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1 year later, White House still withholding workplace protections

Advocates call for Obama to act now, fulfill campaign promise

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The White House told LGBT advocates a year ago President Obama won't issue "at this time" an ENDA executive order (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The White House told LGBT advocates a year ago President Obama won’t issue ‘at this time’ an ENDA executive order. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Last week marked one year since a high-profile White House meeting in which senior adviser Valerie Jarrett told LGBT advocates that President Obama would not take administrative action to protect LGBT workers from discrimination.

During that meeting, which took place on April 11, 2012, the advocates were informed Obama wouldn’t issue “at this time” a much-sought executive order that would bar federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT workers.

The next day, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney fielded questions from reporters for eight minutes on the decision and explained the administration prefers a legislative approach to the issue of LGBT workplace discrimination — the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. One year after that meeting, some advocates are wondering how long Obama is willing to wait.

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, was among those at the meeting. He said it is long past time for Obama to issue the executive order, which he considered a campaign promise.

“One year ago, the White House staff gave exactly zero persuasive reasons for delaying the executive order, and it’s time for the president to build on his impressive record and fulfill this campaign promise right away,” Almeida said. “There were no valid reasons for delaying a year ago, and there are no valid reasons for delaying today.”

Almeida has considered the executive order a campaign promise based on an affirmative response on a questionnaire to the Houston GLBT Political Caucus in 2008 from Obama indicating that he supports a non-discrimination policy for all federal contractors based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Action to prohibit workplace discrimination is seen as the only major LGBT issue on which President Obama has yet to make any substantive progress since the start of his presidency. No state laws prohibit discriminating against or firing someone for being gay in 29 states or for being transgender in 34 states.

Still, the White House hasn’t changed its tune on the executive order. Asked Monday for an update on the directive, Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, replied, “Regarding a hypothetical Executive Order on LGBT non-discrimination for federal contractors, I have no updates for you on that issue.”

Almeida said he doesn’t know when the White House might change course and issue the order, nor would he comment on recent conversations Freedom to Work has had with the White House on the directive.

Still, Almeida said he remains optimistic that Obama “will do the right thing and fulfill this campaign promise and create strong and enforceable workplace protections in nearly one-fourth of the jobs in the United States.”

A report from the Williams Institute last year estimated that 16 million workers would receive non-discrimination protections if Obama were to issue the executive order. However, that estimate applies to all workers at federal contractors — gay or straight. Based on numbers that LGBT people make up 4 percent of the country’s workforce, the report estimates that the number of LGBT people who would gain protections as a result of the directive would be between 400,000 and 600,000 people.

On the day of that meeting one year ago, LGBT advocates ranging from the Human Rights Campaign to the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force issued statements expressing their disappointment.

One little-noticed quote in ThinkProgress from Winnie Stachelberg, senior vice president for external affairs at the Center for American Progress, stated the White House’s Council of Economic Advisors “will launch a study to better understand workplace discrimination.”

Stachelberg didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment about the quote for more information on the study. A source familiar with the meeting, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said White House officials didn’t say CEA would conduct a study, but noted there are multiple options for how to study the issue and gave CEA as an example.

Meanwhile, LGBT advocates have been building support for the executive order among allies in Congress and other advocacy organizations. Since February, Obama has received a letter from 37 U.S. senators, another from 54 LGBT organizations and yet another from 110 U.S. House Democrats. The response to each letter was the same: no executive order at this time.

Michael Cole-Schwartz, spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, said his organization is still pushing for the executive order, but also sees opportunity for the advancement of legislation to address the issue of anti-LGBT workplace bias.

“HRC believes the president should issue a federal contractor EO as soon as possible,” Cole-Schwartz said. “The need for such an order, and the authority to issue one, is clear. While the LGBT community waits for the president to act, Congress must move forward with ENDA, including a Senate committee markup and floor consideration.”

As calls for the executive order continue, renewed focus has been on the advancement of ENDA in Congress — in particular a Senate floor vote on the bill. Although the legislation has yet to be introduced in the 113th Congress, that introduction — along with changes to ENDA — is expected later this month.

