Joe Biden

Remarks at Laborfest in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

September 05, 2022

The President. Hello, Milwaukee! My name is Joe Biden. I am Jill Biden's husband. And I want to start by saying: Any child under 12 years of age deserves a little extra ice cream or something for doing this. [Laughter] This has got to be the most boring thing in the world for you, honey. [Laughter] But we're going to work something out for you, I promise. Folks, if you have seat, don't hesitate to take them.

Audience member. We love you, Uncle Joe!

The President. Well, thank you, man.

Well, you know, I think this is getting to be a pretty good—a good year for a Labor Day. Eduardo, thank you for that introduction. It's great to be with Governor Evers, Representative Gwen Moore. Where's Gwen? There you go, Gwen. I love you, kid. You've been there every step of the way when I've needed help as President. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

And Mayor Johnson. Where is Mayor—where is the mayor? There you go. You've got those two beautiful girls and a son. I tell you what, you've got to tell your girls you got to be patient with we dads. We're hard to raise. We're hard to raise. [Laughter]

And I—where is the county executive? Stand up, big guy? I think these guys spend—I think these two guys spend all their time in the gymnasium. They look like they're in too good a shape.

And I want to thank Tammy—she couldn't be here today—who's a champion of working people and always there.

You know, and the same goes to Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes, who couldn't be here, but he's going be your next United States Senator. Oh, he is.

And I want to thank Liz Shuler for her fearless leadership at the AFL-CIO. And thanks to Pam for your leadership of the AFL-CIO here in Milwaukee. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Where is she? Back there. Okay, there you are, Pam. I was—okay. I wonder where everyone is sitting.

And how about actually having a union guy as the Secretary of Labor? I'll tell you what, if you're going to be in a foxhole, you want Marty in there with you. Now, you may have trouble understanding when he starts talking about——

[At this point, the President imitated a Boston accent.]

——car barns instead of garages and talks—[laughter]—he talks kind of funny, but he knows what he's talking about. [Laughter] I promised to be the most pro-union President in American history, and Marty is keeping me to make that promise.

And by the way, the reason for that, I'll—and I've had this conversation with the Business Roundtable and all the major chambers of commerce—it's not just that I think that it's important that people get a shot. But look, the reason why—the reason why businesses should be hiring labor folks is simple: You have—you're the single greatest technicians in the world. You're the best laborers in the world. You build the best product in the—and no, no, I'm not just joking. I'm not just saying that. But people forget—a lot of the trades—they forget—you go to 4, 5 years of school—your apprenticeship. It's like going back to college. It's not like you, all of a sudden, just step in. You build a better product, it lasts longer, and it's cheaper for the business, and it's better for the country.

Look—folks, Labor Day is a special day in the country for—and here in Milwaukee. This is one of the biggest Labor Day events in America you all have here.

And it's a special day to me as well. Because the fact of the matter is, I wouldn't be here without unions—unions: electricians, ironworkers, letter carriers, teamsters, laborers, bricklayers, transit workers, plumbers and pipefitters, steelworkers. I wouldn't be here without cops, firefighters, teachers, nurses. I wouldn't be here without painters, pilots, autoworkers, custodians, carpenters, grocery store workers, steel metal workers, and so many others. That's not a joke. That's not a joke.

I got elected when I was 29 years old to the United States Senate in a State that had recently been "right to work." You know why? Because union labor endorsed me and fought for me. So bad news for you all is, I'm here because of you.

Look, the middle class—the middle class—built America. Everybody knows that. But unions built the middle class. That's a fact. That's a fact.

Look, folks, I believe we're at an inflection point in American history—I really mean that—that comes around every five or six generations, an inflection where—one of those moments where everything is changing. Everything is changing.

And we're going to have to ask whether we want to be a country that moves forward or backwards; we're going to build a future or we're going to obsess about the past. I've said many times: We're the only country in the world that's come out of every crisis we ever faced stronger than we went in it. No other nation has done that.

And we do it because we've been a nation of unity, of hope, of optimism—not as a nation of division and violence and hatred that's being preached by some others.

I want to be very clear up front: Not every Republican is a MAGA Republican. Not every Republican embraces that extreme ideology. I know because I've been able to work with mainstream Republicans my whole career. But the extreme MAGA Republicans in Congress have chosen to go backwards: full of anger, violence, hate, and division.

But together, we can and we must choose a different path: forward. No, I really mean it. We have to. A future of unity, of hope, of optimism. We're going to choose to build a better America—a better America.

