Remarks by Vice President Harris at the Democratic Attorneys General Association Conference
The Pfister Hotel
12:52 P.M. CDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you. (Applause.) (Inaudible.) (Laughs.) Oh, look who’s here. Thank you. Thank you. I’m very touched. (Applause.) Thank you. I’m extremely touched. Thank you all. Oh, thank you. I see so many friends and former colleagues — actually, current colleagues on so many of the issues that you’re working on.
Thank you. I’m so honored. And I see so many of the attorneys general that I served with — I was just talking, Dustin, about you. I see so many of the folks that I served with, Doug, over the years. And it’s just an honor and a joy to be back with you, with DAGA. So, thank you.
General Ford, thank you for that incredible introduction and for your leadership. I remember that day so vividly when we sat down at that restaurant and had a really — for it being the first time that we sat down, we just went right into the issues. I remember that so clearly — both of us feeling a sense of the urgency of that moment and the responsibility that we each had at the time and clearly still do. But you’ve been a friend. You’ve been an extraordinary leader in Nevada and, of course, a national leader. So, I thank you for the introduction and all that you do. (Applause.) Thank you.
And so, the co-chairs of DAGA this year are, of course, General Ford and General Jennings. Where is she? There you are. (Applause.)
I, of course, have such fond memories of DAGA and my time being a member of DAGA, including when I co-chaired DAGA with the then-Attorney General of Delaware and our dear and departed friend, Beau Biden. He and I co-chaired DAGA together and often, with a lot of the other friends here, would talk — it felt like almost on a daily basis — of the responsibility that we knew we had, as attorneys general, to do — as you said, General Ford — to do justice in America.
And when I look at the folks and the leaders who are in this room and the responsibility — dare I say “the burden” — that we carry to do justice in this moment, I think the work has never been as important as it is right now.
And so, I thank you all, because I know firsthand the significance of your work.
You, of course, are your state’s chief legal officer. And most of you serve as your state’s top law enforcement official.
In that capacity, you swore an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States and the constitution of your state. And you swore to defend your state against all enemies foreign and domestic. You represent your state both in civil cases and in criminal cases.
For many of you, as the top law enforcement officer, that means working very closely with your state law enforcement community to support investigations and combat threats to public safety.
As attorneys general, you share a fundamental belief in the principles of fairness, equality, and justice. And every day, you fight for those ideals.
Your work makes real the promise of America in so many ways and in the lives of so many people. And as I said, that could not be more true than it is today when so much is at stake.
At this moment in our nation, some of our most fundamental rights are under assault. As attorneys general, you are fighting on the frontlines to defend our rights.
In particular, let’s talk for a moment about consumer rights — the right to live, for any hardworking person, without fear of fraud and predatory economic practices. Many of us worked together on those issues over the years.
You are on the frontlines, fighting for women’s rights to make decisions about their own bodies and voter’s rights to participate in our democracy.
Understanding your work and your leadership on these issues and so many more, today I’m going to address some of those fights.
So, as attorneys general, it is your obligation to serve as guardians of the health, safety, and wellbeing of consumers, as I said earlier.
For example, when I was Attorney General of California, we defended — a lot of us did it together — the homeowners of our state — for me, the California homeowners — from predatory lending practices during the foreclosure crisis.
Another example of the work that I did with so many of you here is when we led a multistate — or I think at least nine of us — to investigate and successfully sue Corinthian Colleges, which was preying on students who were simply looking to build a better life.
And now, as Vice President of the United States, the work continues for me, with you, to protect consumers.
Since taking office, we have taken on the issue of racial bias in home appraisals by writing new rules to regulate the home appraisal industry and by better educating homeowners of their rights.
We have also taken on the issue of medical debt, which we know is exacting a heavy burden on so many people in our country. So we’ve taken that on, in part, by fighting to remove medical debt from consumer credit scores, because people shouldn’t have to have their credit score damaged — so much of their credit score determines their economic health and wellbeing, in terms of their ability to move forward, and it shouldn’t be damaged just because they endured a prolonged length of sickness or illness.
And this year, our administration finally finished the job for Corinthian students, cancelling almost $6 billion in outstanding student loan debt, delivering relief for over half a million Americans. (Applause.)
As state attorneys general, you play an essential role in protecting the consumers of our nation — working people who are simply trying to build a better future for themselves and their families; people who have a right, born out of their hard work and their dreams, to be able to buy a home or get an education or just make a purchase without being the subject of predatory practices.
In recent years, some of you have prosecuted individuals and companies that have price gouged consumers who are just trying to buy lifesaving medical supplies. Others have empowered consumers to report telemarketing scams and robocall harassment. And so many of you have fought to protect our seniors from scams and other predatory practices.
All of this work — just offering a few examples — all of this work has a direct impact on the economic health and wellbeing of so many people.
And members of DAGA, you are also, of course, leading the fight to protect the freedom of women to make decisions about their own bodies. (Applause.)
So, as we all know, earlier this year in the Dobbs decision, the United States Supreme Court — the highest court in our land — I say to a room full of attorneys — (laughter) — took away a constitutional right, that had been recognized, from the people of America, from the women of America.
I mean, think back to when we were in law school. Think about that. Could you have ever imagined that in our lifetime that would happen — such a fundamental right as the ability of an individual to make personal decisions about their body and their life? That just happened. That just happened. A right that had been recognized for almost half a century.
And immediately, of course, following Dobbs, extremist so-called leaders — that’s what I call them — extremist so-called leaders across our nation began to pass and enforce laws to criminalize doctors, nurses, healthcare providers.
I mean, think about those folks — why they entered that profession, their sense of calling and duty to heal and help. And these so-called extremist leaders are passing laws to criminalize these folks, passing laws to punish women.
