Vice President Kamala Harris talks exclusively to the Black Press about her first year in office

Vice President Kamala Harris talks exclusively to the Black Press during an exclusive virtual interview. – Screenshot by Robyn H. Jimenez/The Dallas Examiner

 

By ROBYN H. JIMENEZ

The Dallas Examiner

 

Vice President Kamala Harris joined the National Newspaper Publishers Association Friday for an exclusive virtual interview, as the organization begins celebrating its 195th anniversary as the Black Press of America. The organization represents about 200 Black newspapers throughout the country.

Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, the CEO of NNPA, hosted the interview.

During the interview, Harris was asked questions about her challenges and successes during her first year as the vice president of the United States.

 

Question: What message can you provide to Black America that can give us a sense of hope that federal lawmakers can pass either or both the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act?

 

Kamala Harris: This week I was in Atlanta and gave a speech – along with the president of Morehouse. And after that I had a quiet visit with Ambassador Andy Young. And I was looking to him for inspiration, and to your point, what hope – based on what history has taught us. And it was interesting. Basically, Ambassador Young – in a nut shell – said, ‘Look, freedom is a constant struggle.’ And the point is; we don’t give up. And I’m certain that’s where I am. We don’t give up. Now, everyone here – all the journalists and leaders know what happened the last 24 hours.

 

Note: Harris was referring to the failed push by Biden and herself to pass the two bills by the Martin Luther King holiday.

 

Harris continued: We are going to continue to fight to get this done. And as far as I’m concerned, this is not the beginning of the end. This is the beginning of the beginning – in that this is a movement – the movement for voting rights. And it is a movement for which those of us who are present at this moment have been passed the baton from those who carried it before with the same movement. I often reflect on – I’ll paraphrase – what Coretta Scott King said, which is: the fight for civil rights must be fought and won with each generation. And I think her point was very clear, which is; whatever gains we make, they will not be permanent. So we need to be vigilant. And this certainly is a moment we should not have to be in, which is, fighting against latent laws that are designed to target specific communities and obstruct access to the ballot.

But fight we must and fight we will. … We have to continue to build the coalition around this issue. But we must be purposeful. We must be intentional. We must be optimistic – to your point about hope. But we got a fight in front of us.

And I also emphasize … there’s been a lot of focus about two individuals – but let us not forget there are also 50 Republicans who took an oath to support and defend the Constitution of United States, and I am not prepared to absolve them of their responsibility to stand in the shoes and in the legacy of the Republicans – in 2006 in that chamber in the United States Senate – 98 to zero voted in favor of the extension of the Voting Rights Act. And so let us be clear about the challenge here but also who are the protagonist and antagonist. And bottom line is, we must march on. We must fight on. It is not new to us. And we cannot be tired even though we are frustrated and yes, disappointed if not angered that we’re continuing to have this fight.

 

Q: There have been attacks against democracy as part of a larger conflict across the globe, between [autocracies] and democracies. In your travels around the world and you’re engaged with foreign leaders, does this come up about the whole global struggle to ensure democracy?

 

Harris: It does. And I will tell you at this stage of my vice presidency, I’ve been in office – on Jan. 20, it’ll be a year. And I have met directly one-on-one with many prime ministers and presidents who have brought this issue up. … I went to France to meet there with many heads of state, including President Macron, where the subject of democracy and the importance of fighting for democracy versus autocracies is a constant source of discussion and concern. I, at the official residence where I live now, vice president’s residents, I hosted for breakfast with Angela Merkel, who is the now previous chancellor of Germany – who for 15 years was, by all accounts, the head of the European Union. And in the midst of talking about things like China and Russia, she looked at me across the table and said, ‘What is going on voting in America?’ Because we as Americans are – in my opinion – about to take ourselves off the map as a role model for what a democracy should be. We all know a democracy that is not perfect, but with our imperfections we also know that at the very least; part of our strength is that we fight for the ideals even though we’ve not reached them. And one of the most important pillars of a democracy is that the people – that the people speak, and that their words be heard; that it’s for/by all the people. And voting is one of the most important pillars of a democracy. So they’re watching. And like any role model, you watch what the role model does.

