Remarks at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Phoenix Awards Dinner
Vice President Kamala D. Harris. Good evening. Good evening. Good evening, everyone. Good evening. Good evening, good evening.
Isn't it wonderful to be back? Three years and we're back in person, CBC.
I want to thank our illustrious chairwoman, Joyce Beatty, for your years of service to the Congressional Black Caucus and to our Nation.
So as we gather here, I know that all of us also have in mind the people of Puerto Rico and Florida and South Carolina. And as President Biden has said, we will stand by you for as long as it takes. And I will reiterate, we will stand by you.
Now, for tonight, we gather once again at the Phoenix dinner with so many friends and our CBC family. The first time I attended this dinner, I was in college at Howard University. You know. [Laughter] And as a United States Senator, I attended this dinner as a CBC member. And tonight, I, of course, attend this dinner as Vice President of the United States.
This year's conference theme, "Advancing Our Purpose and Elevating Our Power," truly captures the spirit and the purpose of CBC, because that is what CBC does.
In a moment, you will hear from the President about the progress we have made together. A President who chose CBC members and staff to serve at every level of our Government, including our outstanding Secretary of the Housing and Urban Development agency, Madam Secretary Marcia Fudge. And together with this caucus, we place equality, equity, and justice at the center of our work. And I will highlight just two of the many examples that demonstrates why that matters.
With the CBC, we invested an historic $5.8 billion—that's "b" with a—"b"—billion dollars—in our HBCUs, knowing that our HBCUs are some of our best—best—institutions of academic excellence. And speaking of history, many of us were together yesterday morning for the investiture of the first Black woman to serve on the United States Supreme Court, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson. And this, all of it, was made possible because we elevated our power and advanced our purpose. But we still have so much more to do.
And we need the leadership of this organization now more than ever. Leadership that has the proven ability to see America as it can be, unburdened by what has been. Leadership that is grounded—and has always been—in fundamental rights, including the importance of justice for all people. Leadership that represents not just the Congress—not just the conscience of the Congress, but the conscience of our country.
We gather in unsettled times. I have seen that as I have traveled across this Nation and around the world as your Vice President. And you have seen it too. Ideals and freedoms that we thought were long established and are now under threat.
Overseas, it includes the threat to the sovereignty of independent nations. And at home, threats to a woman's right to make decisions about her own body, threats to a voter's right to cast a ballot and have it counted, and threats to the right of every citizen to lead and live free from hate and violence.
These long-held freedoms now hang in the balance. So, in this moment, what are we then called to do? Well, CBC, let us take a lesson from our history.
During one of my most recent conversations with Ambassador Andrew Young, he told me about the time that he and Dr. Martin Luther King met with President Lyndon Johnson in 1964 to push for the passage of the Voting Rights Act. President Johnson had just passed the Civil Rights Act and told them he could not pass another bill. He said, "I just—I just do not have the power." So Dr. King turned to Ambassador Young and said, "Well, we are going to get the President some power." And that is exactly what they did.
In elections that year, they organized, advocated, and protected access to the ballot. They got the President the power to pass the Voting Rights Act the very next year.
We have a job to do. We have a job to do, because in this room we have the power we need to get it done. And we have a President who works every single day to elevate that power even higher to advance that purpose even further.
My fellow Americans, it is my honor to introduce the President of the United States, Joe Biden.
The President. Whoa! Hello, CBC. Please, sit down.
Thank you, Kamala, for that introduction and, even more importantly, for your partnership, because it is a partnership. Isn't she doing an incredible job? Not a joke.
Joyce, I see you over there. Can't hide. Thank you for your leadership of the CBC as the chair. And Jim, the Minority [Majority]* Whip, thank you for your friendship and support, for bending the arc of the moral universe just a little bit more toward justice. And thank you to the CBC members for your leadership and service, and to the staff of the CBC, including Vince Evans who worked for us from day one on the campaign and in the White House. Thank you, Terri—Chair of the CBC Foundation.
You all are the best. I recruited a bunch of your members to be in my administration. Kamala, Marcia, Cedric, thank you for everything.
And everyone here tonight, Jill and I are honored to be with so many friends.
