Mar 25, 2020
Joe Biden Coronavirus Online News Conference Transcript
Joe Biden held an online news conference on March 25 for COVID-19. He answered several questions from callers about coronavirus, and shared his thoughts. Read the full transcript here.
Joe Biden: (00:00)
All across the board to serve our country, whether it’s by joining the military, becoming doctors, teachers, nurses, public servants, by volunteering in their communities or nonprofits, and through remarkable testament to the spirit and feeling of connection to our larger world.
Joe Biden: (00:17)
Today, a new group of young people referred to as Generation Z is growing up in a time of pervasive anxiety about school shootings, crushing debt, and politics that seems unresponsive or broken beyond repair. Now students from grade school to college are being denied months of important milestones and experiences because of this pandemic. No spring semester, no spring break, no championship games, no year end concerts, no graduations, and they didn’t do anything wrong. But especially for those just entering adulthood or launching their careers, job opportunities, their dreams, their dreams are being snatched away.
Joe Biden: (01:02)
Look, none of us want to be cooped up in our homes just as the weather is turning nice, just as spring break travel plans were approaching, just as the campaign for the presidency is kicking into high gear. It’s unfair to all of us and it’s unnecessary for all of us, but it’s necessary in fact. It’s necessary for all of us to have to deal with it. We have to stay home because we can transmit live viruses to other people before we feel the signs of sickness ourselves. We all have to behave as though we’re already infected. But based on recent data from the Center for Disease Control, all adults, including young adults need to practice social distancing, self isolation for their own personal protection as well. And in the cases in the US thus far, almost 40% of the COVID-19 infections have required hospitalization. They are among people who are aged 20 to 54. People under the age of 60 are not immune to the coronavirus. Young people are not assured to only experience a mild case if you catch it. There are no guarantees that you’ll not die from it.
Joe Biden: (02:22)
Every day we’re hearing heartrending stories of deaths from people in their 20s and their 30s. That’s why we have to follow the CDC guidelines, to minimize the risk of our own exposure to the virus and to slow its spread to others. And I have no doubt, I have no doubt that all of us, including the younger generation, younger people, are going to step up and make the sacrifices of a few weeks or even a few months for our normal lives to be able to return, in order to beat this virus because this is who we are. That’s the spirit that has defined America. We see it in the millions of young people who are working every day to make their communities better, serving others, teaching kids to read, feeding hungry families, mowing the lawn or they’re buying groceries for the elderly neighbor next door, but here’s what we must not do.
Joe Biden: (03:21)
We must not allow this pandemic to rob our young people of the futures and the economic opportunities that they’ve been working so hard to build. We need to make sure that our economic recovery does not come at the expense of those who can least afford it, or who are just getting started in life. These are twin crises. The public health crisis is hitting older Americans especially hard. The economic crisis is hitting younger people. All those hardworking young people in service, [inaudible 00:03:53] and retail that are being decimated by layoffs. All those who are hustling to make a living in the gig economy. They deserve the same benefits as everyone else does. We have to make sure they get them. All those who were already struggling to get by before this crisis occurred, they’re the ones we should be focusing on, who are drowning in credit card debt and student loans are now in even greater need for a lifeline.
Joe Biden: (04:21)
The United States Senate just passed or didn’t pass, just reached an agreement on a $2 trillion support bill to provide critical relief for people and some stability for our economy, the largest in our history. Democrats did significant work to make sure that working families get critical help now. This is a moment where speed matters. This bill can keep workers on payrolls. That’s huge. It also offers significant additional support for unemployment insurance, and it’ll go a long way to provide the financial lifeline for middle income folks. If the people who were left out are brought back in and covers those people often get left out; the self-employed, the gig workers, the folks who lost their jobs even before this crisis hit.
Joe Biden: (05:16)
It also includes several key pieces that I’ve been advocating for. One is a fund to support states localities as they address the crisis. I think we have to talk more about that later. Money to support our hospitals and healthcare workers, vital support for small businesses, and important oversight, this is critical, important oversight for the $500 billion loan package for corporations. But implementing this bill is going to take a whole lot of flyspecking, a whole lot of work. It’s going to require meticulous oversight on a day to day basis. It’s going to take a lot of coordination with state and local governments. That’s what we had to do when I was in charge of executing the Recovery Act, which was $900 billion over that. That’s how we made sure the funds weren’t wasted or abused. Every single day I was on the phone with leaders in each of the states and localities going through the detail of what they had to do. We’re going to need to make sure the money gets out quickly into people’s pockets and to keep a close watch on how corporations are using the taxpayer’s funds that they receive. To make sure it goes to helping workers, not enrich CEOs or shareholders. And then we have to figure out what to do to help the folks this bill leaves out including young people.
