Joe Biden

Remarks by the Vice President at the Ceremonial Swearing-in of Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis

March 13, 2009

THE VICE PRESIDENT: You can keep clapping. (Laughter.) I'm only joking, only joking. I can only say that -- (applause) -- at the Labor Department. I'm only joking. (Laughter.) I just wanted Tom Harkin to clap for me -- (laughter) -- that's why -- Senator, welcome, Mr. Chairman. It's great to see you, and so many distinguished guests that are here today to celebrate along with me and others the return of the Department of Labor. (Applause.)

Pam Langley, thank you for the pledge. And, Lisa, thank you for the National Anthem -- your beautiful voice. (Applause.) Folks, I'd like you to -- I got a chance to spend a little time with Sam upstairs, and I told Sam I wanted to thank him, too. And I mean it sincerely, because the spouses of people who take on these jobs that are particularly consuming -- and this will be an all-consuming job, Mr. President -- is that we appreciate it. And thank you very much.

And Anna and Leticia, as we were walking out -- I'm going to embarrass you, Hilda -- or embarrass -- quote -- as you said, "your little sisters." She said, you know, did they tell you they're both engineers? They're the smartest ones in the family. (Laughter and applause.) And welcome to all of you. Thank you all for being here.

It would be hard to look around at all the people and all the energy in this room and not see something special that's happening here. Maybe it's because we have a Secretary of State who understands. Maybe it's because we have a Secretary of Labor who understands. (Laughter and applause.) No, by the way -- by the way, that wasn't an accident. (Laughter.) We have two very, very, very accomplished women taking over -- (applause) -- the most important international job and the most important domestic job that are underway here -- areas that have not had the kind of attention they've gotten before.

And maybe it's because Secretary Solis -- or soon to be -- has worked so hard. Maybe it's because we have a Secretary of Labor who has not only -- not only is willing, but has demonstrated she's willing to fight. Maybe it's because we have a Secretary that we know, someone -- you've all seen her track record. You've seen what she's done before she got to the Congress, and since she's been in the Congress. I could ask her colleagues in the Congress. They could easily testify to her capability, to her sincerity, to her willingness to fight, to her leadership.

Do we have any doubt -- anybody doubt that Hilda Solis understands the job she's about to take over? And, folks, that's a big, big, big deal. (Applause.)

Hilda is the daughter of blue-collar union members –- both her mother and her father. (Applause.) She knows how hard people work. She knows how tough things can be. She's one of seven siblings. And she didn't just accidentally got here -- get here, she did her part -- she did her part like everybody in big families that struggle do.

Things like fairness in the workplace and workplace safety are not just idle phrases that are to be debated in Hilda's mind; they're real. They affect real live people. They're real concerns that people face every single day. She knows that a job is more than about a paycheck. My friends in Labor have heard me say this before -- maybe it's because the way I was raised and the experience of my father and my grandfather -- but a job is more than a paycheck. A job is about dignity. A job is about respect. Hilda understands that. She understands that. (Applause.)

And I don't think anybody in this room has any doubt that Hilda Solis will be heard. When she was in the state legislature, when it came to domestic violence, to health care, to education, she was heard. When she held hearings on sweatshops, she was heard. When she fought to protect low-income and minority communities from landfill and pollution and environmental hazards, she was heard. And in Congress, when she stood up -- she stood up to level the playing field for workers who wanted to organize, she was heard. (Applause.)

And when she said the economy of the future would be built on green jobs, co-sponsoring the Green Jobs Act of 2007 –- the first federal initiative of its kind -- Hilda was heard.

Hilda Solis will demand to be heard. Ladies and gentlemen, why do I repeat that phrase? We have not heard much from this department in a long time. (Applause.) She will be heard. And if any of you know her, don't be put off by this lovely demeanor; this is one hell -- heck of a fighter. (Laughter.) You know, the President kids with me and says, everybody knows don't mess with Joe -- don't mess with Hilda. (Laughter.) She's prepared to fight, and she knows what it takes to get things done.

Listen to the language that was described to her when she was given -- which few people have, as you all know, my colleagues in this room -- the Profile In Courage Award by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation -- the first woman, I might add, to be so recognized. (Applause.) The award said that she was being given this award for being a politician who, and I quote, "hasn't shied away from challenging the old boy network." (Applause.) Well, ladies and gentlemen, she hasn't shied away from challenging any network -- old boy, young girl -- doesn't matter. (Laughter.)

And I really -- I really want to get this point across to the people who may be listening to this: This is a woman of great integrity. She's proven it time and again. When it comes to standing up for those who are in the workplace every day, for their health, their safety, for a fair treatment, she's always there. When it comes to standing up for health care to protect families, she's always been there to fight for them. When it comes to retirement security, she has fought, and will continue to fight for people. And when it comes to standing up against job discrimination, she will have none of it.

And so, ladies and gentlemen, when it comes to standing up for expanding this economy for all people, no one is going to be a stronger voice than the new Secretary of Labor. Hilda Solis will fight. And today, we can all be proud this daughter of union members is now America's most forceful advocate for working men and women in this country.

So, Madam Secretary, congratulations to you and your family. And would you please step forward and give me the honor of administering the oath? (Applause.)

[The oath is administered.]

Joseph R. Biden, Remarks by the Vice President at the Ceremonial Swearing-in of Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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