Sep 2, 2020
Joe Biden Reopening Schools Press Conference Transcript September 2
Joe Biden delivered remarks about reopening schools safely during the COVID-19 pandemic on September 2 in Delaware. Read the transcript of his press conference here.
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Vice President Joe Biden: (01:53)
Folks, welcome to the Queen Theater. I’m here today to talk about a crisis, a crisis being felt all across the United States of America. And Jill and I have just been briefed, as you know, in this room, by our public health and education experts about what it’s going to take to be able to reopen our schools safely and effectively.
Vice President Joe Biden: (02:23)
And back to school has always been a special time [inaudible 00:02:26] your families and mine, but particularly in mine because for all the years Jill and I were married, she was going back to school too as a teacher. Jill’s an educator and she’ll be the first one to tell you that this should be a season of promise for our country, times when classrooms are crackling with the possibilities of the new year, students’ hopes, and all about the future.
Vice President Joe Biden: (02:54)
But this year, we’re facing the most difficult circumstances and we’re seeing an awful lot of heart and a lot of grit from our educators, our students to try to rise to the occasion here, but our government hasn’t come up to that bar. They haven’t shown much grit at all or determination.
Vice President Joe Biden: (03:12)
Let me be clear. If President Trump and his administration had done their jobs early on with this crisis, America’s schools would be open and they’d be open safely. Instead, American families all across this country are paying the price for his failures and his administration’s failures.
Vice President Joe Biden: (03:34)
Like many of you, because you’re all reporters, you also have a lot of friends and you have children, and you’re probably hearing the same thing I’m hearing throughout this pandemic. They’re struggling to figure out how to do the right thing, but they’re worried. They’re worried like the devil. “What does it mean for my kids? Is this setting my child’s education back beyond just a semester? What impact will it have? How’s my child going to catch up? What if I’m not doing enough to help my child succeed?” All those questions, the self-doubt that’s been engaged. President Trump may not think this a national emergency, but I think going back to school for millions of children and the impacts on their families and the community is a national emergency. I believe that’s what it is.
Vice President Joe Biden: (04:27)
Protecting our students, our educators, our communities, getting our schools open safely and effectively, this is a national emergency, but President Trump still doesn’t have any real plan for how to open our schools safely, no real plan for how to help parents feel secure for their children. He’s offering nothing but failure and delusions.
Vice President Joe Biden: (04:54)
From the start to finish, the American families and our children are paying the price for his failures; failure to take this virus seriously early on in January and February and it spread around the globe, failure to take steps we needed back in March and April to get this pandemic under controlled institute widespread testing and tracing to control the spread, failure to provide clear national science-based guidelines to state and local authorities, and failure to model even basic responsibility like socially distancing and wearing a mask, and failure to make sure educators and administrators have the equipment, the resources, and the training they need to open safe and under the circumstances we find now.
Vice President Joe Biden: (05:44)
Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos, Secretary DeVos, haven’t stepped up and we’re all seeing the results. Millions of students are now starting the new school year in the same way they finished the last one, at home. At home. Parents are doing their best, but more and more, were finding themselves at wit’s end, struggling to balance work and childcare and educational duties, or worrying about their lost paycheck and how they’ll make ends meet while trying to keep their kids on track with remote learning.
Vice President Joe Biden: (06:23)
Educators are taking on countless hours of additional training to learn how to use remote learning tools so they can still be there for their students, but they’re worried about all the kids who used to count on our schools, all those children who need it so badly, and particularly those children who need more than the education and they provide their meals and safe places to spend the day.
Vice President Joe Biden: (06:51)
You know, we’re all concerned about making sure COVID-19 doesn’t further exacerbate the disparities, the disparities that already have existed in our educational system for so many poor children and in so many communities of color. It’s unacceptable and it can’t go on like this. We all want our schools to reopen safely with a plan that prioritizes the health of our students and our educators and staff alike.
Vice President Joe Biden: (07:19)
I laid out my plans back in June and July, a roadmap for how to open and reopen safely and effectively. You can read them by going to JoeBiden.com. We need straight forward common sense solutions, but Trump refuses to act, starving schools have the needed funding, funding they need now. Now. They needed it beginning of the summer. Now, Trump’s FEMA director is cutting schools loose. Just yesterday, FEMA announced that after helping three districts, I think it was three, they announce that they’re not going to help pay for cloth masks, other PPE for school settings, cleaning, those basic health needs, or sanitize, everything from the lavatories to the classrooms, and safety costs for schools that don’t qualify for emergency assistance.
