May 14, 2020
Joe Biden Virtual Roundtable Transcript with Governors Whitmer, Murphy & Lamont
Joe Biden held a virtual video conference May 14 with Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, and Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont. They talked about the impacts of COVID-19.
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Gretchen Whitmer: (01:38)
Thank you for joining this Biden For President event. We’d like to thank our guests, Governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, Governor Phil Murphy of New Jersey, and Governor Ned Lamont of Connecticut. Now please welcome Vice President Joe Biden.
Joe Biden: (02:00)
Hey, thank you all for joining me today. And I don’t want to take too much time here at the top because you’ll want people to hear directly from you guys. You’re living it every day. You’re making the really tough decisions on the ground every day. You’ve been doing it from day one. And there are a lot of as you know better than I do, there’re a lot of scared people in this country, all across the country who are looking for leadership and clear guidance. And, so often it’s all of you that they’re looking to. This is not a partisan statement, governors, mayors, local leaders, you’re all stepping up all across the country. Republicans and Democrats alike filling the vacuum of leadership that I believe the federal government should be having your backs. It hasn’t done it enough. And it should be fighting like hell to get your States the PPE and the test and the funding that you so desperately need to keep your economies going.
Joe Biden: (02:57)
And this is not a moment for excuses, or deflections, or a blame game. We’re in the middle of a pandemic that has cost us more than 85,000 jobs, as of today. Lives of millions of people, millions of people, millions of jobs. And we’re in a position where we just got new unemployment insurance, this morning, numbers. 36.5 million claims since this crisis began. And almost 3 million new claims in the last week. Unemployment rate is nearing 15%, the highest has been since the great depression. But I need not tell you all that. Of course, it’s the least well off who are being hit the hardest, 40% of the households making $40,000 or less experienced a job loss, just in March. We’re going to have to work harder and smarter than ever before to pull ourselves out of this economic tailspin.
Joe Biden: (03:57)
But, I know what all of you know. That the only way out of this is by following the science, listening to the experts, talking and taking responsible precautions that is going to help us reopen the economy as safely and as quickly as possible. And as we do, there’s got to be federal support to state and local levels of our government, in my view, so that we’d be able to come out of this crisis stronger and more united.
Joe Biden: (04:25)
We have an opportunity, in my view, to transform the economy as we come out to build a more inclusive and more resilient middle class. And that can withstand the next public crisis, whatever it is, however it comes about. Not just reward the people who are well off and well connected. It’s time for us to be sure everyone gets a fair shot at success in this country.
Joe Biden: (04:46)
I know you all stand for that. We got a lot of ground to cover. So let’s start with this, know that the virus can hit anyone [inaudible 00:04:55]. But it doesn’t affect every community the same. It hits the most vulnerable, the least resourced the hardest.
Joe Biden: (05:03)
And Governor Whitmer, I know that you’ve created a Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on racial disparities to address the disproportionate impact the virus is having on communities of color. What have we learned? I found it both stunning and heartbreaking, Black populations have the Coronavirus infections at three times the rate higher than white [inaudible 00:05:29]. Death rates are nearly six times as high. But I really applaud your leadership in this issue. Because, I can tell you… What are you focusing on? Can you [inaudible 00:05:42] a little bit about the work your taskforce is doing and what you found both in scope of the challenge and the potential ways to address it? Because, it’s not just in Michigan.
Gretchen Whitmer: (05:53)
Sure. I’m happy [inaudible 00:05:57]. Thank you very much Mr. Vice President. I’m glad to be here with Governors Murphy and Lamont. This is [inaudible 00:06:01] One of the great things that I have found I’m in the midst of this crisis is that I’ve been able to reach out and get counsel from my fellow Governors, working together to try to address the issues that we’re confronting in our States across this country. And, tell the story about what’s happening here in Michigan.
