giving us a sense of optimism, about getting through that and then being even better.
You know, some people talk about going back to normal. Eh, normal was okay. It wasn’t so great for a lot of people, however. Let’s — let’s do better. Let’s do better.
And part of doing better is we must support our small businesses; and see you and what it means for you to do what you do each day; and make sure that, within the infrastructure that keeps you going, that keeps you up and running, that we are supporting that with policy and with support that is about resources.
And so that is the design behind the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan. But the way that we’re going to be most effective is for everyone — in particular policymakers and legislators — to be able to really see: Who is America’s small business? How does it actually work? What are the engines that drive it, beyond the personal courage and ambition and creativity of the individuals? What are the structures that must be in place to make it work?
And so that’s why we’ve been here today — to hear your stories, to carry your stories, to take them back. And also, we’re here to applaud you for all that you’ve done with great sacrifice and fortitude.
So, thank you all very much for this time and all that you do. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
And, with that, I’ll take a couple of questions from the press.
Q Madam Vice President, Majority Leader McConnell today said that 100 percent of his focus would be on stopping the administration’s agenda. How does that impact your desire as an administration to still try to work with Republicans? And does it increase the potential of ending the Senate filibuster and just abandoning the attempts to (inaudible)?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: The President and I have been very clear, including his remarks in the chamber during the joint session of Congress, that we will continue to attempt to work on the most pressing issues facing the American people in a bipartisan manner, which is why we’ve been holding meetings in the Oval Office with bipartisan members of the United States Congress. We intend to continue that.
We are sincere and serious about what the potential to actually get something done together. We believe it’s possible, and we’re not going to give up on that until it becomes evident that it’s not possible.
Q What role do you intend to play just (inaudible) on Capitol Hill (inaudible)? I know a lot of the economic aides are having meetings, (inaudible) meetings. But what role did you plan to play as a former senator?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, as Vice President of the United States, I will continue to play the role I’ve been playing, which is meeting with senators, meeting with members on the House side, meeting with our policy groups, meeting with folks who are on the ground to actually — those folks who will be directly impacted by our work — to get feedback and to also share with them what we have done already that will assist them, such as — we talked about the Restaurant Revitalization Funds and the PPP — things of that nature. So I will continue to do that work.
Q Some quick news of the day, Madam Vice President and Madam Secretary. You said it yesterday in a speech — quote, “we must respond” to the situation in El Salvador, and the government — that the government there is stripping away the independence of their country (inaudible). You’re obviously working a lot on root causes of immigration in Central America and Mexico. What kind of specific response are you hoping for —
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah, I —
Q And can you tell us any more about your plans to go to that region?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Sure. On the topic of El Salvador, we are still assessing our options, but there is no question that when I look at the challenges that come from the Northern Triangle, we have to take El Salvador into account. But as it relates to what’s happened in terms of their court, we are still assessing what they’re going to do.
In terms of my travels, currently the plan is for me to travel to Mexico and Guatemala June 7th and 8th. And I’m very much looking forward to that trip. As you know, it will come after a variety of work that we’ve been doing thus far, which has included now my second direct conversation with the President of Guatemala. I’m going to be talking with the President of Mexico again this week.
This will be the second conversation I’ll have with him. I have convened members of our Cabinet, including this Secretary, who has agreed to convene a virtual trade mission to the region.
We have the Secretary of Agriculture, who has stepped up to do work as it relates to the challenges that that region faces because of extreme climate conditions, which have resulted in a number of tragedies, including drought.
And also we’ve convened America’s — some of America’s best foundations to renew their interest in that area, and also increase their involvement in the area.
So — and I have been talking with CEOs about a component that I believe could be very beneficial in terms of our initiative around private investment in that region.
But again, the speech that I gave, you’ll know that I also am taking into account the challenges that have long existed and continue to exist around corruption in the region, and the challenges that that creates in terms of a return on the investment of the work that we put into that region. If this issue of addressing the challenges of the Northern Triangle were easy, it would have been solved a long time ago.
It will not — the work we are doing will not evidence itself overnight. It’s going to require a consistent and long-term strategy and commitment, which I’m prepared to follow through on.
Q On the Facebook decision today regarding former President Trump —
AIDE: Thank you, guys.
Q (Inaudible.) (Laughter.) (Inaudible) saying they have six months to figure out a more just response to the removal of the former President.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: You know, I heard — I hear about their decision. I have — I want to understand a little bit better how they are thinking about this. I’m not very clear on that.