There's no question it's been a hard few years, but we've come a long way. Today, COVID no longer controls our lives. More Americans are working than at any time in all of American history. Last year, more people applied to start small businesses than any year in history. But it didn't just happen. We never gave up. We never gave in. And we are delivering for working and middle class Americans now—now.

Nearly 10 million new jobs—more jobs than have ever been created at this point in any Presidency in history. Wages are up. Unemployment remains near a 50-year low. And the big reason for all this is the American Rescue Plan that I signed into law shortly after taking office, with the help of your Democratic Members of Congress. That's how we got it done. Not one, single Republican vote.

And the plan took America from economic crisis to economic recovery. And here in Wisconsin, your Governor and your mayor of Milwaukee used that money like it's supposed to be used: keeping city workers on the job in the face of rising costs, keeping streets safe by fixing streetlights, training 130 new firefighters, helping to hire close to 200 more police officers.

And not a single Republican voted for that—not one, single one. Every single Republican in Congress in this State voted against that funding.

Audience members. Boo!

The President. So let me remind you—no, I really mean it. Let me remind you what else was in that American Rescue Plan.

A thing called the Butch Lewis Act. Now, look, for too long, most Americans didn't know what that means. Those of you who have been driving trucks from factories to stores; bagging our groceries; building our buildings, bridges, roads, so much more. And with each paycheck you earned, the employees put money into that pension plan.

But some companies didn't set aside enough money to pay for those plans. And as a result, hundreds of pensions—2 to 3 million workers and retirees—were going insolvent. Millions of retirees were at risk of losing their retirement security through no fault of your own.

So, with the American Rescue Plan, we passed the Butch Lewis Act to protect pensions all of you worked so damn hard for, pensions you sacrificed for. In retirement, it'd be a little like losing your Social Security and your Medicare.

It's one of the most significant achievements union workers and retirees—for union workers and retirees in over 50 years. And I'll say it again: Not a single Republican Congressman voted to protect your pensions—not one.

Audience members. Boo!

The President. And by the way, I know a lot of them wanted to vote for it, but they're afraid of losing primaries in this new Republican Party.

We also passed a once-in-a-generation investment in our Nation's roads, highways, bridges, railroads, ports, water systems, high-speed internet. Folks, your Governor has already repaired over 5,000 miles [of roads],* 1,500 bridges here in Wisconsin alone. Just a start.

We will, when this is over, have the best infrastructure—not a joke—in the entire world. The single best in the world. And that means jobs. No, that means jobs. That means we continue to lead the world. You can't do it without the best ports. You can't do it without the best airports. You can't do it—I'm not going to go on, but the point is: You can't do it.

Right here in Milwaukee, it's estimated 40 percent of the homes still have lead service water—lead pipes for their water. Because of the infrastructure law, the city is receiving millions of dollars to replace lead pipes to make sure families have safe drinking water. Your child shouldn't have to worry about turning on the faucet or going to school, going to the water fountain and worrying about any kind of lead in the water.

Look, it's the biggest investment in America since President Eisenhower's Interstate Highway Act. And we made sure that the infrastructure law included significant labor protections. For example, the majority of the funds in the law are subject to Davis-Bacon. And it's not just because I wanted to help unions. It's simple: You're the best in the world. That's not hyperbole. No, you really—that's not a joke. You really, genuinely are.

You don't just decide you want to be a pipefitter or an electrician. It takes you 4 to 5 years of hard work, the apprenticeships. It's like going to college. You're the best trained workers in the world, and you deserved to be treated that way.

And by the way, those of you who know me, no one ever doubts I mean what I say. The problem is, I sometimes say all that mean. [Laughter] I've made the same comments to the Business Roundtable, to the Chamber of Commerce. They understand it. They don't want to pay it; they understand it though. Because it's true.

I also signed the CHIP and Science Act, a groundbreaking law. We'll once again manufacture semiconductor chips that power everyday—everything—our smartphones, dishwashers, automobiles, national security stuff—right here in America. Guess what? We invented it here. We invented it here in America.

And by the way, the reason why last time out, last year, inflation was so high—you know the biggest reason? Cost of automobiles. You know why they cost so much? They didn't have the computer chips to make the automobiles.

Folks, here in Wisconsin, Senator Baldwin made clear that you're ready to take advantage of this law with world-class universities and a workforce that knows how to manufacture a product here in Wisconsin. This law is going to create tens of thousands of jobs in America, bringing billions of dollars of investment here in America, well over $100 billion in investments in America, revitalizing American manufacturing.

