Joe Biden

Remarks at a Women's History Month Reception

March 18, 2024

Vice President Kamala D. Harris. Greetings, everyone. Greetings, and happy Women's History Month.

To our incredible President, Joe Biden, who, of course, we all know as a tireless fighter for the safety and well-being of women; to our First Lady, Dr. Jill Biden, who is a longstanding, lifelong champion for women's health and women's health research; to the first Second Gentleman of the United States, my husband Doug Emhoff, who's been a powerful advocate for gender equity; and to the members of our administration and all the extraordinary leaders; and I'm going to come to Maria later—[laughter]—it is an honor to be with all of you.

So this month, and every month, we honor the women who shaped our Nation and our world through their vision, courage, determination, and incredible skill, and upon whose broad shoulders we all stand.

So, as many of you know, my mother was a scientist. And when she began her career, only 7 percent of science and engineering Ph.D. graduates were women, and even fewer, of course, were women of color.

My mother had two goals in her life: to raise her two daughters—my sister Maya and me—and to end breast cancer. And because of the fact that our mother never asked anyone permission to pursue her dreams, within one generation, I stand before you as the first woman Vice President of the United States.

Thank you. [Laughter] Thank you. Thank you, thank you. Thank you.

And as Vice President, I have traveled to 20 countries in every hemisphere in the world. And I believe the measure of the strength of a democracy is measured based on the standing of its women.

President Joe Biden and I, then, have been very intentional—and he's been an extraordinary leader of our country—in ensuring that we do all that we can to lift up the status of the women of our Nation, including their economic status, understanding, of course, that when you lift the economic status of women, families benefit, communities benefit, and all of society benefits.

And so, with that knowledge, we have taken on issues like student loan debt, understanding women carry nearly two-thirds of all student loan debt—two-thirds. And we have canceled nearly $138 billion in student loan debt for almost 4 million Americans and counting, an average of more than $30,000 per person. And for public servants, including our teachers, of whom more than 70 percent are women——

The First Lady. I'm already clapping. [Laughter]

Vice President Harris. ——and one-quarter of this stage—[laughter]. And for those who are in public service, like our teachers, we have forgiven an average of over $60,000 in student loan debt.

To lift up the economic status of women, we have also invested in women entrepreneurs and small-business owners. Across our Nation, millions of women want to start or grow a business, but don't necessarily have access to the capital that allows them to do that. So, building on work that I did with many of you in the United States Senate and under the leadership of our President, we have now invested billions of dollars to expand access to capital for women entrepreneurs.

To lift up the status of women, we have lowered the cost of health care, in particular, the cost—[applause]—in particular, the cost of insulin for our seniors. What many of the leaders here know is that a fifth—one-fifth—of women over the age of 65 have diabetes and far too many have had to make the choice between either being able to afford to fill their prescription or fill their refrigerator.

We also know seniors who are women are 80-percent more likely to live in poverty, so the President and I and our administration capped the cost of insulin for our seniors at $35 a month.

But even as we lift up the women and all people of our Nation, there are those who are intent on dragging us backward. At this moment, in States across our Nation, we are witnessing a full-on attack against hard-fought, hard-won freedoms and rights, including the right of women to make decisions about their own body and not have their government tell them what to do.

Today, in America, one in three women of reproductive age live in a State with an abortion ban. Since Roe was overturned, I have met women who have had miscarriages in toilets because they were refused care, women who went to an emergency room to receive care and were rejected because the health care providers there thought they would be sued and potentially sent to jail if they administered care. And it was only when she developed sepsis that she received care.

Just last week, I visited a clinic in Minnesota, where I met with medical professionals—courageous and dedicated women—who provide critical health care and who see, like we all do, clinics across our country, which have been closing and forced to close, leaving millions of women without access to essential, everyday, lifesaving care.

So, in conclusion, I'll just say this. There is so much at stake in this moment. And we each face a question: What kind of country do we want to live in? Do we want to live in a country of liberty, freedom, and rule of law or a country of disorder, fear, and hate? Each of us has the power to answer that question with our feet, with our voice, and with our vote.

So let us continue—[applause]. Let us continue to fight for our freedoms. And as we know from our history, when we fight, we win. [Applause] There we are.

