Remarks by Vice President Harris in Conversation with Representative Nanette Barragan at Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute 2022 Leadership Conference
Walter E. Washington Convention Center
REPRESENTATIVE BARRAGAN: Well, hello, everybody. Bienvenidos. Bienvenidos a toda mi gente Latina. Welcome, everybody. Thank you for being here.
Madam Vice President, what an honor it is to be here with you today and to have you here as part of CHCI Week to share with us and talk to us today about what you’ve been hearing across the country.
But before we do that, I want to just take a moment to recognize everything that you have done and continue to do. You have been a staunch ally for Latinos and Latinas across our country, from your days as Attorney General of California; to your time as senator, fighting for DREAMers and essential workers and DACA recipients; to your time as Vice President.
And one of the things people may not know about is her work on water issues and your work on environmental justice, something that’s near and dear to me. And so, thank you for that. We don’t hear too often — or enough — about you and your work and everything you do for us.
So, thank you, thank you, thank you. It’s quite an honor to have another Californian here at the table. (Applause.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
REPRESENTATIVE BARRAGAN: And just last year, we brought together, with your leadership, Latina entrepreneurs to hear about their stories and their struggles. And that was unprecedented before and just another symbol and another action of her commitment to our communities and to everything you’re doing for us.
And so, I want to just say thank you. You have been somebody for the people — para la gente, para neustra gente, nuestra comunidad. So thank you for that.
And, you know, before we get started, you know, this is CHCI Week — the theme is: “Rooted in Strength, Achieving your — Achieving our Dream.” And so, there’s nobody more fitting than that than to have you here onstage taking questions.
And my first question is actually not part of what we’re going to talk about, but I think it’s so important. I think about, you know, Latino heritage and my mom. And I remember she used to make tamales for Christmas. And my mother is older now; she doesn’t have that ability to do. But the first question for you is: What do you like to cook? (Laughter.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I love to cook. I love to cook, and I come from a family of good cooks. And probably most of the — most important conversations that ever took place in my family intergenerationally took place in the kitchen.
So, I was sharing with the congresswoman, and I — first of all, I just want to say thank you for your leadership, because I have watched you up close, fighting every day for the people of your district, the people of California, and nationally. And we have an extraordinary national leader in Nanette Barragan, and I want to thank you for what you do every day — truly, truly. (Applause.)
So, I love to cook. I love to cook many things. I mean, you know, my go-to is a roast chicken. But I was sharing with with you backstage that — because you were talking about tamales. And every Christmas, I — we had a tradition — my mother passed away years ago, but — of — I make chili relleno — my mother’s chili relleno recipe every Christmas morning.
REPRESENTATIVE BARRAGAN: Woo-hoo!
THE VICE PRESIDENT: It’s our family tradition. So that is one of my favorite things to cook, too.
REPRESENTATIVE BARRAGAN: Well, I’ll have to get invited someday to try out the chili relleno.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Oh, and —
REPRESENTATIVE BARRAGAN: I love chili relleno.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: And let me — wait, let me just tell you something else.
So, I live in the official residence of the Vice President, right? So, we have — there’s a little garden there, and I have been planting — and I know I’m the first Vice President of the United States to do this — chili peppers. (Laughter.)
No, like a whole selection. I have habanero. I have scotch bonnet. I have Thai chili peppers. I’m growing all these chili peppers in the in the garden at the Vice President’s Residence. And so, I guess, you know, it matters where you come from to know what you want. (Laughter.)
REPRESENTATIVE BARRAGAN: Oh, boy. That’s heartburn for me. (Laughter.) Okay.
Well, Madam Vice President, this is a historic moment. We’re sitting here, you’re the first Black woman Vice President. And your example means something to others. (Applause.) So, I want to start there.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah.
REPRESENTATIVE BARRAGAN: You serving in your role as Vice President is historic and represents many firsts for our country. What do you say to young leaders — Latinos, Latinas — who are listening about your experience thus far and what your advice for them as they follow in your footsteps and break barriers of their own?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: So, my mother had a lot of advice for us — my sister Maya and me — growing up. And one of them, she would say to me, “Kamala, you may be the first to do many things. Make sure you’re not the last.”
So, I’m going to ask the — this group of leaders: Raise your hand if you are the first in your family or the first in your community to do something. Exactly. Make sure you’re not the last.
