Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and NEC Director Brian Deese En Route Poughkeepsie, NY

Aboard Air Force One
En Route Poughkeepsie, New York

11:21 A.M. EDT

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. As you all are — all are aware, we are en route to Poughkeepsie, New York, where President Biden will visit an IBM site to meet with workers, tour the site, and give remarks. During the President’s visit, the company will announce a $20 billion investment over the next decade in R&D into design and manufacturing of semiconductors, mainframe technology, artificial intelligence, and the quantum computing across the Hudson Valley. These investments will create good-paying manufacturing jobs here in the United States.

The President will be joined by — on today’s tour — by New York Governor Kathy Hochul, as well as Congressmen Sean Patrick Maloney, Paul Tonko, and Pat Ryan. He’ll be joined by the Intel CEO, Arvind Krisha [sic] — Krishna.

And today, we’ll have Brian Deese, who’s standing right next to me, Director of the National Economic Council, joining us to talk through our domestic manufacturing boom, our strong labor market, and to answer any of your questions on economic developments.

But before I turn over to Brian, I have one thing that I wanted to say and share with you, which I think is very exciting.

This Saturday and Sunday, the White House will continue its annual tradition of welcoming the public for fall garden tours. I know you guys have been waiting for this moment. This year will be the first time the White House has been able to host fall garden tours since the pandemic started. In April 2022, the White House hosted spring garden tours, marking the first opening of the White House gardens to the public during the Biden-Harris administration.

This year, the President and the First Lady would like to especially thank and honor White House grounds superintendent Dale Haney. If you ever met him, he is a wonderful human being. And — but he — we want to thank him for his continued service and 50 years of contributions to the beauty and abundance of the White House gardens and grounds. Dale Haney has seen the grounds through a half century of growth and improvement, overseeing the care of 500 trees, 5,000 shrubs, thousands of annual flowers, and a productive kitchen garden and acres of lawns.

Dale began work in 1972 as a gardener during the presidency of Richard Nixon and has now served 10 presidents, supervising the work of the National Park Service’s full-time staff of gardeners, maintenance workers, electricians, and plumbers. We thank Dale for his many years of service.

And now I will turn it over to Brian. All yours, Brian.

MR. DEESE: Great, thank you all. So, we’re going to spend the bulk of our time at IBM and — in the tour and otherwise — seeing what the company is planning with respect to expansion of its quantum computing capability and its mainframe production capability.

But I just wanted to spend a minute on connecting this back and connecting the dots to our broader economic policy. You guys have heard me talk about the President’s economic strategy in the context of an American industrial strategy. And if you think about the piece of legislation that we’ve now enacted, what you’re seeing is a historic effort to lay the foundation with public investment for a unprecedented level of private investment in areas of significant economic — where there is significant opportunity for increases in economic productivity and also where we have an acute economic and national security need. And those things all come together here at IBM.

The principal — one of the principal reasons why IBM is now making this expansion is because of the CHIPS and Science Act. They’re not producing chips, but to have a long-term investment strategy in quantum computing capabilities, you need to have a reliable supply of leading-edge chips. And that’s what we will now have in the United States as a result of this. And the IBM CEO will talk about that more today.

It’s a historic place. I believe President Eisenhower inaugurated this — this facility back in the — in the 1950s.

In addition today, there is a significant announcement of an — of a battery manufacturing facility in Michigan — which we will not be hopping over to Michigan today. But $1.6 billion from a company called Our Next Energy, or “ONE,” to produce large-capacity batteries in the United States.

I draw this connection because, in order to do that in the United States, you need a steady supply of computer chips to build these advanced batteries, and you also need the long-term incentives in the Inflation Reduction Act. All of this comes together as part of a — an industrial strategy which is really helping to drive a renaissance in American manufacturing and domestic investment in these type of capabilities that we haven’t seen in generations.

And so we have a clear focus on a set of near-term economic challenges that we’re working through, and I assume you guys will all ask me questions about in just a moment.

But we’re also focused on a long-term economic strategy to build this economy back on firmer foundations with more resilient supply chains, more domestic industrial capability.

And today’s announcements across the country and the tour we will take today I think is good evidence of that.

So with that, I will turn it back to our friends.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Aamer. Why don’t you kick us off.

Q Yeah, okay. The near term with OPEC, can you talk a little bit about what you see as being, sort of at the 30,000-foot-level, potential dangers to the U.S. and world economy because of these OPEC cuts?

And the President, as he was departing, says there’s alternatives. What are the alternatives that are being weighed right now?

MR. DEESE: Sure. So, the President’s approach, our approach, and our strategy since the — since Putin began amassing troops and then — and invaded Ukraine has been on trying to maintain sufficient supply of energy, oil, and natural gas globally to maintain — to keep prices at a stable and lower level, while also training all of the appropriate pain on Russia and on Putin that is necessary.

That has been and continues to be our strategy. As we’ve said, the OPEC decision — the reason why we were disappointed in it is we believe it’s unnecessary and unwarranted at a period where if you look at the global energy picture and the oil picture, the lack of supply continues to be a significant challenge.

We’re going to have to see the actual impact of this. And I think it’s — I wouldn’t, you know — I wouldn’t fully speculate. As you all know, the difference between the headline of what the OPEC members announced yesterday with respect to their quotas and the actual impact on production is something that we’ll have to see in the market. And certainly the impact on production will be significantly lower than that headline that they announced.

But to your question about alternatives: We identified some of these, and we’ll continue to focus on them, right? If you look at the U.S. — where we are in the U.S. right now, the wholesale price for gasoline — refined gasoline — is about, on average across the country, about $1.20 lower than the retail price that consumers are paying. Historically, that gap has been about 90 cents.

So in the very near term, what we believe needs to happen, consistent with market principles, is that the energy — energy companies need to reduce retail prices to reflect the price that they’re paying for the wholesale gas. And the reason why wholesale gas prices continue to be at that level is because of all of the progress that we’ve made.

And, you know, they were — you know, oil and gas prices are moving around, but they are significantly lower now than they were a couple of months ago. So that’s the first thing.

And the other measures are things that are on the table and we continue to look at. The Strategic Petroleum Reserve is — is one of those.

So, you know, I — we’re not announcing any steps on that front, but there are measures that we will continue to assess as we — you know, as we go forward.

Q I have a quick question. Just in terms of the decision yesterday from OPEC, does the administration think that Saudi Arabia still deserves U.S. weaponry and defense support? I mean, the question is, really: Why should U.S. taxpayers subsidize Saudi security, you know, when they’re not willing to subsidize U.S. gasoline prices?

MR. DEESE: Yeah, so I have — totally understand the question. I have no announcements about any of that today. And would say that, as we mentioned yesterday, we will be assessing and consulting closely with Congress around a range of issues on the back end of this.

And beyond that, I don’t want to get ahead of, you know, potential announcements by the administration.

Q Brian, can I ask you to just kind of talk through your guys’ thinking on some of this stuff? So, NOPEC legislation is out there. You have previously expressed concerns about it, but has the opinion changed on it?

Export controls — is that something that, you know, there are big pluses and minuses to it? Is it something under active discussion at this point? SPR, there’s not a ton left that isn’t kind of accounted for. Do you think that you can ma- — can hit and make an impact with an unan- — so far unannounced SPR?