You know, though, I know you're really here to see Gladys Knight. [Laughter] I ain't one of the Pips. [Laughter]
Let me start with: Our hearts, to state the obvious—it can't go without saying—are heavy from the devastating hurricane and storms in Puerto Rico, Florida, and South Carolina. And—[inaudible]—we owe Puerto Rico a hell of a lot more than they've already gotten.
But Steve and Val are here tonight, the dinner cochairs. And Val—Val couldn't be here tonight because she's with the people of her district who are in desperate need.
My administration is working closely with the CBC members to do whatever it takes—whatever it takes—to help search and rescue, recovery, and rebuilding. And it's going to take a long time, so we cannot tire. Whatever it takes. I mean it: Whatever it takes.
And it's time like these we're reminded that America is about how we choose to see one another—how we choose to see one another; how we choose to treat everyone with dignity and respect they deserve; how we choose to believe that is—America is big enough for all of us to succeed.
You know me, and I know you. That's the version of America we're making real. Finally, together, we're making it real. In fact, big wins since we were sworn in simply wouldn't have happened without the CBC. As a matter of fact, without the CBC, I wouldn't be standing here tonight. That's a fact.
Look at what we witnessed yesterday. I told you all I was going to appoint a Black woman to the Supreme Court, and we did. The first—not only the first Black Vice President, but the first member of the—Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States of America. Think about that. Think about that.
Look, I know by now no one ever doubts that I mean what I say. The problem is, I sometimes say all that I mean. [Laughter]
But look what Ketanji Brown—the Associate Justice said it—said. "It took"—this is her quote: "It took just one generation to go from segregation to the Supreme Court of the United States." That's how she described—that's how Justice Jackson described the feeling as we celebrated her confirmation at the White House this spring. It was one of the proudest days in office and a commitment that I kept.
But I want to thank Dick Durbin, chair of Judiciary Committee, for getting it done. He described her as "a pillar of strength." But it couldn't have been done without Cory Booker, who was back there as an engineer. Cory, you're here somewhere, I know. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Cory, and for reminding us of the resolve and joy at that historic moment.
You know, and by the way, I've nominated to the—and the CBC has helped confirm more Black women appellate justices [Federal judges]* than every other President in history combined—combined throughout our history.
But that's not all we've gotten done. The historic American Rescue Plan helped us emerge from the pandemic and move from economic crisis to resurgence. We centered equity in our historic vaccine effort, going into communities to close the racial gap to make sure all Black Americans—no matter where they live, no matter what their circumstance—got a chance to be vaccinated and boosted.
I want to tell you, we had a hell of a lot of help from the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi. Look, that law helped more Black Americans gain health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.
Black unemployment is down. Black small business creation is up. And Black child poverty was cut in half in 2021 because of the child tax credit. And with the help of the CBC, we're working like hell to make sure we make the child tax credit permanent. Permanent. Permanent.
And let's cut through it. I ran on the commitment that I'd get significant funding for the HBCUs. I didn't go to one, but one got me elected: Delaware State University. Oh, not joking. No, no, no, you don't—if you know Delaware, you know I'm telling the truth. We have the eighth largest Black population in America, as a percent of population. And they did it for me.
And, by the way, the president used to work for me until he—he wanted to be president. So he—now he's the chairman—he's the president of the university.
Look, instead of photo ops, I delivered $5.8 billion in funding, more than any time in any portion of our history ever. That's a fact.
And Marcia's—with Marcia's leadership, we're expanding our efforts to build Black wealth, like others have, through homeownership, because we know that's how you build equity and pass down that wealth from generation to generation.
And we're also aggressively—aggressively combating racial discrimination in housing. And that includes everything from ending the legacy of redlining—which, I might add, was the first issue I got involved in as a young county councilman and almost lost, but we were right.
It includes addressing the cruel fact that a home built by the same builder on different sides of a highway—same home—a White couple moves into one, a Black couple in the other; the Black couple's home is somewhere between 12- and 20-percent undervalued from the White home. Look, folks, too often it happens.
Black small businesses—the engines of our economy. But you understand most of—more than most people. They're the glue that holds a community together: the restaurant, the beauty shop, the barber shop, the drug store. Every business, no matter how big or small, they're the ones that sponsor the church events, the Little League events. They're the ones that hold a community together that people gather around. So it matters. It matters we support small business in the Black community.
