Remarks by The First Lady and Dr. Biden to the Women's Leadership Forum Issues Conference
1:05 P.M. EDT
DR. BIDEN: Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you very much. Thank you, Denise, for that warm introduction. And thank you to the Women’s Leadership Forum conference hosts and organizers who have worked so hard to make this event possible. It’s great to be with you here today.
It’s been an incredible journey since the last time Michelle and I were with you in Chicago. (Applause.) I remember being so inspired by the tremendous spirit of the amazing women in that room -- women who played a critical role in the 2008 election. There’s no question that we would not be here today without each of your efforts. (Applause.) No, I should thank you. (Applause.)
No doubt, many things have changed since October of 2008. But what brings us back here together today is our collective commitment to improving the lives of all Americans.
And I can tell you, all over this country, every day, women are making extraordinary efforts to improve their lives and the lives of others.
Last week, I met Carla Mannes at a community college meeting I was hosting in Arizona. Carla is a single mom who spent the last 25-plus years raising four children, working around the clock and successfully putting them through school. Over the years Carla tried to return to school herself, but the timing was never quite right.
She confessed to me that she thought of herself as -- she didn’t think of herself as very smart because she didn’t have a degree, and the last 10 years have really been a difficult financial struggle for her and her family.
Last summer, Carla gave it another shot and enrolled in classes at her local community college, this time with an undeniable passion and commitment to finish.
Carla is on the path towards a degree in Social Work, and her goal is to mentor young women who feel unloved and discarded.
Last semester, Carla earned a 4.0. (Applause.)
I also recently met two young women from California, Kaylei Deakin and Moranda Hern. Both are high school seniors and daughters of National Guardsmen.
Together, they formed the “Sisterhood of the Traveling Battle Dress Uniforms” -- (laughter) -- I know, it’s cute -- a support network for young women going through similar experiences of sadness and loss while their fathers and mothers are deployed. But that wasn’t enough. They went on to organize a conference for daughters of military members, focusing on issues ranging from self-esteem, self-image, career plans, and relationships.
I am profoundly moved by the women I meet, whether in my travels or in my classroom each day, by their determination to learn, and their quest to make a better life for themselves and their families.
And, I know we are all here today because we believe in the efforts of this administration, along with the dedication of groups like WLF, will support these women and their families.
And, speaking of incredible women, I am here to introduce a woman whom I am fortunate enough to call my friend, Michelle Obama. (Applause.)
I really believe that fate brought the two of us together, and I am so grateful to have the opportunity to partner with Michelle on many of the critical issues facing this country today.
We all know that Michelle is a dedicated and devoted mother, wife, a brilliant lawyer, and a groundbreaking First Lady. In the short time we have been in office, she has opened up the White House to tens of thousands of Americans and given new meaning to the phrase: “the People’s House.”
Both domestically and on the world stage, she is a role model and mentor to women and men alike.
Please join me in welcoming my dear friend, the First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama. (Applause.)
MRS. OBAMA: Wow. (Applause.) Well, hello! (Applause.) Thank you all so much. Please. (Applause.) Thanks so much. It is so good to see you all. Thank you so much. It is a pleasure to be here with all of you today.
Let me begin by thanking Jill for that extremely kind introduction. Jill has been such an extraordinary partner in our work to support military families. More importantly she has been just a terrific friend in this journey. It’s just been truly a thrill for me to have her by my side, sometimes in front. So let’s give Jill another round of applause. (Applause.)
I want to recognize a few more people. I want to recognize our DNC Chair, Governor Tim Kaine. Tim. (Applause.) And on this Mother’s Day he is here with his lovely wife and my dear friend, Ann, and his mom, Kathy. (Applause.)
And I also want to thank Senators Gillibrand and our DNC Vice Chair, Representative Wasserman-Schultz. (Applause.) Also to the outstanding Congresswoman Carol Maloney. It’s good to see you, have you here. (Applause.) I don’t know where everyone is sitting, but they’re here. And to the founding members and co-chairs of the Women’s Leadership Forum, I get a chance to hug and see all of you. You are doing tremendous work. We are grateful and proud of everything you’re doing.