Gretchen Whitmer: (06:19)
Now this week I lost another dear friend of mine to COVID-19. He was on a ventilator for weeks on end. He was a champion on behalf of the people of Detroit and the legislature. He passed away two days ago and it’s heartbreaking. Michigan has been one of the hardest hit states in the fight against COVID-19. [inaudible 00:06:39] been aggressively fighting. My team and I have been working around the clock to do a number of things to ensure people have the support they need. We’ve banned evictions and foreclosures so people can stay in their homes. We’ve expanded unemployment benefits to help working people put food on the table when they’re out of [inaudible 00:07:00]. And we’ve expanded access to childcare for our frontline workers.
Gretchen Whitmer: (07:03)
We’re still working hard to [inaudible 00:07:06] Michiganders [inaudible 00:07:07] spread of this virus. And there is a real threat of what could be the second wave that would dwarf the experience we’ve had thus far. We don’t want the sacrifice we’ve made to have been made the vain. And that’s why we’ve got to be really smart. We’ve ramped up our testing abilities, working with a number of businesses like CVS and Walgreens and Rite Aid to launch drive through testing sites across the state. We’ve worked with nearly all of the state’s health insurance companies to waive cost sharing, including copays deductibles and coinsurance for COVID-19 testing and treatment.
Gretchen Whitmer: (07:40)
And we’re testing more and more people every single day. Our percentage of positive cases has gone down. This past Sunday we were at just 6% positive cases, which is the lowest percent we’ve had since the onset of those first cases March 10th. The day after you were here in Michigan with me was the first day we got our two cases. And this was the lowest we’ve been since that, almost six weeks ago.
Gretchen Whitmer: (08:04)
We’ve still got a lot of work to do though, and there’s no question that we need help from the federal government. The issue around racial disparities is one that we have seen play out. And Michigan was one of the first States to release data around people’s rates. We’ve seen it in Illinois and Louisiana. But here in Michigan, 14% of our population is African American, and yet over 40% of our COVID-19 deaths are African Americans here in Michigan. And the virus is just simply holding up a mirror to our country to the disparate outcomes for people of color in America, generally. And reminding us about these deep inequities. From the basic lack of access to healthcare, to the access to transportation, to lack of protections in the workplace. So the fact that our front line, the people that are our essential workforce, is often disproportionately people of color.
Gretchen Whitmer: (09:03)
These inequities hit people of color and the vulnerable communities the hardest. So that’s why we created this Task Force around racial disparities. It’s chaired by my Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist, who’s the first African American Lieutenant Governor in Michigan history. And they’re going to provide recommendations on how to address racial disparities I this moment, but also, a plan for going forward. We’ve been focused on attacking implicit bias and expanding healthcare, but we know that there’s a lot more to learn in this moment. That’s why we’re going to continue to see this through, not just through the other side of COVID-19, but to inform a policy agenda that really creates equitable outcomes and equitable opportunity for people.
Gretchen Whitmer: (09:47)
We’ve also created something called the Futures for Frontliners which is kind of like the GI Bill. Is to give an opportunity to people who’ve been on the front lines. If they want to add [inaudible 00:10:00] school and some additional skills. We want to make sure that they know how grateful we are that they kept stocking the shelves in the grocery store, or showing up when we’re in trouble, whether it’s at the hospital or in an emergency. We need to do right by the people that have made such a sacrifice on all of our behalf. It’s been a tough eight weeks, but we are seeing that we’re making a difference. All of these aggressive actions are starting to pay off, but we are nowhere out of the woods yet. And we’ve got a lot more work to do, and we need to make sure that we’ve got real partnership. This is not a political issue.
Joe Biden: (10:37)
Gretchen Whitmer: (10:38)
This is not a partisan issue, the enemy is the virus.
Joe Biden: (10:43)
You’d expect me to say this, I know, because I think you’re such a good Governor. But I think you’ve done one hell of a job. One of the things I hope, and maybe we can talk about this later when we come out of this, I hope we can deal with some of the institutional inequities that exists. Because, we’re one of the few nations that every major crisis we’ve faced in our history has been in the situation where we have come out stronger. Come out stronger. What I’m finding, and maybe we can go back to this later, but I’m finding that this whole crisis has sort of taken the blinders off and most people. The people who weren’t necessarily prejudice, but just didn’t focus.