And now it is my great honor to introduce someone that I have known for many, many years, who is an extraordinary leader in every way and has done so much for the women of America and for the women of my home State of California, and a friend to all of us, the great Maria Shriver.

Journalist and women's health advocate Maria Shriver. Thank you, Madam Vice President. As she just told me, that stands for "MVP." [Laughter] I like that. I like that.

Mr. President, Dr. Biden, thank you so much for inviting me here today. And all of you. I'd like to tell you to sit, but there's no chairs. [Laughter] But I want to say how extraordinary it is to see all of you, to see your faces, to watch you listen to the Vice President, to see the joy in your faces, to be with you all here to celebrate women's history in this extraordinary historic home.

You can just close your eyes and imagine the history that has been made here. You can see it on the walls. You can see it everywhere. You can feel it when you walk in.

But today—today—is a day to keep your eyes wide open, because you, my friends, are about to watch history get made. For the first time ever in our Nation, a President—that guy right there—[laughter]—he is going to sign an Executive order that will transform the way our Federal Government deals with women's health.

This Executive order will direct the most comprehensive set of executive actions ever taken to ensure that women's health gets integrated and prioritized across all Federal agencies. It will galvanize new research on a wide range of topics and help prevent, diagnose, and treat women's health conditions once and for all.

I also wager—and I'm not even a betting woman, but I'll bet today that this is the first time a President of the United States has ever signed an Executive order that mentions the words "menopause" and—[laughter]—and "women's"—[applause]—and "women's midlife health" in it. With the stroke of his pen, women will get the answers and the care they have long sought and they so rightly deserve.

In the time since I first sat in the First Lady's office last April talking about the need for a new comprehensive plan around women's health research, this White House, Jen Klein, Dr. Mazure, Secretary Becerra, the entire White House, women of all ages, races, religions, and all political backgrounds, they came together and they have transformed—they have coordinated a revolution that will transform care for the 165 million American women in this country, women of all ages, all races, all ethnicities, and all political backgrounds.

This President has also called on Congress to make a bold, big, brave investment of $12 billion. Think about that. I remember saying to the First Lady, "We need to get at least a billion dollars." [Laughter] And then, she said, "How's 12?" I'm like: "That's good. I'll take it." [Laughter] But he called for $12 billion dollars—think about that—in new funding for women's health research.

This is an extraordinary example of Government working quickly and working for those who have left behind. Dr. Biden, you deserve to stand so proud in this moment. [Applause] It's true. She took this mission up the flagpole, through the halls of government, into the Oval Office, and transformed the way government sees us.

[At this point, the President made the sign of the cross.]

[Laughter] She and her husband have launched an entire new era for women's health research. This is an undertaking that could only be put into a motion by a President who respects women—[applause]—by a man who sees women, who understands women, and who wants the best for women, who wants us all to achieve our highest potential.

Not too long ago, I was asked: "Maria, why do we need women's health research? Why does this matter?" I was like, "Let me tell you." [Laughter] It matters because women do not, nor do their doctors, have the necessary research or data to make informed decisions. It matters because women are sicker than they have ever been, and no one knows why. It matters because women make up two-thirds of those with Alzheimer's, and no one knows why that is.

We make up 80 percent of those with autoimmune diseases, the majority of those with MS. No one knows why that is. Black and Brown women are more likely to develop endometriosis and face pregnancy-related complications, and we don't have the research to tell them what to do about it.

This matters because when women ask questions, they can't get answers because the majority of the research that's been done in this country has only been done on men. Most of the medications women take have only been tested on men. That's not right, that's not just, and it's going to change.

So now that the President has done his job, we have to do ours. We have to get Congress to approve the $12 billion investment this President has called for to implement this bold vision. So every woman, every philanthropist, every innovator, every advocate, every research, and every instigator in this room and out of this room needs to get in on this and join us in this massive undertaking.

And make no mistake, this is a massive undertaking. But as those of you who are gathered in this room know very well, women have never shied away from massive undertakings. We have changed history over and over again. And guess what? We get to do it one more time.