And as President, my administration disperses hundreds of billions of dollars in Federal contracts for everything from refurbishing the decks on aircraft carriers to installing the railings on Federal buildings. I get to spend $600 billion a year. And I made a decision that it all going to be made and worked for in America. None of that money is going to any outfit that's not in America.
And guess what? We're determined to make sure that taxpayer dollars goes to American companies and American workers. In my administration, we buy American. And that includes increasing the share of those dollars that go to small, disadvantaged businesses, including Brown and Black businesses.
And we're going to bring that from 10 percent of all that money spent going to small businesses that are Black and Brown to 15 percent by 2025. It doesn't sound like much. That means an additional $100 billion to those businesses and those communities. It matters. It matters.
Together, we turned "Infrastructure Week" from a punchline into "Infrastructure Decade" as a headline. Because of you all, I was able to sign a once-in-a-generation infrastructure law with equity at the center of it. We're going to modernize America's roads, bridges, ports, airports all across America.
And we're going to replace poisonous lead pipes so every child can turn on a faucet, whether they're at home or school, and drink clean water. We're going to deliver affordable, high-speed internet, so every single household, no matter—so the parent doesn't have to pull in front of a McDonald's parking lot so their kid can get on the internet to do their homework.
Folks, we ended the—we act—enacted the Inflation Reduction Act, one of the most significant laws in our history. For too long, we paid the highest price for prescription drugs of any advanced nation in the world. And for years, many of us who have been around have been taking on and fighting the drug companies, fighting Pharma. And we've not been able to win. But this time we fought them and we won. We beat them. We finally got it done.
Medicare will have the power to negotiate lower prescription drug prices. Seniors will see their out-of-pocket drug costs capped at $2,000 a year no matter what their costs are, even if they're 13-, 15-, 16,000 dollars like they are for cancer drugs and other needs.
Folks, if you're on Medicare and you have diabetes, your insulin is going to be capped at $35 a month, not 35 times $35 a month. And we initially—we initially—and the House passed that for everyone, including hundreds of thousands of children with type 1 diabetes. But Republicans blocked it.
Imagine—I mean this sincerely—imagine being the parent of a child with type 1 diabetes, knowing that if they don't get that drug, if they don't get that insulin, if they don't get it on time, their health can be permanently damaged or they could die. Not having enough money because they don't have insurance and no way to get it. Just imagine being that parent. It's wrong.
We're going to keep fighting until we get that cost down to 35 bucks. It costs them 10 bucks to make it; they should not get more than $35.
The Inflation Reduction Act takes the most aggressive action to confront our climate crisis ever in all of human history, ever. It offers Black families thousands of dollars in energy savings through tax credits and rebates when they have to replace everything from a toaster to a refrigerator with new, efficient appliances; to weatherize their homes; to purchase electric vehicles, used as well as new; and so much more.
It invests—and Cedric and I talked about this a lot when we were writing it—it invests in those fenceline communities, like in my State of Delaware, that suffered the greatest consequence of being smothered by pollution year in and year out, because, literally, they—they're the neighborhoods that live next to those communities.
We're doing all of this while reducing the deficit: last year, $350 billion, and this year by $1 trillion. I'm so sick of Republicans saying we're the "big spenders." Give me a break. Give me a break.
And, by the way, this bill is going to reduce the deficit by another $300 billion over 10 years because Medicare is going to be paying less for the drugs that are going out.
As a result, we can afford—I know I'm being banged up by the Republicans, but come—bring it on. We can afford to cancel $10,000 in student debt and 20,000 bucks if you had a Pell grant, for Americans making under 125 grand.
Seventy percent of Black college students receive a Pell grant. For many Black students, these loan forgiveness will wipe out their student debt completely. For others, it provides significant belief [relief].*
It's a game changer. And I don't want to hear a word from those Members of Congress, if you notice, whose families got tens of thousands of dollars and several million dollars in pandemic relief loan forgiveness. The same ones criticizing. Give me a break. Come on. They voted for that. Or those who voted for a tax cut for $2 trillion for the wealthiest Americans and the biggest corporations, where they didn't pay a penny for it.