Vice President Joe Biden: (08:19)
This is emergency, Mr. President. This is an emergency. And Donald Trump and his FEMA should treat it as one.
Vice President Joe Biden: (08:28)
If I were president today, I’d direct FIM to make sure that our kids K through 12 get full access to disaster relief and emergency assistance under the Stafford Act. I’d make sure that PPE and sanitation supplies for school qualify as emergency protective measures, which is a phrase they use, to fully be eligible for federal assistance.
Vice President Joe Biden: (08:52)
On top of that, I’d be working with the leaders of Congress now, today, to pass emergency packages for schools so they have the resources they need in order to be able to open safely, money for ventilation. I heard that a lot when I had all those health care experts up on the Zoom. Money for ventilation and other health measures, but also more money to hire more teachers. Every recommendation we got was they should be dividing into pods, smaller classes. Smaller classes mean more educators are needed. Keeping classes socially distanced, small. Money for more psychologists and counselors. I introduced legislation a long time ago calling for [inaudible 00:09:42] I proposed legislation a long time ago.
Vice President Joe Biden: (09:46)
We have one school psychologist for every 1,507 children in school. And the healthcare, the mental health that our children need now, the anxiety they’re feeling at home in going to school, not being able to-
Vice President Joe Biden: (10:03)
… at home, in going to school, not being able to go to school, the nation’s superintendents of schools have estimated that they’ll need at least $200 billion to support K through 12 schools throughout the year for safe reopening. And we need the money to hire educators as well for our four-year colleges and universities, for community colleges, for HBCUs, for minority-serving institutions. Democratic leaders are ready to get this done. They’ve already proposed legislation. Mr. President, where are you? Where are you? Why aren’t you working on this? We need emergency support funding for our schools and we need it now. Mr President, that’s your job. That’s your job. That’s what you should be focused on now. Getting our kids back to school safely. Keeping schools safely able to remain open once they open. Not whipping up fear and division.
Vice President Joe Biden: (11:08)
Not inciting violence in our streets. Get off Twitter and start talking to the congressional leaders in both parties. Invite them to the Oval Office, the Oval Office, and stop your boast about never being seemed at what you can do anything. You always talk about your ability to negotiate. Negotiate a deal. A deal for somebody other than yourself. Now I’m happy to take questions you may have, I guess staff’s going to call on whoever. Follow, fire away.
Speaker 4: (11:47)
Speaker 1: (11:56)
Vice President, two quick questions for you if I may. First, ahead of your trip to Kenosha, Wisconsin tomorrow, last week your running mate, Senator Harris, said that the officer who shot Jacob Blake, based on what she has seen should be charged. Do you agree with her? And do you also believe the same for the officers who were involved in the death of Breonna Taylor?
Vice President Joe Biden: (12:17)
I think we should let the judicial system work its way. I do think there’s a minimum need to be charged, the officers, and as well as Breonna Taylor and I might add, by the way, I think what happened in Portland where one of the Trump guys riding along in vans and inciting responses were shooting rubber bullets, I guess, or paint balls. Apparently there was someone shot by someone in the crowd with a bullet, killed. I think that person should meet legal requirements, whatever that calls for. He should be investigated and it should follow through on what needs to be done. Let the judicial system work. Let’s make sure justice is done.
Speaker 1: (13:04)
Just probably on a different topic, there’s a new book by the New York Times by Michael Schmidt that says that when president Trump made an unannounced visit to Walter Reed hospital in 2019, Vice President Pence was told to be on standby to take over in case President Trump had to receive anesthesia. Pence said last night that he doesn’t recall being told that. As vice president, were you ever told to be on standby or given any kind of special alert when President Obama was going in for a medical appointment? And I also just wonder whether you have any concerns about the fact that that Walter Reed visit that President Trump made, it didn’t follow prior protocol about presidential visits for medical examinations.
