Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at the 90th annual meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Reno, Nev., on Friday. Photo by Paul Morris/UPI | License Photo
June 3 (UPI) -- Vice President Kamala Harris on Friday touted the Biden administration's economic achievements while addressing inflation and calling for stricter gun laws at the U.S. Conference of Mayors' annual meeting in Reno, Nev.
"When we took office, as many of you remember, our economy and the pandemic -- well things weren't looking good, in fact in many ways heading in the wrong direction. But our administration worked with you to get back on track," Harris said.
"We worked together to get millions of people who at the time were facing eviction to stay in their homes. We worked together to make sure families had enough food to eat. We worked together to help small businesses stay open or reopen their doors and retain their employees."
Harris said the United States has had "record job creation, record declines in unemployment and a record increase in labor participation" since she took office with President Joe Biden.
"Just yesterday, in fact, we learned that the long-term health of our Medicare and social security programs is stronger than it was a year ago," Harris said.
"And of course, the jobs report that came out today proves that we continue to move in the right direction. Last month alone, we added 390,000 jobs which is tremendous progress and happening as we see a shift from recovery to sustainable economic growth."
Harris said the Biden administration had a "record-setting pace of job creation" with 9 million new jobs created since taking office and unemployment down to 3.6%.
"Small business creation is growing at a historic rate which means of course, at a local level, more folks are starting a business in your community than ever before," Harris said.
"The backstory on this is that within our first month in office, many of you will remember the president and I asked you to meet with us ... we asked you what you needed."
Harris said that mayors across the country "were some of the folks that could be most informative and helpful" to the new administration and that the American Rescue Plan was fueled by that "partnership." She praised the legislation for ensuring that there would be direct funding to cities across the United States.
"We did that because we also knew why it was important. It is important because then you all at a local level could put that money to work immediately, which you did," Harris said.
Harris then addressed inflation, noting that "supply has struggled to keep up with the demand for new goods and products."
Inflation has risen
in the United States by 8.5% over the past year, the quickest pace in 40 years. Energy prices are up 32% over last year, according to the Labor Department.
"We have seen the global supply chain slow down because of the pandemic. And we have seen the economic impact of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin's unprovoked war in Ukraine ripple across the world," Harris said.
"Both of these factors have resulted in rising costs and the people in your cities and your towns are feeling the pinch."
Harris said the Biden administration is "doing everything within our power" to lower the cost of goods and services for American families, including "bringing down the cost of child care."
"We believe strongly that if we are to have a strong workforce, we must support working parents and their ability to parent," Harris said, adding that the administration is also working to bring down elder care costs and the costs for prescription drugs like insulin.
She also touted the Biden administration's efforts to provide high-speed broadband Internet to rural and low-income American communities through the Affordable Connectivity Program, created as part of the bipartisan infrastructure bill signed into law last year.
Harris noted that, in her capacity as vice president, she has met with dozens of world leaders and that "there is a sense among all that we currently live in an unsettled world."
"We see this most clearly in Ukraine where the long-established principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity now rest on shaky ground. And we also see it here at home. We also see it here at home," Harris said.
"We once again are forced to defend fundamental principles that we hoped were well established, principles like the freedom to vote, the rights of women to make decisions about their own bodies, even questioning what constitutes the truth."
Harris, transitioning to the topic of gun violence, said people in the United States "also face immediate concerns about safety and security and about attacks on their communities that keep happening again and again."
"Mayors, you stand up when horrific acts of violence shake us to our core and you see firsthand how the hate that fuels these acts is manifesting itself in our communities," Harris said.
Harris said there is "a through-line" between the mass shooting at a Tops grocery store in Buffalo, N.Y., last month to what happened at past attacks on spas across Atlanta, the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., and the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pa.
"Our country is facing what might be considered an epidemic of hate where people are being targeted for just who they are, because of their race, because of their ethnicity, their gender, their religion, their sexual orientation," Harris said.
"We must speak honestly about what is happening and agree that the hate we see is not new. There have always been those who see diversity and inclusion not as the strength we know it to be, but as a weakness."
Harris said "bad actors can find each other online" and that the Internet "has given space for hate to flourish and provided demagogues with a megaphone to enflame these tensions."
"Let's not allow those who are motivated by hate to separate us or to make us feel fear. Let us not allow that," Harris said.
Harris stressed that now "is a time to renew our commitment to fight for unity" as she also called for lawmakers to renew the ban on assault weapons, expand background checks for gun buyers and repeal the liability shield that protects manufacturers.
"No 86-year-old should be afraid to go to the grocery store. No 9-year-old should be afraid to go to school. And no 18-year-old should be able to buy a weapon of war," Harris said.
Harris also called on the U.S. Senate to confirm a permanent director to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives "because it has been a long time guys since there has been a permanent director there and that organization knows best the steps to protect our communities."
The nation's mayors have a wide-ranging agenda dealing with a variety of urban issues. These issues include public safety, the implementation of resources included in the American Rescue Plan and the Infrastructure and Investment Jobs Act, climate change, affordable housing and economic mobility.
On Thursday, the U.S. Conference of Mayors reissued a letter from August 2019 calling on Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, R-K.Y., to take swift action and pass two bills to address the toll that gun violence has taken on Americans across the country.
The mayors want to see the Senate pass the Bipartisan Background Check Act and the Enhanced Background Check Act.
The U.S. Conference of Mayors is a non-partisan organization of cities with populations of 30,000 or more. Policy positions are adopted at the annual conference and are communicated to the president and Congress.