Joe Biden: (06:42)
This bill doesn’t include student loan forgiveness, which would go a long way to providing an immediate relief for those who need it the most. I support forgiving at least $10000 in student loan debt per person now. It doesn’t include the cost-free treatment for the COVID-19, whatever the costs are relating to that. It should be cost free, or fully paid sick leave for all our workers, which is also critical for the millions of Americans, including so many young Americans around the front lines of fighting this virus to get us through this. Doctors, nurses, delivery drivers, grocery store stockers, first responders, cleaning crews. They’ve been in the margins of our economy for much too long, not being paid enough, not having the benefits they deserve, and they’re all answering the call to duty now in a moment of national need, and they deserve leadership that will do the same. We need to get more fiscal relief to states on the front lines like New York State.
Joe Biden: (07:54)
Donald Trump downplayed the seriousness of this crisis for weeks and he continues to delay the mobilization of the national resources to deliver lifesaving equipment for our doctors, our nurses, our frontline workers. And as a result, this virus will hit all of us harder than it otherwise might have hit us, and it’s going to take us longer to recover. Now he suggested that he wants to get the country opened, back opened by Easter. Look, we all want to get back to normal as quickly as possible, but we have a lot to do to make that possible. We have to do it in a smart way to not meet some arbitrary or symbolic timeline. And it would be a catastrophic thing to do for our people and for our economy if we sent people back to work just as we were beginning to see the impact of social distancing take hold, only to unleash the second spike in infections.
Joe Biden: (08:52)
That’d be far more devastating in the long run than implementing a thorough strategy, a thought out strategy supported by science, and science-
Joe Biden: (09:03)
A thought out strategy, supported by science and scientists, to get Americans back to work because the only way we’ll fully solve the economic challenges is by first solving the public health crisis. Let me say that again. The only way we’re going to be able to do that is by solving the public health crisis first.
Joe Biden: (09:20)
Look, we’re going to get through this, and we’re going to get through it together. I know we will. The capacity of Americans, fueled by our young people, is boundless. We’re going to rely on the energy, the innovative spirit of Millennials and Generation Z to help rebuild our economy when this is over, and it will be. We need a leader in the White House who’s going to help spur this progress, spur our progress, all of us. Empower the next generation of leaders to seize our future of possibilities, not to drag us backwards.
Joe Biden: (09:53)
Later today, I’ll be participating in a digital round table with young people so that we can continue to have a real discussion about the issues that matter to our future, and they do matter to our future. Now I’m happy to answer some questions you all may have. I know there’s a lot more to say, but I’ll be doing this on a regular basis, so thank you, and I’m open to questions. Thank you.
Speaker 1: (10:24)
Great. Our first question, will go to Jen Epstein from Bloomberg News. Jen, you are unmuted.
Jen Epstein: (10:33)
Okay, thank you. Hi, Mr. Vice President.
Joe Biden: (10:36)
Hey, Jennifer. How are you?
Jen Epstein: (10:37)
Good. Thanks. At home, like everyone else.
Joe Biden: (10:41)
Jen Epstein: (10:43)
Just wanted to ask, we’ve seen comments from a lot of investors, people on Wall Street, people like Lloyd Blankfein suggesting that [inaudible 00:10:53] people should get back to work within a couple of weeks, which is also something that obviously the president has addressed, but are you concerned that investors and corporate leaders are going to be favoring profits over public health in the weeks ahead, and how would you urge them to think about that?
Joe Biden: (11:09)
I’d urge them to think about the science; not the science of Wall Street, the science of medicine. What is it that is going to get us to a place where it’s safe for people to go back to work and be interacting in a way that we did in the past rather than set some arbitrary date? I understand the reason why we want to move. There’s a lot of ways we can move if we implement what the Senate is about to pass. We’re going to have to do more. I hope the Senate passes what we’re about to do, or what they’ve said and the House. But we’re going to have to do more beyond that. There’s a way to infuse into the economy, the ability of people to be stable and, when this is over, to be able to come back in full bore. But the idea of arbitrarily setting a time, I’d like to be able to say we’re going to be back to normal next Friday. That’d be wonderful, but it can’t be arbitrary. We’ve got to look at the history of what’s happened, the recent history of what’s happened in other countries. We saw what it takes to get this under control, and we still don’t have all the answers.