Vice President Joe Biden: (13:45)
I’m not going to speculate on what it means always, but I can say is that nothing this administration does is normal. And so I’m not being facetious when I say that. So who in God’s name knows what it was all about? I just don’t know. I don’t know. And I’m not going to speculate. I’ll let the experts do that. And so, and the only time that I have been on notice is when the president’s out of the country and I’m in the country, that not that I should wait for something to be immediately be aware of anything, but that’s something that might be called for. It wasn’t called for.
Speaker 1: (14:28)
Speaker 2: (14:39)
Thank you Mr. Vice President. On your visit to Kenosha tomorrow, local democratic officials including the governor had previously discouraged President Trump from visiting and just yesterday, the president of the local NAACP said he didn’t want to see either of the candidates, including yourself visit. That this is such a sensitive situation in the city. Why is now the right time for you to go to Kenosha And what do you hope to accomplish tomorrow?
Vice President Joe Biden: (15:00)
Well, I have already spoken to all the leaders up there and although I have an outstanding call with the governor who we’ve dealt with the staff because, and there’s been overwhelming requests that I do come. Because what we want to do is we’ve got to heal. We’ve got to put things together, bring people together. And so my purpose in going will be to do just that, to be a positive influence on what’s going on, talk about what need be done and try to see if there’s a beginning of a mechanism to bring the folks together.
Vice President Joe Biden: (15:40)
We have to heal. This is about making sure that we move and we move forward. And so I’ve gotten advice from sitting members of the Congress and the Senate as well to go and that I should go. I’m not going to do anything other than meet with and meetings with community leaders, as well as business people and other folks in law enforcement. And to see, to start to talk about what has to be done. I’m not going to tell Kenosha what they have to do but we have to do together. The idea that we are saying the president’s current people retreat to their corners and keep this movie is just a mistake. I spent my whole life, including in this city you’re in right now, bringing people together. Bringing the community and police officers together. Bringing business leaders and civic leaders together. And so that’s my purpose in going.
Speaker 2: (16:42)
And on the fact that you’re traveling to Wisconsin at all. I believe this is only the third time in the last few months, since the onset of the pandemic, that you’ll be on a plane. You’ve talked about how you want to make sure you’ll follow all the advice of your doctors in terms of campaigning safely. But the question we keep hearing from voters, from others, is why aren’t you out there more. You may be aware the president was calling into question your campaign’s scheduled today. How far are you willing to push the envelope of what’s safe in order to get your message out and to be among the voters, speak to them directly?
Vice President Joe Biden: (17:12)
Well, I think my message is getting out based on what the polling data shows and the millions of people who’ve watched, what I’ve had to say and the circumstance which I’ve said it. But I would like to get out more. But I think a president has a responsibility to set examples, set the right example for how to get out. Not go out and not wear a mask and not to have large crowds of people standing next to one of their not wearing masks, not being a potential called room for significant outbreaks of COVID. And so what I’ve done is I’ve met with, via what I did this morning with the medical experts.
Vice President Joe Biden: (17:58)
And so we’ve worked out a protocol where, how I get in the plane, what kind of plane I get on, how it’s sanitized, how I engage people. It’s like when I’m engaging all of you everywhere I go. It’s always at a safe distance and everybody’s wearing masks. And the vast majority of people that I’m meeting with have been, had come into my home and staff and the like, they’re all tested as well. So I’m just trying to set the example, wearing the protective gear, the mask, which I have with me. I’m able at this distance to take it off, number one. Number two, making sure that we proceed in a way with adequate social distancing and do it the right way.
Speaker 2: (18:43)
And last quickly they announced the format and the moderators of the presidential debates today. NBC’s Kristen Welker, we’re batting cleanup for that last presidential debate. Is there anything, you’ve said you’ll participate, is there anything that could dissuade you from participating and how have you began to prepare?
Vice President Joe Biden: (18:58)
Well, I began to prepare by going over what the president has said, multiple lies he’s told. What I’d love to have as a crawler at the bottom of the screen of fact checker when we speak. If we really want him to do something, I think that would make a great, great debate. If everything both of us said was instantly fact-checked by an agreed to group of people out there then we move forward. But probably wouldn’t get very far in the debate. Now I’m looking forward to debating the President and I’m going to lay out as clearly as I can, what I think we have to do to bring this country back and build it back better. And I’m looking forward to the debate.
