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Vice President Kamala Harris speaks about abortion ban, meets with Latino leaders during Milwaukee visit

Harris visited UW-Milwaukee after speaking at Democratic Attorneys General Association Conference

Vice President Kamala Harris smiles as she enters a room.
Vice President Kamala Harris makes a visit to UW-Milwaukee on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022, in Milwaukee, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

During a busy Thursday afternoon in Milwaukee, Vice President Kamala Harris told supporters the Biden administration backs efforts to fight Wisconsin’s 19th century abortion ban.

Harris spoke at the national Democratic Attorneys General Association Conference where she focused on legal fights over access to abortion following the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade.

“We all believe that a woman should have the ability to make the decisions about her body and her life, if she chooses, in consultation with her faith leader, with her doctor, with her loved ones — but the government should not be making that decision for her,” she said.

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Harris also called attention to Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul’s lawsuit focused on the state’s 173-year-old abortion ban.

“With the limited resources every attorney general has, our friend here has to use his resources to fight a ban that was passed in 1849 before women even had a right to vote,” Harris said. “Somebody is trying to push the legitimacy of that law, and he has to fight against it. Josh, our administration has your back.”

Harris’ visit comes one day after Gov. Tony Evers called for a special session of the state Legislature to promote a plan that would let Wisconsin residents propose citizen ballot initiatives. The change would create a “pathway” to repealing the 1849 ban, Evers said.

Vice President Kamala Harris enters out of a black curtain and smiles as she is greeted by people.
Vice President Kamala Harris smiles before meeting with Latino leaders Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022, at UW-Milwaukee in Milwaukee, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

Following her speech at the conference, Harris traveled to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where she spoke to 13 college students enrolled in a political science course. Harris told the students about the importance of addressing the climate crisis now.

“You guys are going to pay the price for what we do or what we have not done on this,” Harris told the students.

“It doesn’t matter who you voted for last time or who you vote for next time, if we don’t come together on this issue, we’re all going to pay the price,” she added.

Harris also spoke to local Latino leaders during her visit, including Milwaukee Common Council President Jose Perez, members of the university’s Roberto Hernández Center and Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of the immigrant rights group Voces de la Frontera.

Neumann-Ortiz asked Harris to continue fighting for immigrants rights.

“The fight for protecting immigrant essential workers and their families has been a huge motivation for Latino’s to participate in elections and in different struggles here in Wisconsin,” Neumann-Ortiz said.

The visit is likely strategic. A New York Times/Siena College poll released Sunday found that while Latino voters still favor Democratic candidates, the party’s popularity among Latino voters has waned in the years since the 2020 election.

In Wisconsin, support for former President Donald Trump has also increased among Latino voters in recent years. A poll from Latino Decisions showed Latino support for Trump in 2016 was at 10 percent. In 2020, that figure increased to 22 percent.

“I do think it is good, it is an acknowledgment that Latino’s in Wisconsin are an important political force,” Neumann-Ortiz said about Harris’ visit.

This is Harris’ third visit to Milwaukee since becoming vice president. She visited Milwaukee in January to push for lead pipe replacement. She also visited Milwaukee in 2021 to promote President Joe Biden’s $2 trillion jobs and infrastructure plan. The visit also comes weeks before the state’s closely contested midterm elections — with Wisconsin’s U.S. Senate race critical to Democrats’ chances of holding a Senate majority.

Vice President Kamala Harris gestures with her hands while speaking to students in a classroom.
Vice President Kamala Harris speaks to UW-Milwaukee students Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022, in Milwaukee, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

Republican leaders respond

During a press conference before the visit, Republican Party of Wisconsin Chair Paul Farrow and attorney general candidate Eric Toney spoke to the media at the RNC Hispanic Community Center in Milwaukee.

“I’m glad that the Vice President is coming to Wisconsin, I think it’s great when we have them come here to hear about our issues,” Farrow said. “I’d rather have her in her job get down to the border and find out what’s going on and how we can solve the border issues because what’s happening at the southern border now is impacting us in Wisconsin.”

Farrow said he believes fentanyl is becoming more of an issue across Wisconsin, as Waukesha County recently declared fentanyl a “community health crisis.” Farrow called on Biden and Harris to put stricter border control policies in place.

Just three weeks ago, Biden visited Milwaukee to speak at the city’s Laborfest. In his speech at that event, Biden spoke about the importance of labor unions and called out “extreme MAGA Republicans.”