Vice President Kamala Harris declared Sunday that “this violence must stop” in her first on-camera remarks about the mass shooting in Monterey Park, California, that has left at least 10 people dead.
“I do want to address the tragedy of what happened in my home state,” Harris, a former California senator and state attorney general, told a crowd in Tallahassee, Florida, at the beginning of her speech to mark 50 years since the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision.
“A time of a cultural celebration … and yet another community has been torn apart by senseless gun violence,” the vice president said, noting that the shooting took place on the weekend of the Lunar New Year. The attack happened at a dance studio Saturday night near a Lunar New Year festival celebration in the city approximately seven miles from downtown Los Angeles.
“So Doug and I join the president and Dr. Biden, and I know everyone here, in mourning for those who were killed, as we pray for those who are injured, and as we grieve for those many people whose lives are forever changed. All of us in this room and in our country understand this violence must stop,” Harris said. “And President Biden and I and our administration will continue to provide full support to the local authorities as we learn more.”
“Jill and I are praying for those killed and injured in last night’s deadly mass shooting in Monterey Park,” he said. “I’m monitoring this situation closely as it develops, and urge the community to follow guidance from local officials and law enforcement in the hours ahead.”
The White House announced earlier Sunday that the president had been briefed by Homeland Security adviser Liz Sherwood-Randall and had directed her to “make sure that the FBI is providing full support to local authorities,” while providing him regular updates.
The Bidens remain at their vacation home in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, and are expected to return to Washington, DC, on Monday.
Linking abortion rights with freedom
Harris’ high-profile speech in Tallahassee came on the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, which the Supreme Court overturned in June, ending federal protections for abortion.
The vice president sought to draw a direct throughline between abortion access and the freedoms enjoyed by Americans, arguing that limits or outright bans on reproductive health care threaten the rights of ordinary citizens.
“There’s a collection of words that mean everything to us as Americans. The heartfelt words of our great national anthem, that America is the land of the free and the home of the brave. But let us ask, can we truly be free if a woman cannot make decisions about her own body?” Harris said as the crowd at The Moon nightclub responded with a loud “no.”
The vice president’s office said there were 1,500 people in attendance.
Harris’ office said earlier that the choice of Florida for the vice president’s speech Sunday spoke to the reality that the Sunshine State, which enacted a 15-week abortion ban last year, is now at the forefront of the abortion debate.
Harris did not mention the state’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, by name in her remarks, but she appeared to speak directly to the potential 2024 presidential contender, as well as other Republican opponents of abortion rights.
“Republicans in Congress are now calling for a nationwide abortion ban,” she said.”The right of every woman in every state in this country to make decisions about her own body is on the line. And I’ve said it before, and I will say it again: How dare they?”
Harris in her speech announced a new presidential memorandum Biden will sign to protect access to medication abortion.
“I’m pleased to announce that President Biden, I’m announcing it today, has issued a presidential memorandum on this issue. Members of our Cabinet and our administration are now directed as of the president’s order to identify barriers to access to prescription medication and to recommend actions to make sure that doctors can legally prescribe, that pharmacies can dispense and that women can secure safe and effective medication,” Harris said.
As vice president, Harris has claimed the issue of reproductive rights as her own, becoming the administrations most visible advocate for abortion rights since news leaked last year that the Supreme Court was all but expected to overturn Roe v. Wade. Harris traveled the country to convene state legislators, activists, lawyers and educators to discuss the issue and set a national message for Democrats.
The Biden administration has taken steps in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision last June to ensure access to abortion care. The president signed an executive order in August that he said would help women travel out of state to receive abortions; ensure health care providers comply with federal law so women aren’t delayed in getting care; and advance research and data collection “to evaluate the impact that this reproductive health crisis is having on maternal health and other health conditions and outcomes.”
Harris, touting the White House’s strategy, called Sunday on Congress to pass federal protections for abortion.
But any legislation to enshrine abortion rights into federal law is unlikely to get far in the Republican controlled-House, which passed a bill earlier this month that would require health care providers to try to preserve the life of an infant in the rare case that a baby is born alive during or after an attempted abortion. The bill is not expected to be taken up in the Democratic-controlled Senate, but passage in the House serves as a messaging opportunity for the new Republican majority.
Still, Harris encouraged abortion rights advocates to stay positive.
“To all the friends and leaders, I say let us not be tired or discouraged because we’re on the right side of history,” she said Sunday. “Here now, on this 50th anniversary, let us resolve to make history and secure this right.”
This story and headline have been updated.