I’ve met with the presidents of Zambia and Ghana in my office, talking about these issues. And so this is yes, it is a domestic issue. But it literally has a direct connection with our standing around the world and our ability to then fight – not only for democratic principles, but to go to other countries and say, ‘We need you to care about human rights. We need you to care about where the minorities in your country are being oppressed or being harmed,’ right. We lose our legitimacy to say that these are values that should be fought for and prioritized when we don’t reflect those priorities in our home country. And so, this is a domestic issue, but it will impact our standing around the world.

 

Q: Madam Vice President, you played an enormous role in helping usher through the bipartisan infrastructure bill. Yes. Can you tell us how you believe that legislation will make a difference?

 

Harris: Here’s the thing, in the infrastructure deal there are a number of things that I have worked on, including the whole bill, but I’m particularly excited about a few which I will share. One on the issue of what we can do in terms of public transit. I use take the bus. Many of us have and still do. And what you may know is, African American workers are four times more likely to take public transit than White workers. Right. So it’s a big issue. And why is this an issue? Well, because if we’re not putting the funding into public transit – which we’re going to do with the infrastructure bill $90 billion of funding to be specific – that means increasing the number of buses on the line so that if you miss that one bus by two minutes, because the kids were having a hard time putting on his shoes, you might have to wait another hour for the next bus, which means you will be an hour late to work and you might actually lose your job. So this is a big deal.

… [W]hat we’re doing in terms of things like broadband. What we know is that 30% of Black children live in households without the Internet. This problem was highlighted, of course, during the pandemic, when our children needed to learn online. And for Black children without access to the internet, we can almost guarantee that they have lost substantial phases of their educational process because of that. So we are putting $65 billion into high-speed access and affordability for broadband. And I emphasize that because in some regions of our country, the issue is access; meaning there’s no broadband lines, and in other areas of our country, yeah broadband exists, but it’s too expensive. So it has to be about accessibility and affordability.

Lead pipe removal, another area I’m deeply focused on. So we know from Detroit to Chicago to Milwaukee, this is a serious issue. Black children are twice as likely to have elevated lead in their blood as White children. Right. And the study has shown without dispute, that that affects their ability to learn. So what we are on the process of doing is basically removing lead from pipes and removing lead pipes period, and also lead paint, because this is a big issue for our children.

So these are just some of the examples of what will happen in the infrastructure bill that has now become long, including … job creation. And that is an important point to mention. This is going to be about carpenters, it’s going to be about plumbers, this is going to be about electricians. There’s a lot of good work that needs to happen from a skilled workforce … because of this law.

 

Q: You’ve hosted the first ever White House Summit on maternal health crisis. Our whole executive committee is Black women and 50% of our published are Black women. So this is a very important issue, maternal health crisis. Give us an update.

 

Harris: This one of the things I’m so proud of, to be honest, for the first time ever, to put the issue of Black maternal mortality on the stage at the White House. And to talk about the fact that Black women are three times more likely to die in connection with childbirth. And that it is a function of a number of things, including racial bias in the medical health system. And I actually worked with folks like Lauren Underwood from Illinois and Alba Adams when I was a member of the Congressional Black Caucus when I was in the Senate to get a bill that we’re trying to get passed that would say that we need to train the medical health professionals to be conscious of racial bias.

And by the way, I purposely put in that part that the training community, the trainers, will be doulas and midwives who understand and know the community and give dignity to the women and the families they serve.

We are dealing with another issue that disproportionately affects Black women: fibroids. I’m talking about fibroids in the White House and what we need to do to address the particular health needs of Black women in connection with what they do as wives as mothers, as grandmothers, as leaders in the community. And so this work is very significant work that is also about what we must do to put resources into helping families thrive. Part of what we are doing with that Build Back Better – and this is another reason we got to get a passed – is saying that for postpartum treatment. After a woman has had a baby – she’s just given life to another human being – so Medicaid only covers six weeks of postpartum care … because invariably, she’s goanna have certain physical health needs, but also potentially mental health needs such as depression, and we need to help her with that instead of making her suffer alone – and in so many cases suffering silently. So it is something that many of us know about in the community, don’t necessarily talk a lot about, but now we are putting that on the agenda as a legitimate agenda for national concern and priority.