Look, you know me; I know you. And I have your back. Two weeks ago, we had a first-of-its-kind White House summit against hate-fueled violence that many civil rights leaders here today called for after the evil visited upon Buffalo 4 months ago.
Jill and I traveled to Buffalo to grieve with those families and meet with them, as I have with every one of these major massacres that took place, to deliver a message from deep in our Nation's soul: America will not let evil win. Hate will not prevail in America. White supremacists will not have the last word.
We cannot remain silent. Silence is complicity. We have to speak out and stand united.
That's why I signed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, the first major gun safety legislation in 30 years. It's going to help keep weapons out of the hands of people who engage in hate and rage that make them a danger to themselves and to others.
It invests in community violence interventions to target those most at risk and save lives, which have shown—these community violence interventions have shown to reduce violent crime by up to 60 percent, where they're taken on in earnest.
I'll say it again: I'm not going to stop until I again get an assault weapons ban passed. Period. Period. Period. Period.
And standing with many of you at the White House and the family of Emmett Till, I signed the Anti-Lynching Act in his name that, finally, after all these years, finally made lynching a Federal crime, a hate crime.
And for those who want to bury our history, we made Juneteenth the first [new]* Federal holiday in 30 years so they remember. We never forget.
You all worked hard to pass the George Floyd Justice Policing Act in the House, but it got black—blocked by Senate Republicans.
And since they blocked it, I signed an historic Executive order that included key elements of the bill: banning choke holds; greatly restricting no-knock warrants; creating a national database for officer misconduct; tighten of the use-of-force police [policies]* emphasize—emphasis on deescalation; and to call for a fresh approach to recruit, hire, train, promote, and retain law enforcement that come from the neighborhoods they serve and know the people they're charged to protect. That's tried—that's tied to more community policing and advancing public trust and public safety.
Let me be clear: I'm not going to stand by and watch the fundamental freedoms in this country be taken from you, like the right to vote and have your vote counted. We have to get the votes in Congress to get John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act to my desk—to my desk. We must get the votes in Congress to codify Roe v. Wade, to protect the right to choose and the right to privacy.
Look, I know you helped—matter of fact, you're the major reason I got elected President of the United States. I'll defend our democracy and your freedoms with every fiber of my being.
So, let me close with this: I asked Cedric if everyone knows why this is called the CBC Phoenix Dinner. He said, "Everybody at CBC knows it"—which I think I knew—"but the entire community should know it." I said, "Okay."
In 1901, Congressman George Henry White of South—of North Carolina was the only Black Member of Congress at the time. He was a champion of civil rights who stood against the rising tide of White mob violence.
Delivering his final floor speech he called a "temporary farewell," George Henry White said of Black Americans, and I quote: "Phoenix-like [we] will rise up some day and come again. These parting words are on behalf of an outraged, heartbroken, bruised and bleeding but God-fearing people, faithful, industrious, loyal . . . rising people full of potential force."
Well, folks, more than 120 years later, you've made that real—a potential force that's real. It's rising, full of force.
You had my back, and I promise you, I'll have yours. Together, let's remember who in the hell we are. We're the United States of America, and there's nothing—nothing—beyond our capacity.
May God bless you all, and may God protect our troops. Thank you for your patience. Thank you.
NOTE: The President spoke at 9 p.m. at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. In his remarks, he referred to House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn; Vincent Evans, executive director, Congressional Black Caucus (CBC); Rep. Terri A. Sewell, in her capacity as chair of the CBC Foundation; former Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement Cedric L. Richmond; musicians Gladys M. Knight and Merald W. "Bubba" Knight, Jr.; Reps. Steven A. Horsford and Valdez V. Demings, in their capacity as honorary cochairs of the CBC Foundation Annual Legislative Conference; Sen. Cory A. Booker; and Tony Allen, president, Delaware State University, in his capacity as Chair of the President's Board of Advisers on Historically Black Colleges and Universities. He also referred to H.R. 1280, H.R. 4, and H.R. 5746. Vice President Harris referred to former U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations Andrew J. Young, Jr. The transcript was released by the Office of the Press Secretary on October 2.
* White House correction.
Joseph R. Biden, Remarks at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Phoenix Awards Dinner Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/358198