Remarks by President Biden, Vice President Harris, First Lady Jill Biden, and Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff at a Reception to Celebrate Women’s History Month
5:14 P.M. EDT
THE SECOND GENTLEMAN: Good evening, everyone.
AUDIENCE: Good evening!
Mr. President — (laughter) — First Lady Dr. Biden, thank you for hosting all of us here at the White House. (Applause.)
And of course, my wife — (applause) — Vice President Kamala Harris is here, the first woman Vice President! (Applause.)
All right. We — this is a celebration. And we’re here to celebrate Women’s History Month, to highlight the accomplishments of women across our nation, to pay tribute to the trailblazers who paved the way for future generations.
But it’s also our time to reaffirm our commitment to advancing rights and opportunities for women and girls, not only here in the United States, but all around the world. (Applause.)
I’ve had the honor, as Second Gentleman, of traveling all across the country and all around the world, meeting with people right in their communities.
And throughout my travels, I have spoken to women who have shared their stories with me.
The mom who had to return to work just six days after giving birth.
The woman who was paid less than her male colleague for doing the exact same job.
AUDIENCE: Ooh —
THE SECOND GENTLEMAN: And a woman whose — (laughter) — I know, it’s not good. (Laughter.) I know.
A woman whose water broke prematurely and was denied due care due to a state’s abortion ban. And it wasn’t until she developed sepsis, an infection that almost killed her, that the hospital finally treated her.
But I also hear some great stories. I hear about how this amazing Biden-Harris administration is ensuring that women have equal access to opportunities — (applause) — and how this administration is protecting fundamental rights.
And let’s be clear: These aren’t just women’s issues. These are issues that impact everyone. (Applause.)
And we know — because we travel all over the world — that when the United States leads, the world follows.
So, at this moment — at this moment in history, I know that our nation and our world are in very good hands because we have a President, a First Lady, and a Vice President who are leading this fight with all of you. (Applause.)
Our First Lady, Dr. Jill Biden. (Applause.) There’s more! (Laughs.) I don’t even have to say anything else. We’re just going to cheer. But I will. She’s traveled all around this country and all around the world, including recently to Mexico and Africa, reminding young women and girls that anything is possible. And over these past two-plus years, I’ve seen firsthand how she has advocated for women, families, and our veterans.
She’s empowered young women to pursue their dreams, to fulfill their potential, and achieve their educational goals.
So please join me in welcoming my dear friend, our amazing First Lady, Dr. Jill Biden. (Applause.)
THE FIRST LADY: Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you, Doug. You know, your commitment to supporting women’s rights serves as such a powerful example for our nation. Thank you.
And as I look at this room full of women who have led social change movements and shattered glass ceilings, broken the barriers of businesses and even our Earth’s atmosphere — (applause) — I am inspired.
This audience is a testament to how high women can rise. A testament to the progress we can make when we invest in women and believe in them, when we work together to tear down the barriers that hold so many back.
And we must keep going, not just for ourselves, but for the girls who will inherit our world. (Applause.)
The future engineer who loves exploring, who sees magic in the mechanics and the technologies that connect us to each other but still isn’t sure she should raise her hand in class.
AUDIENCE MEMBERS: We know.
THE FIRST LADY: See? They all know. (Laughter.)
The — the future president or CEO who is told that, hey, her voice is too loud or bold or “bossy.”
The star who is told to hide her light. The artist who feels like an outcast.
The girl who feels the smallness of her world closing in, afraid that her dreams are just too big to carry alone.
Again and again and again, they wake up and worry that this world is maybe made for someone else. They wonder if they will ever be good enough, strong enough, or worthy of the lives they dream about.
There are those who continue to ask our daughters to shrink.
Those who are pulling away the hard-won progress that we’ve made, that our mothers made and their mothers before them. We find ourselves refighting battles we thought we had won a long time ago. (Applause.)
Equality, justice, freedom for all — these are the flames we must feed with our voices and our vigilance. Because the fight for women’s equality should have an end. (Applause.)
Every little girl must know that she belongs in all places of power, that her boldness is beautiful, that her body is her own — (applause) — that her future can be anything she wants it to be.
And every little boy must know that caring, collaboration, and kindness are signs of strength, not weakness — (applause) — that he can feed and teach and mentor; that this is his fight too. (Applause.)