You know, today when I walked in here with my son Christopher and my brothers Timmy and Mark—and Mark is the one that got me in the door, so I have to thank him—[laughter]—I couldn't help but think of my—our mother Eunice Kennedy Shriver.

Our mother spent a lot of time in this house, pressuring her brother, President John F. Kennedy, to make changes for families who had children with intellectual disabilities. She pressured him to understand that it mattered whether they were included in research and whether they were included in all areas of life.

She got to change history because he listened. She was a force of nature. But she was also a woman who struggled her entire life and our entire lives with her health.

She had stomach issues. She had gut issues. She had sleep issues. And every doctor she went through—went to—and she traveled all over this country visiting doctors, trying to get help, trying to get answers—she couldn't get any answers because they told her, "We don't have any answers for you."

Everywhere she went, they told her to relax. [Laughter] They told her that maybe she was under stress, that maybe it was in her head. That didn't go over well. [Laughter] They gave her medications that made it so she couldn't sleep, that she couldn't eat.

She ended up in a cycle that so many women find themselves in. Instead of getting better, she just kept getting worse. Her needs were dismissed time and time again. And she was the sister of the President of the United States. So imagine what it's like for millions of women who have no connections, who have no help, who can't even get time off from work to visit a doctor.

The research and answers and the hope they need will now be on the way because of this man. Imagine how long this has taken for us to get to this moment. Imagine what it has taken for us to bring about this transformative change.

Women of America, this is our moonshot. I call it "the Minerva Challenge." [Laughter] It's way bigger than any one of us standing here or any one of us listening out in the country. We need to come together to bring this $12 billion home. If we want our children, our sisters, our mothers, and our grandmothers to be able to hold the world upon their shoulders, which they are already doing, we owe them our best efforts, and we owe them the best research that we can.

So let's come together and do this for every single woman who has felt her health concerns have been dismissed, for every single woman who has been told to relax, for every single woman who has been told: "This is in your head. You don't feel what you tell me you feel." God forbid.

Today, we join forces, and we begin anew. We begin together. With this moonshot and by working together, we can finally single—signal to women of all ages that, at long last, we really do love them and value them to the moon and back.

Now it is my great honor to introduce the woman who without none of this—none of this would be possible without her—without her ability to take this up the flagpole, without her persistence, and without her passion, my great friend, Dr. Jill Biden.

The First Lady. Quote: "If you don't have an idea that materializes and changes a person's life, then what have you got? You have talk, research, telephone calls, meetings, but you don't have a change in the community," end quote. Eunice Kennedy Shriver.

Maria, you live your mother's words purely, lovingly, and relentlessly. [Laughter] Thank you for your life's work and for being an amazing partner in this effort. Thank you.

So good morning.

Audience members. Good morning.

The First Lady. In the early 1970s, researchers in the United States studied estrogen's effect in preventing heart attacks. You see, it was observed that women who had gone through menopause—therefore, who had lower levels of estrogen—were likely to have heart attacks. So a study was conducted asking whether estrogen prevents heart attacks. Eight thousand three hundred and forty-one people were selected for that study. All of them were men. [Laughter]

This is how things were done. Even though women are half the population, women's health research has been underfunded and understudied. Too many of our medications, treatments, and medical school textbooks are based on men and their bodies.

But that ends today. Finally, women will get the health care we deserve. In just a few moments, my husband, President Biden——

Audience member. Woo! [Laughter]

The First Lady. ——see, Joe, now I just have to say your name and—[laughter]—will sign the most comprehensive Executive order in history to advance research on women's health. So, on behalf of all of us, thank you, Joe.

If you ask any woman in America about her health care, she probably has a story to tell. You all know her. She's the woman who gets debilitating migraines, but doesn't know why and can't find treatment options that work for her. She's the woman going through menopause who visits her doctor and leaves with more questions than answers, even though half the country will go through menopause at some point in their lives.

She's the woman whose heart attack isn't recognized because her symptoms don't look like a man's, even as heart disease is the leading cause of death among women.

So many of us and so many of the women in our lives suffer from health conditions for which we simply don't have the answers or the solutions. Think about it. You might have the best doctors or the best insurance, but when it comes to Alzheimer's, endiomet—endiomet—metriosis.

Audience members. Endometriosis.

