Mitch Perry, Florida Phoenix
Vice President Kamala Harris returned to Florida on Tuesday, where she continued to hit Gov. Ron DeSantis over the recent controversy about the state’s new African American history standards for K-12 public schools.
A day before, DeSantis challenged her to visit him in Tallahassee and have a discussion about those standards, which she has derided as “propaganda” and “lies” over an assertion that slaves benefitted from skills they developed in captivity.
But Harris wasn’t interested in DeSantis’ challenge during a speech in Orlando.
She spoke to a crowd Tuesday of several thousand of predominantly older Black women at the 20th Quadrennial Session of the Women’s Missionary Society of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
“Right here in Florida they plan to teach students that enslaved people benefited from slavery,” Harris said about halfway through her 18-minute speech. “They insult us in an attempt to gaslight us in an attempt to divide and distract our nation with unnecessary debates. And now, they attempt to legitimize these unnecessary debates, with a proposal that most recently came in, of a politically motivated roundtable. Well, I’m here in Florida, and I will tell you, there is no roundtable, no lecture, no invitation we will accept to debate an undeniable fact. There were no redeeming qualities of slavery.”
We do not need to debate: There were no redeeming qualities of slavery. pic.twitter.com/ywfnKeyfKk
— Vice President Kamala Harris (@VP) August 1, 2023
The crowd erupted in cheers.
Harris spoke about faith and the church for the first five minutes of her 18-minute speech before pivoting to politics, where she assailed “extremists” on a number of fronts, including abortion.
“Across our nation, extremists pass laws that criminalize doctors and take away the freedom for a woman to make decisions about her own body,” she said.
Cognizant of her audience, Harris added that “one does not have to abandon their faith or deeply held beliefs to agree that government should not be telling her what to do with her body,” as the crowd cheered. “Let her make that decision with her pastor or her priest, or her rabbi, but not her government telling her what to do.”
The vice president made sure to inform the audience of what the Biden administration has been doing, such as reducing the cost of insulin for Medicare patients and expanding postpartum coverage for women on Medicaid from two months to 12 months, with 35 states now extending such coverage.
Harris also referred to those who oppose “reasonable gun safety laws” and those who “ban books” as extremists, including those who “even rewrite ugly parts of our history right here in Florida.”
Her speech in Orlando comes as the Biden-Harris team continues to try to shore up support in what looks like will be an extremely close general election next year, regardless of who the Republican presidential nominee is.
And the Biden-Harris team collectively and individually have struggled in the polls for the past two years. Harris in particular has consistently polled poorly, and now has a 37% approval rating in the latest compilation of recent surveys from Real Clear Politics.
But in an interesting twist, Harris polls higher than President Joe Biden among the most intense Democratic Party voters, according to a New York Times/Sienna poll published Tuesday.
Just 20 percent of Democrats surveyed said that they would be enthusiastic if Biden were the party’s 2024 president nominee, while a higher share of Democrats, 26 percent, expressed enthusiasm for the idea of Harris heading the ticket next year.
The issues regarding African American history here in Florida and abortion rights have given her a platform that some say plays to her strengths on the campaign trail.
“I think that this is a shining moment for her to really I think show up in a way that we have not seen from her over the past three years of the Biden-Harris administration,” says Jasmine Burney-Clark, the founder of the Florida Black political group Equal Ground. “I would also say that Gov DeSantis’ choice to invite her to come to the state of Florida and debate him is once again another way that Ron DeSantis is whitewashing history by attempting to ‘school’ our first Black VP.”
University of Central Florida political science professor Aubrey Jewett says that the controversy over the state’s African American history curriculum is an issue that has definitely elevated Harris’ notoriety and stature.
“Like most vice presidents, she hasn’t gotten a lot of publicity. She doesn’t get a lot of credit,” he said. “Usually vice-presidents sort of work in the background. and you get some blame here and there, but you don’t really get too many opportunities to be out and front and be sort of the spokesperson for the administration…so I think for Kamala Harris, this has been a great moment for her politically to get out there and find an issue and be a leading spokesperson.”
Florida Phoenix is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Florida Phoenix maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Diane Rado for questions: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Florida Phoenix on Facebook and Twitter.