We need more men to hold each other accountable when women are being hurt or left behind.
Together, we will build a world worthy of that generation.
So to every little girl who has ever wondered, “Can I — one person, one voice, one girl — can I make a difference?”
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Yes, we can.
THE FIRST LADY: Standing among — (laughter) — standing here among women who have shaped our laws and become leaders in the military, who have organized movements for justice and inspired change, who have brought poetry and art and stories into our lives, we have the answer for those girls: Yes, you matter! (Applause.)
Yes, you can make a difference. Yes, you too can write our history and change our country.
Today, as we celebrate Women’s History Month, let us celebrate you and all women who with sweat and sacrifice have shaped this country we call home.
Let us draw strength from those who came before and share that strength, that sisterhood that surround us.
Let our voices be the chorus that calls the next generation forward, that kindles their courage and cheers them on to carve a path of their own.
Let us work with clarity and persistence, with hope in our hearts to continue building the world that our daughters and all children deserve.
Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you very much.
And now — and now it is my pleasure to introduce Vice President Kamala Harris — (applause) — the first woman to hold her office, but certainly not the last. (Applause.)
Kamala, your strength is an inspiration to women and girls across our country. Thank you for helping to build a world where our girls can not only strive, but lead and thrive.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: That’s right.
THE FIRST LADY: Kamala. (Applause.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: That’s why she’s the First Lady. (Laughter.)
Dr. Jill Biden, I want to thank you for that extraordinary speech and for the introduction and the friendship. You have been — you know, I see — and Doug and I see the President and Dr. Biden when the cameras are here and when the cameras aren’t. And I will speak of the First Lady to say she is tireless.
She is a full-time educator, and she travels around the world, literally, representing our country and upholding the values that we hold dear for the world to see. And I thank you for that —
THE FIRST LADY: Thanks.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: — and your friendship.
THE FIRST LADY: Thank you.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you so very much and for that introduction. (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you.
And thank you also to President Biden. (Laughter.) You can judge a strong man when he has strong women around him. (Laughter and applause.)
And the first Second Gentleman of the United States of America. (Applause.)
So, it is good to see everyone. What an extraordinary thing my eyes behold looking out here.
We have leaders in the United States Congress who are here. Of course, Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi among them. (Applause.)
But so many leaders who are here, and among these, the young leaders who are on the stage behind me. (Applause.) A lot to applaud. A lot to applaud.
So during Women’s History Month, we celebrate and we honor the women who made history throughout history, who saw what could be unburdened by what had been.
We see the suffragists, the riveters, the marchers; the mothers and sisters and aunts and grandmothers and daughters — all the giants upon whose broad shoulders we stand.
For generations, women have continued to make incredible progress in the classroom, in the workplace, in the halls of government. And we are all here evidence of that progress.
And we know our fight is far from over.
Like many of you, I have spent the majority of my career fighting to uplift the condition of women and girls in our country — to fight for their health, their safety, and wellbeing.
And therefore, I know from experience that there are many factors that impact a woman’s ability to survive and thrive in America. And one of those factors is the economic empowerment of women.
I don’t need to tell anybody here, when we improve the economic status of women, we improve the economic status of families, communities, and our entire nation benefits.
When women are economically empowered, communities are healthier, because, of course, for example, families can afford medical care for a young child or an aging parent.
And when women are economically empowered, communities are safer. And I say that as a former courtroom prosecutor, elected district attorney, and attorney general.
You see, in that career, I focused on crimes of violence against women and children. And there is so much that we need to do still to prevent violence and keep women safe, including to understand the link between economic security and public safety.
You know, a lot of people around here are talking about the importance of public safety, and we all know how important that is. But understand the connections between the issues. Understand that too often, for example, we see women who are facing violence because they simply cannot financially afford to leave an abusive situation, especially when her highest priority will always be to keep a roof over her children’s head or food on their table.
So here’s the deal: Anybody who says they support public safety and public health must also support women’s economic security and wellbeing — (applause) — and must necessarily, if they say they stand for those priorities, stand with President Biden and me when we continue, with your help, to fight for things like affordable childcare for all parents. (Applause.) When we fight for good jobs with paid family and medical leave. (Applause.) When we fight for pay equity and access to capital for all people — (applause) — including for women entrepreneurs and small-business owners.