The First Lady. Thank you. [Laughter] And I'm an English teacher. [Laughter]

IBS, or disruptive menopausal systems, is that enough? No. We simply don't know enough about how to prevent, detect, or treat the conditions that affect women uniquely, disproportionately, or differently.

And that's the result of a choice, because, for decades, "business as usual" has meant understudying and underfunding research on women's health. Your President believes that this is unacceptable.

When Maria brought this issue to me and Joe less than a year ago, he knew it could make a real difference. And that's what Joe does best. He takes action and quickly. Joe is the first President to make investing in women's health research—investing in your health, in our health—a top priority for the White House.

It's no secret that Joe's accomplishments on health care are historic. You heard about this—his successes already: reducing health care premiums and prescription drug costs; protection—protecting millions of patients from surprise medical bills and junk fees; and getting more Americans covered by insurance.

But it's important that you know what Joe is doing through this White House Initiative on Women's Health Research is different and without precedent. He is investing resources and actually understanding the scientific basis of women's health conditions, which will allow researchers, doctors, and industry to find new ways to prevent, detect, and treat women's health. [Laughter]

Thanks to Joe's experience and vision, he's approaching this problem differently too. As President, Joe created ARPA-H, a new health care agency that pursues breakthroughs in health research at lightning speed. Just a few weeks ago, ARPA-H launched its first-ever sprint for women's health, putting $100 million into women's health research and development.

And during his State of the Union Address, Joe called on Congress to invest $12 billion into women's health and research, giving researchers the funding needed to make the kinds of discoveries that will change everything. And he's calling, just like Maria did, on entrepreneurs, investors, private industries, and philanthropists to do their part, because it's going to take all of us.

Joe is fighting to finally deliver the answer that millions of women need about their health. This Executive order wouldn't be possible without so many women who have been at this work for decades, many of them doctors who are here with us today: Valerie, Susan, Carolyn, and so many others.

So today, as we celebrate Women's History Month, let's write a new future for ourselves, for the girls and the women who will follow, a future where women leave doctors' offices with more answers than questions; a future where no woman or girl has to hear, like Maria said, "It's all in your head" or "It's just stress"; a future where women aren't just an afterthought in a world designed for men, but the first thought in a world designed for everyone; a future where women don't just survive, they lead long, healthy, and happy lives.

Today is just the beginning. Thank you.

And now it is my honor to introduce a person who is helping make the future a reality: my husband, the President of the United States, Joe Biden.

The President. My name is Joe Biden. [Laughter] I'm Jill Biden's husband. [Laughter] Folks, happy Women's History Month.

I'm smart enough to know that when you have Jill, Kamala, and Maria, and all of you—the most powerful, accomplished women—in the room all at once, it's—I'm—I just should hush up, as my mom said, and leave. [Laughter]

But all kidding aside, just let me say this. Yesterday was St. Patrick's Day here at the White House. Today is Women Histories Month—Women's History Month—two of the best days of the year back to back. [Laughter]

The late Irish poet Eavan Boland wrote: "I've learned my name. I rise. I rose up. I remembered it. And now I can tell my story. It was different from the story told about me," end of quote. That poem entitled "Mother Ireland," but she captures the spirit of women's history in America as well.

And you know, in your own way, all of you are—generations of women before you have risen up, shown your power, and told your story. It's made all the difference in the world in telling the full story of America.

And we're the only nation in the world divided—and divined—defined—every other nation is defined based on geography or ethnicity. We're the only nation based on an idea. Think about it. "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all women and men are created equal, endowed by"—et cetera. Treated equally our whole lives, it's supposed to be. We've never fully lived up to that, and—but we've never walked away from it either.

But Jill and I, Kamala and Doug, and the entire administration have never walked away from it either, especially when it comes to women.

To state the obvious, women are half the population, underrepresented across the board. But not in my administration. To state the truth, all the women in our family are brighter than all the men, so it's not a hard decision. [Laughter]

We're proud to have an administration that looks like America, with more women serving in senior positions than any time in American history. Our historic Vice President, who is doing an incredible job. The Cabinet and staff at every level across the administration, including military women who have gotten confirmed for two four-star generals to lead combat commands, the second and third women ever to do so, as well as the first woman ever to be on the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

It matters.

