PROVIDENCE — Vice President Kamala Harris Wednesday pitched the Biden administration’s multi-trillion dollar infrastructure and family plans to Rhode Island small business owners whose stories she said show why it is needed.
“The reason that I am here is … to carry your story as the story of America’s economy and the potential of America’s economy,” Harris told a group of business women in a roundtable discussion focusing on how they survived the COVID pandemic.
They included the owners of a jewelry store, medical hair replacement center, kimchi maker, sonar company and cafe, all with stories of struggling to support their employees during the pandemic and of juggling the challenges of child care with work.
Harris, a California Democrat and the nation’s first female vice president, spent the day in Providence with U.S. Commerce Secretary and former Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, who she’s working with not only on infrastructure, but refugee problems at the southern border.
They argued for an expansive definition of infrastructure that includes not only roads and bridges, but high-speed internet, affordable housing and child care.
Harris defined infrastructure as “the things we just need to get where you need to go.”
“Let’s talk about why child care is part of that,” she said.
The $2.3-trillion American Jobs Plan includes money for highways, mass transit, disaster-resistant infrastructure, drinking water improvements, broadband, eldercare, manufacturing, energy efficiency, veterans health and clean energy projects. Biden plans to pay for it by raising taxes on corporations and overseas profits.
The $1.8 trillion American Families Plan includes money for free community college, payments to families and universal preschool.
In an interview with The Journal before heading back to Washington, Harris addressed the prospect of future stimulus by outlining the administration’s vaccination milestones and defended the federal government’s response to requests for help to other countries slammed by a new wave of the coronavirus.
“There is a holistic approach,” Harris said. “It is about direct relief. But that was really about what we called it: a rescue plan to help people who were literally drowning. Now we are working on the American jobs plan. Now we are working on the American family plan.”
Asked whether future aid should be triggered by automatic benchmarks as Sen. Jack Reed has proposed, Harris said the administration is focused on “getting America back up and running.”
“The focus again is about what we need to do to get people vaccinated. That is one of our highest priorities,” Harris said. Making sure people have access to get to work, where they need to drop their kids off and go to school. It is about infrastructure, broadband … those are our areas of focus.”
COVID has hit some countries, particularly India, with a fierce second wave just as the supply of vaccine in the United States is exceeding demand and infections are declining.
Late last month the administration said it would release to other countries doses of the Astra Zeneca vaccine that isn’t approved here. Critics have said it should have been done sooner and Biden should have delivered international aid faster.
“We have actually dedicated $2 billion to COVAX,” Harris said, referring to the World Health Organization’s international COVID relief effort. “We have done that with a commitment to double that to $4 billion. We have done a tremendous amount of work to the international response. And this pandemic has made very clear that global health security is an issue for every nation.”
Although she came out in favor of marijuana legalization in the Democratic presidential primary, Harris now supports decriminalization of pot use, but not full legalization of sales on the federal level.
“We support decriminalization because we understand and are very clear that for far too long, Black and brown young people, with an emphasis on young men, have been criminalized and are in a system that has disproportionately impacted their lives, their ability to be successful, their ability to prosper.”
Harris and Raimondo held the business roundtable in the Wexford Science and Technology building on Dyer Street that was Raimondo’s signature plan as governor for developing the former I-195 land.
And the event was held in the same room that Raimondo endorsed Michael Bloomberg for president before later switching her allegiance to Biden and being considered for the vice presidential role that eventually went to Harris.
“This will be great for Rhode Island if Congress passes it,” Raimondo said about the Biden infrastructure plan in a brief conversation with reporters after Harris’ departure.
Asked what she’s focused on as commerce secretary, said “bringing back American manufacturing.”
Whether that is making semiconductor chips in America, making other parts of the supply chain — pharmaceuticals, medical devices, medical products,” Raimondo said. “America has lost 25% of its small manufacturing companies in the past couple of decades.”
On Tuesday, Raimondo visited General Dynamics’ submarine factory in Connecticut, talking about the $285 million in apprentice job training it would provide the submaker, which is also a major Rhode Island employer.
In a conference call hosted by the National Republican Committee after Harris’ visit, Rhode Island GOP Chairwoman Sue Cienki criticized the $1.8-trillion American Jobs Plan. Cienki called it Biden’s “bankruptcy plan” and claimed that it would “shrink the economy, lower wages and destroy jobs.”
“Perhaps she needed more frequent flyer miles,” said Cienki during the zinger-laced call. “Small businesses in R.I. are over-regulated and over-taxed…. Perhaps the visit was to highlight how not to have the government involved in small businesses.”
Both Harris and Raimondo Wednesday declined to answer questions about whether Facebook was right to continue suspending former president Donald Trump.
Before the roundtable, Harris and Raimondo held a “speed pitch” event with socially-oriented businesses at the Social Enterprise Greenhouse incubator in Davol Square.
Pitching to the vice president, Raimondo and members of the congressional delegation were the founders of Giving Beyond the Box, Incred-A-Bowl Food Company, and Urban Greens Co-op.
Harris’ first stop in Providence was at Books on the Square book store in Wayland Square.
“She was lovely,” Books on the Square manager Jennifer Kandarian told The Journal after the visit. “She talked about the importance of small businesses and asked how we had survived.”
With reports from Journal staff writers Katherine Gregg and Amy Russo.
On Twitter: @PatrickAnderso_
Originally Appeared On: https://www.providencejournal.com/story/news/politics/2021/05/05/vice-president-kamala-harris-talks-infrastructure-economy-ri-visit/4955658001/