Can you just kind of walk through where your guys’ thinking is on each of these topics and what is closer to or more likely, or what you’re leaning into? Because otherwise, it seems — I mean, you have been finger-wagging it at oil companies for a year now — about the gap between retail and wholesale — and it hasn’t seemed to make a difference. So it seems like if you really want to address this problem, one of these other things is going to have to be an order, right?

MR. DEESE: Yeah, so I’d start by pretty — by respectfully but strongly rebutting the last point, which is, we have been actually looking at a set of tools and deploying tools. And over the course of the last cou- — set of months, you’ve seen that have very clear and tangible impact.

So, you know, you don’t have to take my word for it. If you look at most serious oil market analysts, they would say, you know, one of the most significant drivers of blunting oil price increases over the last set of three or four months was the President’s decision to release a million barrels a day from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

Q I was just talking about the, like, attacking oil companies over the price, for — not the actual release from the SPR.

MR. DEESE: If you look at the pri- — if you look at the gap between wholesale and retail prices, it has come down. It hasn’t come down enough — right? — but it has come down.

So, compared to conversations we were having late spring or early summer, we’re in a different position on those fronts. And I think that I would think that that is, in part, a reflection of U.S. policy and U.S. policy choices.

And — and we’ve done that in the face of — you know, I mean, we’ve talked about this in others — you know, there’s lots of oil calls of, you know, prices are going to spike. When we were in — in the spring, before we deployed some of these tools, there were lots of projections that this summer we would see oil prices go to 140, 150, 180, 200. Right? And so we have used our tools to an effect, including on the issue that you’re describing, as we think about things going forward.

Look, on the congressional side, I — we were in- — you know, intentional in describing exactly how we were going to go about this, which is we’re going to consult with Congress on additional measures. There are a number of those that have been put forward, debated for some time, and we’re going to engage because we need to look at whether and what tools are — are necessary in that context.

Q Including OPEC?

MR. DEESE: You know, we’re — we’re going to — we’re going to — we’re going to consult on all of the — all of the ideas that are out there on the — on the legislative side.

And what I would say in the category of the other things you’re mentioning is that what the President has directed us, and it continues to be the case, is to take nothing off of the table and to assess the situation and bring recommendations and take recommendations. That’s what we have done. And we have acted in a number of places where we’ve made that judgment. That’s what we will continue — continue to do.

And we’ve been clear that — that for — in addition to trying to bring prices down to reflect market conditions and then to, you know — and otherwise, we need to — there is a national economic and national security rationale behind making sure we have sufficient inventory across the country to manage and deal with contingencies and downsides.

You know, we were — the President was in Florida yesterday to see the damage from the hurricane and extraordinary damage that will — will be a huge effort to rebuild.

Had that hurricane had a different trajectory, it could have had a much more significant impact on energy supply. And we need to look at the inventory situation across the country and regionally, and make sure that, you know, we’re positioned effectively. And, you know, we’re going to — we’re going to keep working with industry wherever we can to do that, but also have to, you know, consider measures if it’s in the national interest.

Q Brian, a follow-up on that. So is an export ban or limiting exports on gasoline and refined petroleum products one of the things that is still being considered and on the table?

MR. DEESE: So, we — what I would say on this — we said — I want to be — I want to be — I want to be clear on this, because we have said this before and I will say this again: The President has directed that we have all options on the table, and that will continue to be the case. And so that’s how we’re approaching this question.

Q How seriously is that being considered? Can you — any sort of update on that?

MR. DEESE: I don’t have any update on that.

Q And do you — a follow-up on that. How do you think allies in Europe or in Asia would take a ban on exports? Has there — have there been, you know, international consultations about it?

MR. DEESE: So, number one, we have and continue to be in extraordinarily close engagement with our partners and allies on the energy challenges that the world is facing, the — from the level of the President down to his senior team. We are in daily and weekly touch, particularly with our European allies. And that is part of how we have worked collaboratively, for example, to double the share of U.S. natural gas that is going to Europe from — from earlier — earlier this year. And we’ll continue — we’ll continue to do that.

You know, I think I would say — and just back to the prior question: The issue for U.S. — the U.S. and our economic security is maintaining sufficient inventory levels so that we aren’t in a situation where U.S. consumers are forced to bear the brunt of anticipated or unanticipated economic challenges.

So that’s why we focus on the retail price reflecting a reasonable, historical wholesale price is because, otherwise, American consumers are bearing the brunt. And why we focus on areas where we have historically low inventories — because that creates a potential risk where, you know, the U.S. consumer — we can’t have a position where the U.S. consumer is put in a place where they’re bearing the brunt of that.

Q But just to hone in on that: U.S. gas prices are going up now. They have been going down; they’re going up because of the oil price rise. So what in the short term is available, given that this is something that’s on consumers’ minds across the country right now?

MR. DEESE: So, number one, you know, let’s, you know, take stock of where gas prices are today. You know, today in America, the most common price for retail gasoline is $3.29.

We’re headed to New York and New Jersey where the retail price is about $3.50. It’s down 30 to 40 cents from where it was a month ago.

And so we are laser-focused on what we can do to keep bringing that price down. But we start from the prospect of: American consumers are paying significantly less for gas at the pump today than they were a month ago, two months ago. And that reflects some of the progress that we have made.

In the immediate term, those prices can and should come down more because of the dynamic that we just described.

The wholesale price, the price that the gas station companies are paying for that gas — notwithstanding the fact that oil prices have come up a bit — is still historically low compared to the retail price that they’re charging at the pump. So that’s one place where there is more opportunity.

There are highly regional issues associated with the national gas price. Some of those are, you know, a function of refinery issues that we are in close consultation with industry on. Have made very clear that if there is any federal resource necessary to help address immediate refinery issues, then we’re going to take it. And so, you know, I think that that’s — that reflects some of the things we’re focused on in the immediate term.

Q Does this — does this plan by OPEC change your plans for refilling the SPR so we’re not competing with — consumers aren’t competing against the government to replenish the reserves?

MR. DEESE: So, I think our approach to that question
has been consistent and I think will remain consistent, which is that the Department of Energy is finalizing rulemaking right no- — is in the process of finalizing rulemaking that will allow them to re- — to engage in repurchases while providing the market more clarity about how they will do that and at what price, farther into the future.

And that will be an important — that will be a tool that they will use to do that to provide the market clarity on how they’re going to do that, but also do it responsibly over a longer-term timeframe.

Q Is there a timeline? Because market clarity seems important right now.

MR. DEESE: So, there — as they finalize that rulemaking, then they will be in a position to do that.

Q When does the administration plan to make the full intelligence report on Khashoggi public, as human rights groups have asked for repeatedly? If you can, you know, maybe talk about what the delay there is.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Wait, what’s — I’m so sorry, what was the question?

Q The full intelligence report on Khashoggi. When is the President planning to make that public? What is the holdup? Is that being considered now?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I know this question has been asked many times before. I don’t have anything to preview or share at this time. And we will — we will get to you guys when we have something to share, but don’t have anything at this time.

Q On that broader economic perspective, is the White House concerned that the economic trajectory right now — given the labor market, you know, the oil crisis, interest rates — is sort of heading in the wrong direction after the summer when things seemed to be getting better?

