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First lady Jill Biden, Mayor Regina Romero celebrate Int'l Women's Day in Tucson

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First lady Jill Biden speaks to a small crowd in the backyard of Tucson Mayor Regina Romero as part of her visit to Tucson on Tuesday. - Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

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First Lady Jill Biden and Tucson Mayor Regina Romero marked International Women's Day during a backyard celebration at Romero's home Tuesday afternoon.

About 50 people assembled at Romero's home on the West Side to listen to a short speech by Biden, who came to Arizona as part of a larger tour of Arizona and Nevada to push for the administration's Cancer Moonshot Initiative, one of the priorities outlined by President Joe Biden during his State of the Union speech last week.

On Tuesday afternoon, Biden traveled to the San Xavier Health Center, where the Tohono O'odham Nation has partnered with the University of Arizona Cancer Center to work on mitigating disparities on treatment within the community. Biden's car was met by runners from the tribe, and she went inside to speak with Xavier Becerra, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and tour the UA Cancer Center. This was followed by a ceremonial dance by members of the nation, and then Biden and Becerra traveled to Romero's home to celebrate International Women's Day with Romero and U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva.

White House officials framed the trip as part of "Building a Better America" and said Jill Biden's trip will "focus on uniting Americans around issues like ending cancer as we know it." During his State of the Union speech on March 1, President Biden said he would seek to "supercharge" a program to cut the nation's cancer death rate by at least 50 percent over the next 25 years, turning "more cancers from death sentences into treatable diseases."

During the event at her home, Romero called hosting the first lady "an incredible, incredible way to spend Women's Day."

"I am so inspired and I have been excited since we first learned that the first lady was coming to Tucson and chose Tucson to spend International Women's Day with us," Romero said, smiling broadly. "Together we can imagine a world that is gender equal, free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination. A world that is diverse, equitable and inclusive, and where we can reach across our differences to value and celebrate each other, our humanity and our value as humans."

As press watched from across the family's swimming pool, Romero noted that she is the "proud daughter of immigrant farm-workers," who taught her and her siblings, "the value of family, of our community, of a good education and to be part of finding solutions to the problems in our community. They taught me the value and respect nature, hard work, honesty, most importantly, having a good sense of humor and enjoying life."

Romero also acknowledged the crowd of community leaders, and said that along with several children hoping to meet Biden, there were many women who represented other "firsts" in the crowd.

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"First lesbian council-member in the city of Tucson, the first attorney in a family, the first to vote in a family, the first to graduate from college. The first, the first, the first, the first, including Dr. Biden, the first of our nation's first ladies to hold a doctorate of education," she said.

Romero was followed by Xavier Becerra, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, who called her "one of the best mayors in America," and linked her to other "mujeras"—Spanish for women—who were active and important, including members of his office.

"Having grown up with a powerful mother, two sisters, married to a woman, now having three daughters, most of my staff is female, I understand where to go to move and shake—las mujeres," Becerra said.

"Jill Biden is like getting a twofer for president because you get the power of the presidency with the voice, experience, and I believe, the real dedication of a Dr. Jill Biden," Becarra gushed. "The most powerful woman in America—and maybe the vice president would challenge me on that— but the most powerful woman in America came here to here to Tucson to celebrate International Women's Day."

Biden began her remarks by talking about the war in Ukraine, noting that women are there "fighting to keep their country safe, and those holding their children, you know, holding them close as they flee to safety. "

"And I'm thinking of the brave women of Russia who have risked their safety to speak out against the invasion," she said.

"Women have never been silent. But women have been silenced, with violence, with discrimination, and with isolation, and it's work and care that is never done," Biden said. She spoke about charlas—Spanish for talks—that she's held for Latinas over the past several years, adding "I've been told that in the past their voices weren't heard. And not because they haven't spoken up."

Latinas, she said have "shaped our nation since its very beginning, but their contributions have not always been celebrated as they should be."

"It's time that our country do more to listen, to lift up the voices, your voices, that have so much to say," Biden said. "There can be no American history without American history, and there can be no American history without women's stories."

Biden pushes parts of stalled Build Back Better

Biden toured the Phoenix-area on Monday, and visited community colleges and an Intel facility as part of the larger tour of Nevada and Arizona. Biden also plans to head to Kentucky to visit Fort Campbell, the home of the 101st Airborne Division where she will meet with the families of soldiers deployed to Europe in support NATO allies.

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Biden's tour comes as her husband's administration strains to get parts of the Build Back Better agenda into place after negotiations over the bill's $2 trillion cost collapsed, keeping the bill from passing through the U.S. Senate in December. Instead, parts of the package, which includes aggressive climate change legislation and early education spending, may be carved into their own bills.

In February, the White House said it would "reignite" federal efforts to treat cancers, and set "ambitious goals."

Biden told reporters in Tucson on Tuesday that this "isn't my first visit to the tribal nations, I've been doing this for a couple of years."

She noted that the "cancer moonshot" was personal to her and the president because of son Beau Biden's death from cancer. "And so one of the things is Joe and I decided to do was find purpose in that loss," Biden said, according to a pool report. "And it's something that I think our son would want us to do. So Joe is totally committed to this," Biden said. 

"And I'm sure that everybody here in the press has had some someone in their family. or a friend, who has had cancer," she said. "It touches us all. So it's a bipartisan issue. We have to work together," she told reporters.

She also told doctors at the UA Cancer Center "You're doing a great job because you're getting out into the rural areas and you're reaching people. And that's what we need. So really incredible. I mean, really, it's inspiring."

Beccara said that President Biden is "the first president to actually propose that for Indian Health Services, that we have mandatory funding, not discretionary, which means you won't have to fight tooth and nail every time in Congress to get the money," he said. "Like every other health service, you'll be able to know that when the need is there, it [the help] will be there. You don't have to go plead for something that you need, right?"

"You deserve it!" said the first lady.

Previous first lady visit marked by controversy

The last time that a first lady visited Tucson was in June 2018, when Melania Trump flew to Davis-Monthan Air Force base, and spent a short time at the Tucson Sector Border Patrol headquarters speaking to officials with U.S. Customs and Border Protection about the treatment of migrant families. During that summer, the administration launched its "zero tolerance policy," a widely-controversial and legally doomed strategy that sought to blunt increasing numbers of asylum seekers by punishing parents with legal proceedings and forcibly separated children from their families. The policy ended on  June 20, and Trump visited Tucson on June 28, 2018.

Before her visit to Tucson, Trump managed to ignite her own controversy by wearing a green, military-style jacket that had the words "I really don't care. Do U?" written in white graffiti on the back as she boarded her plane to Texas. Trump later argued the jacket was a jab at the "left-wing media."

Meanwhile, the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy is still causing problems as the federal government attempts to settle a class-action lawsuit that was launched in 2019 and has continued through 2022.

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