Nov 19, 2020
Joe Biden & Kamala Harris COVID-19 Press Conference After Meeting with Governors Transcript
President-elect Joe Biden & Vice President-elect Kamala Harris held a press conference about COVID-19 after meeting with governors on November 19. Read the transcript of their speech remarks here.
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Kamala Harris: (00:00)
Good afternoon. President Elect Biden and I just met with a bipartisan group of Democratic and Republican governors. We talked about what we need to do to make free testing available for everyone, to make a free vaccine available for everyone, and to get this pandemic under control.
Kamala Harris: (00:19)
Governors are elected by their States to take action in moments of crisis. They’re the ones who go to the places and talk to the people who are hardest hit. And during this pandemic, they have been called on to make very difficult decisions about the health and safety of the people they represent, about opening schools and about opening our economy responsibly.
Kamala Harris: (00:42)
I have served in both state and local government, so I understand the critical role our governors play, and they will have partners in the White House starting on January 20th. Because as Governor Herbert said in our meeting, when the states are successful, the country is successful.
Kamala Harris: (01:00)
So our message to our governors and to all of our nation’s state and local leaders is simple. President Elect Biden and I will make sure you have the resources and support you need to save lives and help get our economy back on track. And we will also make sure that our federal state local and tribal authorities are working closely together so we can tackle these challenges as effectively as possible. Because when it comes to this pandemic and the economic recovery, we are not Democrats or Republicans. We are Americans. And we will be there for one another. That’s the kind of leadership the American people need and deserve. And it’s the kind of leadership President Elect Biden and I will provide. And it is now my great honor to introduce President Elect Joe Biden.
Joe Biden: (01:51)
Hello folks. Good afternoon. Thanks for your patience. The Vice President Elect and I, as just was pointed out, have just concluded a video conference with the executive leadership of the National Governors Conference. That included Governor Cuomo, New York, Governor Hutchinson, Governor Hogan, Governor Whitmer, Governor Ivey, Governor Polis, Governor Baker, Governor Lujan Grisham, Governor Herbert, and Governor Carney. And it was really a worthwhile undertaking.
Joe Biden: (02:53)
They’ve had to make some really tough calls through this unprecedented crisis, and we’re incredibly for everything they’ve done and keep doing to try to keep their communities safe. Unfortunately, because of the lack of a sermon, as they say, which that’s a fancy word these days, but until the head of the GSA says that we, in fact, our team, this transition team, our team, the Senator and I in fact are the likely winners, until she does that, we don’t have access to all the information that we need to get from all the various agencies. We’re not able to deal with everything from testing to guidance, to the all important issue of vaccine distribution, and even more importantly, vaccination plan to actually get vaccinations. We haven’t been able to get into Operation Warp Speed, but we will take what we’ve learned today and build it into our planning.
Joe Biden: (03:50)
The country is still in a crisis and there’s a dark winter still ahead. Yesterday, America reached another tragic milestone, 250,000 deaths. A quarter of a million people died due to COVID-19 and there are empty chairs and dining room tables just were filled just days and weeks ago with loved ones, family and friends who laughed and talked together. To those families and friends that are left behind, Jill and I send our love and our prayers. We know like many of you do how tough it is to find purpose in the memory of a loved one you’ve just lost. It will take time, but you’ll find it. You’ll find it. And you’ll find your purpose as we are going to find our purpose for our nation as a nation now. I promise you that.
Joe Biden: (04:42)
And I promise you that we’ll work together. There’s a great meeting we had today. All the governors, no matter their political party, whether they’re from wherever part of the country they represented, no matter what their political philosophy, shared a strong and abiding sense of a common purpose. There was a real desire for a real partnership between the states and the federal government. Each of the governors emphasized that we might be Democrats or Republicans, but we’re all Americans first. They congratulated us heartedly for our win.
Joe Biden: (05:19)
What really pleased me was most was the governors made clear that beating COVID-19 is going to require all of us working together as one country. Kamala and I agree. We were deeply impressed with how much consensus there was how to move forward among the governors. What we need to do now is how we need to do it. How are we going to do it? In what coordinated way can it be done?
Joe Biden: (05:46)
We discussed a number of critical ways we can work together and unify around a national approach to controlling COVID-19. First, delivering economic relief to the city, states, and tribal communities. The lost revenue from COVID and the cost of COVID recovery is devastating to state and local budgets. As governors, as all of them indicated, we’ve got to come together. The federal government has to deliver this release sooner rather than later, and with flexibility for the states to meet their needs. This includes helping businesses, schools, working families, from unemployment benefits to early education, continued access to affordable health care, all of that’s needed during this pandemic. States and communities shouldn’t have to lay off teachers, cops, firefighters, cut vital services for families and businesses.