So, now, some of you may remember that the last time we were together, as Jill said, it was back in late October of 2008. You remember that? (Applause.) And you were all meeting in my hometown, Chicago. And it was just -- (applause) -- it was good, it was really good! (Applause.) It was just a couple of weeks before the election, and Barack and I had been traveling, flying all over the country, everywhere, every corner, talking to folks and doing everything that we could to do to persuade people to get out the vote, and to vote for who? Barack Obama. (Laughter.)
But we were very eager to get back to home for the National Issues Conference, because we knew then about the critical work that you all were doing -- the organizing, raising money, making sure that people got to the polls on November the 4th. Do you remember those times? (Laughter.)
Because of the tireless efforts of all you and folks like you all throughout the country, we saw people getting involved for the very first time. Remember that? We saw folks of all ages and backgrounds knocking on doors -- they had never done that before -- making calls, waiting hours in line on Election Day because they wanted to make history.
And on November the 4th, 2008, that’s exactly what we did. And my husband and I are so incredibly grateful for everything that you all did to make that possible. We are truly proud of you for the work that you’ve done.
But I think it’s fair to say that since that time a few things have happened to us. (Laughter.) As you know, our family moved from Chicago right here to Washington, our new hometown, although will never be not our hometown. And we’ve spent the last year or so, as you know, just settling into our new lives here in this city.
So all of you know, the girls are doing great. And Mom is doing well too. She’s enjoying a very active life here in Washington. And by the way, Bo is adjusting to his newfound celebrity -- (laughter) -- for those of you who care to ask. He is probably the most important person in the household for kids who visit.
And after all that time on the campaign trail, I have to say that we’re enjoying living above the store -- (laughter) -- so that Dad can come home for nights -- for dinner. And that’s something that we truly treasure. It was something that we didn’t have for a long time on the campaign trail.
So a lot has changed since we last met. But there’s one thing that hasn’t changed. Back then I talked about the issues that we face -- from the economy, to health care, to education. And I said that these issues aren’t and they still aren’t about politics. They’re personal. And they’re personal for every single one of us in this room, and they’re personal for every single one of us in this country.
And it’s easy to lose sight of that fact with all the back and forth that goes on here in Washington -- folks yelling at each other on TV so that little things get blown out of proportion and sometimes big, important things don’t always get the attention that they deserve.
But I have to tell you that when Barack and I travel the country now and we spend time with ordinary folks, they don’t have much interest in the scorekeeping that goes on here in Washington. They really don’t. They don’t care much about anybody’s poll numbers. And as my husband has pointed out, never -- not even once -- has someone asked him, “Who won the day?”
The questions they ask have nothing to do with the daily chatter that goes on here, and it has everything to do with the struggles, the real struggles they’re facing in their lives. They tell us about insurance companies that refuse to pay for the treatment that they need, and they ask us, “What do I do now?” Or they tell us, “I’ve been out of a job for months.” And they ask, “What are you going to do to help folks like me?”
They tell us about factories that are shutting their doors, schools that are failing their kids, and their struggles to try to afford their mortgages, tuition bills, a decent retirement.
And I know that a lot of folks are cynical about whether change is possible. I know it’s hard. A lot of folks think that everything that’s said out on the campaign trail is just talk. They’re skeptical about whether the people they send to Washington will actually stand up for their interests and fight for their hopes and dreams.
But as all of you know, that is exactly what Barack Obama has done every single day since he’s been the President of the United States. (Applause.)
You all know that those folks that he met in Iowa and New Hampshire and across this country, they’re the folks that he thinks about when he wakes up every single morning. They’re the ones that he fights for nearly every waking hour. This man is working hard.
They are the basis for every decision he makes -- not whether it’s good politics, not whether it’s going to make good headlines, but whether it’s good for them and for their families.
During his campaign, he said clearly that he’d work to get our economy back on track so that businesses could start creating jobs again and families could get ahead.
And that’s exactly what he’s doing. During his first months in office, he worked to pass the Recovery Act and rescue our financial system from the brink of collapse.
And while a lot of folks are still hurting, and they are, and we still have a long way to go, we are finally heading in the right direction.
