By Denise Rolark Barnes
Vice President Kamala Harris walked on stage to greet an audience filled with former congressional colleagues and voters that helped elect her to office, and warmly smiled at them. She was invited to give remarks and introduce President Joe Biden, the featured speaker at the Phoenix Awards Dinner held during the 51st Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Annual Legislative Conference at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in D.C.
Taking advantage of the opportunity to acknowledge the family-like atmosphere, Harris said, “Isn’t it wonderful to be back? Three years, and we’re back and in person,” she said, as she reminded the audience of nearly 3,000 attending the black-tie affair that the last in-person CBCF legislative weekend was held in 2019. The event has been held virtually the previous two years due to the COVID pandemic.
Opening with a commitment to the victims of Hurricane Ian in Puerto Rico, Florida, and South Carolina, Harris said that she and President Biden “will stand by you for as long as it takes,” then, she reflected on her journey to the White House.
“The first time I attended this dinner, I was in college at Howard University…you know!” she said, followed by enthusiastic applause. “As a U.S. Senator, I attended this dinner as a CBC member, and, tonight, I attend this dinner as Vice President of the United States.”
Before introducing Biden, Harris touted two significant achievements out of the White House that specifically targeted African Americans, including a $5.8 billion investment in HBCUs and the investiture of the first Black woman – Ketanji Brown Jackson – appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“We need the leadership of this organization more now than ever,” Harris continued. “We gather in unsettled times,” she said, referring to what she had witnessed as she traveled across the country and worldwide. A woman’s right to choose, voting rights, and protections against hate and violence are “ideals and freedoms that we thought were long established and are now under threat,” she said.
“These long-held freedoms hang in the balance,” but she challenged the 56 members of the CBC and others to give Biden power, just as Dr. King worked to get the power President Lyndon B. Johnson needed to pass the Voting Rights Bill. “We’ve got the power,” she concluded, then turned to introduce President Biden, who was received with a standing ovation.
With the support of the CBC, Biden wasted no time ticking off the “big wins” his administration has scored on behalf of Black America. “As a matter of fact, without the CBC,” Biden admitted, “I wouldn’t be standing here tonight. That’s a fact.”
In addition to fulfilling his promise to nominate a Black woman to the U.S. Supreme Court, Biden said the CBC has helped him confirm more Black women appellate [federal] justices [judges] than every other President in the history combined — combined throughout our history.”
He pointed to his administration’s successes, including increasing Black Americans with health insurance under the Affordable Care, cutting Black child poverty in half in 2021 because of the Child Tax Credit, reducing Black unemployment, increasing Black small-business creation, and aggressively attacking racial discrimination in housing.
Biden promised, moving forward, to increase the share of federal government expenditures on small, disadvantaged businesses, including brown and Black businesses, to which Ron Busby, president of the U.S. Black Chambers, gave a thumbs up.
“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,” Biden added. “It doesn’t sound like much. That means an additional $100 billion to those businesses and those communities. It matters,” he repeated, “it matters.”
Taking a page from some Baptist preachers, Biden’s speech became more impassioned as he talked about lowering the cost of drugs, student loan forgiveness, gun safety legislation, and investing in violence intervention programs that “have shown to reduce violent crime by up to 60%, where they’re taking on in earnest,” he said.
Biden promised to continue to help get the George Floyd Justice Policing Act, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, and the Freedom to Vote Act passed and on his desk to sign. He also asked for Congress’s support to get Roe v. Wade codified to protect a woman’s 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,” he told the crowd. “I’ll defend our democracy and your freedoms with every fiber of my being,” he promised.“You had my back, and I promise you, I’ll have yours.”
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