Joe Biden: (06:36)
The second thing there was uniform agreement on, delivering a safe and equitable and free vaccine. The governors all acknowledged that this be a massive undertaking, one of the greatest operational challenges we will have faced as a nation. One statistic that was raised by the governors, it took eight months to provide 100 million COVID tests. Eight months to provide COVID tests. Just imagine how much more difficult will be, they pointed out, if we don’t find a more efficient and effective way to provide 330 million vaccinations. Put it in perspective. They made the point we can’t wait. That’s what the governors are raising.
Joe Biden: (07:24)
In the meeting, we discussed the challenges that lie ahead in distributing and administering the vaccine. The governors talked about how getting doses of vaccine distributed is just one step. We have to actually get vaccinations into the arms of 330 million Americans. That takes enormous resources, people, product. We discussed the difficulty of that task. It’s going to take time. It’s going to take coordination. It’s going to take the federal government and state governments working hand in glove, working together.
Joe Biden: (07:58)
The governors all emphasized we need to be clear with the American people about what to expect. No false expectations. Let them know what we anticipate. They all acknowledged that this is going to take a massive public education campaign. And we also need to reach traditionally underserved communities that are being hardest hit by the pandemic. Black, brown, Latino, Latin American communities, native American communities, small towns, rural communes. They talked about that in some detail.
Joe Biden: (08:27)
Thirdly, we discussed the need to help states with Title 32 funding for the national guard. That’s a fancy way of saying governors need to be able to get funding when they need to bring their National Guard into play. And National Guards are going to have to play this. It costs a lot of money and governors need that paid for. Governor discussed the need for funding when waiving certain FEMA fees. The fact is that this is a national emergency. That’s what FEMA is supposed to deal with. Our view is that should be done. When it comes to deploying the National Guard or COVID or real relief, that should be paid for. That’s something Kamala and I will be very focused on.
Joe Biden: (09:15)
And fourthly, we discussed the implementation of a national mask mandate. 10 governors, Democrat and Republican, have imposed masking requirements and recognize the need for universal masking. North, South, East, and West. It’s not a political statement. It’s a patriotic duty.
Joe Biden: (09:37)
And fifth, we discussed making testing more available and accessible. Anyone who wants a test should be able to get one. Period.
Joe Biden: (09:45)
And finally, while we focused on the immediate needs to control the virus, the governors also raised and talked about how much we have to build back better, especially on infrastructure and education and so much more.
Joe Biden: (10:00)
This was not a one-off meeting. I committed, we committed. We agreed that we’ll continue to work and meet with the governors on a regular basis, continue to seek their input, and that our COVID teams will follow up and coordinate on the issues coming out of that call because some of them have very competent people on their COVID teams in their states.
Joe Biden: (10:23)
The bottom line, we can do this. There’s nothing beyond our capacity. But we have to come together as a country. What this meeting along with others we’ve had reinforces in my view is the unity the country is looking for. They’re looking for us to come together and deal with problems, most of which have no ideological basis for disagreement. That’s what we have to do. That’s what the governors talked about. It really was pleasing to hear them.
Joe Biden: (10:55)
I want to thank you all and may God bless you. And those who lost someone, you’re in our prayers. May God protect our troops. I’m happy to take a few questions. And my boss is going to tell me who that is.
Speaker 4: (11:16)
Thank you, Mr. President elect. I know you mentioned the economic impact and talked a bit about the relief package you wanted, but I was wondering if we could talk about things that you’ll be able to do just as president or what will sort of govern your decision in terms of the economy. So I was wondering if I could ask what kind of framework you’re thinking about as you decide about a treasury secretary going forward, whether you would consider, you had said during the debates that you wanted to punish China over the way that they’ve been acting, whether that could include economic sanctions or tariffs towards China? And finally, do you think the strong dollar helps or hurts the US as we’re grappling with historic unemployment?
Joe Biden: (12:00)
Well, look, let me try to take them one at a time. You’ll soon hear my choice for treasury. I’ve made that decision. We’ve made that decision. And you’ll hear that either just before or just after Thanksgiving, number one. And you’ll find it as someone who I think will be accepted by all elements of the Democratic party, from the progressive to the moderate coalitions.
Joe Biden: (12:25)
Secondly, it’s not so much about punishing China. It’s about making sure China understands they got to play by the rules. It’s a simple proposition. And so that’s one of the reasons why we’re going to rejoin the World Health Organization. We’re going to rejoin on day one as well. And it needs reform, I acknowledge. And rejoin the Paris Climate Accord. And we have to make sure that the rest of the world and we get together and make sure there are certain bright lines the Chinese understand. We have to not only deal with this pandemic, we got to plan for the next one. The idea that viruses are going to go away is just not rational. We’re going to recalibrate and set up the institutional structures we had in our administration of Obama Biden and build on it.
Joe Biden: (13:13)
And what was your third question?
