Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff, sat down at a table at Denver’s Maria Empanada restaurant on Tuesday afternoon. It wasn’t for a bite to eat, but instead part of a national public relations push by the White House to talk about the $1.9 trillion stimulus package signed last week.
“We want to make sure you can stay open,” Harris told three small business owners who were part of the roundtable discussion with the vice president, Emhoff, Gov. Jared Polis and a nonprofit executive.
“There is no better way to understand what’s going on in our country, our communities and our small businesses, than by listening,” Emhoff said.
The stimulus and pandemic relief package, called the American Rescue Act, includes money for small businesses like Maria Empanada, which is owned by Lorena Cantarovici. She grew up poor in Argentina, immigrated to Denver and became an American citizen in 2009. Her shop has three locations, two in Denver and one in Aurora.
The vice president’s office reached out directly to Cantarovici and asked her to host the discussion at the recommendation of Polis and Colorado’s U.S. senators.
“I’m speechless! And that’s hard to do to me,” she said of the honor.
Cantarovici said in an interview that it was “a very tough year,” adding “tomorrow is the one-year anniversary of the day we had to shut down our restaurants.”
“One-third of small businesses in Colorado have gone out of business, perhaps even permanently,” Harris told The Post in an interview after the roundtable. “So, this is about making sure people know what’s in the American Rescue Plan that can help them, so we get everybody back on their feet.”
Gabriela Salizar, owner of the Colorado Artisan Center, told Harris and Emhoff about the hardships the Colorado artists it partners with have gone through. Lalitha Chittoor, owner of Eco All Trading, talked about how she started her business, which trades sustainable products like bamboo, at the behest of her daughter.
“Our small businesses are really part of the heartbeat of every community,” Harris said. “Our small business leaders are not only business leaders; you are civic leaders, community leaders, role models. It is our small businesses that hire from the community, that uplift the community.”
Jack Briggs, president and CEO of Springs Rescue Mission in Colorado Springs, told of the many hardships faced by people experiencing homelessness and how the stimulus package has helped.
Outside of the restaurant at the corner of Broadway and Louisiana, Harris supporters stood in the cold, some for several hours, to see the vice president from a distance. They cheered loudly as she came and went.
Harris had planned to go to a Fort Lupton vaccination clinic, Plan De Salud Del Valle, before coming to Denver, but plane maintenance caused her to miss the event. She instead spoke to the director and head nurse via videoconference.
“They’re getting shots in arms,” Harris said. “They are committed to making sure that no one is left behind, no one is overlooked. This is the kind of work the president and I have been supporting and encouraging.”
Harris also was noncommittal on keeping the Bureau of Land Management headquarters in Grand Junction. Some critics of the move, performed during former President Donald Trump’s administration, have urged the Biden administration to reverse it.
“Deb Haaland just got confirmed as secretary of the interior. I know this is on her plate, to take a look at it and do an assessment,” Harris told The Post. “We haven’t made any decisions yet,” Harris said.
The Colorado Republican Party criticized Harris’ visit in a statement, saying the stimulus plan is “a partisan bill that looked more like an expensive, liberal wish list” than a relief package.
“Harris’ visit to Colorado to sell this costly boondoggle won’t make Coloradans forget that Bennet, Hickenlooper, and the entire Colorado Democrat congressional delegation chose to follow Schumer and Pelosi in wasting their tax dollars on things that have nothing to do with COVID relief,” GOP spokesman Joe Jackson said.
This content was originally published here.