Joe Biden: (11:26)
That’s the geese you hear in the background, there’s a little pond out here. Those Canadian geese are trying to get away from the virus. Anyway, all kidding aside. What I’m finding, people who are constantly calling me… And I know we’re all in place, but we have on the phone probably six hours a day. People are talking about how they didn’t realize that it was somebody making seven bucks an hour had their back and made sure that they still had food. [inaudible 00:11:58] that person driving that delivery truck, the postman. The person who is in fact the first responder-
Joe Biden: (12:03)
The postman, the person who in fact is a first responder, who is with the local fire department. These are the people who a lot of them are the hourly workers who in fact can’t stay home. They can’t stay home. And they’re the ones risking their lives and they’re the ones losing their lives. But my point is, I think what you’ve set up is important because when I was talking to your mayor in Detroit, who’s an old friend. I spent a lot of time in Detroit trying to get it back on its feet as you recall, is that realizing the disparity in how this virus is affecting minority communities and we started arguing, and I think all of you did, that we should be keeping very detailed records about how and who and where and when the virus is striking. But I think there’s a lot more to talk about in that. I’m sorry to go off on that.
Joe Biden: (12:58)
Look, Governor Lamont and Murphy, I know that both of you are grappling with the same challenges. What are you seeing [inaudible 00:13:07] states? Whomever, what are the things that people are most concerned about? what are you hearing the most? And what keeps you awake at night? I’d be interested to hear what you put at the top of the list, if you can.
Phil Murphy: (13:28)
Ned, do you want to jump in?
Ned Lamont: (13:33)
Sure. I’ll jump in. Let me just say, Gretchen, it’s great to see you and Phil. I’ve been so proud of the governors on both sides of the aisle, taking the lead on this. And Mr. Vice President, thank you for listening to the governors because we have been on the front line. Something you said and Gretchen said that really resonated with me. You wanted to know we’ve learned. We raised the minimum wage here about a year and a half ago and people were sort dismissively talking about minimum wage or low wage earners. And as you just said and as Gretchen said, look, our first responders, they can’t stay safe, stay at home. We’ve been asking them every day to go in and keep us safe. They’ve gone from being minimum wage workers, I think post-COVID, we now call them essential workers. Don’t we?
Joe Biden: (14:20)
Ned Lamont: (14:20)
I like to think you’ve understood your whole life, it’s in your core, Mr. Vice President, that work is a lot more than a paycheck. It’s about dignity. And now we realized that that food service worker is actually a key part of the food supply chain and keeping us healthy. You mentioned the importance of the delivery trucks. How about the janitor? Now we realize when they keep your office clean, they are keeping you safe. These are vital pieces of what we try and do. And if we learn anything from this miserable COVID virus, I hope we learn a new respect for a lot of the folks who are doing the work in this country.
Joe Biden: (14:59)
Phil Murphy: (14:59)
Listen, first of all, my late mother would say, “As you’re known by the company you keep, what company I’m keeping today.” Mr. Vice-president, beginning with you-
Joe Biden: (15:08)
Well, thank you.
Phil Murphy: (15:09)
[inaudible 00:15:09] and with Gretchen and Ned who are extraordinary governors, who I look up to and look to so often, and I’m thrilled to be with you. And I’m thrilled to be with great passion and conviction, a supporter of yours for president of United States-
Joe Biden: (15:27)
Phil, thank you. Might get you in trouble.
Phil Murphy: (15:29)
To be with [crosstalk 00:15:30]-
Joe Biden: (15:30)
Phil Murphy: (15:31)
Yeah, I know, I know, I know. That’s okay. I’m channeling the spirit of our late friend, Frank Lautenberg. I’m your neighbor to the north as you know.
Joe Biden: (15:39)
I was talking to Bonnie the other day.
Phil Murphy: (15:41)
Oh, is that right? God bless her and God bless him.
Phil Murphy: (15:44)
Listen, we remain in the thick of it, Mr. Vice President. I know you know that. If you’ll look particularly at per 100,000 residents, so per capita, New Jersey, Connecticut, and New York continue to be sadly in the poll positions on positive tests, hospitalizations, and fatalities. Now the good news is, it’s gotten better. There’s no question about that, but it is still a reality that we’re the densest region in the country and the density of the impact of this virus is unmistakable.
