Paramus, New Jersey
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Please have a seat. Good afternoon, everyone.
Inez, thank you for that introduction. That means a lot. It really does.
And, you know, my mother had many sayings, and one of them is — she would say to me, “Kamala, you may be the first to do many things. Make sure you’re not the last.” And so much of that spirit is captured in your introduction of me, and I thank you for that.
And to the family, the Tallaj family, for all you do. My goodness, I — everyone here knows this family, and they are a family who live a life of service to community, to country; a life of service to optimism around what is possible.
You know, I often say that I think that is the spirit behind the strength of our country and, for so many of us, our families: the ability to see what can be, unburdened by what has been, and then to pursue and achieve that.
So, I’m very honored to be with you today. Thank you for welcoming us into your beautiful home and for all you do.
Henry Muñoz, he has been — so, the vice chair of the DNC — this is a very important position. The title says it all. But as we all know, we can all have titles. The reality is that — the question is: What do you then do with the title?
And he is relentless. You travel all over our country. He was just with my husband yesterday in Texas, hosting — you’re seeing my husband more than I do, by the way, these days. (Laughter.)
But I’ve seen you for years do what you do. And you really never stopped believing in what we must do as an expression of our love of our country and our belief in the future of our country. So, can we please also applaud Henry Muñoz? (Applause.)
So, to everyone here, it is good to see you. And I thank you. I have a sense of who is here. I’ve read many of the biographies of who is here. And — and I briefly had a chance to meet each of you. And what an extraordinary group of leaders.
So, to take your time to have this conversation this afternoon means a lot because there are a lot of things that you could be doing with this moment, given the communities that you serve and the work that you do.
So, I’ll get right to it. I love our country. I believe in it. I believe in all of the foundational principles that led us into being. I believe in the importance of freedom and liberty and equality and justice. I do believe, in fact, that one of the greatest expressions of love for our country is to fight for us to fully realize the ideals of our country.
And I know the work that everyone does here is the work in pursuit of just that. This is a room predominantly of physicians, healthcare providers, people who have dedicated your lives and have taken an oath to do one thing: to uplift the condition of human life, to alleviate suffering, to recognize the dignity in all people and our role in preserving and guaranteeing that dignity. What a noble pursuit.
And so, I think about this moment in time in the context of all of us being in these positions at this particular and unique moment in time. And then, what becomes our duty? And what will history say? And what would our children say about what we did at this moment, as we occupied these positions of leadership?
I travel the world as Vice President. I have now met with over 100 world leaders — presidents, prime ministers, chancellors, and kings. And I talk, as you can imagine, about many things, including the importance of democracy, the importance of upholding international rules and norms.
And I also talk about the fact that we, in many ways, are living in unsettled times, where we see a war in Europe, in terms of Ukraine; where we see, most recently, the highest court in our land, the United States Supreme Court, which just took a constitutional right that had been recognized from the people of America, from the women of America; where we see attacks on voting rights in our own backyards. Issues that we thought were well settled.
Not to mention what the pandemic meant. What it meant in terms of the extraordinary loss of life, loss of normalcy. People lost their jobs. And what all of these, in combination, have meant to where we are today not only as a nation, but globally.
And that brings me to you. Because one of the things I know about the leaders in this room is that you have been tireless in being motivated by a sense of optimism, about the power of an individual, in connection with their community, to actually uplift people and bring stability and bring a sense of continuum when so many external forces suggest that maybe we can’t take anything for granted.
I know the work of the people in this room, and I can’t thank you enough for what you did during the height of an unforeseeable crisis during the pandemic to bring stability and to bring help to so many people who needed it.
The President and I came into office in an election in 2020 that was during the height of the pandemic. And I will tell you, I’m so happy to be here now, because in the first year — mostly in the first year — of our administration, we couldn’t travel because it was during the height of the pandemic. And we held countless meetings, talking with doctors, talking with healthcare providers about what do you need, because you are on the ground. What do you need so that we, in collaboration, can focus on the health and the wellbeing of our nation?
