Jill Biden celebrates a day of independence from COVID-19

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Jul. 3—CAPE ELIZABETH — Jill Biden celebrated the July Fourth weekend with a statement of independence — both political and from the pandemic — during a visit to Portland Head Light on Saturday.

"This Fourth of July rings in a new independence: a breaking away from the despair that we all felt for so long and the beginning of a chapter of hope in the story of us," the first lady said in Cape Elizabeth. "Finally, finally, America is back together."

Biden was visiting Maine and New Hampshire on Saturday to celebrate a holiday weekend mostly free from the shackles of the coronavirus and tout the current administration's role in making that freedom happen. As part of the "America's Back Together" tour, President Biden traveled to Michigan this weekend.

Gov. Janet Mills, who introduced Biden with U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, Portland Mayor Kate Snyder, Maine House Speaker Ryan Fecteau and Cape Elizabeth Town Council Chairman James Garvin, also noted the double significance of independence after the tribulations of 2020.

"It's so appropriate that we celebrate not only Independence Day with the usual patriotic spirit — the barbecues and the parades and all that — but also our independence, our growing independence from this horrible pandemic," Mills said. "I'm proud to say that Maine is one of the safest places in the country (and) our country is one of the safest places in the world, which makes Maine one of the safest places in the world."

Mills thanked the Biden administration for its partnership in getting vaccines to anyone in Maine who wants them, helping the state to achieve one of the highest vaccination rates in the country. The governor noted that Maine's state of civil emergency ended on Wednesday, adding, "We're back on track."

As of Sunday morning, Maine had administered the final dose of a COVID-19 vaccine to 66.63 percent of people 12 and over, the current eligible population, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Mills also noted the significance of the landmark that stood behind her. Portland Head Light was completed in 1791 on the orders of President George Washington, with funding authorized by Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton — an example of government projects providing a lasting benefit to the people that the Biden administration is, itself, following, Mills said.

That government help includes the American Rescue Plan, a massive relief package pushed through by the Biden administration and Democrats in Congress. Maine expects to receive a total of $4.5 billion from the plan, which will go toward everything from unemployment benefits to coronavirus testing capacity to small businesses, local government, and many other areas.

"It's because of the Biden administration that we've been able to accomplish everything we've been able to accomplish," Mills said.

Biden thanked Mills, in turn, for her "decisive" action in combating the virus and her partnership throughout the pandemic.

"When COVID came to Maine, you acted so fast and so decisively to protect the people of this state," Biden said. "The president and I are so grateful for your partnership."

The first lady encouraged those present to stop and take in what was happening around them: a group of perhaps 100 people, gathered closely outside, mostly without masks, and yet without fear of the virus.

"Just a few months ago — think back — it was hard to believe that we would actually be able to be together on the Fourth of July, wasn't it?" she said. "But here we are. ... We're getting back to the things that we love. I mean think about it — hugging. Hugging the people we love. Catching up with our friends, face to face. Smiling at strangers."

Biden added: "Doesn't the air just smell so much sweeter without our masks? And doesn't the sun — OK, it's not here today, but it's almost here — doesn't it feel brighter without the shadow of the virus darkening our every thought? And doesn't the murmur of the crowd sound like music after being isolated and alone?"

After the first lady's remarks, she and the other dignitaries mingled with the crowd, shaking hands and handing out White House-baked cookies. Pingree presented Biden with two Sea Bags, popular Maine-made tote bags fashioned from sailcloth, that had "FLOTUS" stitched on one side and the old Maine pine tree flag on the other.

Later in the day, Biden was scheduled to visit Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to meet members of the New Hampshire National Guard and their families, along with U.S. Sens. Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen.

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