That’s the responsibility that we each carry. And it is a huge responsibility because we know that when we chart that course — and if for our family or our community it was the first time that a member of the family or the community saw it, they applaud it and they look to you then for an additional level of leadership, in addition to the thing that you are charting in terms of the work. You then represent so much about the possibility that each of us has and was born with.
And that’s — that’s a burden to carry, no doubt. Because with it comes the responsibility of inspiring people to see what they’ve not seen before; with it comes the responsibility to inspire people to have a sense of vision about what can be, unburdened by what has been.
And everything that you do in charting that course will make a difference in the lives of people you will never meet — people who may never even know your name, but will have a lasting impression not just on people that look like you, but all people because it expands their ability to understand what is possible.
And so, I say then — I was speaking with the interns — the CHCI interns and the fellows, and I’m going to — they just heard what I said, but I’m going to share it for everybody else.
Many times, most of us have this experience: You will walk into a room — a meeting room, a boardroom — and you will be the only person that looks like you or has had your life experience. Never walk into that room feeling alone. Know that when you walk into that room, we all walk into that room with you.
And so, chin up, shoulders back, because you carry the voices of so many people who are proud you’re in that room and expect — here’s the point about the responsibility — that you will then carry their voice and own your authority to use that voice that will invariably improve the discourse and the decisions that are being made in that room. But know: Every time, you are not there alone. We are all there with you. (Applause.)
REPRESENTATIVE BARRAGAN: That’s amazing. That’s amazing. Thank you for reminding us about that.
And, you know, that reminds me that you have been on the road a lot.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yes.
REPRESENTATIVE BARRAGAN: And out and about. And it’s great to see you on the road, because people want to see you out there. And I’ve seen your interaction with our leaders and our children, and it’s really quite remarkable. You’ve been meeting with communities, Latino communities, and business owners and union members and leaders. What are the common themes in terms of what people are feeling and what they’re sharing with you?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: So, we are 56 days before the midterms. And I’m going to then put my comments in — in the context of just the reality of the moment, which includes we are 56 days from the midterms. (Laughter.)
And so, what — the conversations that I’m having include this: being with a group of people who stood in line for hours in 2020, whichever group that may be — small business owners; Latina business owners, like you said; families; parents with young children; seniors.
And the conversation is — includes, “Thank you, because you stood in line for hours.” We had the largest turnout in a very long term — in terms of an election, including the largest number of young voters.
And when you stood in line, you were standing in line to put in your order. You said, “Deal with child poverty in America and support families.”
And so we — our administration was able to extend the Child Tax Credit, which reduced child poverty in America by 40 percent in the first year.
We talk about — (applause) — the fact that families said — and in particular parents or those parenting a child — the cost of the expenses associated with raising a child are overwhelming. So we passed a tax cut for people who are parenting children of up to $8,000 for the cost of food, of medicine, of school supplies.
We talk with seniors, who said, “It is outrageous that we are going bankrupt or choosing whether we will have our medication or pay rent, fill our prescription or buy food, and in particular when we have diabetes.”
And so, we got, in this last bill, thanks to your leadership, that — there’s going to be a $35 cap on insulin per month. (Applause.) Seventy — and — and Latinos are 70 percent more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes.
These are the conversations we have. We have a conversation about the fact that — broadband, high-speed Internet.
We know that for so many of our poor communities, communities of color, especially during the height of the pandemic, the fractures and fissures and failures of the system were highlighted, including the disparity and the inequity around who has access — racially, the inequity; poverty, the inequity — around who has access to high-speed Internet, which means whether your child is going to stay caught up with their studies, whether a senior can have access to telemedicine, whether a small business can have access to their clients.
And because you stood in line for four or five hours, we now are in the process of ensuring that everyone has affordable and accessible high-speed Internet, including bringing the cost down $30 off a month and a $100 voucher to help pay for a tablet.
These are the things that people asked for, and they want to know their government is responsive. And I will say that I think it’s very important, when we go to folks and ask them to vote in 56 days, that we should expect they’re going to ask a righteous question, which is “Why should I vote?” That is a righteous question.
And it is important for us to explain why. Because when we look at what is happening with a court — and I know we’re going to talk about this, I believe — the United States Supreme Court, the highest court in the land, that just took a constitutional right that had been recognized from the people of America, from the women of America; when we look at laws that are being passed around the country that are an attack on voting rights, an attack on a woman’s reproductive health rights, an attack on LGBTQ rights, we know there’s still so much work to do.