And I know what you all were dealing with: an uncertainty in the first days about what did this pandemic mean, what was the nature of it, and then trying to convince the communities that you serve that they could trust a healthcare system and, by extension, their government and their country to see them and give them what they need.
And it was the conversations that our administration — the President and I, and so many of us — I know that Xavier Becerra has been here and will continue to travel the country — the conversations that we all had that resulted in a lot of the work that we were able to achieve together, both in terms of convincing and reminding communities they could trust that the vaccine would work; both in terms of what we needed to do to listen to how there’s a direct connection between healthcare and dignity and the wellbeing of communities and the empowerment of people.
It was because of the conversations that we had with so many in this room that we knew that too many of our con- — our citizens and our — and our neighbors and our family members are suffering from diabetes. We knew Latinos are 70 percent more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes, African Americans 60 percent more likely. I mean, anyone in here, raise your hand if you have a family member who has diabetes.
And having these conversations, we also knew that, in particular, we had so many seniors all over the country who were making a decision to either pay rent or buy food or be able to pay for their insulin, which you prescribe because you know it will save their life.
And because of the conversations we had, a lot of them born out of the first days of our administration, we said we’ve got to deal with this, because it’s about the dignity and wellbeing of people.
And it is because of the work that we did together that we now have capped the cost of insulin at $35 a month for seniors in America. This is a gamechanger.
But because of the collaboration, because of the kind of work that so many of you here do as professionals who are grounded in the community, being a voice for people who often feel left out or overlooked, we were able to give voice to this important issue.
And because we did collectively — because elections matter, coordination matters — we were able to do that as an administration.
And then you all know what came next. Eli Lilly said they’re going to bring down and cap the cost of insulin not only for seniors, but for everyone who needs it.
This is an example of why I remain so optimistic about our ability to see what is possible and then fight to get there, and to understand the interconnection between the work of people in this room and the work that happens through elected offices that can — when they see and understand the people, can do good work that has a direct impact and makes a difference in terms of uplifting the strength and wellbeing of community.
The work that we have done as an administration in these last two years included recognizing that so many of our communities — in particular Black, brown, poor, and rural communities — didn’t have access to high-speed Internet, highlighted during the epidemic of the pandemic. Highlighted — unsettled times.
How about the fact that, you know, one thing that we, as parents, always thought: We could send those kids to school. And all of a sudden, “Oh, boy, we got to figure out how to…” We got to figure out how to honor our teachers better — (laughs) — when we realized we had to figure out how to teach our kids and go back to fifth-grade math.
And when we figured out and then were reminded: Lots of our communities didn’t have access to high-speed Internet. And what history, in a short while, is going to tell us about the significance of those lost days in the educational process of so many of the children in our country.
So, the pandemic highlighted an issue that has long been an issue, which is the need to make sure all people in our country have access to high-speed Internet as an extension of a right — like we think of that we electrified the country, that everyone should have access to high-speed Internet if they are not only to survive, but to thrive.
Because of an election and because people got out to vote, and we said we would be committed to this, we now, through the infrastructure law that we were able to pass in a bipartisan way, are on track to ensure that every family and person in our country has access and can afford high-speed Internet.
What does that mean? (Applause.) It means access to education for our children. It means telemedicine. In so many ways, the pandemic was an accelerator, right? It just — it accelerated, it made faster what we knew we needed to do in terms of access for people, including access to healthcare and thinking about how telemedicine will allow that to happen.
I don’t need to tell so many in this room where you might have tried to get the community that you treat and your patients to say, “It’s as good.” In many cases, “Eh, I don’t want to do that. I like coming into the office.” But because they had to.
