Kamala Harris photo

Remarks by the Vice President at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus "On the Road" Event Series in Houston, Texas

November 27, 2023

THE VICE PRESIDENT: We all hugged and kissed behind the stage before. (Laughter.)

Hi, everyone. It's good to be back in Harris County. And -- and good to see so many leaders and friends.

So, Chairwoman.

CONGRESSWOMAN BARRAGÁN: Madam Vice President, it is so awesome to have you join the Congressional Hispanic Caucus on the road right here in Houston, Texas. (Applause.)

We are so excited. The Hispanic Caucus has been on the road traveling this country to talk about the accomplishments that the Biden-Harris administration have made in conjunction with Congress. And so, we're so excited that you're here. And I know that you have also been on the road.


CONGRESSWOMAN BARRAGÁN: And that you have spent a lot of time engaging with our Latino communities. And that's what the CHC "On the Road" is about too. It's about engaging our communities and uplifting them. So, thank you for what you're doing --


CONGRESSWOMAN BARRAGÁN: -- in engaging our Latino communities. And you've done it not only in D.C. but on the road.

Over the summer, you visited Chicago for the UnidosUS convention. You went to Miami to engage with young climate leaders. You made multiple stops at Latino-owned small businesses, including one just on Saturday, and hosted Latino leaders from across the country at your residence.

And this fall, you went on a college tour.


CONGRESSWOMAN BARRAGÁN: During your "Fight [for] Our Freedoms" college tour, you engaged with over 15,000 young leaders on colleges' campuses across the country on the most urgent issues of the moment -- in particular, the fight for our most fundamental freedoms.

So, Madam Vice President, what are you seeing and hearing from the American people?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, it is my honor and joy to be on the stage sharing the stage with so many extraordinary leaders. Chairwoman Barragán has been traveling the country doing this work of ensuring that we are on the road and feet on the ground, making sure that we are listening and -- and responding to the needs of the people.

And the -- Congresswoman, I mean, you are an extraordinary leader. I have seen you on -- in the halls of Congress, when the cameras are on, when they are off, and you are always fighting for the people of this district. And I thank you for your friendship and your leadership. (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you.

So, I started a college tour at the beginning of -- in September, to go out and meet with our college-age leaders. And so, there were colleges and universities, also community colleges and also trade schools -- college-aged.

And let me start by saying I love Gen Z. (Applause.) I love Gen Z. So, think about this. Okay? First of all, it's going to be humbling for many of us when you remember or realize that someone who is 18 now was born in 2005. (Laughter.)

And when you think, then, about their life experience in the context of what is at stake in our country, they've only known the climate crisis. They witnessed George Floyd being killed. They suffered through an historic pandemic, where they lost significant phases of their educational experience and socialization. They have witnessed the highest court in our land take a constitutional right that had been recognized. They have endured active shooter drills for most of their primary education.

And so, what I have found and learned is that they, on each and every one of these issues, are not going to be satisfied until things are done. Because, for them, it's not intellectual or academic; it is a lived experience. And I say that, then, to tell you: I'm so excited about who they are and their leadership and what they are doing to inspire those of us who have been around a little longer.

And so, the college tour, we named it -- I named it the "Fight for Our Freedoms" tour, recognizing that right now in our country -- Texas being ground zero on some of these issues --there is, I believe, an intentional full-on attack against so many of our hard-fought, hard-won freedoms and rights.

And so, talking, then, with these young leaders about what I would say to them at the end, which is, you know, it doesn't have to be this way. I think it's something for us to all remember. It doesn't have to be this way.

But what we have seen in states across our country, including here: full-on attack on the freedom to have access to the ballot; on the freedom to make decisions about one's own body and not have government tell them what to do; the freedom people should have from fear, be it gun violence or hate or bigotry; the freedom that people should have to be able to love who they love and with pride; the freedom to just be -- to just be.

And so, traveling the country talking with these young leaders about what we must do to organize, to activate, to build coalition -- there's so many leaders here, and I know I'm preaching to the choir -- when we know that some of the best fights that we have had for freedoms has been because we have built community and coalition, understanding that in the midst of these so-called leaders who are trying to create division in our country, that we are strongest when we bring people together, recognizing the vast majority of us have so much more in common than what separates us.

And so, this is what I'm seeing around the country. And I will tell you, I -- in the midst of being very clear-eyed about what's at stake and the attacks, I am also very optimistic about who we are and what we are capable of doing.



CONGRESSWOMAN BARRAGÁN: Thank you. (Applause.)

