East Room

2:43 P.M. EST

     THE PRESIDENT:   Well, Cateo, I tell you what, you didn’t there — we have a little ongoing thing in — in the administration. 

     As you’ve mentioned, there are a fair number of African Americans in high places in my administration, but — and I’m always hearing about Howard — great school; I’m hearing about Morgan men; I’m hearing about — you know, all these other things.  But I keep talking about it: Delaware State.  (Laughter.)

     And although I went to the University of Delaware, I tell you — there’s an old expression: “I tell you who brung me to the dance.”  Delaware State University is in the southern — the middle of my state — in Dover, Delaware.  And the lower — we have the eighth-largest Black population in America, as a percent of the population.  And the lower two counties are fairly conservative compared to the northern county. 

     And I — I operated out of Delaware State for a significant portion of my career and campaign, as the gentlewoman from the state of Delaware can tell you.  (Laughter.)

     And there was a guy named Tony Allen who used to work for me — worked for me for years.  He went out and he got his PhD.  Then he left and became a president.  You know, he’s now — Tony, stand up — president of Delaware State University.  (Applause.)

     And I learned a long time, from good friends of mine in Delaware in the Civil Rights community, that if you want to know where the real power in America lies, it’s in the Divine Nine.  (Applause.)  We’re in the only administration in history that actually has an office.  Right, Jim?  We have a Divine Nine office.

     So, I — I understand — I understand, as they say, who “brung me to the dance.”

     And all kidding aside, you’re going to be incredible, old buddy.  You’re going to do well.  You’re going to do very well.

     And, you know, there is a — I don’t know if they’ve been introduced, but my Secretary of Defense — Secretary Austin — stand up.  (Applause.) 

     My Secretary of Housing, Secretary Fudge.  (Applause.) 

     My Administrator — the guy who’s running and taking care of the EPA and all the rest — from Carolina — (laughs) — Administrator Regan.  (Applause.) 

     And Acting Director of OMB — the woman who has all — controls all the money — (laughter) — Shalanda — Shalanda Young.  (Applause.)

     And a woman who — I really mean it — has let the whole world know who we are.  No, really.  A woman who has been so incredibly effective in her job.  But it wasn’t until recently — until the outrage of Putin and Soviet Union — and the Soviet Union — trying to re-establish the Soviet Union, basically, but — and Russia.  To hear her, to listen to her run the debates on — at the Security Council, as well as the General Assembly at the United Nations — Linda Greenhouse [sic] — Thomas-Greenfield.  (Applause.)

     And a woman who knows a little bit about the economy — Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, Ceci- — (laughs) — I kid her all the time, being from Princeton, but — (laughter) — (inaudible).  Cecilia, congratulations.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

     And, Mr. Secretary — I’m talking about Cateo right now — (laughter) — I think they’re ready to elect you anything you want to be, pal.  (Laughter.)

     Look, I want to welcome everyone to the White House.  This has been — it’s been a long drought, the last year and a half, not being able to have not just Black History Month, we weren’t — not able to have any gathering here at the White House of any crowd at all.  And it’s good to have you back.  It’s wonderful to be able to host this event in person.

     And it’s great to see so many friends.  If I begin calling out — calling the roll, we’ll be all night here, and I don’t want to do that.  But so many significant leaders who’ve changed the face of America sitting in the audience, not on this stage.  So, thank you all so very, very, very much.  (Applause.)

     My name is Joe Biden.  I’m Jill Biden’s husband.  (Laughter.)  As you’ve already figured out, I can’t dance.  (Laughter.)  I do it, but I ain’t good at it.  (Laughter.)  And — (laughs) — oh man, you have great opportunities now, don’t you, Jilly.  (Laughter.)

     Tomorrow, I’m going to be delivering the State of the Union Address.  And today, I simply want to thank you for all you’ve done for me, for all of the country.   So much has been accomplished in the people in this room.

     Black History Month is more than a celebration.  It’s a powerful, powerful reminder that Black history is American history.  Black culture is American culture.  Black stories are essentially an ongoing story of America. 

     I see it every day with the Vice President and the incredible job she’s doing. 