With movement doubtful in the Republican-controlled House, the Senate is the chamber most likely to advance the bill because it expanded Democratic numbers since the 2012 election and because Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chair Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who has jurisdiction over ENDA, has already pledged to move the legislation out of committee this year. The office of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has said Democratic leadership “looks forward to working with” Harkin to set up a floor vote on the bill.

Stacey Long, the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force director of Public Policy & Government Affairs, said her organization is among those that want a Senate floor vote on ENDA after Harkin’s markup of the legislation is complete.

“Economic security and employment protections are major priorities for The Task Force and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act is critically important,” Long said. “LGBT people are still suffering at work and the situation has been compounded by the downturn in our nation’s economy. We have been pressing for a Senate committee markup followed by a vote on the Senate floor. Of course, the legislation first has to be reintroduced and we expect that will happen sometime this month.”

In response to a question on whether Obama wants an ENDA floor vote in the Senate, Inouye responded, “The president has long supported an inclusive ENDA, and we would welcome action in either chamber on this legislation.”

A Reuters article published on Sunday quotes Jarrett as saying ENDA “is a priority,” but also reports that congressional aides see little evidence the White House is pushing to win support for the bill while it’s busy with gun control, immigration reform and the budget.

Almeida said he wants Obama to make clear that he wants a Senate floor vote on ENDA by using the bully pulpit to call on the full chamber to take action during an upcoming speech “well before the Senate ENDA vote that many advocates are pushing for this year.”

“I think a signing ceremony this spring for the executive order would be the perfect opportunity for the president to explain how America’s businesses and LGBT employees all benefit from workplace fairness,” Almeida said. “He can publicly challenge both chambers of Congress to pass ENDA while signing the executive order that will cover nearly 1 in 4 jobs throughout the United States.”

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‘Out for Biden-Harris’ LGBTQ-targeted campaign is launched

Several events planned in coming weeks

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President Joe Biden delivers remarks at a Pride celebration, June 10, 2023, at the White House. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

The Biden-Harris campaign on Wednesday debuted “Out for Biden-Harris,” which is a “national organizing and engagement program to mobilize LGBTQ+ voters, communities, and leaders across the country.”

Out for Biden-Harris “will train supporters to organize within their own networks and leverage messengers from the community to ensure we are meeting LGBTQ+ voters where they are,” the campaign wrote in a press release announcement.

“From drag queens to elected leaders to LGBTQ+ faith leaders, Team Biden-Harris will use a wide range of validators to communicate what’s at stake for the LGBTQ+ community in this election and why it’s critical that we vote for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.”

The campaign also previewed some of the events and initiatives in coming weeks, which will include:

  • A virtual organizing call featuring actor Wilson Cruz, Congressman Robert Garcia, HRC President Kelley Robinson, to mobilize LGBTQ+ supporters;
  • A series of virtual relational organizing trainings focused on activating and reaching new volunteers targeting battleground voters. The campaign will be engaging trusted messengers, including high-profile and trusted messengers in the LGBTQ+ community, like Brita Filter, Danica Roem, Gina Ortiz Jones, and Rev.
  • Hosting a series of Out For Biden-Harris house parties and community events including events in Phoenix, Arizona, Ferndale, Michigan, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and Las Vegas, Nevada to mobilize supporters.
  • First Lady Jill Biden will be a featured speaker at the Human Rights Campaign Equality In Action Conference bringing together a network of 400 organizers and activists in Arlington, VA.

The campaign noted that LGBTQ voters will be “a key part” of its coalition, while 39 percent of voters consider LGBTQ equality a “make-or-break issue.”

“In 2020, nearly 11,000 LGBTQ+ volunteers mobilized to help elect President Biden and Vice President Harris,” the campaign wrote. “This year, Out for Biden-Harris will re-engage these supporters and build on their work. The program is designed around the idea that there is no better messenger to mobilize LGBTQ+ voters than their friends and neighbors to bring new supporters into our campaign.”

