First Lady Jill Biden made multiple stops in the Madison area on Thursday to promote the White House Cancer Moonshot initiative and encourage state educators as the school year begins.
Biden met with community members and state leaders during her visit alongside Gov. Tony Evers, Wisconsin U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin and Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway.
She first praised the Biden administration’s Cancer Moonshoot initiative during an event with Baldwin and Rhodes-Conway before speaking at an educator appreciation event in Verona, where she was joined by Evers and Baldwin as well as teachers union members from the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).
“There is no divide between those who love our students and those who teach them, because we do both,” Biden told educators at the Glacier Elementary School teacher appreciation event.
Her visit is the Biden administration’s third Wisconsin trip in August and the latest in a series of high-profile political events in the state ahead of the 2024 presidential election.
President Joe Biden visited Milwaukee on Aug. 15 to highlight “Bidenomics” — another name for the Biden administration’s economic agenda — and his goal to bolster the middle class. Vice President Kamala Harris on Aug. 4 touted the Biden administration’s broadband expansion and job opportunity efforts in Pleasant Prairie.
Republicans are similarly investing in Wisconsin, a state with a well-established tradition of oscillating electoral tango between parties competing for narrow victories. The Republican Party held its first GOP presidential primary debate last week in Milwaukee and plans to return in 2024 to host the Republican National Convention.
First Lady gets personal during Foundation for Black Women’s Wellness visit
The First Lady’s first event Thursday was a tour of Exact Sciences’ laboratory, where she and other guests followed the process of a Cologuard cancer screening test. Exact Sciences Chairman and CEO Kevin Conroy and Chief Laboratory Officer Ana Hooker spoke with Biden, Baldwin and Rhodes-Conway during the tour about the importance of early cancer detection and making patient screening more accessible.
The First Lady then joined Baldwin to meet with Wisconsin health care and community leaders in a listening session at the Foundation for Black Women’s Wellness, a nonprofit organization that provides cancer-focused services.
“Every woman and man here knows cancer touches us all, and it changes everyone,” Dr. Biden said while speaking about the grief she experienced when her son Beau Biden died of cancer in 2015. “Joe and I knew that we had to find purpose to deal with the grief that we felt after his death.”
Baldwin, who lost her grandfather to cancer, spoke about her effort to reauthorize the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program and praised President Biden’s “leadership of finally making sure that Medicare would stand up to big pharmaceutical companies and negotiate for lower prices.”
Biden and Baldwin also addressed the disparities in cancer. Black people have the highest death rate for cancer and are more likely than white people to be diagnosed with female breast, lung and colorectal cancers at a late stage, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
“To end cancer as we know it, we need early detection. We know that later stage cancers are harder to treat,” Baldwin said. “We need to address disparities in health care head on, and that means that we have to do greater outreach, greater education with communities of color and others who have limited access.”
The Cancer Moonshot program calls for action in five priority areas to reduce cancer deaths by 50% over the next 25 years: closing the screening gap, understanding and addressing environmental exposure, decreasing the impact of preventable cancers, bringing research to patients and communities and supporting patients and caregivers.
Health directors and community leaders spoke about the Foundation for Black Women’s Wellness’ efforts to address racial disparities through encouraging early screening, helping people sign up for insurance and providing support groups for survivors.
“The president's initiative is so important to Wisconsin as well as to the nation because we feel those casualties, but we also have survivors,” said Lisa Peyton-Caire, Foundation for Black Women’s Wellness CEO and president. “We're proud to be able to be a leader in this and for them to know that our nation's leader is in this with us.”
Biden, Evers praise teachers’ unions
Biden, an educator of over 30 years, also spoke at Glacier Edge Elementary School in Verona alongside Evers and Baldwin as part of an educator appreciation event with the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers during the second half of her visit Thursday.
Creating affordable education, universal preschool and expanding teacher recruitment have all been top priorities for the First Lady during her tenure.
The First Lady has taught English and writing at Northern Virginia Community College since 2009 and is the first presidential spouse to maintain a career outside of the White House.
“This isn't just a job, it's a calling. All of you were called to this profession for a reason because you never give up on the families you serve, because you continue to believe that a better world is possible and you make that world real, one student at a time. And none of that could happen without the support of our unions,” Biden said. “You aren't in this alone. You have a friend in the White House to interact [with].”
The National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers are the two largest teacher unions in the U.S. In addition to representing millions of educators, students and parents, these unions support student health care, teacher recruitment and retention, public school funding and socio-economic opportunity.
“It's no secret that I spent most of my career in education fighting for Wisconsin kids,” Evers said. “I hope you know how grateful I am for the work that you do to go above and beyond for kids, even as they walk through the front doors on that very first day.”
Rep. Amanda Nedweski, R-Pleasant Prairie, criticized Biden's visit with teachers' unions as a continuation of Democratic efforts to "usurp the rights of parents to direct the upbringing of their children" during a media call before the First Lady's visit Thursday.
Nedweski, who is co-chair of the parental rights group Moms for Liberty’s Kenosha chapter, also criticized Wisconsin teachers’ unions for opposing reading reforms Evers signed into law in July.
"The teachers’ union is not where you should be," Nedweski said, directed toward Jill Biden. "Perhaps you should be out talking to the parents instead."
Biden also held events in Indiana and Illinois on Wednesday as part of her Midwest visit.
Biden last visited Wisconsin in October 2022. She spoke in Milwaukee at a meeting of the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association and joined Evers at a Homework Diner event with Westside Academy students.
Ava Menkes is the state news editor at The Daily Cardinal. She has covered multiple stories about Wisconsin politics and written in-depth about nurses unions and youth voter turnout. Follow her on Twitter at @AvaMenkes.