Speaker 3: (19:41)
That’s great. Thank you [inaudible 00:19:44].
Speaker 5: (19:50)
Thank you Mr. Vice president. One of the things that I’ve heard a lot from voters across the country is that a lot of them are worried and concerned about some of the ongoing violence we’ve seen in cities in this country, including the situation in Kenosha, Wisconsin where you’re headed-
Speaker 5: (20:03)
… and in cities in this country, including the situation in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where you’re headed. I am curious, obviously you are not president now and Donald Trump is, but I’m curious if you were president, what would you do to ensure that people are kept safe in situations like these?
Vice President Joe Biden: (20:15)
First of all, I wouldn’t incite violence. I condemn it when it occurred. I would move to, look, the vast majority of police officers are good, decent, honorable women and men. They pin on that shield every morning and they have a right to go home that night safely. The vast majority. But just those who are not good cops, all the police I’ve dealt with my whole life, and I’ve been dealing with, I’ve gotten overwhelming support from law enforcement through my whole career. They’re the ones that want to get rid of the bad cops, even more than anybody else does because it reflects on them. Number one. Number two, I would make sure everybody understood, if I were president, that any violence, any violence, protesting is a right and free speech is a right, but to engage in violence, burning, looting, the rest, in the name of protesting is wrong, and that persons should be held accountable for their actions.
Vice President Joe Biden: (21:20)
What I’d be doing is I’d be bringing people together in the White House, right now. I’d be having that Police Commission set up. I’d have law enforcement at the table. I’d have the community at the table. I’d have people and saying, “How do we get through this? What do we do to deal with this?” Because I believe the vast majority of the community at writ large, as well as law enforcement, want to straighten things out, not inflamed things, but this president keeps throwing gasoline on the fire, every place he goes.
Vice President Joe Biden: (21:50)
I noticed, and I didn’t watch much of it, but I watched the reports from all of you, not all, I from the press. When he was asked about what should be done with regard to a young man shot in the back seven times, in front of his children, I didn’t hear much of anything come from him. What should we be doing about it? He went down the line. I wish he’d take responsibility. As much as he’d like to be running against somebody else, he’s running against me, Joe Biden. The fact is, that he is not acting very responsible.
Speaker 6: (22:24)
[inaudible 00:22:37]. Mr. Vice-president.
Vice President Joe Biden: (22:33)
I’m sorry. Am I, over here? Okay.
Speaker 7: (22:40)
You’ve outlined your plan to reopen schools safely. But what about what happens in the interim? Right now, millions of parents across the country are facing this very impossible task, of trying to work full time-
Vice President Joe Biden: (22:51)
Speaker 7: (22:51)
And help their children full-time to learn virtually. What is your message to these parents and what can you do to help them while you work to reopen schools?
Vice President Joe Biden: (23:00)
Help is on the way. I’ve laid out a clear plan for childcare, a clear plan for starting early education as well, so three and four and five year olds are in school. But I’m not President right now. What we should be doing, is we should be providing for more help for people who in fact, are trying to juggle the choice between, do I stay home with my three, four or five-year old and take care of them in the middle of this COVID problem? Or, do I go to work and earn a salary? What do I do? That’s why we have, I have a major initiative to deal with childcare and eldercare, so people can be adequately paid to come and take care of folks, children, as well as the elderly that you may be taking care of a parent, a husband and wife may be taking care of, as well as making sure that those folks are able to get back to work.
Vice President Joe Biden: (23:57)
That’s why focusing on daycare centers and making sure they’re safe and healthy now ,is equally as important as dealing with, almost as equally important as dealing with schools. We should be providing all of the PPE and all of the safety that is necessary in sanitary capacity, to allow them to open. Hundreds of them have been opening, because some states have gone in and done that. There should be universal guidance coming from the President of United States of America. There should be basic standards to how, in fact, and what circumstances you can safely open a daycare center, you can safely open a childcare center.
Vice President Joe Biden: (24:35)
In addition to that, in the future, the idea, this has brought home a number of glaring problems we have in America, this whole pandemic, and what’s happened in terms of jobs. The idea that we’re in a situation where you have so many parents who have to make the difficult choice as a single parent or both working parents, to decide whether one gives up their salary and stays home with a child under the age of five or six, and/or somehow leaves them with somebody that there’s not particularly qualified and goes to work so they can earn a living, is a choice that is not, we shouldn’t be making.