The Biden-Harris administration is the most pro-LGBTQ in history, and LGBTQ groups with a combined 3.8 million members have endorsed President Joe Biden’s reelection campaign.

However, “the fight for equality for all Americans is at stake this November as Trump and his allies plan to roll back the rights and freedoms of LGBTQ+ Americans,” the Biden campaign wrote. “Trump and his MAGA allies are running on an extreme, anti-LGBTQ+ agenda which would push to discriminate against the LGBTQ+ community, even going after the right to marry who you love.”

“LGBTQ+ voters are a force to be reckoned with. They were critical to our victory in 2020, and they will be critical to winning again this November,” said Biden-Harris 2024 Campaign Manager Julie Chavez Rodriguez. “That’s why we’re thrilled to launch Out for Biden-Harris, which will harness the LGBTQ+ community’s organizing prowess to reelect President Biden and Vice President Harris this November.”

Chavez Rodriguez continued, “LGBTQ+ Americans couldn’t have more at stake this election: Donald Trump and his extremist allies are running to gut LGBTQ+ rights and erase history as their top priorities. LGBTQ+ Americans deserve leaders who will fight for every American’s freedom and dignity. That’s what President Biden and Vice President Harris have done throughout their time in office, and what they will do if reelected, including pressing Congress to pass the Equality Act.”

“There has never been a more critical time to protect the rights of all Americans, no matter who you love or how you identify, and Out for Biden-Harris will be critical to not just safeguarding, but strengthening the rights and voice of every single American,” she said.

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Melania Trump to host Log Cabin Republicans event

Former first lady is close with the group

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Melania Trump, gay news, Washington Blade
Former First Lady Melania Trump (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Former first lady Melania Trump is back on the campaign trail with plans to host a fundraising event for the conservative LGBT group Log Cabin Republicans on April 20 at Mar-a-Lago, Politico reported on Thursday.

Funds will be used to support the group’s “Road to Victory” program, which will target voters in swing states. LCR has had a close relationship with Mrs. Trump, who was a special guest for its Spirit of Lincoln Gala in 2021, where she received the Spirit of Lincoln Award.

Politico reports that the host committee for this month’s event will include GOP donors Saul Fox, Amanda Schumacher, Bill White, Bryan Eure and Richard Grenell, who is gay and served as ambassador to Germany and acting director of national intelligence during the Trump administration.

“Melania Trump’s work as first lady, from helping children reach their full potential to championing a more inclusive Republican Party, has been historic,” LCR President Charles Moran said in a 2021 press release concerning the Spirit of Lincoln event.

“Her vocal support of Log Cabin Republicans has been a signal to Republicans everywhere that it is possible to simultaneously be conservative and support equality under the law for all Americans,” he said.

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Meet Shawn Harris, the Democrat who seeks to oust Marjorie Taylor Greene

‘I wouldn’t be running unless I thought I could win’

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Shawn Harris (Photo courtesy of the Shawn for Georgia Campaign)

Shawn Harris, a cattleman in Northwest Georgia who served in the military for 40 years and retired as a U.S. Army brigadier general, is running for the congressional seat now held by far-right U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.).

He connected with the Washington Blade last week to discuss his candidacy as a Democrat in Georgia’s deep-red 14th Congressional District — and why his promise to deliver for constituents who have been failed by their current representative is resonating with voters across the political spectrum.

“As it stands today, I’m the lead candidate on the Democratic side,” Harris said, with “three other gentlemen running against me in the primary,” but “I am the lead candidate that has already received major endorsements,” including from Marcus Flowers, another Black veteran and Democrat who ran against Greene in 2022, and VoteVets, which is backed by more than 700,000 donors/supporters.

Harris said, “This race right now is in a situation where the district’s Democrats, Republicans, and independents are actually now truly looking at Marjorie Taylor Greene and saying, ‘she has been up there for three and a half years. What has she actually done for the district?’

He said voters are telling him, “‘I hear her always screaming about, you know, impeaching somebody, but I don’t know what she has actually done for the district.'”