Speaker 4: (13:15)
It was about the dollar, sir, whether you think a strong dollar will help or hurt with unemployment. Or generally just how you’d like the Federal Reserve to sort of approach the-
Joe Biden: (13:25)
Well, quite frankly, the way the Federal Reserve has been approaching dealing with the dollar I think has been in a positive direction. Our interest rates are as low as they have been in modern history. And I think that is a positive thing. It lends credence to the possibility of us being able to spend the money in deficit spend in order to be able to generate economic growth right off the bat. And so I think it’s been positive so far.
Speaker 4: (14:05)
Speaker 5: (14:05)
Thank you, Mr. President Elect. You have said that if this transition doesn’t get going, especially coordination on vaccine distribution, that lives will be lost. How many lives do you think are at risk here if this transition remains stalled?
Joe Biden: (14:18)
Well, look, you’ve heard the projections. The projections are that if nothing fundamentally changes between now and beginning of February, we’re likely to lose up to total of 400,000 lives, another 150,000 lives. And so it’s real, whether it’s that, it gets to 360, whatever it is, it’s real. And there is no excuse not to share the data and let us begin to plan. Because on day one, it’s going to take us time. If we don’t have access to all this data, it’s going to put us behind the eight ball by a matter of a month or more. And that’s lives. How many would be lost as a consequence of that? I can’t tell you.
Joe Biden: (15:04)
We talked a lot about with the governor’s about what the immediate needs are. We’re going to employ the Defense Production Act to be able to go out there and dictate companies build and do following things. We need much more testing. We need much more masking. We need gloves. I asked the National Governors Association through the Governor Cuomo and the ones on the line to let us know what their shortages are, what they anticipate, because we’re going to move on day one. That should be moved on now. Now. But if it waits, it takes a long time to get this thing going.
Speaker 5: (15:44)
And when you take a step back and you look at the way the president is handling this, his refusal to concede, what do you think is really going on here? In your view, Mr. President Elect, what do you think the president is doing? What are Americans witnessing here?
Joe Biden: (16:00)
Let me choose my words here. I think they’re witnessing incredible irresponsibility, incredibly damaging messages being sent to the rest of the world about how democracy functions. And I think it is … Well, I don’t know his motive, but I just think it’s totally irresponsible.
Speaker 5: (16:27)
Are you concerned he may succeed, that people might question the legitimacy of your administration?
Joe Biden: (16:32)
No, I’m not concerned the vast majority of the American people. All the polling data has indicated, although the Republicans who worry about it, it’s higher, but over 78% of the American people believe it’s without question, it’s legitimate. And I think most of the Republicans I’ve spoken to, including some of the governors, think this is debilitating. It sends a horrible message about who we are as a country.
Speaker 6: (17:06)
Thank you, Mr. President Elect. Thank you, Vice President Elect Harris. Appreciate it.
Joe Biden: (17:10)
Nice to see you in person, not on television.
Speaker 6: (17:11)
Nice to see you as well. Yes. Appreciate it. You have said that lives could be lost if you don’t start getting briefings from the Trump Administration. And now here we are more than 250,000 lives could be lost. Given that, how do you justify not taking legal action to get the briefings that you say are critical, that you say you need?
Joe Biden: (17:35)
It would take a lot of time. It would take time. It’s not going to speed it up considerably in my view. And in the meantime, I am hopeful that I’m going to be able to get cooperation from our Republican colleagues in the Senate and the House, as well as the governors to build a consensus as to how we proceed when we do.
Speaker 6: (17:58)
But why not use every tool in your toolbox to get the information that you say you need to do your job and to do it effectively on day one?
Joe Biden: (18:06)
I’m making a judgment based on many years of experience in how to get things done with the opposition.
Speaker 6: (18:13)
Do you think you would win?
Joe Biden: (18:15)
My judgment is that we’ll get further along by actually working with our Republican colleagues now because the time in which we would win would not materially change necessarily. But it’s still an open question. It’s an open question. It could change.
Speaker 6: (18:40)
So you haven’t ruled it out? You haven’t ruled out legal action against the Trump Administration, against the GSA?
Joe Biden: (18:45)
We haven’t ruled it out.
Speaker 6: (18:47)
Okay. And given the death toll now, more than 250,000 Americans who have now lost their lives, you have said that you would support a nationwide shutdown if scientists recommended it.
Joe Biden: (19:00)
No, no. I know-
Speaker 6: (19:01)
You’ve spoken to scientists now-
Joe Biden: (19:03)
Everybody asks that question every single time I stand here. It was a hypothetical question. The answer was I would follow the science. I am not going to shut down the economy, period. I’m going to shut down the virus. That’s what I’m going to shut down.
Speaker 6: (19:18)
So that’s ruled out?