These are the connections that one must see and make if they truly believe in contributing to the strength, the wellbeing, and the safety of all Americans.
And ultimately, the priority of women’s economic empowerment then is rooted in core economic principles that include basic American values, specifically the ideal of freedom. Not just freedom from violence or want, but freedom to dream with ambition and aspiration. The freedom to determine one’s own future, including the fundamental freedom of every woman — not her government — to make decisions about her own body. (Applause.)
All these issues are connected. All these issues are connected when we talk about the importance of freedom.
So I’ll conclude with this: You all have heard many times me talk about my mother. My niece is here, my mother’s granddaughter.
And my mother, your grandma — (laughter) — had many sayings. And often she would say to me, “Kamala, you may be the first to do many things, but make sure you are not the last.” (Applause.)
Well, in this incredible room there are so many firsts. Far too many to name. And I see so many of you.
And that, as we know, is our charge then. As the First Lady said, we will make sure that none of us are the last. And that will be a measure of our legacy and this moment, which is to keep the path open and ensure that we make it bigger and wider for all those who follow.
And no one fights harder to build a better future for our nation and to lift up women and girls around our country and to secure their basic rights and freedoms than our President, the President of the United States of America, Joe Biden. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you, Kamala. I appreciate that.
And Madam First Lady — this is a woman who, six years ago, said, “I don’t want to speak in front of big crowds.” (Laughter.) I — (laughs) —
You know, our outstanding Vice President, you’ve — you’ve shattered so many barriers and did it mostly on your own.
You know, San Francisco, first woman district attorney. California’s first wil- — woman attorney general.
Doug, you have had such an incredible partner in this historic progress. And you’ve been one hell of a partner as well. I’ve watched you.
We were talking inside. Jill has — and I think I told Nancy this before. Jill has — puts messages on my mirror, where I’m shaving, so I make sure I see them. (Laughter.) And one that was put in about a year ago was, “Stop trying to make me love you.” (Laughter.)
What the hell. I’m —
THE FIRST LADY: Thank you, Nancy.
THE PRESIDENT: I’m still trying like hell. (Laughter.)
We were really talking about that. (Laughter.)
I want to welcome over 30 members of the United States Congress, senators and House members. Raise your hand. (Applause.) Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.
You’re changing the world. The idea — what we got passed wouldn’t have been able to been done without this number of women in the s- — in the Congress and Senate. Wouldn’t have happened.
And good evening, everyone. As I’ve said earlier, I’m Jill Biden’s husband. (Laughter.) And I’m especially proud today to say that — and to mark Women’s History Month.
This is a time for celebrating extraordinary women who have made their mark in history, strengthened our nation.
And like Jill, the first lady — the first full-time lady — the first lady who works full time — (laughter) — in addition to being the First Lady — as a professor. She teaches — still teaches 15 credits and as a community college.
They’re like — (applause) — and like Kamala and the record number of women serving in the first gender equality Cabinet in American history.
You know, we represent a rich diversity in our nation. And like Nancy Pelosi — I think, by the way — I’ve said this before — she’s the greatest Speaker the House has ever had. (Applause.) No, I mean it.
Well, we’ve — I’ve made a commitment that when we got elected, that this administration was going to look like America. Look like America. (Applause.) Well, I really mean it, because it matters a lot to all the people who look like us, look like each of you.
I also appointed — I’ve appointed more Black women to the federal court and circuit courts than all — (applause) — than — than — than every other President combined, including the first Black woman to the Supreme Court — (applause) — Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson.
But we also know that, too often, history has failed to acknowledge the massive contributions of women of every race, ethnicity, faith, and background.
Today, we celebrate both the legacy of both sung and unsung trail- — trailblazers, advocates who have made the world a fairer, more just and free place. That includes many of you here today, including the high school and college graduates standing behind me here. (Applause.)
Excuse my back.
You’re going to do some amazing things. You’re going to do some amazing things.
Like, you know, Temple Lester, high school sophomore, over here we met. (Applause.) She’s 16 years old, one of TIME Magazine’s Top 50 Kids of the Year. She’s working to get her peers, especially girls, interested in science, technology, engineering, and math. (Applause.)
All these students are incredible.