CONGRESSWOMAN GARCIA: Madam Vice President, first let me thank you, and welcome to my district.



THE VICE PRESIDENT: Gracias. (Laughs.)

CONGRESSWOMAN GARCIA: Bienvenida. (Applause.)

You know, you'll find that everyone here has a heart as big as Texas.


CONGRESSWOMAN GARCIA: So, when we look and talk about these fundamental rights, these freedoms that -- that you mentioned --


CONGRESSWOMAN GARCIA: -- they all seem to be under attack, and we agree with you.


CONGRESSWOMAN GARCIA: Regrettably, Texas is ground zero.


CONGRESSWOMAN GARCIA: After Texas does one thing, it seems like everybody wants to copycat and all for the wrong reasons.

One of those, of course, is a woman's freedom to make decisions about her own body. From the Dobbs ruling to state abortion bans, this is having a huge impact -- impact on all our communities.


CONGRESSWOMAN GARCIA: Unfortunately, Texas has led the way on this one, and it's no exception. You are leading the administration's work on this issue. What is being done to protect women's health and reproductive rights?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: So, first of all, I thank you for your leadership on this. We've been working together on this, as we all have, for quite some time. (Applause.)

So, the highest court in our land -- the court of Thurgood and RBG -- took a constitutional right that had been recognized from the people of America, from the women of America. And thereafter, in states across our country, including here, extremist so-called leaders passed laws to criminalize healthcare providers -- here in Texas, it's my understanding that, literally, the law provides for a life term in prison for a healthcare provider; laws to punish women for simply exercising bodily autonomy, the right that all people should have to make decisions about their own body; laws being passed with no exceptions even for rape or incest.

Now, many of you know, I started my career as a prosecutor. What you may not know is one of the main reasons why. So, when I was in high school, one of my best friends, I learned, was being molested by her stepfather. And I said to her, "Well, you have to come live with us." I called my mother. My mother said, "Yes, she must come and stay with us." And she did.

And so, I decided to build my career around protecting for and fighting against crimes of violence against women and children. The idea -- and everyone is an adult here, so I'm going to be very candid because it's important to understand how this is really playing out. The idea that after someone has survived a crime of violence to their body, a violation of their body, that they would be told, "And you have no right to make a decision about what happens to your body next." It's immoral. It's immoral. (Applause.)

And on this subject, I think it is important that we all agree: One does not have to abandon their faith or deeply held beliefs to agree the government should not be telling her what to do.

And so, I think of this issue, then, as something that is so fundamental in terms of one of the most basic freedoms that all people should be entitled to. But I also think of it in the context of something that is right now, in real time, happening in our country where untold number of people are silently suffering.

Because this is not just some intellectual conversation about where do you stand on this issue. I have met and talked with and heard the stories about women who are literally having miscarriages in a toilet. Understand, every day in America, what this issue means to real people.

And I do believe that, fundamentally, people understand that, which is why when it was on the ballot in the midterms or in special elections, from Kansas to California, from Virginia to Ohio, the people voted in favor of protecting this fundamental right. (Applause.)

And we just have to keep organizing around it. And, in particular, we have to remind people that they are not alone and that they will not be judged and that they will be supported with one of the most difficult decisions they may have to make. But in a way, that gives them the right that they have to dignity and to agency. That's how I think about it.

CONGRESSWOMAN GARCIA: Thank you. (Applause.)

CONGRESSWOMAN BARRAGÁN: And -- and thank you for focusing on that, because we know the burden to Latina women and women of color is huge.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: One in three women of reproductive age lives in a state with a ban, and it's a larger number -- I think something like 40 percent of Latinas live in a state where there is some form of a ban.

CONGRESSWOMAN BARRAGÁN: Yeah, it -- it's remarkable.

Madam Vice President, another freedom you are focused on is the freedom to be safe from gun violence. Unfortunately, we know how important this issue is because our communities have lived it firsthand here in Texas. I represent a district that has gun violence. I also recently had this opportunity to tour Parkland High School, where they kept the crime scene intact. To see what happened there was so devastating.




CONGRESSWOMAN BARRAGÁN: And you were recently named to oversee the first-ever White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention.


CONGRESSWOMAN BARRAGÁN: Huge. (Applause.) Yes, that deserves a round of applause.


CONGRESSWOMAN BARRAGÁN: So critically important. What can we do to end the senseless violence that's harming so many in our communities?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: We need more members like you in the United States Congress who -- (applause) -- who have the courage to speak up and recognize it's a false choice to suggest you're either in favor of the Second Amendment or you want to take everyone's guns away. I'm in favor of the Second Amendment, and I'm in favor of an assault weapons ban and universal background checks and a red flag law, all of these being reasonable.