Where is it written—where is it written—that says America can't lead the world in manufacturing? Where does it say that? We've exported too damn much. In fact, next week, I'm going to Ohio for the groundbreaking of a multibillion-dollar semiconductor manufacturing plant. The company is Intel. It's one of the largest investments of its kind ever. They're putting $20 billion in as a start.

It's going to create thousands of jobs—thousands—7,000 construction jobs just building the facilities; 5,000 permanent jobs for blue-collar workers who will make $125,000 a year in those jobs.

And by the way, if you take a look, manufacturers all over the world are coming to the United States—from Korea, from Japan, from all over the world.

Why? You know why the head of an outfit out of Korea told me they're coming here? Because we have the safest environment and the best workers in the world. That's a fact. We do. I'm not just saying this. This is real.

Look, folks, it means we're going to build the future in America with American workers in American factories using American-made products.

Look, it's something most people don't know, but you guys out there in this audience know: 15 percent of our military become—veterans become union workers when they leave the military. Fifteen percent. How many veterans out there? Holler out. You've got it. In my State of the Union Address, I put forward what I call a unity agenda that included taking care of our veterans.

Look, we have a lot of responsibilities but only one sacred responsibility—not a joke, and I mean this from the bottom of my heart and I've said it from the first day I entered politics: We have an obligation to equip those we send into harm's way and care for them and their families when they come home—both their families—especially our veterans who've been exposed to toxic burn pits, like my son.

Those pits the size of football fields—8, 9, 10 feet deep in Afghanistan and Iraq—I was in and out of those countries over 35 times in the middle of these wars as Vice President—that incinerate wastes of war—tires, poisons, chemicals, jet fuel, so much more.

A lot of people, like my son, had their hooch just probably 300, 500 yards from those pits. You could smell it. You could inhale it. Well, guess what? These poisonous fumes just came—people came home with headaches, numbness, dizziness, cancer.

I just signed—we call it the PACT Act—to take care of these veterans, who need medical assistance, and to provide for their families when they are gone. For God's sake, it's the least we can do. It's the least we——

Audience member. We love you, Joe!

The President. Well, I love you too, kiddo. I tell you. Look, like I said, I believe we have a lot of obligations—we have a lot of obligations, but only one sacred obligation, and that's to take care of those vets we send overseas and when they come home.

Audience member. [Inaudible]

The President. No, I know—I—but I really mean it. And as I said, I just signed into law a historic Inflation Reduction Act. It wasn't easy to take big drug companies, but we did. I've been fighting them since I got in Congress 180 years ago. [Laughter]

You know, we pay more for our prescription drugs in the United States of America than any major country in the world—here in the United States. Okay? There's no reason for it. For the last several decades, many of us have been trying to fix the problem. But for decades, Big Pharma tried to block giving lower drug prices for those on Medicare or anywhere else.

For decades, Big Pharma won—year in, year out—because they own chunks of the Congress, because they had help, like your senior Senator, Ron Johnson, who said——

Audience members. Boo!

The President. No, I want to say what he said. He said he opposed lowering drug costs because it would result in "punishing the pharmaceutical industry."

Audience members. Boo!

The President. Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. I mean, come on, man.

Not this year. We beat Pharma this year. We beat Pharma this year, and it mattered. We're going to change people's lives. We finally beat Pharma.

Now Medicare will have the power to negotiate lower prescription drug prices. We can guarantee no senior—no senior—will have to pay more than $2,000 out of pocket for their drugs for the entire year, no matter whether their bill is $50,000. No more than $2,000. Period.

And if you're on Medicare and you have diabetes, your cost of insulin will be capped at $35. And by the way, there's a reason for that. You know how much it costs for them to make and package the insulin for diabetes? Ten bucks. Ten. Any of you have to—you need that insulin or your children need it. You know what it costs. It costs you somewhere between 650 and 1,000 bucks a month. It's outrageous.

Well, guess what? We also had, in this bill of mine—we also had a provision that affected people who weren't on Medicare, but because of the leadership of your senior Senator and others, it got defeated. But I'm coming back and getting it.

Imagine—this about this. Imagine being a mom or a dad—I mean this from the bottom of my heart. Imagine being a mom or a dad with a kid with type 2 diabetes, knowing you need that insulin and you don't have the insurance, you can't pay for it. I'm not joking. Think about it. Think about how it'd rip your heart out.