MR. DEESE: Well, I would say the most — I think the most significant mark of the American economy right now is its resilience — the resilience of the labor market — which you have seen and you saw in the weekly unemployment insurance claims that came out this morning.

We have been saying for some time that as part of the transition that we’re — our economy is going through, we fully anticipate that the — for example, that progress in the labor market cool from the five to six hundred thousand jobs a month that the economy was creating at the end of last year and the beginning of this year to something more consistent with what we’ve seen historically when unemployment rates are in the — in the high threes. So, that — we certainly anticipate that that will happen and that that is a sign of a transition that we’re moving through.

I think, lifting out of it, to your question, even as we focus on these — the important near-term issues, like dealing with refineries to try to keep the gas — the progress in gas prices coming down sustaining, we are very focused on the long-term economic strategy that this President has had since taking office. And one of the key hallmarks of that is how do we build a more resilient economy, a stronger industrial base, an American manufacturing industry that can actually grow and sustain, and the follow-on benefits that that has for communities across the country.

And I think that is a story that is less told today but bears significant focus. That’s part of the reason for this trip, is that there are things happening in American manufacturing and domestic investment in key sectors that we haven’t seen in generations. And so, we’re keeping an eye on what we can do to sustain that over the medium term.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Last question, because we’re about to land.

Q (Inaudible) IBM, Micron — right? — was this week. And you mentioned the Michigan deal. Is there any — and I realize a lot of this is in the future, so people aren’t seeing the immediate effects, but is there any frustration that you guys aren’t getting credit in how the American folks see this administration building the economy?

MR. DEESE: I think that the reason, you know, you see the President doing what he’s doing today and us doing is that we try to make sure that we — that we are communicating clearly to people.

But ultimately, it’s not just, you know, in the future. You know, you go to talk to the community of Syracuse, you talk to Poughkeepsie — folks in Poughkeepsie. They are seeing that when this kind of investment comes forward, even if the investment is going to operate over a decade, the initiation of that breathes life into communities and creates economic opportunity that is more durable.

And I guess that’s part of the point about — you know, the longer-term economic strategy here is about, you know, durable and resilient economic growth —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Hold on, everybody.

MR. DEESE: — which is highly consistent with standing up while a plane lands. (Laughter.)

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We got to end this. (Laughs.) We’ve just landed. Thanks, everybody. Sorry. Sorry, it was shorter. We landed earlier than expected.

11:46 A.M. EDT

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Statement by National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan on Shooting in Thailand

The United States was horrified by the tragic shooting at a day care center in Nong ua Lam Phu Province, Thailand. The images are heartbreaking and our deepest condolences go out to the families who lost loved ones. We condemn this act of violence and stand ready to assist our long-standing ally Thailand in whatever they need.

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FACT SHEET: Biden-⁠Harris Administration Strengthens the Federal Government’s Resilience to Climate Change Impacts

Today, the Biden-Harris Administration announced new actions by more than 20 agencies to bolster the Federal Government’s resilience to the worsening impacts of climate change. These actions are detailed in annual agency adaptation progress reports and highlight an Administration-wide commitment to confronting the climate crisis by integrating climate-readiness across every agency’s mission and programs.

More frequent and severe weather events, including droughts, extreme heat, wildfires, floods, and hurricanes, create mounting climate-related damages nationwide. Climate-related disasters impact millions of Americans each year when roads wash out, power goes down, homes and businesses burn, crops fail, and schools flood. Last year alone, the United States faced 20 extreme weather and climate related disaster events with losses exceeding $1 billion each—a cumulative price tag of more than $145 billion. The Federal Government’s employees, assets, and operations are exposed to these same impacts. With a footprint of over 300,000 buildings, over 600,000 vehicles, and the responsibility for delivering critical goods and services, the Biden-Harris Administration is minimizing disruptions, creating safer working conditions, strengthening supply chains, saving taxpayer money, and sustaining our mission.

In February 2021, President Biden charged agencies to revitalize Federal climate adaptation efforts through Executive Order 14008 on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad.

In October 2021, Federal agencies released climate adaptation plans that identified and addressed their most significant climate risks. Through these plans, agencies initiated actions to address a broad range of risks, including to programs, facilities, worker safety, supply chains, grants, and contracts. As part of this work, the White House also launched an effort to rebuild the Federal Government’s information resources and capacity to act on climate data. For example, in September 2022, the Administration launched a first-of-its-kind climate adaptation training for Federal program acquisition managers. The training provides a high-level overview on how to manage climate risks, including how climate change hazards may impact Federal programs and what steps they can take to prepare for these impacts. While the training is tailored for a community of approximately 1,500 Federal program acquisition managers, over 250,000 Federal Acquisition Institute users can take the course.

In addition to shoring up Federal Government operations and programs, the Biden-Harris Administration continues to work with states, Tribes, and local governments in a coordinated effort to protect America’s communities, economies, and infrastructure from the most severe impacts of climate change. Further, the Administration has worked closely with Congress to provide key adaptation investments supported by President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act and Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, including $50 billion in investments to protect American infrastructure against catastrophic wildfires, heat, and floods, and $4.5 billion for drought preparedness.

The reports released today show significant progress made by agencies to bolster adaptation and increase resilience to climate impacts. Highlights from the 2022 Climate Adaptation Progress Reports are below:

  • Safeguarding Federal investments. Across the government, agencies analyzed new data and tools to reduce risks to Federal facilities, infrastructure, and critical assets. For example, the Department of Defense (DOD) expanded the number of major installations and sites using the DOD Climate Assessment Tool (DCAT) from 157 to over 1,900. The DCAT is a comprehensive screening tool that rigorously identifies climate hazards, empowering officials with information to prioritize where best to invest resources and how to mitigate potential harm and security impacts through adaptive solutions. For example, Florida’s Tyndall Air Force Base is creating an “Installation of the Future” that is resilient to climate change impacts. Tyndall suffered $5 billion in damages from Category-5 Hurricane Michael, which destroyed almost 500 buildings and impeded critical operations. Local, state, and national partners are leveraging funds to construct living shorelines and oyster reef habitats adjacent to the base to preserve water quality, enhance overall ecosystem health, and strengthen flood resilience. Additionally, over the past year, the General Services Administration has incorporated climate risk requirements into several major solicitations with an approximate combined spending of more than $400 million.
  • Developing a more resilient supply chain. The Department of Energy (DOE) is strengthening the reliability of key technology supply chains, specifically focused on adding large-capacity batteries used for storage and backup generation at its 17 national labs. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) developed a Supply Chain Risk Management Plan to protect research equipment and regional labs from climate change hazards and to continue Superfund site and emergency response activities during a natural disaster. In 2022, DOD stood up the Federal Consortium for Advanced Batteries, which coordinates interagency action on a more secure domestic lithium battery supply chain. Additionally, DOD has also committed to increase energy resilience by building microgrid capability at critical installations.
  • Expanding and deepening agency resilience efforts. The Department of Labor created a Climate Adaptation Plan Committee to support collaboration on all climate adaptation initiatives, including the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s expanded use of strategic enforcement tools to protect Federal workers and workers from over 70 industries from extreme heat conditions. The Department of Agriculture required each of its 13 major agencies to identify and address climate change risks, while the Department of the Interior (DOI) has similarly directed its Bureaus and offices to update major policies to improve and increase climate adaptation and resilience in meeting its mission. EPA’s 21 Regional and National Program Offices identified and are addressing climate change risks specific to the region and program. 
  • Strengthening institutional climate adaptation capacity. Agency decisionmakers and front-line employees are building skills and knowledge to address climate change impacts to their specific mission. For example, the Department of Homeland Security launched a program in January 2022 to train its first class of climate adaptation fellows, deploying them to deepen climate adaptation and resilience expertise across programs. The Department of Transportation’s reinstituted Climate Change Center is developing a climate education and training program for its 50,000 Department employees and other stakeholders. For example, the Center is working with the Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to deliver climate information and support to transportation planners and stakeholders to enhance the safety, effectiveness, equity, and resilience of U.S. transportation infrastructure.
  • Incorporating environmental justice and equity into Federal adaptation efforts. Over the past year, agencies have embedded environmental justice and equity principles into their policies, processes, and procedures, including adaptation and resilience planning, in an effort to address past injustices and provide equal treatment to all U.S. Citizens. DOI is investing $46 million from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Fiscal Year 2022 appropriations in Tribal communities to address the unique impacts of climate change in indigenous communities. The funds also increase support for a community-led relocation effort of Tribes, dedicating $130 million from 2022-2026. This past year, DOE funded $12 million to 13 Tribes for innovative projects to reduce energy costs, increase energy security and resilience through new microgrids, and develop novel cost share reductions. The Department of the Treasury recently built a hurricane-resistant customer call center in Puerto Rico, which employs 2,000 people and is strategically located and built to withstand future severe weather events, including hurricanes and earthquakes.