Assault weapons, designed to kill a lot of human beings quickly, no place on the streets of a civil society. Universal background checks because you just might want to know before someone can buy a lethal weapon if they've been found by a court to be a danger to themselves or others. You just might want to know. Reasonable.

You asked, Nanette, about the college tour. So, in the college tour, everywhere I went -- and depending on the size of the school, there were thousands of young people or hundreds -- and I'd ask every time for them to raise their hand if at any time between kindergarten and 12th grade they had to endure an active shooter drill. The vast majority of the hands went up.

It's -- it was bone chilling. So much so -- there was press always there. I'd ask the press to take a look, the older adults to take a look. The number of our children who have sat in a classroom where they should be feeding their brains and their God-given capacity with knowledge and curiosity, but yet some part of them is in fear that there may be a shooter with a gun breaking through their classroom.

One kid on this subject told me, "You know, I don't really like going to fifth period." I said, "Why, sweetheart?" "Well, because in fifth period, that classroom, there's no closet to hide in." It is traumatizing our children, not to mention what we are seeing with everyday gun violence on the streets of America, in addition to these mass shootings.

We simply need members of Congress to have the courage to agree that this is not about destroying the Second Amendment. It's just about what is reasonable and what is right.

Gun violence in America is right now the number one killer of children -- not car accidents, not some form of cancer -- gun violence. One in five Americans has a family member who has been killed because of gun violence.

What will it take for everyone who walks around with these fancy flag pins to have the courage to actually act in a way that is about protecting the people?

Elections matter. Elections matter. (Applause.)


CONGRESSWOMAN GARCIA: Madam Vice President, elections do matter. And I think we all agree, and we'll all work real hard. Today was the start of a city runoff here in Tex- -- in Houston. So, elections are always on everyone's mind.

And when we talk about this fundamental freedoms, whether it's freedom from gun violence, that freedom from domestic violence, the freedom from -- from fear of deportation, and freedom from --


CONGRESSWOMAN GARCIA: -- so many freedoms --


CONGRESSWOMAN GARCIA: -- it impacts so many people's mental health in just the fear, the anxiety, the apprehension. And it particularly impacts a lot of young people --


CONGRESSWOMAN GARCIA: -- children. So, what -- what are you hearing about the importance of this issue, addressing mental health for our young leaders, as you travel the country? Do they speak of these fears?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Mm-hmm. Well, let me start by, again, acknowledging Judge Hidalgo. She has shown such courage. She spoke about how I reached out to her after the news. And one of the points that -- what I felt about what she did is she had so much strength in a moment where she was -- she needed support, but she had so much strength to think about other people and how talking about what she was going through would help other people. That's an extraordinary thing she did in so many ways.

CONGRESSWOMAN GARCIA: Takes a lot of courage.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: It takes a lot of courage to think about other people and what it might do to h- -- how you can help them out of your personal suffering.

So, yes, it came up a lot on the college tour. And I will say that, thankfully, again, on this issue, like the others we've discussed, when our young leaders are leading in their numbers, I do believe this is going to change in a very drastic way, because they are not afraid to talk about it. And they are talking about it, and they are demanding action, including resources.

In fact, during the college tour, I initiated a call to action that you -- like we've had in different phases of our country's evolution -- but a call to action that our young leaders would enter the mental health professions. We need -- we need more, and we need those who will have the ability to do it in a culturally competent way.

For any of us who have engaged in work that is about supporting and strengthening groups and populations, peer-based consultation and support can often be the most effective. And so, the idea, also, of our young leaders going into the mental health professions is -- is critical.

The other piece of this is just fundamentally agreeing that you can't fix a problem when you don't talk about it. And that's at the heart of it as well. At the heart of it is understanding that culturally, for many of us, you know, you don't talk about it. And so, we have to get beyond that stigma and allow that it's a health issue -- you know, healthcare -- healthcare.

Why do we think the body just starts from the neck down? We also need healthcare from the neck up. Right? It's healthcare. (Applause.) And -- and thinking of it, then, that way.

And -- and I think the bottom line on this is that we need to put more resources. That -- our administration with your support, with the two of you, in our gun safety legislation, which was the first piece of legislation that was passed in 30 years, allotted for more federal dollars going to local school districts to have more counselors in schools, mental health counselors.

But we still need to do more, including feeding the pipeline with -- with new young leaders who can dedicate themselves to these professions.