Phil Murphy: (16:22)
So what do we worry about and what keeps me up at least right now, it’s balancing that progress and that thirst to take steps to reopen with the stark reality that this virus is still among us. We had almost 200 people go into the hospital yesterday with COVID-19. We announced 244 fatalities today. And yet, again, the curves that we look at that give us confidence that we can begin to take steps are going in the right direction. So getting that balance right.
Phil Murphy: (16:57)
We opened up county and state parks a week and a half ago, so far so good. I just announced today, and that your reputation is here still our third senator from the good old days, you know the Jersey Shore as well as I do.
Joe Biden: (17:13)
Phil Murphy: (17:14)
We made an announcement today under certain restrictions on density and social distancing we’d open our beaches for Memorial Day. And we do that hopefully responsibly. And our mantras are that public health creates economic health, not the other way around and secondly, data determines dates as you said this right up front. If you look at the science, the data, the hard facts, it tends to get you into the right place not with public [inaudible 00:00:17:50]. Getting that balance right, I would say, keeps us up most at night. And I would say, if you gave me two, I would say the other one is the federal government’s direct cash assistance to states. Our costs are going up by the minute, our revenues have fallen off a cliff. I suspect that Gretchen and Ned would be in violent agreement with both of those statements. You know this better than anybody in the country. There’s nothing that can replace the existential role that the federal government can play. We need that direct cash. And that will allow us to keep firefighters, police, educators, healthcare workers, EMS on the payroll, serving the communities at the time when we need it the very most.
Joe Biden: (18:35)
I’d say to all three of you, I think what most informed voters even, it’s not like they have to be uninformed, I don’t think people realize that the only branch of the government that is able and necessarily has to be able to engage in deficit spending to deal with crisis is the federal government. You all have to balance your budgets. Every time you submit a budget, it has to be in balance. And the loss of revenue has been astounding as a consequence of this virus. And you’ve got a real problem.
Joe Biden: (19:12)
I remember back in the crisis of 2009, the economic crisis, the financial crisis we had, the president asked me to take over a program where there was a $800 billion of aid that was going to go to state and local governments. Not just that, but to resurrect the economy, to get it back working, to actually begin to rebuild it. And one of the things that I learned right off the bat was had we not provided for tens of hundreds of billions of dollars, you’re in New Jersey as well as Michigan and Connecticut, all across the nation, the number of firefighters you’d have to lay off, the number of teachers should have to lay off, the number of police officers you’d have to lay off, the number of essential workers you’d have to lay off, is staggering.
Joe Biden: (20:05)
And so I know the majority leader fairly well, Mitch McConnell, and I find it a little disturbing him talking about, well, just declare bankruptcy, is his response, declare bankruptcy. Well, and he’s not going to bail out, why are we bailing out the states? Because guess what? The very people you want to be able to make sure state and local governments will be able to continue to be able to pay and keep on the payroll the people who are carrying the rest of the country on their back right now. I don’t understand what they’re doing, what he and the president are thinking about. But you noticed that the majority, the Speaker of the House and the minority leader in the Senate have proposed a significant amount of money, about $850 billion, for state local aid. And I think it’s necessary. We got to get it out there now.
Joe Biden: (21:02)
But can I ask you all one more question about this and we’ll move on, but what about the notion that how prepared do you think we are if, God forbid, some of the recommendations that are coming from some scientists that we may see a significant rebound in the fall of this virus? Do you think you have enough stockpile of PPE, enough testing equipment, enough to be able to test and trace? Talk to me about what your concerns are about [inaudible 00:21:37] the very things that you [inaudible 00:21:42] get that you’re going to be, God forbid if this gets as bad as some are predicting in the fall and going into the winter. Do you feel like you are in a position to be able to not have to go through the same God awful circumstances you went through the last eight weeks?
Gretchen Whitmer: (21:59)
Maybe I’ll start if that’s all right.