A couple of weeks ago, Harris noted, Greene claimed credit for bringing millions of dollars in federal infrastructure investment to her district, only to retract the statement because the money came thanks to President Biden and the Biden-Harris administration through a bill she had voted against.

“Marjorie Taylor Greene has got herself in a situation where she’s in a civil war with the Republican Party,” he said. “She hates every Democrat that walks the face of the earth, and on top of that, she doesn’t have anything that she can stand on that says what she’s actually done here inside the district — so we have a clear path to actually beat her.”

“Based on information that we received from Marcus on what went right, what he thought he could improve, and how he raised the money, we have taken everything that he did right and brought it to our team,” Harris said. “Errors that he had, we looked at it and went with a different approach — so where I’m at right now, we’re going to every zip code in Northwest Georgia; we’re not overlooking anybody.”

Harris said he has secured support from Democrats, independents, “and we have figured out how to get Republicans to also vote for me.”

Voters can relate to Harris’s life and career

“I was military and I was high-level military,” he said. “So, it’s very easy for Republicans to Google my name and look at my history. My last assignment was in Israel. So that was a very high-level position.”

“The second piece,” Harris said, “is I raise cattle. I raise Red Angus cattle. I’m actually in my office looking out the window at them right now.”

He noted that agriculture dominates Georgia’s economy, particularly “cattle and wineries,” and also said he is an active member of the Georgia Cattlemen’s Association and U.S. Cattlemen’s Association.

“Most cattlemen, at least here in this area, are Republicans,” Harris said, so during the group’s meetings, “they get a chance to meet me just as Shawn, just as another cattleman.” At the same time, he said, “they come out here and visit me on the farm” and vice-versa.

“We help each other out” with challenges on the farm, and recently Harris said he has been hearing concerns about Greene’s opposition to the Farm Bill because it includes funding for SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) even though the legislation also “covers when farmers have drought, or hurricanes or tornadoes, or like the fires that just happened out in Texas; it helps them to replace whatever they lost.”

During “this past cattlemen’s association [meeting] two days ago, we all took up money to send to the farmers out there to try to help them get back on their feet,” Harris said. “What they’re saying to me is, ‘in three and a half years, Marjorie Taylor Greene has never been to a cattlemen’s association-type meeting anywhere.’ Okay? So you think about that.”

Harris added, “I just told you that the number one industry up here in North Georgia, northwest Georgia, is agriculture. Then on top of that, it’s cattle, and she don’t even come and talk to that particular group?”

“I think she looks at it like that’s beneath her,” he said. “When you talk to cattlemen and cattlewomen, we are just everyday people, hard working everyday people, and we don’t get to sit around and watch the news and Twitter and all this kind of stuff — so in order to talk to them you’ve got to come out to their house and go out into the pasture and maybe help them with some things.”

When he visits other cattlemen and farmers, Harris said they often say, “‘you know, that guy was a general and he came over and helped you put your cow back in today.’ That is priceless. That is how you change hearts and minds.”

He hopes the experience will also “make them say, ‘OK, it’s OK to vote for Donald Trump'” but on “the second line [on the ballot] that will say Shawn Harris and Marjorie Taylor Greene,” these folks might choose to vote for the Democratic candidate or “if they skip it, the math starts going in my favor either way.”

“We have Republicans that have already come to me and are champing at the bit that are ready to start putting up signs, big signs in their pastures that will go out in mid-April that will say, ‘I’m voting for Shawn,'” Harris said.

He also discussed the significance of his military experience in the context of helping to better serve veterans in Northwest Georgia. “[We veterans are] just as diverse as everybody else,” Harris said. “And I’m going and talking to that group because I am a veteran, 100% disabled, so I know exactly what they’re going through,” particularly when it comes to challenges with getting healthcare and other services from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

“So, when I talk to my fellow brothers and sisters that are veterans,” Harris said, “I talk about those issues and say, ‘you know what? I’m going to help fix this problem, I’m going to join with Sen. [Jon] Ossoff and all of the senators to get at it, but that’s one of the things that Ossoff is really working on up here in Northwest Georgia.”