CONGRESSWOMAN GARCIA: Thank you. And I always say, "Sí se puede."


CONGRESSWOMAN GARCIA: Sí se puede. (Applause.)

THE VICE PRESIDENT: No doubt. (Laughter.) That's right.

CONGRESSWOMAN BARRAGÁN: And I think we need to do our job, too, because in our community, our Latino community, there still is that negative stigma too. So, we need to make sure that we are encouraging our young people and our family and friends to get help.


CONGRESSWOMAN BARRAGÁN: It's okay not to be okay, right?


CONGRESSWOMAN BARRAGÁN: Madam Vice President, one of the other big issues of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus has been small business and expanding economic opportunity. It's a critical issue for our community, and that's a topic that we have also covered on the road with the SBA Administrator, Guzman.


CONGRESSWOMAN BARRAGÁN: You have been focused on this, especially through your work to support small businesses. You've secured over $12 billion for community lenders that help entrepreneurs -- (applause) --


CONGRESSWOMAN BARRAGÁN: Yes -- access the capital that they need to be successful. And you are leading this administration's work to partner with private sector to support minority-owned businesses.


CONGRESSWOMAN BARRAGÁN: Can you tell us more about that? (Applause.)

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah. Well, first of all, I'm sure there are many small-business owners and leaders here, and I -- and I thank you, and I recognize you. Our small-business owners and leaders are not only leaders in business; you are civic leaders, you are community leaders, you mentor, you hire locally, you encourage entrepreneurship and innovation.

And it's part of, then, not only the economic fabric of our communities, it's part of this the cultural and civic fabric of our communities. And over half of America's workforce works for or owns a small business. So, when we're talking about investing in small businesses, it is about an investment overall in the economic strength of our nation.

And so, that's how I think about it. I think about it also because -- so, you've heard me talk many times. My mother raised me and my sister, and we had a second mother, Mrs. Shelton, who lived two doors down, and my mother would work long days and weekends, and we would walk two doors down and maybe have dinner with Ms. Shelton, sometimes stay with her on the weekends.

And she was a small-business owner. She actually ran and owned the nursery school -- we lived on the -- we lived in the apartment above the nursery school that she ran and owned growing up. And she was the matriarch of the community. And she nurtured and she supported, and -- and I saw her and what she would do to keep this business running. But it was a -- something for the heart. It wasn't just about profit and money.

And so, from childhood, I have -- I learned to praise small businesses and small-business owners. And so, the work I've been doing is also understanding that the ingenuity is there, the entrepreneurship is there in so many of our communities, but in so many of our communities, there's just not access to capital.

So, that is why I worked, when I was in the Senate, on getting the $12 billion, and then we've now done more as an administration, into community banks, understanding community banks are situated in the community, they understand the -- the culture and the mores and the needs of the community, and then will help invest also in a way that they will mentor sma- -- local small businesses around what to do to grow the business, to deal with payroll, and all of that.

So, we've now put $12 billion. I also got, to your point, private sector investors, including some of the big banks and Google, to put private money into the community banks, also to invest in that, so that we can increase the investment in small businesses.

In addition, President Biden and I made clear that we also understand the history of disparity, including the fact that Latino-owned small businesses only received 2 percent of venture capital investment. We need to address that. We need to address the fact that too many minority-owned businesses, to your question, have been left out of the stream of getting federal contracts. And federal contracts -- you know, once you qualify for it and you get it, if you do the job, that is about building some significant wealth, as well as contribution to all we need to do.

So, we have now committed -- the President and I have committed, we're going to increase by 50 percent federal contracts going to minority-owned businesses. (Applause.)

And we are on track to do that.

CONGRESSWOMAN BARRAGÁN: And I -- I want to just mention, one of the very first things the Vice President did -- and I won't forget this -- was convened at the White House a roundtable of Latina small-business owners. And I remember walking into that room and just being in awe and saying, "Elections matter."


CONGRESSWOMAN BARRAGÁN: Thank you for doing that. Thank you. (Applause.)

THE VICE PRESIDENT: And remember the -- I'm talking about small-business owners who are, like, invested in working on a clean energy economy, tech startups, architects. I mean, the whole range from someone running a nursery school to -- or a restaurant to engaged in just innovation with technology, this is who our small businesses are and who our minority-owned small businesses are. And our Latina small business are the fastest-growing small businesses in the country. (Applause.) Right?

So --

CONGRESSWOMAN GARCIA: So, I guess it's true Latinas are hot. (Laughter.)