And that’s part of what I’m also talking with people about —
REPRESENTATIVE BARRAGAN: Right.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: — because they want to know that we are in the fight. And we are.
REPRESENTATIVE BARRAGAN: Well, you have been in the fight. Thank you for that. And thank you for fighting for our Latino communities. (Applause.)
Latinos have a high incidence of diabetes, as you mentioned.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah.
REPRESENTATIVE BARRAGAN: My district has the highest in the state of California. And so the work that you and the administration have done has just been something that is far needed in our — in our communities.
And you mentioned and touched on this. This last question I want to ask you, because I know we’re a little short on time, is: You know, you have been a champion to make sure community health centers —
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah.
REPRESENTATIVE BARRAGAN: — have the funding that they need, something that is prominent in our Latino communities where people who are underinsured or don’t have insurance go to.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah. That’s right.
REPRESENTATIVE BARRAGAN: But the Dobbs decision —
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah.
REPRESENTATIVE BARRAGAN: — and this — this assault on women and women’s reproductive rights, you have been a champion and a leader on this — leading the effort, going around the country, talking to Latinas —
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah. Yeah.
REPRESENTATIVE BARRAGAN: — and those at the table. You’ve met with over 150 legislators since the Dobbs decision. It seems it has settled in, for many, the real impact that the Court’s decision. What insights can you share from your conversations, and where do we go from here?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: So, again, the — it is absolutely — it was unthinkable that the United States Supreme Court, the highest court in our land, would take a right that had been recognized, but they did. And what I’m talking with folks about — and I’ve been convening the state legislators around the country in so-called “red states” and “blue states” — is what we need to do to stand up for the rights of women and the people who care about them to make decisions about their own body.
It’s so fundamental. Like, let’s take back the flag on this. This literally is about freedom. This is about autonomy. This is about self-determination.
And an important point to be made to all communities is this: You don’t have to abandon your faith or your beliefs to agree the government should not be making this decision for women. (Applause.)
And, you know, I think about it in many contexts, including this, Congresswoman: I’ve now, as Vice President, met with — in person or by phone — with 100 world leaders — presidents, prime ministers, kings, chancellors. And the thing about who we are as a country — as Americans, as the United States — is, we have been able to walk in these rooms with confidence, talking about the importance of democracies, talking about the importance of rule of law, human rights. We have held ourselves out to be a role model of all of those things, which gives us then some legitimacy — dare I say “authority” — to then talk about human rights around the world, talk about the importance of rule of law around the world.
Well, as we all know, because this is a room full of role models, when you are a role model, people watch what you do to see if it matches up to what you say. So, nations around the world are watching this and saying, “What’s going on there? Do they really stand for democracy? Do they really have a legitimate ability to tell other countries what to do?”
And there’s an additional nuance to this: Authoritarian countries can now say, “That great democracy is taking these rights. Why can’t we also?”
The stakes are so high on these issues. This issue of reproductive rights for women, voting rights, and so many other things.
And so, I say to this group of leaders: We have a charge, being in the positions we are in at this moment in time in the history of our country and our world. And it is more than a notion that we must stand for our democracy and the founding principles of our nation, which include the importance of freedoms and liberty, not to mention equality and justice. So much is at stake right now.
And I look at this gathering of extraordinary leaders, and I know we’re up for it, but there’s a lot at stake. And there are a lot of people counting on us right now to use our voice. (Applause.)
REPRESENTATIVE BARRAGAN: Well, thank you for reminding us what is at stake, because this conference, as I mentioned, is called “Rooted in Strength, Achieving Our Dream.” We have so many who come to this country to achieve the American Dream, and your story is the American Dream. Your parents who mig- — immigrated here, and now, you know, you serving as Vice President is extraordinary.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: And to your point, my mother arrived in the United States at the age of 19 from India, by herself, and I am Vice President of the United States. (Applause.)
That is a statement about who our country is. So let’s fight for that. (Applause.)
REPRESENTATIVE BARRAGAN: Thank you, Madam Vice President, for being with us here today.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
REPRESENTATIVE BARRAGAN: Let’s give her a round of applause. (Applause.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you.