Joe Biden: (12:18)
The bottom line is listen to the docs, listen to the researchers, listen to the infectious disease specialist. If we don’t do that, we’re going to find ourselves in a position where we’re going to be worse off at the end of the day economically than if we went back too quickly. There are certain places, I’m confident, you’d be able to open up more access and being able to be less confined. But that’s going to be on a case-to-case basis. But the idea of the whole economy being back to, I can’t fathom New York City being in that situation or New Orleans or other places that we’re going to see a real increase shortly. But the science, let the science dictate that outcome.
Speaker 1: (13:10)
Next up, you have Gabe Fisher from Wake Up to Politics.
Gabe Fisher: (13:16)
Hi, Mr. Vice President. Thank you.
Joe Biden: (13:17)
Gabe Fisher: (13:19)
Obviously, you spent a lot of time today talking about young voters …
Joe Biden: (13:22)
Gabe Fisher: (13:22)
… but consistently throughout the primaries you’ve trailed Bernie Sanders among those voters, so I’m wondering as you turn to the general election, what concrete steps and policy changes you’re planning on making to try to reach out to those younger Americans?
Joe Biden: (13:36)
Well, first of all, this is about, what I’m talking about today is making sure that your generation, I’m assuming you’re somewhere between 18 and 30.
Gabe Fisher: (13:46)
Joe Biden: (13:48)
18. That your generation doesn’t end up behind the eight ball because you get hurt by this so badly you can’t ever, when you get out of school, be able to move. For example, I strongly believe there’s a need for us to, as it relates to the help that’s needed now to for the economy and your generation is, I think there should be a $10,000 forgiveness of student loans across the board for anyone who is in fact affected now from this point on, as we fight this pandemic. When we fund money, we find money to do that.
Joe Biden: (14:25)
Number two, I think it’s vitally important that we have a healthcare proposal, that’s why I’m strongly arguing that this administration drop their attempt to do away in court with Obamacare, and we build on Obamacare immediately to be able to provide for all the economic impact that is going to be required from a healthcare system that people don’t have to bear that themselves. It can be paid for and they know how to. They know it’s going to be paid for.
Joe Biden: (14:53)
Thirdly, we’re going to have an opportunity, I believe, in the next round here to use my a green economy, my green deal, or to be able to generate both economic growth and consistent with the kind of infusion of monies we need into the system to keep it going. One of the ways to make sure these jobs are available that may get lost or hurt in the meantime is to provide the kind of jobs that are prevailing wages where people are making 45, 50 dollars an hour plus benefits by building new infrastructure. We’re going to need new infrastructure going down the road here and it’s a way to generate economic growth. That’s going to be, I think, the next round we have to be looking at.
Joe Biden: (15:39)
In addition to that, I think it’s really important we take a look at what it is that is going to allow you to be in a position that you can in fact be in a position to live a gainful life. I’ve said for a long time, if we were setting up an education system for the first time in our history, as we did in the late 1800s, we would not say 12 years was enough. 12 years is not enough to live in the second quarter of the middle of the 21st Century and be able to live and know you’re going to be able to compete. Right now you have a significant number of jobs requiring six out of 10 jobs requiring more than a high school education just to get the jobs that were there before this coronavirus hit.
Joe Biden: (16:29)
I think that we should provide not only for post-high school, but pre-grade school. I think we should be tripling the amount of money we provide for school districts that I have low-income bases, Title I schools from 15 to 45 billion dollars a year. That would allow teacher pay to go up because your generation and the one between you and the people that are up to 45, they’re not going in or staying in education anymore. They can’t compete. They graduate magna cum laude from a great university with an education degree, they get paid somewhere about 22% less to start than anybody else except a social worker.
Joe Biden: (17:10)
What we have to do is we have to increase teacher’s pay at the front end to keep people from the schools from having to, we already have a shortage of 115,000 teachers right now. By 2025, it’ll be about a quarter of a million, and that just means more difficulty in terms of reaching children so they can reach their potential.
Joe Biden: (17:33)
Secondly, we would be able to put every single child age three, four, and five in school; not daycare, school. All the studies at the great universities show that increases by well over 50% their prospects of going all the way through high school and beyond by over 56%. It’s a smart investment now.
Joe Biden: (17:52)
At the tail end, I’ve been proposing that we have free college, excuse me, free community college education. I’ve fought for spending $ 70 billion on HBCUs over the next 10 years.