Harris said many of the policy positions outlined on his website were informed by his experience going out and talking to veterans, famers, cattlemen, teachers, and others.

“In some of the different places that we’ve been, the LGBT community has been there and asked me some questions on where I stand. And I made it very clear, just like when I was in the military, where I said ‘I believe across the board in diversity, and everybody should have a fair shake’ — that’s the same thing I believe out here northwest Georgia, and that is directly in contrast to Marjorie Taylor Greene.”

Harris added that he has not yet had a formal meeting with members of the LGBTQ community, “but that community has already came to the other things and asked the question and I didn’t shy away from the question — that happened up there in Rome, Georgia.”

Asked whether, if elected, Harris might face blowback from conservative constituents over his support for LGBTQ rights, he was quick to say “no.”

“I’m not worried about any backlash or anything,” he said, because his voters “are picking me because I’m a leader,” which marks the “difference between Marjorie Taylor Greene and me — I’m going to listen to the people in my district, but I’m also going to vote and do the right thing for everybody in everybody in the district.”

Despite the efforts by Greene to “make everything seem like it’s to the extreme” including with respect to matters of LGBTQ rights, Harris said that in reality “most people out here — I don’t care if you’re Black, white, blue, or green — most people out here are laser focused on how they can get a high paying job so that they don’t have to drive to Atlanta or drive to Chattanooga, Tennessee, or drive all the way over to Huntsville, Alabama” for work.

Traveling these distances for work means “they stay over there for the week and come back on Friday,” Harris noted. “So in our area, we are breaking up the family dynamics, because either the husband or the wife is working two or three hours away from here, and so they are not here during the week.”

“What I’m trying to do,” Harris said, “and this is how I thread this needle, I’m trying to bring high-paying jobs here and generational jobs here so that people can still stay in this area, actually raise a family, and reach the American dream.”

Serving the needs of people in GA-14

Greene has discouraged investment in her district, Harris said, both by voting against legislation like federal infrastructure spending packages and by her extremism and refusal to work with Democrats as well as, in many cases, other Republicans.

“People are people,” he said, “and when you’re constantly out there screaming and saying negative things and saying whatever she’s saying all the time, when decision makers get a chance to make a decision, they’ve got to make whatever is the best decision for their organization. But if they say, ‘wait a minute, the person who is representing that area doesn’t seem like they want to be a team player,” then the calculus becomes, “‘where else can we take our business?'”

“What I plan to do,” Harris said, “is work very closely with the defense community and the space community and see what we can get moved from Huntsville — or whatever’s the next hot thing, to get that to be brought into the district.”

He recalled a conversation with former U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, whom Harris was briefing in Israel, in which the Alabama Republican explained that “pretty much anything that we do in the military when it comes to defense industry or space, it all comes to Huntsville, Alabama.”

Shelby told Harris that “he wanted to make sure that in his district, no matter whether you had a GED or a Ph.D., everybody could get a high-paying job.”

“And that is what I’m trying to do for this district,” Harris said, “because we’ve got people that are already driving to these other places” to find this kind of work, so “why can’t we bring it right here? We’ve got plenty of land, plenty of space, and nothing but opportunity to make it happen — we just need the right representative to make people want to come here and do business with us.”

“I want to make sure that everybody has the same opportunities that Marjorie Taylor Greene had to have a company here, to do what they want to do with their lives,” Harris said, “and right now, Marjorie is cutting people off from opportunities.”

He added, “Her job in Washington, D.C., is to make sure that we get federal dollars into this area so that we don’t get left behind and that’s what worries me is if we continue to fight and argue, that opportunity is going to pass by our region of Georgia.”

Additionally, “Marjorie Taylor Greene is in a fight with Gov. [Brian] Kemp and that part of the Republican Party,” Harris noted. “Hence, when the state is doing certain things, we’re missing out on certain opportunities simply because Marjorie Taylor Greene is in a civil war with them.”