Sorry, I couldn't resist that one.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: You do you. (Laughter.)

CONGRESSWOMAN GARCIA: Madam Vice President, you know, as I hear you talking, it reminds me of something else. It -- really every issue is in Latino issue.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah, that's right.

CONGRESSWOMAN GARCIA: We know that some have more impact than others.


CONGRESSWOMAN GARCIA: But -- but I appreciate the whole-of-government approach --


CONGRESSWOMAN GARCIA: -- that the Biden-Harris administration has really focused on to ensure that people --there's equity and there's fairness and justice --


CONGRESSWOMAN GARCIA: -- in everything that you do. Whether it's finances or healthcare --


CONGRESSWOMAN GARCIA: -- it doesn't matter. It's the whole approach. And I really -- as a member of Congress, I can tell you, I really do appreciate that.

But I know that we've made a lot of progress. There's a lot to brag about. And you really should have been from Texas, because you're a good bragger. (Laughter.) So --


CONGRESSWOMAN GARCIA: Let -- let's hear what Texas --

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Is Rodney Ellis still here? (Laughter.)

Well, let me just tell you: So, I went to school with his wife, and he -- back when he was in the state legislature -- and this is when what then would-be President Bush left the state, and I guess Rodney was, like, governor for a day.


THE VICE PRESIDENT: And he made a few of us honorary Texans. (Laughter.) I'm one of them.

CONGRESSWOMAN GARCIA: Well, I did not know that. (Applause.)

Well, you have certainly won over the crowd with that one. (Laughter.)

But, no, we still have a lot of work to do. And I know we've made a lot of progress. So, what challenges do you see ahead, and how much work do we need to keep doing in just not giving up?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: So, you frame the question around also what we've done on equity, which brings up, again, the earlier point about we are -- we are living in -- in a moment where there is a full-on attack on hard-won freedoms and rights.

I mean, you look at what's happening out of a state like Florida, where they -- they started and it's trying -- they're trying to have it take hold around the country an attack on DEI, diversity, equity, and inclusion. To make it a bad word -- right? -- to suggest it's a bad thing to pay attention to who's not in the room and then think about, "Well, shouldn't we leave the door open and maybe invite some folks in?"

Paying attention to equity -- what about pay equity for women? We're not going to talk about that?


THE VICE PRESIDENT: We're not going to talk about inclusion? (Applause.)

So, I say that to say that, in the next 11 months, we've got a lot of work to do to make true the promise of who we are as America -- in particular, where these -- there are these forces that are trying to intentionally divide us, where there are forces that are attempting to distract us with things like book bans, things that would deny the history of America.

We're going to have to build coalition, and we're going to have to remember that these are the things that make us strong as a nation. And this is a time for us to recommit ourselves.

You know, as Vice President, I will tell you, I have now met with over 100 world leaders -- presidents, prime ministers, chancellors, and kings. When we walk in those rooms representing the United States of America, we do so chin up, shoulders back with the self-appointed and earned authority to talk about things like rule of law and democracy.

But here's the thing: When you walk in those rooms, then, as a role model -- it's a room full of role models -- people watch what you do to see if it matches what you say.

So, understanding, then, that what happens over the course of the 11 -- next 11 months and the outcome of that will impact not only our neighbors and our family members and our friends but could potentially and very likely impact people around the world. And so, there is so much at stake.

And the thing about democracy, which is -- when we talk about freedoms, that's what we're talking about. It -- democracy, it's -- there's a duality to it. On the one hand, there's an incredible amount of strength when it is intact, what it does to protect people's freedoms and rights and, therefore, their dignity. It is also very fragile. It is only as strong as our willingness to fight for it.

And that's the moment we're in right now. And it's the challenge, then, to all of us to fight for this country we love. And I know we love our country and we believe in its ideals. And that's what's at stake.

And I'll just end that point by saying, you know, when I started the -- you know, September, this fall, traveling around meeting our young leaders, I feel very optimistic that we will be okay as long as we all stay active. We cannot afford to passively sit by and watch this happen.

Let's build community, let's build coalition, and, therefore, build the strength of our nation.

CONGRESSWOMAN GARCIA: Sí se puede. (Applause.)




CONGRESSWOMAN GARCIA: Well, Madam Vice President, thank you so much for joining us on the road.


CONGRESSWOMAN GARCIA: Let's give her a round of applause. (Applause.) And can we take a selfie?


END 4:55 P.M. CST

Kamala Harris, Remarks by the Vice President at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus "On the Road" Event Series in Houston, Texas Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/368154

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