Joe Biden: (18:03)
… and $70 billion on HBCUs over the next 10 years. And in addition to that, I think if you’re going to a public university in your state, it should be free, free for everyone. That’s how it should be, and you should not end up with some gigantic debt like my kids did when they graduated. And so the circumstances are across the board, but mostly we have to prepare you so you’re not carrying an overwhelming burden, that when you get out of school, when you go through… And not just going to college, trade schools and the whole deal, because we have to reach out more. There are a lot of jobs out there that are going to be available in the near term that in fact people aren’t equipped for. And there’s more, but we also should be talking about anyone who in fact has a student debt, if in fact they’re engaged in public service, teaching school, joining a volunteer’s organization to provide food and shelter for people, across the board, that they get forgiven, past debt or debt, that they would incur, $10,000 per year up to $50,000. That would cover virtually everyone.
Joe Biden: (19:16)
Now, if you have seven years of private school debt, college debt, then it’s not going to cover that, but it will get a big chunk of it. And the other thing we do is, there’s a lot of students, and I hope you’re not part of it because it’s more of a disadvantage, who come from a circumstance where their families have less than $50,000 in income. Well, Barack and I, President Obama, increased Pell Grants in terms of the amount of money you get for a Pell Grant, I would make sure that we double the Pell Grant funding, so that is not enough to give a free tuition to someone if they can’t get there, if they can’t eat, if they had no place to sleep, no room and board in effect. And so I double Pell Grants to $ 12,000 a year.
Joe Biden: (20:03)
And then there are things beyond that are going to affect your generation a lot. I think we should be putting $50 billion in heavy research through NIH on dealing with the big killers, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and cancer. And so there’s a lot we can do. When I left the United States Senate, I became a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and I’ve spent a lot of time, and the University of Delaware has the Biden School there as well. So I spent a lot of time on campus with college students, but it’s not just college students, it’s those hardworking kids getting out of school that in fact, high school, that aren’t going to college or don’t want to go to college and want to go to trade school, we got to equip them. I know I’m taking a long time and answering this, but I think it’s really important. We don’t want you saddled the way the generation after 911 and after the economic downturn in 2008 got saddled.
Speaker 2: (21:03)
Thank you for your time.
Joe Biden: (21:05)
Thank you for your question.
Speaker 3: (21:12)
Great. Next up we have Alexandra Jaffe from AP.
Alexandra Jaffe: (21:16)
Hi, Mr. Vice President. I have two quick ones for you. One, you’ve been speaking about your outreach to congressional leadership and I was wondering if you could share a little bit more details on that. Are you advising them, giving them suggestions or just sort of checking in and hearing how things are going? And then two, you’ve been criticizing President Trump for his response or the slowness of the response for weeks now, but a few recent polls suggest that public approval has actually increased of the president’s job performance, and I wonder why you think the public doesn’t see his leadership the same way as you do?
Joe Biden: (21:50)
Well, I’m not suggesting what the public sees about his leadership. Let me take the last question first. What I’m suggesting is that I know what has to be done and that in the following: that faster is better than slower. For example, way back in January 17th I argued that this virus was coming. I did a, I think it was US News and World Report, I did a piece on saying it’s coming. We’ve got to prepare. We didn’t do much at all, number one. Number two, I think it’s really important that we understand that this idea of this Defense Production Act, he talks about signing, he doesn’t want to dictate to companies. There’s things we need now, now, not tomorrow, not yesterday, but months ago or a month ago, and the president’s not acting. Now, I don’t care whether the president’s numbers are going up and down.
Joe Biden: (22:46)
I know along with everybody else whose ever dealt with these kinds of things, like we did in our administration, that time is of the essence. Time is of the essence, and so that’s the last part of your question. And yes, I have been talking to governors, mayors, congressional leaders as well as members of Congress and I’ve been doing three things. One, asking their input, what they’re seeing, what they’re dealing with, what their problems are, particularly with regard to the governors and the mayors. And two, asking members of the House and Senate what they think is the most important elements that they think have to be included in the legislation. And three, then when asked, and I’ve been asked, offering what I think should be part of it, but I’m not second guessing it here in the sense that I’m no longer in the Senate obviously, but there are things that I think that we should be doing more of, but I think the Democrats in the Senate got as much of what needs to be done in as they could possibly get.
Joe Biden: (23:51)
We can’t wait a lot longer. We’re going to need to come back at this. We’re going to have to come back at this and deal with, focus on those state and local aid that is going to be needed as this crisis continues, and is needed now. I think we should be employing right now, the legislation that’s available to the president in emergencies. He said he’s a wartime president. Well, act like one. There’s things you can do right now to make sure all those ventilators get out, to make sure that those masks are there, to make sure… For example, I would even think about the idea is… I’ll conclude with this, but I was asked to manage the $900 billion Recovery Act in 18 months, which we did manage and it got out. I think most people would say it’s saved us from going into a depression, and that it was done, but it required day to day oversight with one person in charge.