Vice President Joe Biden: (25:12)
We’re the only industrialized country in the world that forces people to make that kind of choice. There should be, no one should have to pay more than 7% of their income to provide for childcare and be able to go to work. This is something that is a major element of my Build Back Better program. But in the meantime, in the meantime, the most important thing that can be done is have CDC issue really straightforward guidelines, on what circumstances you should be able to open up your daycare center or your childcare center now. There should be clear standards and states should have the wherewithal to be able to go out and inspect those facilities, now.
Vice President Joe Biden: (25:56)
But, one I haven’t mentioned, and I think it warrants mentioning. One of the things we did, remember when we inherited the great recession and we were going into the tank, heading off the cliff or heading into a depression, I was able to convince three Republicans had changed their vote. We ended up with the so-called Recovery Act, which spent over $800 billion in 18 months, kept us from going into depression. But what did we do? We spent almost, we spent billions of dollars, making sure that states were able to maintain their essential workers. Everyone from their fire departments, their school teachers, their doctors, their nurses, their public hospitals.
Vice President Joe Biden: (26:41)
Now what’s happening? This Republican administration will not support that and the Republican leadership in the United States Senate will not support it. So, what’s happening? We don’t have that help. It’s not out there. States are in real trouble and to quote my good friend, Mitch McConnell, he says, “Let the states go, bankrupt.”States have to balance their budgets, under the law. Communities, counties, cities, they have to balance their budget. There’s a reason why the federal government is able to run a deficit, to compensate in times of real economic crisis and what’s happening, nothing, nothing. Guess what? We came out of that recession with the longest spurt of economic growth in any administration in American history. But these guys don’t, I don’t [inaudible 00:27:33] and I could go on. Businesses, look at the money that was passed under the CARES Act, for businesses, small businesses be able to stay open. You have tens of thousands of going out of business, many of them permanently. Why? Because, the money didn’t get to small businesses. They’re not open. We should be dealing with those businesses that have been burned out and those and damaged. We should be finding federal help for those businesses to get back on their feet.
Vice President Joe Biden: (28:01)
But this administration seems to think it’s all of a sudden going to go away, like angel dust is going to be sprayed around. Everything’s going to be okay. I just don’t get it. They have to know better. They have to know better. We had an example, just the last administration, how much good you can do and how much growth you can generate. I just don’t get these guys. I really, don’t. Not a joke. I’ve been doing this a long time, but I’ve never seen a president lack as much leadership, unwilling, an inability to make a deal. You got about, I’m told the reason why they can’t get anything done in the Republican Congress, is 20 members of the United States Senate saying under no circumstances, will they raise the deficit at all.
Vice President Joe Biden: (28:47)
Well, that’s wonderful. We’re in a position we’re in now. Look at other countries. They’re doing one hell of a lot better. Yet, we still have over, what’s it up to, 186,000 people dead. Over 6 million, was it, 6, ,000, whatever the number is, that have contracted the disease and no end in sight. It’s just irresponsible. Talk about a no-nothing Congress. On the Republican side. No, not even the president. I mean, I don’t get it. I really don’t get it, but it’s going to change, come January, God willing.
Speaker 8: (29:24)
Sir, what do you say to teachers, who are afraid to return to the classroom, even if the safety protocols that you’ve proposed are in place?
Vice President Joe Biden: (29:35)
Well, I say that I understand their concern, because so many of the teachers also have other preexisting conditions that lend itself to the fact that if they were to contract the COVID disease, COVID-19, that they would be very susceptible to be in real trouble. It’s understandable why they’re doing it. But the first thing to do, is make sure that all the protective capacity that we have available to us is made available. And then-
Vice President Joe Biden: (30:03)
Capacity that we have available to us, is made available and then let the districts make choice about whether or not they open fully, whether they rotate and whether or not those teachers are able to be able to teach from home and remote learning. But it’s really understandable why they would, look what’s happened in this coed crisis so far. A hundred million, I mean 100,000 people have died who were above the age of 65. 100,000 out of the 200 and some that have died or not 200 and some, it’s 189 or whatever it is now. It estimated, I heard today, the estimates range from two significant universities. One, there’s going to be as many as 239, I think. And another one said by December, 312. I don’t know that, but it’s going to go higher. And so, I don’t understand why it’s a political problem? What is the politics about not being willing to go in and help provide the protective capacity for people to be able to go back to work and don’t go to school? I can’t fathom it.
