21 March
Written by Susan Milligan

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN AND his vice president, Kamala Harris, had planned a Friday visit to Georgia as a victory lap after winning passage of a massive spending package to provide relief to those hurt by the coronavirus pandemic.

Instead, they ended up spending much of the visit – their first joint trip since their inauguration – meeting with distraught members of the Asian American community, mourning the deaths of eight people gunned down by a man who allegedly targeted people at Asian massage places.

While the motive of the accused killer is not yet clear, both Biden and Harris noted that six of the eight victims were Asian American and seven were female. And no matter what the underlying motive was, Biden said, they represented more violence against Asian Americans who have suffered a spike in harassment and attacks since the COVID-19 virus, first identified in China, infected the United States.

“It’s been a year of living in fear for their lives, just walking down the street,” Biden said in remarks at Emory University after meeting privately with local members of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community, as well as Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.

“I believe with every fiber of my being that there are simply some core values and beliefs that should bring us together in America. One of them is standing against hate,” Biden said.

He noted that “words have consequences” – a reference to former President Donald Trump’s characterization of COVID-19 as the “China virus” or worse. And he said the nation cannot fight the pandemic and racism with such language.

“Hate can have no safe harbor in America,” Biden said.

Biden spoke after Harris, typical for a president who has given his second-in-command a high profile in the administration. Harris, the first vice president who is of South Asian descent, was blunt in her condemnation of the violence Tuesday night and what it says about the country.

“Racism is real in America and has always been. Xenophobia is real in America and has always been. Sexism, too,” Harris said. “Ultimately, this is about who we are as a nation. This is about how we treat people – with dignity and respect.

“Everyone has the right to go to work, to go to school, to walk down the street and be safe. And also the right to be recognized as an American. Not as ‘the other.’ Not as ‘them.’ But as us. A harm against any one of us is a harm against all of us

The trip punctuated the policy and political mission of the young Biden administration. Biden and Harris’s day hit several of the major issues facing the White House – controlling the pandemic, fighting violence and discrimination against Asian Americans and women, and ensuring all eligible Americans have an opportunity to vote.

Biden and Harris started the day by meeting with staff at the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control, where the president thanked the team over and over again for their work in bringing science back to the dialogue and battle against COVID-19.

“You speak truth and science to power. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you,” Biden told the group, labeling them “the front line troops” in the war against the virus.

Later, Biden met with Stacey Abrams, the onetime Democratic gubernatorial candidate who has become a leader in the voting rights movement. Abrams is largely credited with the voter registration and turnout that not only delivered Georgia to Biden and Harris’s column in the presidential race but helped two Democrats – Ralph Warnock and Jon Ossoff – win U.S. Senate seats providing their party with a functional majority in the Senate.

Georgia remains a critical battleground for Democrats, who must defend Warnock’s seat in 2022 and hope to keep it as a gettable state for Democrats in presidential races. State Republicans are trying to limit the types of voting options – such as Sunday voting and no-excuse absentee voting – that helped Democrats pull out narrow wins in the presidential and Senate races.

The Georgia trip is among a series of journeys the president, vice president and their spouses have been making to battleground states to promote the American Rescue Plan, a $1.9 trillion package providing everything from direct checks to eligible Americans to extended unemployment benefits and vaccine rollout assistance.

The four have made trips to Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada. Biden will travel Tuesday to Ohio, a state where Democrats are eager to pick up a U.S. Senate seat next year, to mark the anniversary of the passage of the Affordable Care Act. Harris will go to Florida on Monday to peddle the Rescue Act, while her husband, Doug Emhoff, will head to Iowa. More trips will be announced in the coming days, principal deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters en route to Georgia on Friday.