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Statement by President Joe Biden on Protecting Dreamers

I am disappointed in today’s Fifth Circuit decision holding that DACA is unlawful. The court’s stay provides a temporary reprieve for DACA recipients but one thing remains clear: the lives of Dreamers remain in limbo. Today’s decision is the result of continued efforts by Republican state officials to strip DACA recipients of the protections and work authorization that many have now held for over a decade. And while we will use the tools we have to allow Dreamers to live and work in the only country they know as home, it is long past time for Congress to pass permanent protections for Dreamers, including a pathway to citizenship. 

My Administration is committed to defending Dreamers against attacks from Republican officials in Texas and other States. This challenge to DACA is just another example of the extreme agenda being pushed by MAGA-Republican officials.

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Remarks by President Biden on Hurricane Ian Response and Recovery Efforts 

Fisherman’s Wharf
Fort Myers, Florida

3:00 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, Gov and the First Lady, thank you very much for the hospitality.  And, you know, I want to thank the Mayor and the County Chair.  Cecil took me on a little helicopter ride, and we went out on Sanibel Island and all across.  And it — I mean, I’m sure it’s much worse on the ground, but you can see a whole hell of a lot of the damage from the air. 

And you can imagine, because unfortunately, I’ve been to a lot of disaster areas in the last couple months — last six months.  You know, more fires have burned in the West, in the Southwest, burned everything right to the ground than the entire state of New Jersey, the — as much room as that takes up.

And the reservoirs out west are down to almost zero.  We’re in a situation where the Colorado River looks more like a stream.  And there’s a lot going on.

And I think the one thing this has finally ended is a discussion about whether or not there’s climate change and we should do something about it.

But, folks, I also want to — Jill and I have had you all in our prayers, and I mean that sincerely.  And we’re here today because we wanted to tell you in person that we’re thinking of you and we’re not leaving.  We’re not leaving until this gets done.  I promise you that.

You know, you walk around here, what’s left of Fisherman’s Wharf, and you don’t have to have much of an imagination to understand that everything — everything is — this historic, titanic, and unimaginable storm just ripped it to pieces.  You got to start from scratch.  You got to move again.  And it’s going to take a lot — a lot of time — not weeks or months; it’s going to take years for everything to get squared away in the state of Florida to fully recover and rebuild.

And we’re here today with Governor DeSantis and Senator Rubio and Senator Scott and Congressman Donalds.  You know, today we have one job and only one job, and that’s to make sure the people of Florida get everything that they need to fully, thoroughly recover. 

We’re one of the few nations in the world that — on a basis of the crisis we face, we’re the only nation that comes out of it better than we went into it.  And that’s what we’re going to do this time around: come out of it better.  Because we’re — this is the United States of America, and I emphasize “united.”

We’ve seen extraordinary cooperation at every level of government, as the governor has said.  And the cooperation began before the storm hit.  The number one priority was saving lives.

At the request of the governor, I signed an emergency declaration. 

Let’s see if this thing works.  Is this one working?  (The President switches microphones.)

I signed an emergency declaration that pre-positioned federal assets, including food and water and generators, not only in Florida but in other states, so it’d be ready if the worst happened.  And it happened.

And we also pre-positioned the largest number of search and rescue teams ever assembled in the United States — ever assembled in the United States — and FEMA, the Pentagon, the Coast Guard, other agencies so we’d be ready to respond immediately — immediately — working with state and local officials.

And the search and rescue teams have knocked on nearly 70,000 doors and rescued over 3,800 people.

Yesterday, in Lee County alone, the search and rescue teams examined 24,000 structures just in this county, making sure we’re accounting for everyone who still may be trapped.

We have over 4,000 federal porson- — personnel on the ground as I speak.

The Army Corps of Engineers is providing emergency power to hospitals across the state, nursing homes, water treatment plants to make sure these facilities are able to continue to operate.

Tens of thousands of utility workers all across America — not just in Florida, all across America — responded to the call from Florida that needed help.  Thousands — thousands from all across America, working around the clock to get power restored.

This is about America coming together.  And I really mean it: America coming together.

FEMA has also delivered, as has been mentioned, 4,000 [sic] — 4 million meals, more — millions of bottles of water, and making sure that they have the immediate necessities.

But we know from experience, I know from experience how much — how much anxiety and fear and concern there are in the people.  We didn’t lose our whole home, but lightning struck and we lost an awful lot of it about 15 years ago, and we had a lot to go to.  We had relatives nearby.  It wasn’t like everything was wiped out.

But we know the feeling, that feeling about: Where am I going to put my head down on a pillow tonight?  How is that going to work?  Is my kid going to be okay?  Is he going to be able to go back to school?  Am I going to be able to build my home?  Will I — will the insurance cover it?  If I don’t have insurance, God knows, what am I going to do?

And, you know, we’re working to speak to all those issues, because they all warrant immediate responses.

I’ve instructed my administration to bring — bring every element — I mean every element — of the federal government together to help with the immediate needs and long-term rebuilding.

Yesterday, we opened a disaster recovery center right here in Lee County.  Three more will be open in this part of the state by tomorrow and — with more to come.

And the state is co-la- — co-locating insurance villages at the same centers so if you’re not sure what your insurance circumstance is, you’re not sure what you’re going to get, you can show up and determine in one place — one place; meet with your insurance company; and also apply for federal assistance at the same time.

From FEMA to Small Business Administration to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, there are — there are many ways we can help, and we’ve already started.

Already, 200,000 Floridians — 200,000 families, I should say — have registered for urgent assistance, like buying food, getting their prescriptions, clothing — the basics. 

