Vice President Joe and Dr. Jill Biden hosted a reception Tuesday evening at the Naval Observatory in honor of Black History Month.
The vice president’s office passes along this information on background:
—Performing this evening is the Eleanor Roosevelt High School Chamber Ensemble from Greenbelt, Maryland.
—On display throughout the Vice President's Residence is an exhibit from the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Pool report below:
Among the guests spotted were Rep. Charlie Rangel (“Charlie!” the vice president said when he saw the congressman just before his remarks, “the only sucker that could pull that bowtie off), former basketball star Dikembe Mutombo (“you probably can’t see him back there,” Dr. Biden joked in her introduction) and Marian Robinson, mother of First Lady Michelle Obama. Reps. John Lewis and G.K. Butterfield were also expected, as was Sen. Tim Scott.
Biden began his remarks by recalling the support that he enjoyed in Delaware’s African-American community through his Senate runs—starting with what he said was 98 percent support in his first race, in 1972, which he won by about 2000 votes.
“Where I come from, you go home with them that brung you,” Biden said.
He recalled his own early days working on behalf of anti-segregation efforts and as a public defender in Wilmington, meeting clients at the train station. Standing at the same train station in January 2009, waiting for the first African-American president to meet him for the train ride into Washington, was a surreal experience.
So much has changed, he remembered thinking, “but you know what, not enough has changed.”
The country has an obligation now to address institutional racism, Biden said.
“We all kind of knew it, but we didn’t quite talk about it” when there were fights over voting restrictions or access to credit.
“It’s hard to believe how hard it still runs in some sectors, particularly for people with little financial means,” Biden said.
He credited the Black Lives Matter movement for having “awakened ordinary Americans,” and making him think about the issues too.
This is potentially a pivotal, generational moment, Biden said, and one that could bring the country into the next phase of dealing with racism, “as consequential as walking across that bridge,” he said, an apparent reference to Lewis’s march in Selma.
Then he turned to race in this year’s elections.
“Maybe the divisiveness, particularly with the other team right now, maybe it’s a good thing, to awaken the American people about the subtle and not so subtle deals going on,” Biden said, adding that this was about African-Americans, but also Muslims, gays and the immigration debate.
Biden said that he was watching the early returns on television just before he came down to talk to the crowd.
“Watching what’s happening now, I think you’re going to see a real opportunity for us,” Biden said.
“I want to thank Donald Trump,” he said to laughter, rounding out his remarks. “The stuff he’s doing, and others, the stuff Cruz is doing. He’s making the American people look in the mirror. And the American people are honest. And they look in the mirror and see what’s looking back at them,” Biden said. “If we’re smart, and we’re lucky, I’m convinced that the American people are prepared over the next decade to gradually to deal with institutional racism.”
Senior White House reporter
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