It's wrong. It's simply wrong. And we're going to end it. It costs 10 bucks, and you can make 35 if you want. That's it.

For decades, the biggest corporations—and by the way, I know corporations; I come from the corporate State of the world. [Laughter] More corporations are incorporated in Delaware than every other nation—every other State in the country combined. Okay? So I could write a doctorate on corporations. [Laughter] So it's not like I'm anticorporation generically. But I do think everybody should pay their fair share.

And by the way—and by the way—look, for decades, the biggest corporations and the wealthiest Americans have fought to block a fair Tax Code. Republicans passed a $2 trillion tax cut mainly benefiting the wealthiest corporations under the Trump Administration. Put us——

Audience members. Boo!

The President. By the way, increased the debt by $2 trillion. Well, guess what? In 2000, 55 of those corporations earned a $40 billion in profit. They didn't pay a single, solitary penny in taxes.

Audience members. Boo!

The President. And the wealthiest Americans—of those 700-plus billionaires in America—you know what their average tax rate is—the Federal tax? Eight percent. They pay more taxes than any one of you—less—fewer taxes than any of you pay.

Audience member. It's not right!

The President. It's not right. No, no, I mean, this is—I—it's just outrageous. Well, guess what? Guess what? I wasn't able to take care—anyway. If you're a cop, a teacher, a firefighter, a steelworker, a miner, you pay double that Federal tax. It's just wrong.

But this year, the American people won. Now, big corporations have to pay at least a minimum tax of 15 percent—at least. The days of billion-dollar companies paying zero, they are over in America. And they know they can afford it.

And while we're doing this, we're actually reducing the Federal deficit. You know how they talk about responsible—they—the last guy left me with a giant deficit. Well, guess what? In my first year, I reduced the deficit by $350 billion. And you know how much—you know how much I'm reducing the deficit this year? One-trillion-five-hundred-thousand-reduction of the deficit.

And by the way, just by dealing with allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices, it means Medicare doesn't have to pay out that many tax dollars to buy them. That alone is reduce—going to reduce, over time, $300 billion in the deficit.

You would think that if Republicans really cared about reducing inflation, they'd vote for the Inflation Reduction Act. But every single Republican in House and Senate voted against it. Every single Republican in the House and Senate.

Audience members. Boo!

The President. Now, I admit some of them voted against it. They thought it made sense, but they weren't—they couldn't let Biden, quote, "have a victory." It's not my victory, it's the American people's victory.

In spite of the fact that while doing all this we lowered the deficit by a trillion-five this year here, here in America, every single Republican voted against lowering prescription drug prices, against lowering health care costs, against protecting your pensions, against lower energy costs, against creating good-paying jobs, against a fairer tax system—every single one in the House and Senate. Every one.

And one thing more: When Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the National Labor Relations Act—when it passed in the thirties—he didn't say it was okay to be a union. He said—and in fact, it says we should "encourage unions"—"encourage." Well, I'm encouraging unions. That's what I've been doing from day one.

It includes for public service sector workers in Wisconsin as well. Today, support for unions in this country is higher than it's been in nearly 60 years. Think about this. You guys know the numbers. Unions are more—have more support today in America in public opinion than any time in 60 years. The key—it's a key way to building the economy, to grow us from the bottom up and the middle out. I'm so sick and tired of trickle-down economics.

I come from a family where my dad worked hard. He worked like hell. We lived a decent, middle class life. We lived in a three-bedroom, split-level home in a development that was—there—as we were—the area was growing, with four kids and a grandpop. I sometimes wonder—anyway, I wonder—[laughter]—it was great for us, but those walls were thin. [Laughter] But all kidding aside, we did fine. No complaints. We did fine.

But here's the point: The biggest contrast from what MAGA Republicans—the extreme right, the "Trumpies"—[laughter]—they want to go to—these MAGA Republicans in Congress are coming for your Social Security as well.

Now, are you—by the way, as I said, you might think I'm making this—some of this stuff up, it's so outrageous. But here's the deal, guys: The Republicans—read the Republican campaign plan, the Senate campaign they put out this year. Go online and read it. Senator Rick Scott of Florida heads that campaign committee.

Audience members. Boo!

The President. It's all in black and white. I'm not making it up. You can go online and read it. They want to require Congress to vote on the future of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid every 5 years to decide whether they continue.

Audience members. Boo!