And how many of you lost your businesses?  Well, the insurances may not cover — insurance may not cover everything, may not cover the full costs.  So we’re in a position — some of the folks — you’re going to — have lost their homes as well.  And the question is if you have insurance and will it cover the costs. 

Well, I’ve directed the Small Business Administration to speed up the processing of low-interest disaster loans that can provide up to $2 million for small businesses and non-profits and additional money for lost income and $200,000 — excuse me, $200,000 for homeowners who — to close the gap between what insurance won’t cover and what their needs are.  And that’s around a 1.5 percent interest rate. 

And folks, look, yesterday the state asked me and we immediately agreed to activate our hotel program so individuals who need hotel rooms won’t have to pay for anything.  I know there’s not many around here, but they can go to the nearest hotel and not have to worry about paying anything and just have the coverage. 

If you don’t have insurance or if you’re underinsured and you’ve found a place to rent, or your car has been destroyed, you’re entitl- — may be entitled up to $37,900 in federal funds.

If you need to make repairs to your home, you may be eligible for another $39- — excuse me — $37,900.  Not $39,700; $37,900.  So you’re possibly — can be able to get close to $80,000 for your needs.  It’s available.

And folks, look, the most important thing you can do is register so we can help figure out who is eligible for these things. 

Hundreds of FEMA personnel are going door to door and to help with that — or you can call 800-621-3362. 

And I’m told you’re waiting for hours and hours to get through and you’re not getting anybody answering the phone.  We’ve talked about that on the way down on Air Force One, and we’re going to try to speed that up by having additional personnel.  We’re trying to expand it.  So you have to have a little patience for us to get it all done.  So many people are contacting. 

Or you can go online to DisasterAssistance.gov and find out what you’re eligible to receive. 

Or you can sign up at one of the multiple disaster recovery centers — the one that’s opened here and many more that are going to be opening. 

Meanwhile, in the counties hardest hit, the federal government, at the request of the governor at the very beginning, said we’ll cover 100 percent of the cleanup costs — the debris costs, which is billions of dollars when it’s all over if you think about it.  We’re going to pay 100 percent for 30 days.  I just extended it for another 30 days. 

And the governor and I talked.  I think he’s going to have come back and ask for some more beyond those 60 days, because it is consequential.  Unless you clear the area, there’s not much else you can do. 

And so, folks, look, we have a long road ahead of us, rebuilding entire communities from the ground up.

I want the people of fori- — Florida to know: You have my commitment and America’s commitment that we’re not going to leave.  We’re going to see you through this entire process and it’s going to take a hell of long time, hopefully without any snags in the way. 

Later, after the television cameras have moved on, we’re still going to be with you.  We’re still going to be moving.  We’re still going to be doing everything we can to try to put your lives back together again.  

So many families in this community — their home is destroyed.  And where we’re standing now used to be a busy strip of restaurants and shops.  They’re now wiped out.

The Sanibel Causeway is ripped in two, standing hundreds — stranding hundreds of people on the other side — many who don’t want to leave, but some who wanted to leave. 

We’re in a situation where in Lee County alone, initial reports say 11 schools were significantly damaged and 3 are going to have to be rebuilt.

And today is Yom Kippur.  Many members of Florida’s Jewish community can’t gather at their holiest day today because they’re displaced and their homes are gone and their synagogues are not available. 

Long term, the major disaster declaration I approved on September 29th is going to help rebuild schools, libraries, parks, and public community centers.  We have the money to do that.  You’re qualified to get that done. 

We’re going to help rebuild roads and bridges and public water systems.  We’ve already allocated funding from the Infrastructure Law that I signed to continue making Florida’s power grid more resilient that it is now to ensure that power comes back on faster and reduce the costs of repairs and rebuilding, because there will be more storms.  There will be more storms.   

When I was Vice President, I provided Florida — or we provided Florida with $200 million to install a smart grid technology.  And as a result, the power is being restored quicker in Florida today than it’s ever been restored when it’s gone out.

Florida is already set to receive $13 billion over the next five years in federal funding for highways and for bridges.  And the key here is building back better and stronger to withstand the next storm.  We can’t build back to what it was before.  You got to build back better, because we know more is coming. 

I was talking to someone who was on Sanibel Island, saying that as he walked around, he noticed that those — those homes that were built later and had a different roof and different foundations, they did very well.  They — they survived. 

We can build to withstand the kind of things that you’re — we see — that you’ve faced of late. 

And, folks, it’s going to take the federal, the state, and local partners and the private sector working together. 

And here’s the deal: I promise you we’re going to be with you every step of the way.

The people of Florida, to all of you, we’re in this together.  This is the United States of America.  The United States of America.  (Applause.)  It’s not something else. 

So, thank you all, because a lot of people around the country are going through similar disasters.

As I said to a couple of the folks I was talking to — and I’ll end with this: You know, I’ve — I’ve been out, I guess now, 9, 10, maybe — depending on how you count them — 12 major disasters around the country.  You know, more timber, more homes, more buildings, more police stations, fire stations, et cetera have burned to the ground in California, Oregon, Wisconsin — well, excuse me — Oregon, Washington State, Idaho, down in New Mexico and Arizona than makes up the entire — the entirety of the state of New Jersey.  To the ground.  Gone.  Gone. 

And so, the thing I plead with you to do — and I’m sure you will — we’re going to get you all through this.  You’re going to get — because of the grit of all of you. 

But when you get it done, when you hear it happened to somewhere else, remember, this is the United States of America.  We’re all in this together.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

Q    Mr. President, what do state, local, and federal officials need to do differently to prevent future loss of life?

THE PRESIDENT:  What the governor has done is pretty remarkable, so far.  I mean, this is — what he’s done.

In terms of — you know, it’s — you know, first of all, the biggest thing the governor has done and so many others have done — they’ve recognized there’s a thing called global warming.  The world is changing.  It’s changing.  And we have to change the way, with the zoning codes — for example, my — the woman who heads up all this area for me, Liz, showed me a picture of the telephone poles we put up.  Liz, where — where were they?  Where is she?

Anyway, Liz showed me a picture of the telephone poles we put up in Florida.  I’m not sure what — where was that telephone pole you were showing me?

MS. SHERWOOD-RANDALL:  Oh, it was right here.  Fort Myers Beach.

THE PRESIDENT:  In Fort Myers Beach.  Instead of doing cement poles or wooden poles, they put up steel poles.  And guess what?  They all were sustained.  They all survived.  The wires survived.  The poles survived.  It cost more money to put them up, but they survived.

And we also know, when we put a lot of this on — like, in California, if we put a lot of this — if we do underground, it costs more money.  Put it — tunnel it; it survives. 

So we got to change the way we build and where we build.  The question every community is going to have to ask is, “Should we rebuild in this spot or that spot?  Will it be able to withstand what’s likely to come again?”  That’s a local decision.

Q    How has Governor DeSantis handled this recovery effort?

THE PRESIDENT:  I think he’s done a good job.  He’s — look, I called him, I think, even before he called me, when I heard this storm was on its way.  We’ve worked hand-in-glove.  We have very different political philosophies.  And — but he — we’ve worked hand-in-glove.  And he’s been on — things relating to dealing with this crisis, we’ve been completely in lockstep.  There’s been no differences.

