House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross was one of five Black House speakers from around the country honored Monday during a White House ceremony commemorating Black History Month.

Serving in her fourth term, Talbot Ross, D-Portland, was unanimously elected Maine’s first Black House speaker in December, presiding over the lower chamber of 151 lawmakers currently controlled by Democrats. This week, she is in Washington, D.C., for a two-day visit, attending events at the White House, the vice president’s residence and meeting with federal officials about the housing crisis and food insecurity, among other things.

Talbot Ross posted photos Tuesday morning showing her with President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, the first person of color to serve as vice president in the nation’s history. In the tweet, she called the event “an inspiring evening of celebrating Black History Month.”

Talbot Ross also met during her two-day visit to D.C. with Julie Chavez Rodriguez, senior adviser to the president and director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs; and Ambassador Susan Rice, assistant to the president and domestic policy adviser, to talk about efforts to help working families, according to a White House readout.

The discussions touched on expanding economic opportunity, including lowering costs and expanding housing access and affordability; advancing voting rights, gun violence prevention, criminal justice reform, and reproductive rights.

Other Black House speakers included Chris Welch of Illinois, Adrienne Jones of Maryland, Joe Tate of Michigan and Carl Heastie of New York.


Talbot Ross said in a written statement Tuesday afternoon that she was also planning to meet with the state’s congressional delegation and U.S. Department of Agriculture officials to discuss ways to address the housing crisis, food insecurity and health care, among other things.

“While it is an honor to be included at events at the White House, it was equally critical that I used my platform and this trip to highlight Maine’s need for federal support in the areas of housing, food insecurity, support for the care economy and crucial investments in infrastructure,” Talbot Ross said.

During formal remarks Monday, Harris pushed back against efforts to limit school lessons about slavery and Black history, calling it a living, breathing American history “that we create every day.”

The comments were a reference to Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, who has threatened to block a new Advanced Placement course on African American studies from being taught in the state’s high schools. DeSantis is a potential Republican candidate for president.

“Let us all be clear: We will not, as a nation, build a better future for America by trying to erase America’s past,” Harris said.

Biden echoed those remarks.


“Look, I can’t just choose to learn what we want to know,” Biden said. “We learn what we should know. We have to learn everything: the good, the bad, the truth, and who we are as a nation. That’s what great nations do. … And we’re a great nation.”

Biden also noted criminal justice reforms, which have been central to Talbot Ross’ legislative efforts. Biden noted that his efforts to ban chokeholds, limit no-knock warrants and to tighten use of force penalties, while emphasizing de-escalation techniques.

Talbot Ross, ninth-generation Mainer, ascended to the role of House speaker, after serving as the assistant House majority leader in the previous Legislature. She led the Portland branch of the NAACP before it disbanded and worked as the city of Portland’s director of equal opportunity and multicultural affairs for 21 years.

Her father, Gerald Talbot, became the first Black person elected to the Legislature in 1972, 50 years before his daughter made history as the first Black speaker of the House.

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