Joe Biden: (24:48)
The president asked me to be in charge. I was able to text… or not text. I was able to task the entire administration to work for me. But we were on the phone with every governor, most every mayor, there was one governor, all 49 governors, put it that way. And what happened was that they’d have ideas, “Well, how can I use the money? I want to do this.” “Well, no, you can’t do that. You’ve got to do this.” “Well, I think under the law I can do that.” And I’d say, “Well, if you’re going to go ahead and do that, I’m going to come out and tell the public and I’m going to hold a press conference saying, ‘I think you used the money unwisely.'” And you have to have someone watching it every day, and I had a full time staff with me of serious, serious people doing nothing but manage this day to day.
Joe Biden: (25:37)
And that’s what’s going to have to happen. For example, let’s take a look at what’s going to happen here in terms of getting out small business loans. Well, there’s money in here for small business loans. Well, banks traditionally aren’t real big on dealing with and have the personnel to deal with small business loans. So it could take a long time to get that done. But that’s the single most urgent need we have. And so if banks are not able to handle that, if I were president, I would be in fact using the wartime legislation to insist that they focus on that. That’s much more important in terms of economic recovery than anything else we’re doing in addition to aid to the states. So it’s all about urgency. And I noticed that the president’s numbers of the public have gone up in handling this crisis, but they haven’t gone up in terms of his presidency.
Alexandra Jaffe: (26:31)
Gallup did show he is now at 49% job approval, which is a reversal from a few weeks ago. So it’s just an interesting development. It does suggest that the American people see him as a stronger leader than you’ve been maybe characterizing him.
Joe Biden: (26:46)
Well, I hope that he’s so strong that he’s up way above that because we need the help now. We need help now.
Speaker 3: (26:57)
Great. Thank you. We have time for one more question, Arlette from CNN.
Hi, Vice President Biden.
Joe Biden: (27:03)
Alexandra Jaffe: (27:03)
Arlette from CNN. Hi Vice President Biden-
Joe Biden: (27:03)
Alexandra Jaffe: (27:03)
I have two quick questions for you. You talked about your conversations that you’ve had with lawmakers here in the US. Have you had any conversations with foreign leaders given your existing relationships with them about the coronavirus? And secondly, Bernie Sanders’ campaign has said that he would debate if there was a debate in April. Do you think there should be another debate in April, and would you participate?
Joe Biden: (27:27)
My focus is just dealing with this crisis right now, I haven’t thought about any more debates. I think we’ve had enough debates, I think we should get on with this. But with regard to speaking to foreign leaders, I haven’t spoken with a foreign leader in the last probably two weeks.
Alexandra Jaffe: (27:48)
Who was the last foreign leader that you spoke with? Did you talk about coronavirus at all?
Joe Biden: (27:52)
I talked about how it affected their country, but no, I’m not going to … It was an off the record discussion I had, so I’m not going to indicate who.
Alexandra Jaffe: (28:01)
And do you have any concerns about breaking throughout all of this coronavirus coverage, the news cycle? I mean, this is the first time that there is a real public crisis that you haven’t been in office with decision making authority. Are you concerned at all about getting your message across?
Joe Biden: (28:16)
Well, I was, but I’m finding out that what you’ve mastered along before me that the new technologies are quite effective. For example, I noticed that when I laid out my plan a couple days, three days ago or four days ago that it didn’t get covered on the national nets, but I found out 3.8 million people watched it online. So I’m learning a lot more about how to get the message out in terms of beyond what we’re doing. As a matter of fact, I think we’re both sitting in our own homes with, I don’t know, are you in the studio? Are you at home? Well, anyway, I’m at home. They had to set up, it took about four days to be able to have the power and the capacity to set up in my recreation room where I’m sitting now the ability to communicate like I am now.
Joe Biden: (29:11)
So I think there’s plenty of opportunity to communicate. But I have to tell you, I find, I guess like anybody who cares about this, I’m chomping at the bit. I wish I were still in the Senate being able to impact on some of these things. But I am where I am, and I hope to be the nominee of the Democratic Party, and I hope I’m able to get my message across as we go forward. But my main focus, believe it or not, is not a political focus. My main focus now is to make sure we handle this crisis well so we’re not left with a legacy and a whole lot of dead weight we have to carry through the next 10 years.
Alexandra Jaffe: (29:57)
Great. Thank you. That concludes our press briefing. As always, please feel free to reach out to our press team and have a great rest of your day. Thank you.
Joe Biden: (30:04)
That’s you all.