And earlier this month, on International Women’s Day, Jill hosted the International Women of Courage Award to honor fearless women fighting all around the world for justice, often in incredibly dangerous situations.
And here at home, women are on the frontlines, driving innovation in science and technology, protecting our — members of our military, leading and being leaders in our military.
I’ve appointed more career officers to high positions than anyone ever has. But guess — (applause) — no, I really —
Leading in every field: in healthcare, business, diplomacy, so much more.
Look, we have to do everything we can to knock down the barriers that stand in the way of all women and girls having an opportunity to be their God- — realize all their God-given potential.
You know, the country founded on freedom and equality. Nothing is more fundamental than that. Nothing.
That’s why my administration put equality of women and girls at the heart of everything we do.
Shortly after I took office, I created a White House Policy — a Gender Policy Council — (applause) — well — to advance gender policy across domestic and foreign policy.
And now, we’re implementing a major piece of legislation, which we signed into law during the past two years. So many of them, including — would not have occurred without the members of the Congress standing before me here who worked so hard to pass them. Not a joke.
And as we implement these, we’re ensuring that women are fully at the table.
You know, with the economy reeling and families hurting from COVID, I signed the American Rescue Plan as soon as I took office. (Applause.) Well, it powered the strongest, more equitable job creation at any point in any administration’s history and created more jobs — 12 million — in the first two years than any administration did in four years. And a majority of those people are women hired. (Applause.) A majority of that 12 million are women. Factually.
It helped keep the doors open to 220,000 childcare centers, 90 percent of which are owned and staffed by women, so families could take care of their children and go to work.
And my Child Tax Credit cut child poverty in half and provided — (applause) — and provided breathing room for 65 million children and their families.
And it didn’t stop there.
From the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law — rebuilding our roads, bridges, water systems, high-speed Internet all across America — to the CHIPS and Science Act restoring America’s technological edge.
And for the first time, firms receiving significant federal dollars are going to be asked to make sure they have high-quality childcare available. (Applause.) Oh — they’ve been asked very politely, but we’re insisting. And we’re going to get — and so le- — so women can get and keep these good jobs.
The Inflation Reduction Act, the country’s biggest investment in climate ever — actually, anywhere in history.
And across all of these laws, we’re making sure that women have access to new jobs in sectors that have been historically underrepresented, from manufacturing, to construction, to clean energy.
I have said I was going to be the pro-union President in American history. But guess what? (Applause.) I’m insisting that they significantly increase the number of women in unions across America. (Applause.) And they’re doing it. They’re doing it.
Look, you all are more than 50 percent — you all are more than 50 percent of the population. If we want the strongest economy in the world, we can’t have half the workforce left behind. It’s simply — it’s that simple.
And that’s why I signed legislation requiring employers to make reasonable accommodations in the workplaces for pregnant women and nursing moms so they can keep their jobs in place. (Applause.)
That’s why we launched the Blueprint for
Mental [Maternal] Health to combat the crisis of maternity mortality and overwhelmingly impacts on Black and Native women and rural communities.
And that’s why we made historic investments to make childcare more affordable for families. It — all this matters. It matters.
And, you know, while we commit to women’s economic security, we have to ensure their physical security as well.
Ending violence against women has been a — some of you been — none of you have been around as long as I have, but — (laughter) — but it’s really been the cause of my life.
You know, I literally, as my sister would say, I wrote the Violence Against Women Act with my own paw. (Applause.)
We — because we have to not only change the law, but change the culture around the scourge of domestic violence in America.
And as President, I helped so many advocates that are — in this — there’s so many of you in this room who have strengthened and reauthorized that legislation.
You know, we have brought our total investment to $700 million in 2023 alone — just for Violence Against Women [Act].
That’s the highest funding increase in the law in nearly 30 years. It improves training for law enforcement, including online abuse and harassment; reduces the backlog of rape kits; expands legal and hou- — legal and housing assistance to victims; improves protection for the underserved communities, including Black, Latina, brown, and Asian American, Native Americans, Hawa- — Pacific Islanders, LGBTQ survivors.
And we’ve stood up against the scourge of anti-Asian hate that has festered in this country for too long and the violence that disproportionately impacts on Asian American women.