From the federal down to the state and the local level, the primary goal, Harris said, is “making sure we’re on the same sheet of music so that we can make things better for the people around here.”

How to beat MTG

“Marjorie Taylor Greene came in at the right time for whatever she’s trying to make herself out to be,” Harris said. “She basically came into the district — when I say came to the district, she moved from the Atlanta area into the district. And as Donald Trump was rising, she was one of the early ones that got in behind Donald Trump and rode his coattails.”

In the years since she began serving in Congress in 2021, he noted, Greene has managed to convince many rural constituents to believe what she is saying, “based on the information that she puts out here,” often through “soundbites.”

However, Harris said, often “because they have met me” or because they have moved to the area from elsewhere in the country, “people are starting to say, ‘wait a minute, what she’s telling us is not true. And we can do better.'”

“Marjorie Taylor Greene is my greatest asset,” he said. “She does something every day that actually helps me. She wants to oust the Speaker of the House for passing the budget to keep the government open. At the end of the day, here in our district, if the government shuts down — we’re not rich here, OK? We will feel it a lot faster than somebody running around New York City.”

“So, when Marjorie is saying them things, she is not even taking consideration of how this is going to affect the people in this district,” Harris said.

“Across the board, everybody is embarrassed on how she conducts herself up there in Washington, D.C., because it makes all of us down here in Northwest Georgia look like a bunch of idiots because she’s our representative,” he added.

“And if they get in behind me, and we win this thing, you would never ever have to deal with Marjorie Taylor Greene’s craziness again,” Harris said. “Because I don’t even want to repeat some of the crazy things that she has said about many communities, many communities, and that’s what gives me my energy every day to actually put things in place to actually beat her.”

The campaign, Harris said, is going to get ugly. “On social media is where I run into the Marjorie Taylor Greene people that are very bold.”

For instance, “Somebody took my picture and posted it and said, ‘hey, 90+ percent of the people that look like this guy here are the ones committing crimes.’ But guess what? Because I spent all those years in the military and I’m a leader, I did not get upset. I said, ‘you know what, OK, got it. Let’s come back positive.’ We came back positive. And the whole Twitter universe said, ‘Oh, that’s the leader that we want.'”

“I wouldn’t be running unless I thought I could win,” Harris said. Up first is Georgia’s Democratic primary election on May 21.

“In order for me — based on the people that come out to vote, based on who’s registered and all these kinds of things — the number for me to win the primary is 15,029,” Harris said, “And that gives me a 54% of the votes, so that’d be a decisive win” and position the campaign to “continue to work on more independents and more Republicans to come over to us.”

Looking ahead to the general election on Nov. 5, Harris said, “In order to beat Marjorie Taylor Greene, I need help throughout this country, because it’s going to take a lot of money to beat Marjorie Taylor Greene — and like I’ve already said, our area is not the richest part of Georgia.”

“So, in order to pull all of these things off, I’m actually appealing to the people on the ground; I’m talking to everybody face to face, going to every zip code,” he said. “But at the same time, if you go and look at me on social media, I’m on every platform out there. Every platform. So we’re fighting in the social media world and we fight face-to-face.”

“Marcus Flowers showed us, as Democrats, how to raise a lot of money into these types of races,” Harris added. “I am blessed that people are believing in me and actually want to give their hard earned dollars to our campaign and we’re being very smart and strategic about how we spend those dollars and trying to save as much as possible” because “we’ve got to get to the primary, but we try to save as much as possible so we have a war chest when we go over into the general.”

With respect to current fundraising targets, he said “we have a very good start right now.”

To win in November, however, “it’s going to take millions of dollars,” Harris noted. “So we’re constantly asking people, ‘please go to my campaign page, Shawnforgeorgia.com and donate; and if you can’t donate, just pray for us.'”

Harris pointed to Democratic Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear’s successful reelection bid last year, after a challenging race in his “ruby red” state. “He talked about all the things that President Biden and Vice President Harris are doing with infrastructure and taking care of people — all those kinds of things, insulin, the whole nine — and he talked about those things,” Harris said. “That’s what I’m doing here.”

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