But here’s what the pandemic highlighted then: For our seniors who did not have access or could not afford access to high-speed Internet, they’d have to go to the local public library and sit in the corner of a public library and try to have a private conversation with their healthcare provider. Where’s the dignity in that? So, by making sure everyone has access to high-speed Internet because we decided we have to get this done with a sense of urgency, we are now on the road that that doesn’t have to happen.
Telemedicine — connected to the need to get everyone access to high-speed Internet, connected to a national conversation that we need to have in a much more forceful way, which is the need to address mental health in our country. (Applause.)
So, let’s connect the dots. We came in and said we’re going to get this broadband issue done. We have gone through a pandemic. We have shown telemedicine can work. And we have now a heightened need for mental healthcare in our country.
I always say, when I’m talking to a group that are not all of the educated physicians who are here — I say, “You know, the problem with the way we’ve been dealing with this as a country is we act as though healthcare starts from the neck down. What about healthcare from the neck up? Mental health.”
But here’s the thing we also know: So many of us — culturally, many of the people in many communities, it’s a stigma. “I’m fine. I don’t need it. I’m fine.”
So, what does that mean into — in connection with — what does that mean in connection with high-speed Internet? Well, think about this. Instead of them being seen by their neighbors going into the community mental health clinic — worried about “Who’s going to see me if I walk in there, because only crazy people go there,” I say in quotes — now people can get mental healthcare through telemedicine.
Think about what a gamechanger this is going to mean. And in the privacy of their own home, where the — the professional giving them that care could also live across the country, so they don’t have to worry about running into them in church on Sunday. These are going to be gamechangers.
Think about the work that we did because we were elected and people said around our country, “You need to deal with the issue of lead pipes.” Because in places around our country, there are children — in fact, over — over half of children in America under the age of six are exposed to lead poisoning.
Let’s put this in perspective, again, about the work that so many here do in terms of thinking about your work in the context of equity. Lead pipes. Well, lead pipes were everywhere in our country. It wasn’t exclusive to poor communities, communities of color, rural communities. Happen everywhere.
But if you’re living in a community that has a high rate of homeownership, you might have some equity in the house. You find out there’s lead in those pipes? You take some equity out, you change the pipes.
But they’re all — the majority people who are living paycheck to paycheck and barely can afford a $400 unexpected expense. What does that mean for them? Doesn’t this raise an issue of equity? Because isn’t this, after all, a public health issue? Isn’t this, after all, an issue we should all be concerned about? Because not only is it a public health issue, meaning the health consequences of drinking water from lead pipes — that toxic water, it also is a public education issue.
Why do you say that? I’ll tell you why. You all know it has been well established that it results also in — the effects of that lead poisoning have an impact on learning ability. But what we have done is now passed legislation where, within the next nine years, we’re going to get rid of all lead pipes in America.
And the point of the policy there and the perspective was: It’s a public health issue. It’s a public education issue. And therefore, we should not require an individual to be able to afford to remove those pipes. That is a responsibility and an appropriate responsibility for government charged with public health and public education. And that’s the perspective we took. And that’s why we are doing this work.
Back to the point that elections matter, especially in terms of how we think about what is in the best interests of the public health and the public wellbeing. So these are just some examples of what we have been able to accomplish in the last two years.
Not to mention the jobs that are going to be created because of all of the work that needs to be done. A lot of them union jobs, a lot of them jobs that are going to require the apprenticeship programs of the IBEW and all of these folks. The work that is going to be about building back up communities.
So, I am here to thank you for your leadership and collaboration, seeing the connections between the work that each of us does in a way that, in collaboration, benefits so many people that none of us will ever meet, people who will never know our names but will be forever impacted because of a perspective that says: We must focus on communities. We must focus on the needs of families. That we must see people in their full relief and think about how we can uplift their condition, which will (inaudible) to the benefit of all of us.
So I thank you all for your support of this event this afternoon. There was good work that has been happening. There is more work to be done. And we’re all in it together.
And I thank you. Thank you. (Applause.)