Q    Do you think he’s done enough on insurance reform?  (Inaudible) in the state of Florida, and we know you have a National Flood Insurance Program.  Are you considering anything like that for homebuyers who are struggling?

THE PRESIDENT:  The answer is: That’s something that’ll be discussed.

But, look, the fact of the matter is, states like Florida, where they’ve had a lot of natural disasters because of flooding and hurricanes and the like — the insurance industry is being very stretched.  We’re going to have to have a hard look at whether or not the insurance industry can be sustained.

Thank you.

3:16 P.M. EDT

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Remarks by Vice President Harris in a Conversation on Reproductive Rights

Central Connecticut State University
New Britain, Connecticut

1:15 P.M. EDT

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Hi.  (Laughter.)   Hey, everybody. 

MS. MCGILL JOHNSON:  So exciting to have you here, Madam Vice President.  Thank you so much for being here. 

I want to thank you, Representative Hayes, Secretary Cardona, CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, and my friend, Governor Lamont, as well for joining us. 

And thank you, Central Connecticut State University, for hosting this conversation.  (Applause.)

So, as Representative Hayes has spoken, we are now 100 days past the fall of Roe, since the Supreme Court eliminated our constitutional right to abortion.  What that means is one in three women — more trans, nonbinary folks — cannot get access to care in their own communities. 

And we already know the people who are most affected are the people who already have been living at the margins of systems; they’ve already faced a lot of barriers to care.  And I — you know, the stories that we’ve heard over — you know, over the months of what people are experiencing in getting that care has been incredibly traumatic. 

And we also know that at the federal legislative level, we have seen action in Congress.  We have seen representatives, like Representative Hayes, who have led and supported the passage of the Women’s Health Protec- — Protection Act in the House. 

At the state level, Connecticut has allowed more licensed medical professionals to perform abortion care, and protected patients and providers.  And we’re going to get into what the White House is doing. 

But first, I just have to shout Madam Vice President out.  You have been the most amazing leader in this moment.  You have traveled the country since the Dobbs decision.  You have been all over this summer.  She’s talked to 150 legislators from 17 states, leaders in higher ed, healthcare providers, con law experts, state attorneys general — literally disability advocates, faith leaders, everyone who has a stake in this conversation, which is everyone. 

You have been there and you have been leading.  But it’s also not brand new for you, right?  You have done this work in every seat that you’ve held, from California AG to U.S. senator and now Vice President.

Thank you for being such an unwavering voice around sexual and reproductive rights. 

Why is reproductive freedom an issue that you’ve chosen to focus on right now, even before Dobbs?

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Well, I — I actually grew up with the issue of women’s health, as Alexis (inaudible).  And it’s so wonderful to be with you, Congresswoman.  And please send her back to Congress.  (Laughter and applause.)

So, they know — because we have worked together for so long, but I’ll share with the new friends — I was raised by a mother who had two goals in her life: to raise her two daughters and end breast cancer. 

My mother was a breast cancer researcher, and she was one of the very few scientists doing that work who was a woman and, in particular, as a woman of color. 

And so, this is an issue — the issue of women’s health, the importance of women receiving the care they need and deserve, the issue of recognizing women who have been marginalized, the issue of fighting for the dignity of women in the healthcare system was ingrained in me literally from the time I can remember as a child. 

And — and it has, in many ways, informed my life’s work in the work that I’ve done that has really been about prioritizing the health, the wellbeing, and the safety of women. 

And — and so when the highest court in our land, the United States Supreme Court, took a constitutional right, that had been recognized, from the people of America, from the women of America, there was no choice — and we all know this; that we all had to stand and fight for these fundamental rights of freedom and liberty and dignity and choice. 

And so — but, you know, the roots of it all for me are literally my childhood.  And when I think about where we are now, as we discussed with some of the leaders who are here in the room, I do believe that we all know that there was some movement on this issue that was started generations ago.  And a milestone in the success of that movement was Roe v. Wade, which was about half a century ago.  And it is now incumbent on us, as the leaders of this moment, to pick up that movement and to do what is necessary to reaffirm, regain, and fight for those rights.  And so that’s where we are.  (Applause.)

CONGRESSWOMAN HAYES:  Thank you, Madam Vice President.  It is definitely an honor to have you here and in my district.  And to that point, I believe that leaders are chosen for such a time as this.  And you are here in this moment for a reason.

We recognize there’s a long arc ahead to rebuild and even reimagine the right to abortion in this country.  Can you talk a little bit about what the Biden-Harris administration has done thus far to protect access to abortion post-Roe and how the administration is envisioning this work, moving forward?

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Yes.  So, to put the work of our administration in context, let’s — let’s mention a few things.

One, Clarence Thomas said the quiet part out loud.  Because for those of us who have read the decision and the concurring opinions, we know that it is very much in the trajectory of those who have taken away this right of privacy, that they are looking at same-sex marriage and the right to contraception.

This is — he said the quiet part out loud.  It’s literally in his opinion.

Let’s — let’s talk about the fact that we knew that 100 days ago when the decision came down, and we warned about it.  And then, most recently, you see what’s happened at the University of Idaho, where the university has basically said that they’re going to prohibit and not give out contraception to their students.

So, it’s already happening.  And we know that all of these hard-won fights will be temporary unless we are vigilant in upholding them, these rights.

So the way that our administration has been thinking of it in a number of ways, including what we call an all-of-government approach.  And so we have, through our Department of Health and Human Services, issued guidances and instructions — for example, to pharmacies, about what their legal obligations are, in terms of the dispensing of medication. 

We have, through our Department of Justice and, in particular, the Attorney General of the U.S. Department of Justice designated Vanita Gupta, who many of you may know from the leadership conferences — a great civil rights litigator and fighter — to be the head of the DOJ task force, to look at this issue to determine where there is a role for the United States Department of Justice to weigh in on what’s happening in the states and defend the legal and constitutional rights of people in our country on this issue.

They are — they are gathering pro bono legal support, so, basically, law firms and legal associations to give free assistance, legal assistance to folks who are going to need it, including healthcare providers, who in many cases are vulnerable to and explicitly potentially liable for criminalization in some of these states.  Right? 

We are looking at it through the context of what our federal communications division can do.  And that commission, the communications commission, to look at — and they’ve actually sent out a letter to the 15 top providers — AT&T, Verizon — to get their data policies and their data protection policies so consumers can be aware of what’s at risk but, hopefully, so we can also inform everyone of their rights when it comes to location services and what vulnerabilities users may have to people with bad intentions getting that information to potentially hold people liable or, worse yet, criminalize and prosecute people.

We have issued executive orders — the President signed executive orders, two in particular — that support a lot of this and include what we are prepared to do to fight for the freedom to travel — the constitutional right to travel, right?  Because remember, we’re looking at, I think, now a dozen states at least that have banned — essentially banned abortion. 

And what is that going to mean?  There’s still a lot of confusion because of the patchwork — different states doing different things.  What is that going to mean in terms of the legal rights and protections available to an individual who needs abortion care and leaves a state where it’s banned and goes to a state where it is still legal?  And what legal protections will that person have, much less the receiving state have? 

So there’s a lot of work that’s being done by our administration through the federal agencies that are a part of the federal government and in coordination with a lot of state leaders and, of course, leaders in Congress.