Our economy is growing again instead of shrinking. (Applause.) And because of the steps that were taken, 2 million Americans are working today who otherwise wouldn’t be.
And about 95 percent of working folks in this country have received a tax cut –- money that they’re using to pay off their bills, and to pay down their mortgages, and to put food on the table for their families.
Throughout this campaign, Barack promised that he would take on health care reform, because, as he said, it’s just plain wrong that so many folks have been dropped from their coverage when they got sick, or excluded because of pre-existing conditions, or crushed by outrageous costs.
And guess what, that’s exactly what he did. (Applause.) Now, it wasn’t easy. (Laughter.) And it certainly wasn’t quick. But because he stuck with it, and because you all stuck with him, we are finally able to pass a reform that’s going to offer families and small businesses the quality, affordable care that they deserve and they need.
This reform doesn’t increase our deficits –- it actually helps shrink them. It ends some of the worst abuses of the insurance industry. It helps seniors pay for their prescriptions, and lets young people stay on their parents’ insurance until they’re 26.
And it will give people the peace of mind of no longer having to worry that with just one accident, with just one illness, they’ll lose everything they have. That’s what health reform is all about. (Applause.)
My husband said he would fight to ensure that women got equal pay for equal work. And as you may all remember, the very first bill he signed into law, just nine days after taking office -- I was there -– was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act -- (applause) -- because, as he put it, and I quote, “There are no second class citizens in our workplaces.”
My husband said that he would appoint judges to our courts who have a record of excellence, integrity, and independence, and who grasp not just the letter of the law, but its impact on our daily lives.
And that is why Sonia Sotomayor is now making history as Justice Sotomayor in our nation’s highest court. (Applause.)
My husband said he’d fight to give every child in this country the education they need to thrive in today’s economy. And that’s exactly what he’s doing. He’s working to make college more affordable, to fix student loan systems so that it helps students, and not just banks.
And his administration has launched a program, you may have heard of it, Race to the Top –- a nationwide challenge where states compete to transform their school and give our kids the chance in life that they deserve.
My husband said he would set a timetable for ending the War in Iraq, and step up the fight against terrorism. He said he’d work to stop the spread of nuclear weapons, and lead the way on climate change, and begin restoring America’s standing in the world. And let me tell you something, he’s done every single one of those things. (Applause.) Every single one of them. (Applause.)
And I have seen the results first-hand. I’ve seen it as I’ve traveled around the world, I’ve seen for myself the excitement and the enthusiasm that people are feeling towards our country. It’s been a truly amazing and humbling experience.
Even with all the challenges that we’ve faced over the past year or so, and all the obstacles that we’ve had to overcome, we have achieved all of this –- and more –- in just the first 15 months. It’s 15 months, all right? (Applause.)
So if this is what we can do in 15 months -- did I say 15 months? (Laughter.) So just imagine what we can achieve in the next 15 months. Just imagine what we can do in the next few years. (Applause.) See, it’s that kind of determination, that sense of possibility, that keeps Barack Obama going every day.
And it’s why I’ve been inspired, as well, to use my platform as First Lady to work on issues that I care about that are near and dear to my heart.
That’s why I started our “Let’s Move” initiative to address the epidemic of childhood obesity that we’re seeing all across our country. (Applause.)
No matter how many times I talk about the statistics, they never fail to take my breath away. Right now, one in three children in this country is overweight or obese. And one in three kids will suffer from diabetes at some point in their life.
So if we’re spending $150 billion a year to treat obesity-related conditions today, just imagine how much we’ll be spending in 10, or 20, or 50 years if we don’t take action right now.
Imagine the kind of lives our kids will be leading if so many of them are struggling with weight-related illnesses like diabetes and heart disease and cancer.
That’s why we’ve set such an ambitious goal for “Let’s Move”: to solve the problem of childhood obesity in a generation, so that children born today will reach adulthood at a healthy weight.
We’re working with pediatricians, and food manufacturers, and the FDA to give parents the information they need to make healthy decisions for their kids.