Together, we've put the first Black woman on the United States Supreme Court. And I'm mildly prejudiced, but I think she's the brightest person on the Court. [Laughter] And more Black women on the Federal circuit courts of appeals than all previous Presidents combined.

And together, we've made historic progress through one of the toughest periods that our Nation has ever been through.

Folks—and as Jill just talked about, we've launched the first-ever White House Initiative on Women's Health Research to pioneer the next generation of scientific research and discovery in women's health. Think of all the breakthroughs we've made in medicine across the board, but women have not been the focus. Research has been taking much too long to get to you all.

I've called on Congress, as we've said—I'm repeating myself here—$12 billion for that effort. And today—[applause]—today we're jumpstarting that investment by dedicating $200 million to the National Institute of Health to tackle some of the most pressing health problems facing women today.

With the Executive order I'm about to sign, I'm directing the most comprehensive set of executive actions ever taken to improve women's health—ever taken. And I'm going to ensure that women's health is integrated and prioritized across the entire Federal Government. It's not just in women's health. It's not just in NIH. The National Science Foundation, the Defense Department, the Environmental Protection Agency—I mean, across the board, this is really serious.

And I will spearhead new research and innovation for breakthroughs on a wide range of women's health needs and—that they experience throughout your—you experience throughout your lives. Because it really matters. It matters.

Because we're focused on supporting women together, our administration has turned around the economy, because we focused on women, by the way—focused on women.

We've achieved the lowest unemployment rate for women in 70 years. More women, especially mothers, in the workforce than ever before; the narrowest gender [pay; White House correction] gap on record; but so much more to do—so much more to do.

Historic investments in over 225,000 childcare centers, 90 percent of which are owned by women and staffed by women so families can take care of their children and get to work and improve the economy. Sixty percent—[applause]. Sixty-percent increase in loans to small businesses owned by women, totaling $5.1 billion. We're just getting started.

Through my American Rescue Plan and the child tax credit, we cut child poverty nearly in half. That's a fact. Which I might add, my Republican friends tell me we're spending a lot of money? It's saving billions of dollars—[laughter]—saving billions of dollars. We're actually cutting the deficit too.

Republicans voted against it and let it expire, but I'm fighting to bring the child tax credit back. We're making sure that women can access jobs in sectors they've been historically underrepresented: manufacturing, construction, clean energy.

And I make no apologies for being pro-union, but I tell you what—[applause]—we had very—[inaudible]—meetings with the union leadership. Not a joke. I said I want you to show me on a yearly basis increased number of women in unions and increased number of minorities in unions.

All kidding aside, there's not a damn thing a man can do that a woman can't do. To state the obvious, if we want to have the strongest economy in the world, you can't leave half the workforce behind.

As we advance women's economic empowerment, we're also ensuring their physical security. With the help of so many of you, we've brought the total of investment against—Violence Against Women Act, which I proudly spent 6 years getting passed and wrote when I—as my daughter said, with my own paw. [Laughter]

We proudly wrote—we've provided $700 million in 2023—most ever—funding for everything from community groups focused on prevention, establishing the first-ever hotline on abuse, holding predators accountable, et cetera. It matters a lot.

And, because of women leaders in Congress, I also signed the most significant gun safety law in nearly 30 years to keep guns out of the hands of convicted domestic abusers. The idea I had to fight to get that done? Domestic—convicted domestic abusers were not allowed, under the law I wrote, that's saying the—they can't own a weapon. And so we—in addition to that, we finally got it passed. I can't—anyway. [Laughter]

So our children can learn to read and write, not learn how to duck and cover in school. I mean, seriously, think about that. In the year 2024, we're talking about children learning to duck and cover in school? But I will not stop until I ban assault weapons again and high-capacity magazines. Not a joke.

That doesn't abuse the Second Amendment. You've never been able to have any weapon. That never was the case from the very beginning.

We created reforms that fundamentally shift how our military investigates and prosecutes sexual abuse—assault and domestic abuse. And by the way, she's not here today, but you all—all thank Kirsten Gillibrand for that fight—[inaudible].