Joe Biden: (22:01)
Gretchen Whitmer: (22:01)
I think what we know is that until there’s a vaccine or a cure, the best tool that we have aside from social distance, which we can’t do it forever, is testing. [inaudible 00:22:16] 1% to 2% of our population every single week, that’s about a 100,000 to 200,000 people here in Michigan every single week. We have the capabilities to continue [inaudible 00:22:27] testing. We’re able to [inaudible 00:22:31] at the trace capabilities to follow up where we’ve got positives.
Gretchen Whitmer: (22:35)
But what we don’t have are some of the critical, simple supplies. Swabs, which is really not a hard thing to manufacture, were predominantly produced in Italy, which of course, was shut down for a long period of time. And each of these types of COVID test use a different type of swab and you can’t just use a Q-tip. It has to be a certain type of swab. And so we’ve gotten some shipments of swabs from the federal government and we are grateful and they have committed to giving us a weekly shipment. However, we were supposed to have a variety of different types of swabs in this most recent shipment because we have a variety of different types of tests and they require different implements. We got a hundred percent of foam swabs. Now we’re grateful for the swabs and I’m not complaining, but that [inaudible 00:23:25] test kits that use a different type of swab we can’t use. And so we’re not going to [inaudible 00:23:30] that 1% to 2% because we’re missing something as simple as a variety of swabs.
Gretchen Whitmer: (23:35)
And I share that with you because I think that there’s a back and forth in the media about whether or not these things exist, they exist, but we need the right representation of them in order to fulfill our testing capabilities. That is the key to opening, reengaging sectors of our economy with confidence. We know where COVID-19 is, that we’re able to pin it down. [inaudible 00:24:00] keep it from having community spread. And without those things…
Gretchen Whitmer: (24:03)
We didn’t keep it from having community spread, and without those things, it’s really not wise to go too far out there if you’re not able [inaudible 00:24:11] the way. And I think that’s one of the things that I know I’ve talked to JB Pritzker from Illinois. He’s confronting the same thing.
Joe Biden: (24:17)
Gretchen Whitmer: (24:17)
We have our regional conversation regularly. I don’t know if Phil and Ned I’d have the same experience, but I think that, that’s one of the frustrations. One of my concerns about [inaudible 00:24:28] we’re seeing [inaudible 00:24:29] country is with less testing, we’re not doing it right.
Ned Lamont: (24:37)
Gretchen’s got it exactly right. Look, it took the federal government, it took the White House, to be blunt, a long time to take this seriously, and we were out there on our own. But we’re neighbors here. It was like a surge pricing on [inaudible 00:00:51. they had the PPE. It was coming in from China. Ready to go get that Uber car, bing, off goes the plane again. Phil and I and five other governors, we’ve gotten together. We’re going to purchase as part of a cooperative. Like Gretchen said, like the Christmas trees arriving on December 26, this is going to go on for a while. We’re going to make sure we have a stockpile in place that we needed for this fall, if it comes about.
Ned Lamont: (25:18)
I got to tell you though, I do resent it the idea of a bailout. I heard the phrase mentioned. It was the federal government that stood there and said, it’s time for you to slow down significantly parts of your economy. We slowed them down, and 90% of our budget shortfall is related to the loss of revenues that disappeared, not [inaudible 00:25:38] disappeared. Right now, I [inaudible 00:25:41] an unfunded mandate [inaudible 00:25:43] federal government. I think they have to step up. And if you ever want to get this economy going again, you don’t want these states to be a lodestone on the economy, so I hope Congress does the right thing over the next few weeks.
Joe Biden: (25:55)
Well, [inaudible 00:25:55] did. Phil, do you have any comment on it?
Phil Murphy: (25:58)
Yeah, just briefly. Yeah. [inaudible 00:25:59] council, he and Andrew Cuomo were working morning, noon, and night as we closed our states, and we determined it would be smart if we formalize and added a few more neighbors. [inaudible 00:26:11] announced that we’re opening beaches today. Importantly, we did that in coordination with Delaware, New York, and Connecticut of something that’s really working. It’s no secret that as a nation, and certainly in our state, we did not begin the pandemic with remotely the horsepower and the supplies that we needed. Grateful that we were able to find common ground with the federal administration on testing, and ventilators, and PPE, and bed capacity. Gretchen’s point is a very good one. The state of New Jersey, I just announced today, is distributing [inaudible 00:26:49] two and a half million pieces of PPE. I might add a business line that we weren’t in two and a half months ago to give folks an idea of the volume of stuff that we’re talking about here.