Speaker 9: (31:22)
Can I have the last question?
Speaker 10: (31:32)
Thank you, Mr. Vice President. You talked today about reopening schools. Wanted to ask you about something you said last week about the potential of having to shut down the economy again. You were asked if you’d be willing to shut it down if you’re health experts advise you to do so and you said, “I will be prepared to do whatever it takes.” And that you would listen to the scientists. But I’m curious how you would do that at a federal level and how you would balance that, call the shut down potentially, if you had economic advisors saying, “You do this again, you could plunge the country into an even deeper economic crisis.”
Vice President Joe Biden: (32:06)
Well, look, I know you’re tired of hearing me say this. I’ve been saying it since last January. The idea that you’re going to be able to get the economy back on track without getting COVID under control is completely counterintuitive. It’s not there. It can’t happen. Unless we’re able to deal with the disease and drastically cut its impact on people’s confidence of being able to either go to work or walk into a business or do business, then it doesn’t matter a lot. There is going to be no need in my view, to be able to shut down the whole economy. I got asked by David Murer, a question. If I was asked to shut everything down, I took that as a generic question. Am I going to follow the science?
Vice President Joe Biden: (32:57)
I am going to insist and I insist now, without any authority, that every responsible person in this country, when they’re out in public or not with a cohort that they have lived with, because they know they haven’t spread it to their husband, wife, et cetera, that they wear a mask. That they wear a mask and keeps socially distanced. You can take a mask off when you’re 12, 15 feet away, but I would really, really make the case. And by the way, when I find these folks talking about my freedom, I talk about patriotism. Why do you wear a mask? To protect your neighbor, to keep someone else from getting sick and maybe dying. I call that patriotic. This is the United States of America. Every generation has made sacrifices to help others in moments of crisis.
Speaker 10: (34:01)
Let’s say, you had suggested there’d be some kind of a federal mandate about masks. And now you’re saying-
Vice President Joe Biden: (34:07)
Speaker 10: (34:08)
You would encourage people?
Vice President Joe Biden: (34:10)
What I suggested was I would ask every person in authority. There’s a question whether or not a president, under the constitution, could mandate everyone wearing masks. And remember all during the primary, I’d have a lot of people telling me I would by executive order, do. I’m a constitutionalist. You can’t do things the Constitution doesn’t allow you the power to do. What I be doing is putting as much pressure as I could on every governor, every Senator, excuse me every mayor, every county executive, every local official, and everyone in business, putting pressure on them to say what you’re doing is irresponsible. Make sure you wear a mask and maintain social distancing. And the vast majority of the American people accept that notion.
Speaker 10: (34:58)
One more quick campaign question. You raised $364.5 million, your campaign and the DNC last month, record for a monthly haul, apparently. How are you going to spend it?
Vice President Joe Biden: (35:09)
You want to go dinner? No. I tell you what, look, what I’m having to spend a lot of it on is to counter the lies that are being told by Trump’s campaign and swift voters out there, a new pack. But what I’m trying to do is spend most of that … And by the way, I think the average contribution was like 40 bucks. We have over a 1,600,000 people who contributed in the middle of this economic crisis, somewhere between five, 10, $15. I’d say that shows some genuine enthusiasm about wanting to make sure that we have a chance of becoming President of United States.
Vice President Joe Biden: (35:56)
And so, what I will spend most of it doing is trying to explain to the American people how I want to unite the country, what I want to do to make the country better, why I’m so confident we can do it, why I’m so confident that we can bring the country together and be in a better position than before this crisis occurred. Because there’s been so many fissures exposed as a consequence of what’s happened, that people are now realizing my Lord, I didn’t know that people in that circumstance didn’t have that kind of help. I didn’t know, whatever. And so I think we have an enormous opportunity to bring the country together. And once again, lead the world. You’ve heard me say it a hundred times, not just by the example of our power, but the power of our example. Thank you all so very much for taking the time. Thank you.
Speaker 9: (36:48)
Thank you so much. Thank you.