You know — (applause) — but this builds on other steps you’ve taken and we’ve taken, like the most significant gun safety law in 30 years to help keep guns out of the hands of — (applause) — to help keep guns out of the hands
of domestic political advisors [convicted domestic abusers].
But we still have to ban assault weapons again. (Applause.)
Like signing a law that empowers survivors in the workplace to take their case to court and hold offenders accountable; creating reforms that fundamentally shift how the military investigates and prosecutes sexual assault and domestic violence in the military, including independent prosecutors who now report outside the military officer — (applause) — command structure.
That wouldn’t have happened without you guys. Been talking about that a long time. It wouldn’t have happened.
But for all the progress we’ve made, we have a lot more work to do.
Here at home, an extreme Supreme Court stripped away a fundamental freedom that existed for half a century.
We got to continue to fight to protect a woman’s fundamental right to make decisions about her own body.
I th- — and I want to, in front of all of you, thank Kamala, which I do privately, for leading the fight to protect women’s reproductive health. (Applause.) Thank you again. (Applause.)
And I said — as I said in the State of the Union, we got to finish the job —
THE PRESIDENT: — by investing in child and elder care, by passing a national program to — paid family leave and medical leave. (Applause.)
No American should have to choose between a paycheck and taking care of a loved one, taking care of themselves.
We have to stand together in the rising tide of hateful laws targeting transgender women and girls. (Applause.) And that’s why I continue to call on Congress: Pass the bipartisan Equality Act. (Applause.) Pass it now.
And, look, we ha- — we have to stand up for women worldwide.
You know, I issued a Presidential Memorandum on Conflict-Related Sexual Violence as rape continues to be used as a weapon of war in Ukraine, by the Russians, and elsewhere.
We stand with the women of Iran and Afghanistan, who are facing down violence and domestic — and — and their — their basic human rights are being ripped.
The budget I laid out two weeks ago includes more than $3 billion — a record amount — to advance gender equality globally, not just at home. (Applause.)
History tells us again and again, when women are safe and free and treated like equal human beings, the whole world is better off. The whole wor- — it’s — it’s just a fact. We don’t even talk about it, but it’s true.
I want to close with this. If you go downstairs, you’ll see a display of a gre- — the great Shirley Chisholm, who I knew and served with — (applause) — the first Black woman to serve in Congress.
She said women developed special leadership qualities through their reservoir of experience like patience, tolerance, and perseverance, and she went on to say, and I quote, to “help our society become the kind of society it must be.”
Well, today, we honor generations of female visionaries, known and unknown, on whose shoulders we all stand.
We celebrate all of you — all of you — who push the country forward every single day, and don’t yield, to bring us closer to that sacred American ideal.
We’re the most unique country in the world. We’re the only country based on an idea. Other countries are based on ethnicity, geography, other re- — but we — we are based on one notion. We haven’t fully lived up to it, but we’ve never abandoned it: “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men and women are created equal…endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights…life, li-…” That’s the basis upon which we exist as a country.
And look — and we have to recommit to the work ahead to deliver a better future for our nation’s daughters until they know that, in America, there is no limit to how high their dreams and talents can carry them; until society becomes what it must be, worthy of the abilities and ambitions of all our women and girls.
Until then, we’re never going to be who we should be.
On behalf of a grateful nation, thank you for the courage and service and the sacrifice you’ve all exercised. And I really mean it.
I look out here and I see a lot of the women members of Congress that I’ve come to know over the years and campaigned with and for. They won in spite of the fact I came and campaigned for them. (Laughter.)
But all kidding aside, I mean, you know, I wish people understood just what you’ve all gone through. What — I mean, it — it just all — so much of it the humiliation you’ve had to face, and you still stood up. I’ve watched you do it. I’ve watched you do it.
So, folks, I’m convinced we’re at an inflection point in history. I really mean it. I think what we do over the next two, three, four, five years is going to set the tone for the country and, I would argue, the world for the next four or five decades.
It comes along every four or five generations. But because of you, we’re reaching a critical mass here. And I really, really am thankful that my daughter is a social worker and — guess what? — building domestic violence shelters for women. She’s a —
This — you know — I — it’s contagious, what we can do.
So, thank you, thank you, thank you. And happy Women’s History Month. (Applause.)
5:50 P.M. EDT