We’re making critical investments to get healthier food into our schools. We’re working to eliminate “food deserts” by bringing grocery stores into underserved areas, so that all our families have access to healthy, affordable food right in their own community. (Applause.)
And to get kids moving, we’re revamping the President’s Physical Fitness Challenge and we're working with professional athletes to inspire kids to stay physically active not just in school but at home.
I know it’s an ambitious agenda, but we’re already starting to make progress. Already school food suppliers have agreed to decrease sugar, fat and salt in school meals, and increase fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. (Applause.) Schools across the country are meeting our challenge to help kids eat right and exercise and make healthier decisions for themselves.
State and local officials are sponsoring farmers markets and working to get more fresh foods into their communities.
And we’re going to keep on working with folks from every part of this society -– mayors, governors, parents, educators, health care professionals -- you name it, because we're going to need every single one of them to help our kids lead active, healthy lives right from the beginning.
Young people are also the focus of my international agenda as well. And last month, I made my first solo international trip. Jill and I first went to Haiti, as you know, to offer support and encouragement for the ongoing relief efforts there. And then I traveled to Mexico to urge young people to engage with their communities and help us meet the pressing challenges of our time.
And I’ll never forget about a young woman that I met there named Maricela, who I met at a roundtable discussion with young leaders in Mexico City. She was from a tiny town in Oaxaca. Her father had passed away, and her mother -- she told a story of how she worked tirelessly to support her and her four siblings; said her mom was always the first one to wake up in the morning, and the last one to go to bed at night. But she told us about the fact that despite their hardships, her mother was determined to build a better life for her daughter.
She talked about something her mother told her -- said her mom told her, “It doesn’t matter…whether I sleep or not, but you have to be able to go to school. That is the only way. You have to be able to get an education.”
And the thing is, is that this is a story that is told every day all around the world, and right here in America -- a story about the strength and determination of women. Women who haven’t had much in their own lives, but who know exactly what they want for their children. Women who work those extra shifts, and make those sacrifices, so their daughters –- and their sons –- can have opportunities they never imagined for themselves.
I’m talking about women like Lilly Ledbetter, who I love, who you know she kept on fighting for equal pay even when she knew that it was too late for herself. Why? Because she wanted something more for the women who came after her. That's the only reason she did it. (Applause.)
I’m talking about women like Dr. Dorothy Height, one of my heroes -- (applause) -- who kept up the fight for civil and economic rights up through the final months of her life. She once said, and I quote, it’s a beautiful quote: She said, “I want to be remembered as someone who used herself and anything she could touch to work for justice and freedom...I want to be remembered as someone who tried.”
And every day, across this country, so many women wake up every day and try -– using everything they have –- to make life a little better for others.
And that’s what all of you all are doing with your work for our party -– using what you have to help build a better world for our kids and our grandkids. And let me tell you something. We desperately need all of you to stay involved in this work. You cannot stop -- because we all know that when you need something done, and you ask women to do it, it gets done. End of story. (Applause.)
And in the months leading up to this November and beyond, we’re going to need you to get out there and get it done, because we know that change -- we do know that change doesn’t happen overnight. We know that progress doesn’t happen without struggle and sacrifice. This stuff is supposed to be hard. It takes folks like you, folks who are constantly rejecting the cynicism, casting aside the doubts, and working day after day to continue what we’ve already started.
And that brings me back to something else that we talked about when we were together back in 2008. Back then, and all throughout the campaign, I talked about my girls and how they’re the heart of my heart, and the center of my world, how they’re the first thing I think about when I wake up in the morning, and the last thing I think about when I go to bed at night. It’s still true. And because of the work that all of you are doing, let me tell you something, when I tuck them into bed at night, I feel so hopeful about the future we’re leaving for them, and for kids like them all across this country.
I feel hopeful. I feel like we’re on our way to leaving them a safer, healthier, freer, and more just world, one where they’ll have the opportunities more than ever before to fulfill their dreams.
So I want to end by just saying thank you. Thank you for everything you’ve done, for everything that you’re doing, and for everything we're going to need you to do in the months and years ahead. We are proud of you. So let’s get it done.
Thank you all so much. (Applause.)
1:33 P.M. EDT