Joe Biden: (19:19)
I’ll say it again. No national shutdown. No national shutdown, because every region, every area, every community can be different. And so there’s no circumstance which I can see would require a total national shutdown. I think that would be counterproductive. But there are constraints in which the degree to which businesses can be open. For example, it’s one thing to say that you can have, in a state where their infection rate is not as high, you can have a gymnasium open. It’s another thing to say it can only be open four hours a day with X number of people. The church I go to, my Catholic church, they don’t allow more than 40% of the people to come into the church. Those are rational decisions. It’s not shutting down everything. It’s calibrating based on what the threat is.
Speaker 6: (20:17)
Thank you, Mr. President Elect.
Joe Biden: (20:26)
Speaker 7: (20:29)
Thank you, Mr. President Elect and Vice President Elect Harris. A question for you first, which is what do you make of the fact that the president is having these calls with Michigan County officials amid his bid to overturn the election? He’s going to be having also Michigan Republican legislators at the White House tomorrow. Is anything that he’s doing making you rethink your strategy? I know you say that you don’t want to have legal action right now. And what do you say to Americans, especially immigrant Americans who came to the United States looking for political stability and seeing all the things that the president is doing?
Joe Biden: (21:08)
Hang on. I’m on my way. That’s what I say to them. Not a joke. And what the president’s doing now is really, it’s going to be another incident where he will go down in history as being one of the most irresponsible presidents in American history. It’s just not even within the norm at all. There’s questions whether it’s even legal, but it’s going to be interesting who shows up in this call to meet with the leadership. We’ve won Michigan. It’s going to be certified. We’re going to end up making clear, they are, making it clear that we won. It’s hard to fathom how this man thinks. It’s hard to fathom. I’m confident he knows he hasn’t won and is not going to be able to win and we’re going to be sworn in on January 20th. But far for me to question his motive. It’s just outrageous what he’s doing.
Speaker 7: (22:33)
But as he ups the things that he’s doing, calling officials, is it making you rethink your strategy at all? Is there anything that he would be doing that would make you say, “Okay, we really have to go to court now”? Or are you still watching what he’s doing and saying, “We can still kind of wait and see what happens”?
Joe Biden: (22:50)
I’m not going to rule anything out or anything in. But at the moment, the strategy, it’s not changing.
Speaker 5: (22:58)
And if I could ask a question to the Vice President Elect, would that be okay?
Joe Biden: (23:01)
Speaker 5: (23:02)
Vice President Elect Harris, you talked about your state experience. My question is, is there anything that you heard from governors today that made you specifically concerned about vulnerable populations, especially as I talked to Americans who say, “I don’t have the privilege to work from home. I don’t have the privilege to social distance if I’m living in a house with multi-generations”? Did you hear anything that concerns you specifically and what can we do for them as a country?
Kamala Harris: (23:30)
Well, as the President Elect shared with everyone, we heard a lot from the governors, including that, including the concern that African-Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, people who live in rural communities, people who, as groups of people, have historically been under resourced and underserved. And so there was consensus among the governors, bipartisan consensus, that our federal strategy should reflect those concerns in a way that we support the states with the resources they’ll need to get to the folks who have been often overlooked or ignored. And the President Elect, I think, has made it very clear that it’s one of our highest priorities to support that. As you may know, in the Senate, I actually led what we called Racial Disparities Task Force. And that approach is something that we will be incorporating in our administration to ensure that all people have equal access to resources, but also taking into account equitable distribution of resources based on need.
Speaker 7: (24:33)
Thank you, President Elect Biden and Vice President Elect Harris.
Joe Biden: (24:35)
One important thing to understand is there is a, and we’ve talked a lot about this and we’ve talked about it and talked about it when I was running, seeking the nomination as well. And that is that the idea of the brown, black, Asian American, Native American communities are always the first ones hit the hardest. And the last ones who are brought back. We’re going to flip that around. It’s going to be really important to determine priorities based upon access to the information that’s available, access to everything from the vaccine to other opportunities to be able to deal with helping the country, part of the country that’s hurt the worst. Three times as many African-Americans have died than white Americans died from COVID.
Joe Biden: (25:29)
So there has to be a prioritization. That’s why I’d like to know exactly what this administration has in mind in terms of their Operation Warp Speed and how they plan it. And that’s what we talked about with the governors today. They all mentioned the need to focus on communities that have been left behind, particularly Governor Cuomo. It’s one thing if, for example, vaccines are distributed to all the Walgreens of America. No criticism of Walgreens, but there’s a lot of those facilities that aren’t in rural communities and are not in poor communities, African-American, Latino communities. So we’ve got to make sure there’s access for them.
Speaker 7: (26:11)
Thank you so much. [crosstalk 00:26:16].
Joe Biden: (26:11)
Okay. Thank you.
Speaker 8: (26:24)
Do you have room for Bernie Sanders in your cabinet? [crosstalk 00:26:24]