But this is truly an issue that is going to be about what all of our movements have been about, frankly.  It’s going to — there’s going to be litigation.  There’s going to be the need to push for litigation and legislation.  There’s going to be the need for organizing.  There’s going to be the need for coalition building.

Because think about it.  I’ve actually asked my team to do a Venn diagram.  I love Venn diagrams.  (Laughter.)  I just love Venn diagrams.  You know, the three circles — right? — sometimes there are more — and the intersection. 

And so I asked them, “Show me from which states we are seeing attacks on voting rights.”  One circle.  “From which state are we seeing attacks on LGBTQ rights.”  Another circle.  “From which states are we seeing attacks on women’s health rights.”  You would not be surprised to see the intersection. 

But what that also tells us, that Venn diagram: Oh, coalition-building potential, that we should maximize bringing together all the folks who have historically and traditionally and are currently fighting for voting rights with all the folks that are fighting for LGBTQ+ rights and women’s health rights.  Bring everybody together in a way that we build the coalition.

And then also remind people of what I think is an essential point, which is that no one should be made to fight alone, especially when you’re fighting for fundamental rights.  (Applause.)

MS. MCGILL JOHNSON:  I’m just going to jump right back in for just a second.  And the history teacher knows the answer to this question, but I would like to hear it from Madam Vice President.  In a state like Connecticut, where those rights have been codified —

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Yes.

MS. MCGILL JOHNSON:  — can you share with these folks what a national ban means?

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Well, first of all, so much credit to the governor, to the state legislators, and to members of Congress in this state for providing a role model for what it should and can look like.  And — and I — (applause) — yes.  Yeah.

And — and also, let’s recognize that they explicitly, in the opinion, and the proponents of the Dobbs decision, basically said, “Oh, let’s take — let’s push this to the states.  State voters can decide.”  Not ironically, but — but not by coincidence, it’s the same people who said, “Let’s push it to the states to decide.”  A lot of them are the same people who are denying voting rights.  Okay?  Right?  So check that out.

But what it would mean is that if we could get federal legislation — which the President is prepared to sign the Women’s Health Protection Act — to codify, which means put into law, the protections of Roe v. Wade, what it would mean: These states that are criminalizing healthcare providers — doctors, nurses, other healthcare providers — could not do it; they’d have to stop.  These states that are doing this abhorrent, immoral thing of saying “no exception for rape or incest” would have to stop. 

Think about that.  The importance of a national law — a federal law — would mean they couldn’t do that anymore.  And if they did, they’d probably be sued. 

And I mean, I have to say on the rape and incest piece, you know, I — you asked, Alexis, about what motivates me on this issue: It includes that for — when I was a prosecutor, I specialized in child sexual assault and crimes of violence against women and children.  The vast majority of my career as a prosecutor was focused on that.  And the idea that laws would be passed that would deny a person who has just endured such an act of violence and violation, and to subject her to the requirement that she report it or that she just literally has no ability to make a decision about her own body after her body has been abused at such a level, it’s immoral.  And a national law will handle that.  (Applause.)

MS. MCGILL JOHNSON:  Yes.  Yes.  I mean, you have captured so well the chaos and the confusion on the ground of what is actually happening.  And we’ve already seen it — right? — because we are a year into Texas.  We have seen patients who are traveling upwards of 400 miles one way just to get access to care to get the — you know, the first part of a medication abortion and then get back in their car and drive back home.

And we also know, as you pointed out, like, it’s not just about access to abortion, right?  It’s contraception.  They were coming — they’re literally trying to hold people hostage in their states with these right-to-travel bans.

And you mentioned the — the kind of intersecting issues.  I just want to call out the meeting that you called us into — a group of reproductive rights leaders and civil rights leaders met a couple — just a couple of weeks ago in your office to talk about just this moment that we are in and these intersections, and I think particularly around — if you could speak a little bit more to voting and, you know, concerns that we have literally about our democracy in this moment.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Well, I’ll — I’m going to go macro for a moment, on this point.  So, as Vice President, I have now had direct conversations, in person or by phone, with 100, at least, world leaders — presidents, prime ministers, kings, chancellors.

One of the things, traditionally, about the United States is that we could walk into those rooms, chin up, shoulders back, talking about what it means to be a strong democracy.  Imperfect though we may be, we could talk about what it means to be a strong democracy.  We could then have the authority and the standing to talk about the importance of human rights, rule of law.

And with that — as this room knows; it’s a room full of role models — we positioned and — ourselves and were thought of as a role model of democratic principles.

Well, here’s the thing about being a role model.  When you’re a role model, people watch what you do to see if it matches what you say.  (Applause.)  And now the highest court in our land took a fundamental right from the people of America.

So let’s appreciate what this means at a macro level, because nations and leaders around the world watch everything we do and have watched this, not to mention my fear that autocratic governments and leaders can say to their people, “Well, you want to talk about, ‘We should be a democracy, democratic principles,’ look what the United States just did.”

So, the impact of this, quite literally, will invariably impact women and people around the world.  That’s how significant this is in terms of the numbers we are talking about of human beings who are going to be impacted by this.  So, I do want to just mention that.

In terms of civil rights leaders, you know, I am often reminded of and often paraphrase, which I will do again right now, the words of Coretta Scott King.  And she famously said: The fight for civil rights — which is, of course, the fight for justice, it is the fight for equality — the fight for civil rights must be fought and won with each generation.

And I think she had two points.  One is that it is the very nature of this fight that whatever gains we make, they will not be permanent.  So, understanding it’s the nature of it, the second admonition, I think then, is: Knowing it is the nature of it, do not be overwhelmed; do not be dispirited.  It’s the nature of it that we have to be vigilant and fight for it.  And so that’s where we are.  And when I look around this room, I know we’re up for this fight.  (Applause.) 

REPRESENTATIVE HAYES:  All my life I had to fight.  (Laughter.)

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  It ain’t over. 

REPRESENTATIVE HAYES:  We can’t talk about abortion access or reproductive healthcare or protecting our rights without talking about Black maternal health.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Yes. 

REPRESENTATIVE HAYES:  Another issue on which you’ve been such a leader, as evidenced by your introducing the “Momnibus” in the Senate. 

Black women are three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than white women.  And the loss of abortion rights, largely across the South and Midwest, will only compound that. 

These health outcomes are largely impacted by structural racism and various barriers to care.  As a member of the Black Maternal Health Caucus in the Congress, my question for you is: What is the Biden-Harris administration doing to tackle the Black maternal health crisis?

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Yeah.  And you’ve been a great leader in the Congress.

I’m very proud that we have, for the first time, elevated the issue of Black maternal health to the stage of the White House.  I literally convened women from around the country to come to the White House, and we held a day of action on this issue — first time.

And to the Congresswoman’s point, Black woman are three times more likely to die; Native women, twice as likely; women in rural America, one and a half times. 

When it comes to racial bias in the healthcare delivery system, we know that is a huge contributor, in particular to Black maternal mortality.  And — because what the data proves is that it literally has nothing to do with her education level or her socioeconomic level.  It has to do with the fact that when she walks into that doctor’s office or that clinic or that emergency room, she, as a Black woman, is not taken seriously.  And so there is that. 