We're also continuing to stand with women and girls worldwide against rape and sexual violence as—used as weapons of war and terror. And we've spoken on it. We're one of the few leaders in the world that have spoken against it, because we're going to—and we're punishing countries that engage in it.

But, folks, as I said in my State of the Union Address, there's no ordinary time in our history. Democracy is literally at stake here at home and abroad. Our basic freedoms are under assault: freedom to vote, the freedom to choose, and so much more. My predecessor and his allies in Congress make no apologies for it.

But here's the deal: In its decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court wrote, quote, "Women are not without electoral and/or political power."

Audience member. Yes!

The President. No kidding. As they say in Claymont, Delaware, where I spent my childhood, "They ain't seen nothing yet." [Laughter] No, I'm serious though. Clearly, those bragging about overturning Roe v. Wade who support a national ban on abortion have no clue about the power of women. I mean it sincerely.

But they're finding out.

When reproductive freedom was on the ballot, the American people spoke in 2022 and 2024 [2023; White House correction]. And with the leadership of this woman to my left here, they're going to speak out again in 2024.

If you send me a Democratic Congress that supports reproductive freedom, I promise you—I promise you—we will restore Roe v. Wade again as the law of the land.

Look, you've been standing a long time. [Laughter] So let me conclude this. You can't lead America with old ideas that take us backwards. To lead America—I was with Xi Jinping in the Tibetan Plateau. I traveled 17,000 miles with him. I've spent more time with him than any other world leader. And on the Plateau, he asked me, "Can you define America for me?" This is the God's truth.

And I said: "Yes, I can. One word: possibilities." We're the only nation in the world that believes anything is possible. To lead the land of possibilities, we need a vision for the future laying out what we can and should do and what we're going to do. I've made it clear I see—a future I see.

I see a future where we defend democracy, not diminish it; a future where we restore the right to choose and protect our freedoms, not take them away; a future where the middle class family has a fair shot and the wealthy begin to pay their fair taxes.

I see a future where we save the planet from climate crisis and our country from gun violence. All within our power. And, above all, I see a future for all of America, a future for my daughter and my four granddaughters. And by the way, they're smart—they're incredible. You should meet my granddaughters. [Laughter] Oh, you think I'm kidding. I'm not.

A future for all women. And I will always be a President for all Americans because I believe in America. And without any exaggeration, I believe in you. You're the reason I'm more optimistic than I've ever been in my entire career.

So let's rise up, know—know—our power, tell our story. And let's remember who we are, for God's sake. We're the United States of America. There is nothing beyond our capacity—nothing, nothing, nothing—when we work together.

May God bless you all, and may God protect our troops.

You are the best. This is a great honor. No, I really—[applause]. Thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

[The President held hands with the First Lady.]

I just wanted to hold your hand.

I like to embarrass her and hold her hand in public. [Laughter]

I'm going to sign this Executive order now.

[The President signed the Executive order titled, "Advancing Women's Health Research and Innovation."]

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

The First Lady. Thanks.

The President. And thanks for getting her in. [Laughter]

Thanks, everybody.

Mark my words, in 4 years, you're going to see significant change in women's health. I promise you.

NOTE: The President spoke at approximately 12:25 p.m. in the East Room at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Gen. Jacqueline Van Ovost, USAF, commander, U.S. Transportation Command; Lt. Gen. Laura J. Richardson, USA, commander, U.S. Southern Command; Supreme Court Associate Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson; Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand; former President Donald J. Trump; and President Xi Jinping of China. He also referred to his granddaughters Naomi K. Biden Neal and Natalie P., Finnegan J., and Roberta "Maisy" Biden. Ms. Shriver referred to White House Gender Policy Council Director Jennifer L. Klein; and Carolyn M. Mazure, Chair, White House Initiative on Women's Health Research. She also referred to her son Christopher Schwarzenegger. The First Lady referred to Valerie Montgomery Rice, president and chief executive officer, Morehouse School of Medicine; and former Assistant U.S. Surgeon General and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services for Women's Health Rear Adm. Susan Blumenthal, USPHS. The transcript was released by the Office of the Press Secretary on March 20.

Joseph R. Biden, Remarks at a Women's History Month Reception Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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