     We see it in the Black members of the Cab- — my Cabinet and the White House staff who are here today, who serve to defend the nation; protect the planet; build the economy; deliver housing, jobs, and justice. 

     And we see it the tireless, heroic efforts of the Congressional Black Caucus.  And I want to — I’m going to embarrass him, but I want — the former Chairman of the Black Caucus has come over to help me run things.  Cedric, stand up.  Let everybody see you.  (Applause.)

     I used to — I never played golf until I was 46 years old.  I got to be pretty good.  Then I — and I asked Cedric to help me in my campaign.  Then I played golf, and he beat the hell out of me.  I wish I had never done it.  (Laughter.)  I don’t know.

     And so many state and local leaders and faith leaders here — lawyers, educators — that are here today.

     And, of course, we see another first in the nomination of Ketanji — well, you saw her.  I guess you saw Justice Brown — Justice Brown Jackson, who is on the — on the Circuit Court of Appeals right now.

     She is an incredible woman.  This is a woman who graduated magna cum laude from Harvard.  She graduated — she was editor of the Law Review.  She has done so many other things. 

     But I want to make it clear: Not only is she is eminently qualified, there were so many others I had to choose from.  I can tell you, Jim — Jim is — supported all the nominees, but the one he most supported (inaudible) — I’ve already nominated her to be on the Circuit Court of Appeals, the second-highest court in the nation.  (Applause.)

     But Judge — Judge Jackson is going to be an outstanding justice.  She’s part of an incredible group of Black women who I’ve nominated to the federal bench.  We’ve nominated more Black women to the federal bench than any administration in the history of the United States of America.  (Applause.)

     Well, I made that commitment when I was running for President, and I’ve tried to keep that commitment my whole career. 

     You know, and the first executive order I signed when I came into office — and it was with Cedric’s help.  I sat down, put pencil to paper — or pen to paper, and signed a — I instructed every single element of my administration, every department, from the Defense Department to the — to the Justice Department and on, that equity should be the center of our — all of what we do.  And we did that in the COVID-19 response.  Remember at the beginning, everyone was concerned whether or not, as usual, African Americans would be left behind. 

     Well, we helped Black — they — we helped raise the vaccination rate among Black Americans and bring it on par with white adults.  All — the same across the board.  

And I want to thank the members of the Black Coalition Against COVID represented here today as well.  (Applause.)

And I also want to thank Derrick Jones, also as D-Nice — (laughter) — for being — stand up, man.  Let them see who you are.  (Applause.)  He provided the soundtrack of hope to keep our spirits up during the worst days of that pandemic.  And thank you, thank you, thank you, man.  (Applause.)

You know, when I took office, I said, “the American story depends not on” how many of us — “any one of us, not on some of us, but on all of us.”  “On all of us.”  So, we’re investing in all of us. 

So many of you here helped enact the American Rescue Plan to deliver immediate economic relief with Rescue checks, to tax cuts, to eliminate — and the estimate is that we’ve cut Black poverty by over 30 percent.  We’ve reduced child poverty by more than 50 percent in the Black community.

The American Rescue Plan also included historic funding that allowed cities and states to invest in community violence intervention programs and keep neighborhoods safe.  

Look, you were critical in getting the Infrastructure Law passed — a bipartisan bill that’s going to get — that’s going to do so much.  It’s going to replace decades of disinvestment in the United States of America.  A commitment to reconnecting communities and people and job opportunities.  Lots — so much of what they — the early investments in highways and in interstates — they cut neighborhoods in half.  They divided things.  We can put it back together again. 

Clean water.  High-speed Internet.  It’s going to — we’re going to eliminate every lead pipe in America so our children don’t have to worry about whether they’re drinking poison water, in effect. 

And as part of that law, we made Minority Business Development Agency permanent and seeded it with $110 million so Black businesses can get the capital they need to grow.  (Applause.)

And I’m also proud to be joined by Opal Lee, when — we made the Juneteenth the first federal holiday in the last 40 years.  (Applause.)  It’s good to see Ms. Lee here.  

