ORLANDO, Fla. — Addressing thousands of her cheering sorority sisters at their annual convention Thursday, Vice President Kamala Harris delivered an emotional and fiery speech, thanking them for generations of service and calling for them to join the fight ahead.
Her remarks were part of a daylong trip to Florida, where she brought the Democrats’ case for the 2022 midterms, framing the state as the epicenter for the battle for American rights and freedoms. Harris came to Florida to talk about core issues for her party, including voting rights and abortion.
“When I think about the issue of choice, the president and I feel very strongly that we have a duty and an obligation to protect the American people, including American women, and that includes women in Florida,” Harris said to reporters before her speech.
The trip began with a stop in Orlando at the 70th Boule of Alpha Kappa Alpha. Nearly 12,000 attendees were on hand at the annual conference, which Harris addressed for the first time as vice president. Her 20-minute speech was an opportunity to galvanize her sorority sisters and to recognize the party’s most loyal and consistent voting bloc — Black women — more broadly ahead of November.
“Our advocacy has been the history of moving the highest levels of government into action and of how we will always fight for what our communities need and for the best of who we are as a nation,” Harris told the crowd.
In listing the administration’s efforts and accomplishments on issues such as maternal health, housing discrimination and the confirmation of the first Black woman Supreme Court justice, Harris told the crowd they shared in the successes.
“In 2020, you not only showed up for President [Joe] Biden and me, you showed up for America,” she continued. “Thank you, sorors. This is the progress that you fought for. We must do it again this November.”
Harris’ trip comes as polling shows low approval ratings for Biden and Democrats openly discussing an alternative presidential nominee in 2024, though the majority said they would vote for Biden if the election was held today and he was running against former President Donald Trump. Biden has said he expects to run for reelection, and Harris has said she expects to remain on the ticket as his running mate.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is seen as a potential 2024 Republican presidential candidate. He has championed legislation on core GOP culture war issues, from banning critical race theory to the “Don’t Say Gay” bill that limits discussion of gender and sexuality in schools that went into effect July 1.
Black voters continue to be among the administration’s most supportive constituencies. But much of the Black electorate lives in states that have passed voter suppression laws in the wake of the 2020 election, when Black voters turned out in record numbers despite a pandemic.
The vice president also met with Florida Democratic state lawmakers Thursday afternoon to discuss how they can push back against abortion restrictions on the ground. Florida’s 15-week ban on abortion with no exceptions for rape, incest or human trafficking went into effect on July 1, in the wake of the June 24 Supreme Court decision that ruled that abortion was not a consitutional right but rather an issue where legality was left up to the states.
In the weeks leading up to and since that decision, Harris has met with health care providers, faith leaders, constitutional law and privacy experts, state attorneys general and other lawmakers.
The majority of Americans do not agree with the Supreme Court’s overturning of the abortion rights that had been guaranteed by the Roe v. Wade decision 49 years ago. The Biden administration’s has faced criticism from abortion rights advocates, who want the president to do more to protect abortion access. Last Friday, Biden signed an executive order designed to shore up access, including to medication abortion. He and Harris have also consistently called on Democratic voters to turn out in November, saying that is the best way to expand access to abortion.
“I think we collectively agree, as do most Americans, there are certain things the government should just not interfere with. And one of them is what should be a right of every American to make the most intimate decisions about what I like to call heart and home,” Harris said WHEN. “I think many of us also agree that this is not an issue that requires any particular person to change their faith or their belief system. It is simply that we should agree in a democracy, in America, the government should not interfere with certain decisions. Let the woman make that decision with her doctor, her loved ones, her pastor, her priest, her rabbi.”
Harris also stopped in Tampa on Thursday to meet with service members at the United States Central Command as Biden continues his trip to the Middle East.