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President Biden visits Connecticut to honor Dodd family and support early childhood education

President Joe Biden made two stops in Connecticut Friday afternoon.

After landing at Bradley International Airport around midday, the president first visited an early childhood program in Hartford to make his case for investments in child care and preschool.

Biden said that only about half of 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds in the United States are enrolled in high-quality early childhood education.

“In Germany, France, and the U.K. -- even Latvia -- the number of children in those countries enrolled is 90 percent. Ninety percent,” Biden said. “My plan gets us back on track, provides two years of high-quality preschool for every child in America.”

Jessica Sager is chief executive officer of All Our Kin, a Connecticut-based nonprofit organization that trains, supports and sustains family child care providers.

“I’m excited that the president’s visit is a chance to lift up these opportunities,” she said. “Really, across the economic spectrum, it’s difficult for families to find care. We’ve seen during the pandemic that without child care not only can children not succeed, but parents, especially women, are greatly harmed.”

Sager said a new federal investment could transform child care accessibility for families. Negotiations on this plan as well as the related infrastructure bill are ongoing.

Just outside the child development center, a crowd of people grew throughout the day as Biden spoke inside. People from all across the political spectrum gathered to witness Biden’s arrival. The National Guard was on standby as members of the Proud Boys waved Trump flags and profane chants filled the streets on one corner. On the other corners, some chanted in support of the president. And, in the middle, immigrant rights groups made their voices heard.

Yvelisse Correa made her way to gather pictures of the president’s arrival. She said she’s had a difficult time returning to work due to a lack of child care.

“Cutting the unemployment bonuses did nothing except harm my family — I’m still not able to work at this time,” she said. “It’s difficult but I know I’m not the only one in this situation. Women nationwide are going through the same thing.”

Constanza Segovia from Hartford Deportation Defense said they rallied for Biden to include immigration reform in his agenda.

“They have to include a pathway to citizenship for TPS holders, DACA recipients and for farmworkers,” she said.

UConn Visit, And The Dodd Legacy

The president then traveled to Storrs, where he took part in a ceremony to mark the renaming of the Dodd Center. Previously, the facility was named only for Thomas J. Dodd, who was a lead prosecutor for the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg after World War II and a strong supporter of human rights. His son, former Sen. Chris Dodd, later followed as an advocate for human rights in Latin and Central America during his time in Congress.

“Tom Dodd dedicated his intellect, and his moral passion, and his resolute sense of right and wrong to making the Nuremberg war crimes trial a testament to justice,” Biden said. “And that’s what it was. A testament to justice. Nothing like it ever happened before.”

Biden, who served with Chris Dodd in the Senate, said his friend’s efforts to bring attention to human rights is making an impact on young people today.

But the event also had a bit of political theater. Daniela Altimari, a reporter for the Hartford Courant, said that having Biden at UConn for the renaming of the center was another step in Chris Dodd’s long effort to restore the political legacy of his father, Thomas Dodd.

While the elder Dodd was a lawyer, an FBI agent, a Nuremberg prosecutor and a senator, his career ended in political scandal.

“In the late ’60s, he was ensnared in a political scandal where he was accused of, or investigated for, diverting money that he raised during campaigns for personal use,” Altimari said. “There were never any criminal charges here; this was an ethics violation of the U.S. Senate. He was censured by his colleagues, which was and still is quite a rare event for senators to censure one of their members.”

Thomas Dodd died not long after. His son had a long career in the Senate. It ended not under a cloud or scandal but with people questioning his political strategy during a run for president, among other things, Altimari said.

“Chris Dodd and Joe Biden served in the Senate together for many years,” Altimari said. “They’re very close. So President Biden coming here to rededicate the center I think is very significant for the reputation of both.”

UConn Protests

Meanwhile, some students were less happy to see the president visit.

Three dozen students dressed in black and holding cardboard signs questioned the president’s sincerity.

Nell Srihnath, president of UConn Unchain, the group that organized the protest, cited Biden’s support of the war in Iraq and of the nation of Israel as violations of human rights abroad.

“We absolutely condemn UConn for tacitly endorsing that record by inviting him here today to speak under those circumstances,” Srihnath said.

B Diaz took issue with the idea of naming the center after a politician.

“What needs to change is critically thinking and analyzing what problems there are and how do we address that, without glamorizing certain politicians and whatnot, because I feel like that’s what blinds people into not being able to see the problems he could be perpetrating as well.”

Diaz, a student of human rights, said they would like the center to focus more on studies of Indigenous and queer communities.

Corrected: October 18, 2021 at 1:44 PM EDT
Because of an editing error, this story has been corrected to include the preferred pronouns for B Diaz.
Updated: October 15, 2021 at 1:24 PM EDT
This post has been updated.
Camila Vallejo is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms. She is a bilingual reporter based out of Fairfield County and welcomes all story ideas at cvallejo@ctpublic.org.
Brenda León is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Brenda covers the Latino/a, Latinx community with an emphasis on wealth-based disparities in health, education and criminal justice.
Matt Dwyer is an editor, reporter and midday host for Connecticut Public's news department. He produces local news during All Things Considered.
Ali Oshinskie is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. She loves hearing what you thought of her stories or story ideas you have so please email her at aoshinskie@ctpublic.org.

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