The President. No, no, every 5 years, they get to vote to change, to cut, to reduce, or entirely eliminate Social Security and other things. How's that make us feel knowing you guys—

Audience members. Boo!

The President. And then along—you know, remember that song, "Along Comes Jones"? And then along comes Ron Johnson of Wisconsin.

Audience members. Boo!

The President. He's arguing that 5 years is too long to wait to savage these programs people depend on. He wants to put Social Security and Medicare literally on that chopping block every single year, treated like any other appropriation.

Let me remind you: You paid for your Social Security and Medicare. It's taken out of your paycheck from the time you're 18 years old.

And the same guy who said—he's the same guy who said if the Republicans get control of the Congress, they're coming after the Affordable Care Act again, denying health insurance to anyone with a preexisting condition. That's the only reason they have—they're able to get it.

Only reason they get—if they have a preexisting condition, the only way they can insurance is because of the Affordable Care Act. That's not a joke. This guy never stops. [Laughter] But guess what? I ain't stopping either.

Folks, you and I, we offer a starkly different vision for this country, a vision of a fairer, more decent America. One where everybody has a fair share and where every American is treated with—as my dad would say—with dignity. The economy that works for work, not wealth.

Now let me close with this: We're at a serious moment in our Nation's history, and it's not hyperbole——

[There was a disruption in the audience.]

I mean it from the bottom of my heart. As I said last week, we remain in the battle for the soul of America.

By the way——

Audience member. You're a liar!

The President. All right, God love you.

Audience members. Boo!

The President. Let him go. Let him go.

Audience members. Boo!

The President. No, no, no. Don't—let him—let him go. Let him—he's—look, everybody is entitled to be an idiot. No, no. [Laughter] Everybody is entitled, okay?

Look, extreme MAGA Republicans don't just threaten our personal rights and our economic security, they embrace political violence. Look—no, look, the reason—I'm not talking all Republicans, I'm talking about these extreme MAGA Republicans.

Think about it. Think about it. The definition of democracy is, you accept the will of the people when the votes are honestly counted. These guys don't do it. Name me a democracy in the world where a leader argues to engage in violence. To this day, MAGA Republicans in Congress defend the mob that stormed the Capitol, and people died later.

Senator Johnson said it was a—"by and large a peaceful protest."

Audience members. Boo!

The President. Have you seen the videos of what happened on that day, listened to the stories of the members of both parties of Congress and the jeopardy they were put in? Cops attacked and assaulted. Speared with flag poles. Sprayed with mace. Stomped on, dragged, brutalized.

Police lost their lives as a result of that day. And the MAGA Republicans and your senior Senator said it was "a peaceful protest."

Audience members. Boo!

The President. Folks, you can't be pro—you can't be pro-insurrectionist—I'm being deadly earnest now. There's no democracy where you can be pro-insurrection and pro-democracy. So, when I say that democracy is at stake, I mean what I'm saying literally. You can't say you support law enforcement and call the people who attacked the police on January 6 "patriots". This was an attack on American democracy and all we stand for.

Imagine if you go home this afternoon, turn on the television, and saw several thousand people storming the British Parliament, knocking down the doors, threatening the lives, trying to overthrow the election of the new Prime Minister, and people dying. What would you think? No, I'm being deadly earnest now. Honest to God, what would you think? You'd think, "This is not a democracy."

Well, let me tell you something. Let me tell you something: This is why, in this moment, those of you in this country—Democrats, Republicans—and mainstream Republicans and Independents—we have to be stronger and more determined and more committed to saving American democracy than the MAGA Republicans and that guy walking out the door are [to]* destroying democracy, because democracy is at stake.

We got to remember who we are. We're the United States of America. There is nothing—nothing we can't do if we do it together.

God bless you all, and may God protect our troops. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

NOTE: The President spoke at 1:37 p.m. in the Henry Maier Festival Park. In his remarks, he referred to Eduardo Marquez, member, Laborers International Union of North America Local 113, and project superintendent for J.H. Findorff & Son Inc.; Bella, Madison, and Oliver Johnson, children of Mayor Cavalier "Chevy" Johnson of Milwaukee, WI; Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley; Elizabeth H. Shuler, president, AFL-CIO; Pam Fendt, president, Milwaukee Area Labor Council; and former President Donald J. Trump. He also referred to his brothers Francis W. and James B. Biden and sister Valerie Biden Owens.

* White House correction.

Joseph R. Biden, Remarks at Laborfest in Milwaukee, Wisconsin Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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