Vice President Kamala Harris headed to the Big Apple to help sell President Joe Biden's sweeping economic agenda, the Build Back Better plan.
"It's good to be in the Bronx," Harris told the crowd gathered at the Northeast Bronx YMCA to hear her speak.
The VP traveled to New York, where she discussed the two tiers of President Biden's economic agenda: the $1 trillion Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure bill and the larger Build Back Better act aimed at expanding the social safety net.
Harris arrived at Westchester County Airport in White Plains, N.Y., where she was greeted by greeted by Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y., who represents parts of The Bronx and Westchester County, including Mount Vernon, Yonkers and New Rochelle.
The vice president visited the Northeast Bronx YMCA, a recently opened facility which boasts multiple pools, fitness studios, youth and family programs and other amenities meant to serve the community.
"I’ve worked with the Y for years, and I’m a member of the Y," Harris said, telling staffers that she "used to swim at the Y a long time ago."
"It’s really beautiful," the vice president said of the brand new facility.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Lt. Gov Brian Benjamin and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., who also represents parts of The Bronx, were on hand at the YMCA for the event to welcome the VP.
"How cool is this that she could have been anywhere in the country, anywhere in New York, and she's right here in the Bronx?" Hochul said of Harris.
Hochul expressed that she was "so proud" to have the support of Biden and Harris.
Rep. Bowman, in his remarks before introducing Sec. Becerra, pledged that "we are going to deal with the climate crisis, and we are not going to leave people of color behind."
Vice President Harris acknowledged "has been a lot, and people are tired."
"When I look out across this room — and across this country — I see determination," she said. "We knew that during the pandemic the people who had the least were being harmed the most."
Harris said that the U.S. is in a "moment of transformation" in terms of job creation and economic growth, but acknowledged that the country must do more for working families and their children.
"Let us ask, are we really creating and reinforcing a society that is about allowing people to reach their potential?" Harris asked at the event. "Do we have a society that rewards ambition? The ambition a parent has for their children?
"We are fighting to pass our Build Back Better Agenda," Harris said.
Harris touted how Biden's economic agenda items will help working families and highlighted the urgency of extending certain programs, including the expanded Child Tax Credit.
"Unless Congress acts, these monthly checks will stop coming after December, you've heard that earlier today," Harris said. "One in three children would no longer be covered by the full tax credit. And it is a particular note and something that we all care deeply about. That includes half of Black and Hispanic children in America."
"Needless to say, we can not let that happen," Harris pledged. "We can not let that happen, and we will not let that happen."
The Build Back Better bill would largely be paid for by taxes on corporations and the wealthiest Americans. Harris pledged that working class families will not see an increase to their taxes.
"I'll tell you one thing for sure: We will not allow anyone who makes less than $400,000 a year have their taxes go up," Harris said. "We will not allow that. That is non-negotiable. In fact, this plan cuts taxes for working families."
"This plan also makes corporations pay their fair share because ... and we all know why that's important," she added. "It's just simply not right that a nurse or a teacher or a firefighter pays more in taxes than a hedge fund manager. It's just not right. It's just not right."
During Harris' speech, she was interrupted by a protester who said that better infrastructure could have saved people who drowned in their basement apartments when Hurricane Ida ravaged the northeast nearly two months ago. The vice president, for her part, agreed.
"You are right, brother," Harris said to the heckler, who continued to interrupt her while she was talking. "I know you are, and how about if you and I talk about that ... after I give my comments, and I'm happy to talk with you."
"But right now, let's talk about the agenda that will include speaking to all people and allowing everybody to be heard, because thats part of what we want in our democracy," Harris continued. "Everybody gets a chance to talk, and everybody gets a chance to be heard."
The heckler was removed from the room while the audience applauded the vice president's comments.
"The bottom line is that this is about what we value as a nation — about who we value," Harris said. "The President and I value working families. The President and I both come from working families."
"The members of the United States Congress, right now in their hands — within reach — have an opportunity to lift up our families and our children," Harris said. "I'm here today to ask people to see this moment for what it is and to step up."
"We can do this," Harris said. "It is the right thing to do."
Harris' event comes as the two key pieces of Biden's economic agenda are under negotiation in Congress.
After her speech, Harris spoke to reporters, who asked how close Democrats are to reaching an agreement on the Build Back Better bill.
"I think everybody will tell you that the closer you get to an agreement, the more things are actually peaked in terms of working out the details, and the tension that comes with that, and often the frustration that comes with that," she replied. "For everybody. But it is also an indication of the fact that we are close to getting a deal."
"So, I am confident frankly — not only optimistic — but I am confident that we will reach a deal," she concluded.
Biden had a breakfast meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and were joined virtually by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., as negotiations reach a fever pitch in Congress. Pelosi said after the meeting that a deal is "very possible."
"I'm very optimistic," Pelosi said, adding: “Whatever it is, it is going to be bigger than anything we have ever done for the American people.”
Pelosi declined to say whether or not a deal was possible Friday, saying only that there are some outstanding issues, including health care. The Speaker noted that it's "up to the Senate and the White House to decide" if Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., the Senate's centrist holdouts, are on board.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said Friday that they are aiming to vote on both bills before Oct. 31, when a number of surface transportation programs are set to expire.
"The House will aim to consider the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Build Back Better Act this work period," Hoyer said on the House floor Friday. "I hope to bring both of those bills to the floor next week, if they're ready."
At a CNN town hall in Baltimore on Thursday night, Biden also expressed confidence that a deal was within reach, telling the audience that "I do think I'll get a deal."
“We’re down to four or five issues,” Biden said of the ongoing negotiations, but did not detail what those issues are. “I think we can get there.”
"It's all about compromise," Biden said, adding: "Compromise has become a dirty word, but ... bipartisanship and compromise still has to be possible."
In order to reach an accord, the size of the sweeping 10-year spending plan has been whittled down to somewhere in the neighborhood of $2 trillion. On Thursday night, President Biden laid out what’s in it — and, importantly, what’s not.
For instance, the paid leave provision has been reduced to four weeks from the originally proposed 12 weeks.
“It is down to four weeks,” Biden confirmed. “The reason it's down to four weeks is I can't get 12 weeks.”
Biden also noted that it might be a “reach” to include dental and vision coverage in Medicare, a progressive priority opposed by moderate Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., one of the key centrist senators in the caucus.
Biden said that Sen. Manchin and "one other person" indicated they would not support the free community college provision, and said that Democrats are looking into expanding Pell grants to help bridge the gap.
"It’s not going to get us the whole thing," Biden said, but noted that he would be forging ahead with his free college education plans in the coming months.
"I'm gonna get it done," Biden pledged. "And if I don't, I'm going to be sleeping alone for a long time," referring to his wife, first lady Dr. Jill Biden, an educator and staunch education advocate.
Biden said that in an evenly divided Senate, every senator's vote is crucial: "Look, in the United States Senate, when you have 50 Democrats, every one is the president."
The bill, which was originally proposed at a $3.5 trillion figure and contained funding for paid family leave, education and climate programs, has been paired with a $1 trillion infrastructure bill, which received widespread bipartisan support when it passed the Senate earlier this summer.
The two pieces of legislation crucial to Biden’s agenda have been stalled as moderates and progressives have haggled over the price tag of the Build Back Better bill — which requires no Republican support thanks to the Senate’s budget reconciliation process — and the order in which both bills would be passed.
Harris told reporters after her speech that the goal of her trip was to "acknowledge the great work that is happening in communities, such as here at this YMCA, as an example of what is or can happen around our country."