Second gentleman Emhoff visits NM, promotes American Rescue Plan

Second gentleman Douglas Emhoff watches Kylea Garcia get a COVID-19 vaccination at the Santo Domingo Health Center at Kewa Pueblo on Wednesday afternoon. Emhoff taked about how the American Rescue Plan will ramp up efforts to curb the pandemic and help Americans. Administering the vaccine is medical assistant Lsaida Bird. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

KEWA PUEBLO — Greeted by tribal leadership, second gentleman Douglas Emhoff arrived at the Santo Domingo Health Center on Wednesday afternoon as part of the Biden administration’s efforts to promote the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan.

“I’ll never forget it because it’s the first time I’m doing it, and I’ll never forget it because of the amazing place you have here,” said Emhoff, the husband of Vice President Kamala Harris. He told those gathered it was his first solo trip as the country’s first second gentleman.

During his afternoon-long trip to central New Mexico, Emhoff stressed the importance of getting COVID-19 vaccinations and said the rescue plan, which was signed into law by President Biden last week, will bring “immediate relief” to people across the country.

His visit was part of a large effort by the Biden administration to promote the package. Emhoff was with Harris in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Monday and Denver on Tuesday before making the trip to New Mexico.

He met with tribal leaders at the health clinic, then made a trip to Albuquerque to visit with working women at the National Hispanic Cultural Center.

“Sending Doug Emhoff to the Duke City doesn’t change the fact that Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion boondoggle of a spending bill is full of pork and unrelated projects that have nothing to do with COVID relief,” Michael Joyce, spokesman for the Republican National Committee, said in an email. “If Joe Biden wanted to deliver actual relief to New Mexicans, he should have passed a bill that isn’t a progressive wish list.”

No Republican members of Congress voted for the relief package.

Native American tribes will specifically benefit from the bill, which includes more than $20 billion for their communities and governments.

Emhoff toured the health clinic with New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Kewa Pueblo Gov. Sidelio Tenorio while vaccinations were underway. A group of patients in the lobby gave him a brief round of applause.

Emhoff walked into a room as Kylea Garcia, 23, was preparing to get her COVID-19 vaccine.

“I bet you didn’t expect your second shot to be in front of the entire world,” Emhoff told the patient.

A medical assistant plunged the needle into her left arm.

“It’s already done,” Emhoff said. “Get the shot when it’s your turn because it will save your life and the lives of others.”

The majority of Kewa Pueblo members are already vaccinated. Leaders of other New Mexico tribes and pueblos, such as Sandia Pueblo, told the second gentleman that more than 90% of their members have already been vaccinated.

Emhoff said that, despite being hit hard by the coronavirus, tribal governments have developed a model for distributing the vaccine that other communities should emulate.

“It’s an incredible story,” Emhoff said of their vaccination efforts, “one that I will share with the president and vice president as soon as I see them.”

Emhoff’s visit to the vaccination clinic also included a meeting with several New Mexico tribal leaders about resources Native American communities will receive as part of the recovery package. The plan will bring $20 billion in emergency funding for tribal governments to manage the pandemic, $1.1 billion for education, and funding for housing, businesses and essential services.

Gov. Brian Vallo of Acoma Pueblo said that tribe has prioritized cultural leaders for the vaccine. He said many of their customs have been sacrificed during the pandemic.

“We did not have the ability to be true Acoma … during this time,” he said.

After leaving the clinic, Emhoff traveled to Albuquerque, where he hosted a listening session with working women in a courtyard at the National Hispanic Cultural Center. He listened to an intensive care unit nurse, a small-business owner, a domestic violence advocate and a teacher talk about how their lives have been affected by the pandemic.

Suzanne Bell, an ICU nurse at University of New Mexico Hospital, was one of the women in the session. She talked about spending a year on the front lines of the pandemic, where she treated patients who were sick and isolated from their loved ones.

Emhoff asked her what she thought about the rescue plan.

She said she’s gone from being scared to “optimistic about the future.”

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