This evening, Vice President Harris’ met for a listening session with Black Mayors.
VP Harris and Jeff Zients are positioned on opposite sides of the stage, facing a large screen where the mayors and Dr. Nunez-Smith are streaming into the auditorium. Except for the pool, the seats are (obviously) empty. At their respective corners of the platform, the VP and Zients are seated each in gray chairs, propped up by navy throw pillows, at small white tables (on which they have open binders) next to smaller wooden side tables and standing American flags.
The VP listened intently, blue pen in hand, as Newport News, VA Mayor McKinley Price, Dr. Nunez-Smith, and then Zients spoke.
In her remarks, which went on for just over ten minutes, the VP first stressed a familiar point for the administration: the difference between equality and equity.
“Equality,” she said, “often assumes that everyone starts out at the same place. When we, as an administration, talk about equity, we understand that, since everyone does not start out at the same place, our focus is to be on making sure that everyone ends up in the same place and creates priorities around that.”
The VP thanked those present for their work, “at this difficult time in our country.” She said, “It has not been easy, and people look in your eyes, each one of you, searching to know that everything’s going to be OK. And you keep getting out of bed every morning to do what is necessary to make sure that things will get better. So, I thank you on behalf of myself and President Joe Biden.”
She noted that this meeting is taking place during Black history month and emphasized that awareness of and appreciation for Black history shouldn’t be confined to a single month of the year. “We’re at February, so we know this is Black history month, although every month, and every day, should be Black history month, recognizing that it is part of America’s history, but certainly we celebrate mayors like you who are keeping our cities going.”
The VP noted that some of the mayors also have full time day jobs in addition to their mayoral roles, which she said is why this meeting is taking place in the evening (“at least on the East coast.”)
“If we are to get on the other side of this pandemic,” she said, “we’re going to have to do it with you.” She noted that the role of a mayor is “boots on the ground” in nature, and that listening to mayors is essential to ensuring that the administration has policies that are “relevant” to Americans experiencing the everyday effects of the pandemic.
She said that during calls, mayors have repeatedly raised four issues: difficulty with vaccine distribution, budget constraints, difficulty navigating the reopening of schools, and local business closures.
“For too long during this pandemic, cities and states have been left hanging,” she said, “and as you know, we’re about three weeks into our administration. But this is a reality: you’ve been left hanging. The pandemic is a national problem and it demands a national solution.”
The VP added, “like the president likes to say: there’s a big difference between vaccines and vaccinations.”
She called the American Rescue Plan, “a very big part of that solution,” which “puts 20 billion dollars toward a national vaccination program. We’ve not had that… a national vaccination program that includes community vaccination centers and mobile vaccination units.”
The VP recounted the events of last Friday. “It was about five o’clock in the morning — and after I went back to the Senate at three in the morning, about two hours later at five in the morning — I cast my first tie breaking vote in the United States Senate, and I was there to cast that vote to help clear the way for the passage of this plan.”
In closing (opening remarks), she said, “We need to move this, we need to move it fast, it needs to be significant enough to actually have an impact. Every day matters on this… we’re in the midst of this hurricane. It is still raging, probably faster than before. The danger here isn’t going too big. It’s going too small and too slow.”
Pool exited the auditorium at 6:02 pm.