 

Q: Many of the administration’s and your accomplishments have gone mostly without a lot of fanfare, even mainstream media doesn’t cover all the progress. You said Jan. 20 marks your first year. Tell us about the idea of progress that the Biden/Harris administration has made, particularly economic progress you’ve seen in the first year.

 

Harris: One of the things that we all know is our administration came in, in the midst of a serious pandemic. And you’ll remember when we first came in, back in January of ‘21, we were just dealing with the fact that, okay, we got to get people vaccinated.

And I’m glad to say that we, as of now, 200 million Americans are fully vaccinated, about 75 million have received the booster. I mentioned that because that is a significant part of what we’ve been able to do to start building back up the economy, which took a real beating because of the pandemic when everything pretty much came to a standstill. So by doing the work that we have done with things like vaccines, we are starting to reopen. So now we have 95% of our public schools are reopened, right. That is a very important point, especially for Black and Brown and poor children. What we have done now, through the work that we have done, is to boost the economy; 6 million jobs were created since we took office – 6 million. We have brought unemployment down to record levels, where now what unemployment is at 3.9%.

But in addition to that, one of the areas of particular focus for me has been our CDFI, the Community Development Financial Institutions, also known as community banks.

Back when I was in the Senate, I was able to work with folks like Cory Booker and Mark Warner and others, to get in one of the first pieces of legislation around relief $12 billion to go to our community banks. So I’ve been working with our community banks around the country to increase the assets so they can increase access to capital for minority owned businesses. I’ve been visiting these businesses around the country who, you know, when you talk about who our small businesses are in the community, they’re part of the lifeblood and the social and civic fabric of our communities. Those small business leaders are role models in the community, they hire locally, they are innovative, but they need access to capital. And we all know the data is clear, Black business owners do not have the same access to capital as others. So we’ve done a real focus on that. And we’re going to see, I think, really, it’s going to become very clear what that focus is going to mean in terms of not only encouraging entrepreneurship but allowing those businesses to actually grow – not just open, but to grow.

We’ve also been working on federal contracting, you know. Look, one of the things that a lot of folks know is that the distribution of federal contracts has not necessarily had as much benefit in the Black community. We’re now increasing federal contracts to small businesses, including Black-owned businesses, by 50%. …

Affordable child care; if we get BBB passed, which I’m I am just absolutely committed to doing, no family will pay more than 7% of their income in child care.

Prescription drugs; well, let’s look at for example, diabetes. Black Americans are 60% more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes.

Insulin, which is the thing that saves a diabetics life is so expensive. We are going to bring down the cost of insulin, so it’ll be $35 a month. That’s going to be a huge, huge help economically for families that are just trying to take care of a relative but can’t afford the basic medicine that will allow them to stay alive.

So these are some of the things that we’re doing in addition to what we did with the first bill we push through, which is the American Rescue Plan; which was to get $1,400 checks to folks who lost their job or were out of work through no fault of their own because of the pandemic.

And one of the things that I’m most excited about is what we did to extend the Child Tax Credit.… Let me tell you that we in the first year the numbers are telling us that we reduced Black child poverty by over 40%.

 

One last note

The VPOTUS also made a special announcement, making the Black Press the first group to be informed about the nation’s first national roadway safety strategy.

“I also wanted to make an announcement that I’m only just giving to this group, to Black journalists and publishers … this is an announcement just first for you,” she enthusiastically revealed. “We are announcing the first ever National Roadway Safety Strategy, which is about putting $6 billion into state and local governments to improve safety on the roads. So things like car accidents, which are caused by a number of things. So it’s about funding for local communities around better streetlights. It’s about ensuring that crosswalks are safe, giving people enough time to cross the street right – and we’re talking about the elderly, we’re talking about a mother with a stroller or a father with a stroller. And this is a very big thing. When you talk about the quality of life that people have when they live in communities where they rely on public streets to walk to church, to get the key is to school, to get to the bus and to be safe. So I’m announcing it for the first time with this group.”

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