And in the face of this, as it relates to the work of attorneys general, Dobbs also intentionally shifted the fight for reproductive rights to the states. So as the chief legal officer of your state, you — because I’ve been watching you — are bravely defending reproductive freedom.
I met with many of you in my office at the White House, and we discussed the innovative strategies that you have used to defend women’s reproductive freedom.
You are taking on, rightly, the crisis pregnancy centers; launching public education campaigns because — I don’t think I have it here, but I’ll show you all a map of the United States right now, in terms of the patchwork of different laws in different states on this issue and the confusion it is creating and the need, then, for some of the most trusted elected officials to clarify the state of the law and, in the midst of the vast amount of confusion, the need of you as the truthtellers to sort out fiction from fact and combat misinformation and disinformation, which we all know often creates a situation that is ripe for predatory practices.
You all are convening attorneys to provide pro-bono in your states — the law firms that sometimes you are up against but often work with — convening pro-bono services to ensure women can access reproductive healthcare.
You all are filing legal challenges to state abortion bans. Like right here in Wisconsin, where our host — where are you, Josh? — Josh Kaul is working with Governor Evers to challenge an abortion ban.
Listen to this: With the limited resources every attorney general has, our friend here has to use his resources to fight a ban that was passed in 1849 — before women even had the right to vote. And somebody is trying to push the legitimacy of that law and he has to fight against it. Josh, our administration has your back. (Applause.)
And we all know this is just the beginning. I’m sure everyone here read the Dobbs decision and concurring opinions, when Justice Clarence Thomas said the quiet part out loud. With Dobbs, we know — if there was any question — we now know marriage equality is on the line.
Many of you supported me when I was Attorney General of California and I refused to defend Proposition 8 — (applause) — which bans same-sex marriage. You may all remember it, DAGA, that in my race for Attorney General, I was running against — in the general election — a Republican who said he would support Proposition 8, which sought to ban same-sex marriages in California.
You’ll remember that, on election night, he declared his victory. He didn’t win. (Laughter.)
Right? Just that recently we just fought for this. Attorneys General. Democratic Attorneys General stood by my side when we fighting just in my home state of California, not to mention what you’ve fought for.
And in this year of our Lord, 2022, in the Dobbs decision, a Justice of the United States Supreme Court says the quiet part out loud — that marriage may be on the line. Marriage equality. Says the quiet part out loud: the right to contraception is on the line.
In Michigan, a candidate for Attorney General even compared emergency contraception to fentanyl — to fentanyl. And suggested, therefore, it should be banned.
This is what we’re dealing with. Right now, in real time, this is what we’re dealing with.
And so, on every level, it becomes incumbent on us — those who sincerely took an oath — to protect and defend our Constitution and all of the principles upon which it was founded. The responsibility visits itself upon us to fight back.
Earlier this year, President Biden signed two executive orders directing a whole-of-government approach to protect access to abortion care, the right to contraception, and the safety of providers and clinics.
The United States Department of Justice is in federal court right now in Idaho and Texas, fighting to protect access to emergency medical care.
And it comes down to this: Our nation was founded on the principles of freedom and liberty — principles enshrined in our Constitution.
And guided by these principles then, we all believe that a woman should have the ability to make the decisions about her body and her life — if she chooses, in consultation with her faith leader, with her doctor, with her loved ones. But the government should not be making that decision for her.
And it’s interesting to note that in the Dobbs decision, and the — the — you know, all of the folks who were the proponents of that decision said, “Well, you know, we think it’s just more appropriate for the states to decide. Right? Let’s just send it to the states.”
Check this out — and I’m sure you all have been following this: So, while so-called leaders claim we should return the issue of reproductive freedom to the voters in the states, these same extremist so-called leaders are passing laws to make it intentionally more difficult for people to vote.
“Return it to the states; let the voters there decide” — while laws are being passed to ban drop boxes and restrict early voting, laws that are making it illegal to give food and water to people who are standing in line sometimes for hours to vote — undemocratic laws, un-American laws.
Earlier this month, our President, standing outside Independence Hall in Philadelphia, made clear — and I’ll quote — “We are not powerless in the face of these threats. We are not bystanders in this ongoing attack on democracy.”
So, DAGA, your work to protect voting rights proves that point.
Together, you have condemned these sham audits of our elections.
Together, 20 Democratic attorneys general filed an amicus urging the Supreme Court to reject constitutional — or con- — congressional maps that dilute the votes of Black Americans in communities around the country.
Together, you have fought to make sure all eligible Americans, no matter their party, can cast a ballot and have it counted, because you know the freedom to vote is a foundation of our democracy and we must do everything we can to protect it — including, by the way, demanding that Congress pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act — (applause) — especially after, in 2013, Shelby took away the important elements, as we all know, of the Voting Rights Act.
So, members of DAGA, today our nation faces many threats to our rights and our freedoms. And we must stand united to uphold the sacred oath we have each taken to protect the people of our nation; to support and defend these foundational principles that are now at stake; and to build a more just, more safe, and more equitable future for all people.
Together, we believe in the promise of our nation. I know that, because I know you guys. (Laughter.) I see so many of my friends, Rob. I know what we believe. We may see the worst of human behavior sometimes in the work that we do every day, but I know who you are. And I know you believe in the promise of who we are and the best of who we are.
So, in these moments that challenge us, let us stand together, shoulder to shoulder, in defense of our democracy and all that we believe. Everyone here was meant to be here at this very moment and to do what you are doing.
So, thank you all. On behalf of the people of our nation, your role is critical and we’re counting on you. God bless you. And God bless America. (Applause.)
END 1:13 P.M. CDT