You know, we’ve made landmark investments of $5.8 billion in Historic Black Colleges and Universities not just because we’ve got some serious advocates for Howard and Morehouse — (laughter) — and other HBCUs you’ve heard of, like Delaware and others.  (Laughter.)  But all — but all kidding aside, because they offer so much promise to the nation — so much promise. 

It’s good to see the many HBCU leaders here tonight, including Dr. Devona Williams of Delaware State; Tony Allen — I mean, Tony of Delaware State, chair of the Board of Advisors of HBCUs.

And, look — and I want all of you to know, we’re ready to closely investigate the cowardly, un-American bomb threats against HBCUs.  That’s underway.  (Applause.) 

We have so much more to do as a nation on making everyday things more accessible and affordable.  As my friend Jim Clyburn says, “That’s the test of whether government delivers.”  Are they accessible and affordable?  Prescription drugs.  Child care.  Housing.  Make healthcare more affordable and make progress on Black maternal health, something that Kamala has been leading the effort on.  (Applause.)  To end cancer as we know it by putting science and technology to work to address the inequities in testing and diagnosis and access to care.   

And, you know, we’ve got work to do to deliver police and criminal justice reform as well.  Even though Congress isn’t acting, we are making changes in federal law enforcement policies: banning chokeholds, restrictions on no-knock warrants, requirements on federal — for federal agents to wear and activate their body cameras, ending the Department of Justice’s use of private prisons. 

All of this is being — is happening.  And the Justice Department has opened pattern-and-practice investigations for systemic police misconduct in several key police departments in the country. 

We’ve just got to stay on it.  With your help, we’re going to keep pushing on this. 

And we — we’re protecting our country’s threshold liberty, the sacred right to vote, which I’ve never seen as under such attack.  You know, it’s always made it harder for Blacks to vote, but this is trying to be able to figure out how to keep the Black vote, when it occurs, from even counting. 

Over the past year, we’ve directed federal agencies to promote access to voting.  We’ve — we’ve appointed top civil rights advocates to help the U.S. Department of Justice, which is — has doubled the number of voting rights enforcement on — enforcement folks on their staff. 

And, again, we call on Congress: Pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.  (Applause.)  Pass the Freedom to Vote Act.  (Applause.)  We can do this.  The American people agree with us — Black and white, Hispanic and all.  

Let me conclude with this.  Look — I don’t want to take much more of your time, but let me conclude with this: I know progress can be slow and frustrating.  But I also know it’s possible if we work together, if we keep the faith, if we remember the changes and the charges that have passed down to us from all those who came before us — many sitting in this room right now. 

You’ve heard — you know, as you‘ve heard, we had a wonderful exhibit downstairs celebrating Black History Month.  And I want to thank Lonnie Bunch and the Smithsonian, as well as the Library of Congress for their — giving us access to their collection. 

When I introduced Judge Jackson on Friday out in the hallway here, I thought about the display that holds the signature of the Judicial Oath of Office sworn and signed by Thurgood Marshall himself. 

It was Justice Marshall who reminded us, in a speech shortly before he died, and I quote, “America can do better because America has no choice but to do better.”  “America has no choice but to do better.”  It’s a powerful reminder of the history of the journey of America and the power each of us hold to write a more just and hopeful chapter.  And I really mean it. 

I am more optimistic about our chances to bring equity to this country than we ever have before now.

And if you wonder about it, just take a look — take a look at the dif- — the reason I have so much hope is the younger generation.  Those folks be — they learn from grade school through 30 years of age.  Look at what’s going on.  Look at how they act with one another.  There’s not this isolation.  There is everything you see — everything you see from television commercials, down to how we act with one another. 

We have so much going for us.  We got to just let them have their shot.

Folks, I want to thank you all for being here.  I really mean it.  I want to thank you for all you’ve done, all that we can do, and being committed that we’re going to do so much more.

So thank you, thank you, thank you.  May God bless you all.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

(The President and First Lady move to exit.)

Q    Mr. President, should Americans be worried about nuclear war?

THE PRESIDENT:  No. 

3:00 P.M. EST                 

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