Low-polling Vice President Kamala Harris spoke to the friendliest of audiences Monday at the annual NAACP convention, but not before a leader of the civil rights group felt it necessary to remind attendees why they should support the nation’s first female Black vice president.
Ms. Harris, the Democratic Party’s heir apparent if President Biden quits in 2024, promptly thanked the woman on stage by getting her name wrong.
NAACP board of directors Vice Chair Karen Boykin-Towns introduced Ms. Harris to the group’s 113th annual gathering in Atlantic City, New Jersey, with effusive and lengthy praise. In a 10-minute introduction, Ms. Boykin-Towns called Ms. Harris “a glimmer of hope” for Black Americans.
“We now have representation at the highest levels of government,” said Ms. Boykin-Towns, who didn’t mention former President Barack Obama. “This is power. We have waited far too long to have a Black woman representing us in the White House. It is imperative that we support her and uplift her [for] all of the progress she has made and continues to make for our community.”
She repeated the call to support Ms. Harris, whose approval rating among Black voters was 68% in a YouGov poll last month and 45% among women. In the vice president’s home state of California, a survey in April found her approval rating had fallen to 35%.
“We must support her whether it’s to protect Black mothers, ensure that our youth have equal access to higher education, or advocate for us both at home and abroad,” Ms. Boykin-Towns said. “Vice President Harris delivers for us.”
Ms. Harris arrived on stage to applause, gave Ms. Boykin-Towns a long embrace and mispronounced her name.
“Let me just thank Vice Chair Boykins-Town for that incredible introduction,” she said, putting the “s” on the wrong name. “It means so much.”
Later, Ms. Harris met with several pro-choice state legislators to discuss protecting abortion rights in New Jersey in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade. Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver was a no-show after the vice president’s office said she would attend the meeting.
Paris Dennard, Republican National Committee national spokesman and director of Black media affairs, said Ms. Harris’ speech skipped some of the biggest concerns of Black voters.
“Missing from Vice President Kamala Harris’ NAACP remarks was a concrete, substantive plan and timeline for the Biden-Harris administration and Democrats to seriously address key issues having a negative impact on Black Americans nationwide: historic inflation, gas prices and crime,” he said. “Empty pandering promises are not enough, and their sinking poll numbers show it is time for action and leadership, but that will not come from these Democrats in power.”
Ms. Harris told the NAACP convention that the Supreme Court’s ruling last month overturning abortion rights is reminiscent of slavery in the U.S. because women no longer have the right to control their bodies.
She said the ruling by the conservative-majority high court “took a constitutional right that had been recognized from the people of America, from the women of America.”
“We know, NAACP, that our country has a history of claiming ownership over human bodies,” Ms. Harris said. “And today, extremist so-called leaders are criminalizing doctors and punishing women from making health care decisions for themselves. We have fought hard to move our nation forward and yet … there are those who are fighting to drag us backward. Extremist, so-called leaders who are attempting to undermine our democracy.”
She criticized pro-life elected officials for arguing that abortion should be left to the states to decide.
“But at this moment, many of those same so-called leaders are the same ones who are passing laws to restrict the ability of people to vote,” she said in a reference to mostly Southern states.
She reminded the audience that Mr. Biden had signed into law an anti-lynching measure that she co-sponsored with Sen. Cory A. Booker, New Jersey Democrat. She also credited Rep. Bobby L. Rush, Illinois Democrat.
She didn’t mention another co-sponsor of the bill, Sen. Tim Scott, a South Carolina Republican who is Black. When Mr. Biden signed the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act in March, Mr. Scott hailed it as an effort “not on behalf of Republicans or Democrats, but on behalf of all Americans.”
The vice president urged NAACP attendees to elect more Democrats in the midterm elections to pass more gun legislation, protect abortion rights and fight what she called “un-American” state laws to restrict early voting.
“We must recognize the dream of the movement remains unfinished,” she said. “No matter how many times they push us back, we will march forward. Friends, freedom, liberty and democracy are on the ballot this fall. We need to make sure our voices are heard. We need people who will defend our rights up and down the ballot.”
Citing recent mass shootings, she said Congress must renew a federal ban on assault weapons that expired in 2004 and repeal a liability shield for gun manufacturers.
“Mass shootings have made America a nation in mourning,” the vice president said. “And it’s not only the mass shootings. We see it in our communities every day, and it is no less tragic or outrageous. Black people are 13% of America’s population but make up 62% of gun homicide victims. This issue of the need for reasonable gun safety laws is a real issue when we are talking about the civil right — the right that all communities should have to live in a place that is safe without weapons of war running those streets. The number of guns manufactured in this country tripled over the last 20 years. Today, we have more guns in our nation than people.”