There are the stressors that she, that Native women, that women in rural America, that women in low-income communities face in life that also contribute to this.  The stressors of, you know, living in poverty can be trauma inducing.  And so, then you start to layer on these issues.  And to your point about systemic issues, there’s a lot there to unpack, but it doesn’t require rocket science to figure it out. 

And — and so what we have been doing is, one, elevating the issue, but then talking about — for example, when I was in the Senate, and we worked together on this bill that — I carried a bill that was about acknowledging the racial bias in the system and what we need to do to then train healthcare providers to understand that, identify it, and be aware of it. 

There’s the work that we need to do that is about putting resources into these communities.

Rural America — there are healthcare deserts where there are no hospitals, right?  Where there are no healthcare providers.  So, if you are that woman and you have an issue or a concern, it ends up being — it has to end up being so serious that you would travel hours to go get the healthcare you need, as opposed to something in another area of the country where you would have more immediate access to healthcare and you could handle it right away, which we know would produce a better outcome.

So there is a lot more work to do about this, and so we have done the work of putting resources into a lot of these issues to start to address it.  But there’s more work to be done. 

And we’ve been talking about this and working on this, as you — you know, for years, before the Dobbs decision came down.  And then when you compound it with what the Dobbs decision means on this issue, it compounds on the concern that the resources are not there to address what will be a growing need.

MS. MCGILL JOHNSON:  And it should come as no surprise that the same states that have enacted these bans — these same 17 states are the ones with the worst maternal mortality rates.  Right?

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  That’s exactly right.

MS. MCGILL JOHNSON:  So — it is.

So, I would like to talk about the Second Gentleman for a second.  Is that okay?

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Oh, okay.  (Laughter.)  

MS. MCGILL JOHNSON:  Because —

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  That’s my husband.  (Laughter and applause.)

MS. MCGILL JOHNSON:  So, Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff recently wrote an op-ed about why abortion is a basic human right.  And I — you know, look, as — as someone who is — I’m sorry, and this is also a question that’s coming from Dr. John Morton, who is a provider.  He said, “As a physician and an abortion provider myself, I agree.  I’m heartened to see more men activated in the movement.  How and why should men show up for reproductive rights, recognizing they’re not at the center of the issue, but still impacted by the loss of freedom?”

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Well, one, I’m so glad you raised that point, Alexis, and the doctor, because I really do believe we have to invite and, in some ways, give permission for men to use their voices on this issue and not feel that they have to be out of the room because the conversation might make them uncomfortable.  (Laughter.)  They need to get comfortable with it, understanding it is the woman’s choice, not theirs, and that we need — need everyone to participate in this because this is — it is about fundamental rights and right to privacy.

When Doug wrote that op-ed, he talked about something we talked about in our family immediately when the Dobbs decision came down.  We have a 23-year-old daughter.  I have an 81-year-old mother-in-law, Doug’s mother.  Ella, our daughter, will have fewer rights than my mother-in-law.  Can you imagine, in 2022?

You know, we’re supposed to be a nation that grows and strengthens itself and thinks about progress, which should include the expansion of rights, but we have now restricted rights to the point that two women in the same family are going to have such a disparate experience in terms of a fundamental right, going backwards, not forwards.

So he talked about that.  And — and I think that it is — again, I think it is so critically important that all people participate in this conversation, understanding not only that it will affect the people in their life who are directly impacted by access to reproductive health, but it affects them in other ways also, which, back to my point about what Clarence Thomas said, you know, once you start taking away rights and justifying it, you know, as they say, they will come for everyone else and then they will come for you.

And so let’s be clear about that also, which is we are witnessing an erosion.  And almost by definition, erosion can be infinite in terms of that process if we don’t stop it, and everyone could be in its path.  And I think that was a part of the essence of what he was talking about in that piece.

MS. MCGILL JOHNSON:  I think our next question actually follows right up on that.  It’s an audience question from Talia Asbury [ph], who is a young person.  “What do you say to young people in this moment about the future of access?  What do you say to people like Maddie, from the letter that I read?  What do you say to 17-year-old me who was pregnant and really struggling with how I was going to make that decision?  What do you say to future generations about how we can secure these rights and that access?”

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Yeah.  I mean, the first point that I will make is: You are not alone.  There is, I think, an aspect of this kind of attack on rights that has the effect, if not the intention, to make people feel that they are without power and to make people feel alone.

Let’s — let’s not overlook that there’s so much about what is happening now that is profoundly steeped in judgment about women’s sexuality.  So not only has a right been taken, but there is a tone and a tenor by which it is happening that is highly judgmental.  And, therefore, intended, probably — maybe sometimes unintended — to make a person feel ashamed and alone.

So my first point would be: You are not alone, and you have nothing to be ashamed about.

And we have to say that and mean it.  And that gets back to also the importance of the coalition building.  There’s a piece of it that is about encouraging and applauding people who stand up and fight for the rights of themselves and others, and encouraging that in our — in our kids, in our siblings, in our aunties, in our grandmothers, in our grandfathers.  And saying, “Hey, this is admirable to get out here and — and speak with force and feeling about this issue,” and giving ourselves and each other permission to do that, because what’s at stake really is so profound.

And I think that’s a big part of the advice I’d give right now is: You’re not alone, and so let’s organize.  Let’s organize.  Let’s link arms, and do what we need to do, including in the next 34 days, around the country.  (Applause.)

This is not a political event, but it is a fact that in 34 days there is a midterm coming up.  (Laughter and applause.)

MS. MCGILL JOHNSON:  Indeed.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  And facts must be spoken.  (Laughter.)

MS. MCGILL JOHNSON:  Yes, yes, we must speak truth.  Right?  Because stigma is — is used as a strategy.  So is misinformation, so is contorting people’s, you know, own ideas about their faith. 

And I want to, kind of, come with one final question that that comes from Bishop John Selders, who — who asked: “What would you say to someone who understands why abortion should be a personal decision between a pregnant person and whoever else they decide to include in the conversation, but believes they can’t reconcile it with their faith?”

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  I think that’s such an important point to raise because it’s real.  It’s just — it’s a real point.  And one — I appreciate how the question was framed, which is: It is her choice and it should be her choice to make, if she chooses, in consultation with a loved one, with a healthcare provider, with her faith leader.

And more specifically on the point, I say this: One does not have to abandon their faith or their beliefs to agree that the government should not be making that decision for her.  (Applause.)

So it’s — it’s literally that basic, which is also about — also consciously and affirmatively respecting that we should not — there’s nothing about this movement that in any way is trying to convert people, to change people in terms of what are their deeply held beliefs as it relates to their faith.  There’s nothing at all about that.  It’s simply saying the government shouldn’t be telling an individual woman what to do.  And I think we should speak that affirmatively so we don’t leave the inference being something we don’t intend.

MS. MCGILL JOHNSON:  I think let the church say, “Amen.”  (Applause.)

REPRESENTATIVE HAYES:  Madam Vice President, thank you so much for joining us here today. 

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.

REPRESENTATIVE HAYES:  Thank you for coming to Connecticut.  Thank you for visiting me and my district.  Thank you for coming to Central.  And thank you for being so generous with your time on this very important topic.  (Applause.) 

We are so much better off as a country having you in this place at this time.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

END                 1:50 P.M. EDT

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