Phil Murphy: (26:59)
The question is, Mr. Vice President, are we prepared for a rebound in the fall or winter? I would say we’re trying to get there. We are literally … We had a team meeting on that literally today in terms of restocking bed capacity, PPEs, ventilators, the volunteer healthcare worker corps that raised their hand to come in and help. We’re not there yet, though. Without question, we’re not there yet. And please, God, we only have to go through this once, that we get there, and we get there preemptively.
Joe Biden: (27:35)
Well, Gretchen, as you said, we’re not going to be out of it until we have a vaccine. I have, like all of you, but every day I have between an hour and an hour and a half brief with our former surgeon general, anyway, with docs across the country, and they brief me on what they’re anticipating, what they’re seeing, what they’re worried about, and what needs to be done. And testing and tracing are a gigantic part of the answer in the meantime. We’ve been kind of, I say, it’s an exaggeration to say a little slow off the mark. We’ve been way, way, way off the mark in getting that material to you all. But you know, one of the things that I think is important we figure out is, have you guys, have you been thinking about, or is there any way in which, it should be a federal way in which we do this, but talking about hiring basically a public health corps that can be part of the tracing as we move forward so we can determine where the virus was contracted, how to follow it through, find those people early on, et cetera?
Joe Biden: (29:02)
That’s the first part of the question. The second question I have, and I’m sorry to keep it so long, but you guys are right there. You know what’s going on. The second part of the question is, the world got together and decided that they were calling an international conference on seeking a vaccine. And we concluded, the President concluded he didn’t want to participate. Because we’re the best in the world, he didn’t want to participate. And so you have what’s going on in London, all across the world now, what I’m a little concerned about is if and when we get a vaccine, we’re going to need literally billions of those shots. We’re going to need to be able to have it available both here in the United States, rural, as well as suburban, as well as inner city, but we’re also going to need it internationally.
Joe Biden: (29:55)
And so I’ve thought, we have great scientists. I think we have the best in the world. We are working like hell on it here, but one of the things we’re calling for is a significant increase in funding for the ability to produce the vaccine here in the United States if in fact one is found. When you all talk together, do you talk about testing and tracing? What are the things you most are concerned about in that area, so we don’t get back into a burst of concern in the fall?
Ned Lamont: (30:34)
I want to control the supply chain myself. I don’t want to be sitting around waiting for the national stockpile to decide they can send it to me, or waiting for that plane to land from China any longer. Working with Phil, working with our regional governors here, Gretchen, I assume you’re doing the same, we want to get as much stockpile we can control ourselves. One state makes the vents. Somebody else is really focusing on pharma. Phil’s state is amazing there. Gina Raimondo up in Rhode Island, making mass. I want to make sure next time around, we control our own destiny.
Joe Biden: (31:06)
Well, one of the things I think you all did, and I’d call for really early on, was the need basically for a supply officer. If this were a military operation, if we’re going to war, you have to know where every weapon, every tank, every missile, every plane is at, and there’s a supply officer. You go to where the need is the greatest, the troops that need the most help. And the best of my knowledge, that doesn’t exist right now. Is there a one place you can call to get an answer to what is available and not available for you, or do you go to multiple places within the federal government, if at all?
Phil Murphy: (31:47)
At least for us, it’s been the FEMA administrator more often than not, who’s a northeast guy, by the way, I think Rhode Island native. I want to come back, Mr. Vice President, to the point you made, the sort of public health army. We’re standing up our testing and contact tracing, and Gretchen said it. That’s exactly, in terms of the percentage of our population, we think we’ve got to test every week. So we’ve said we’re going to be at least 20,000 tests a day by the end of this month, 5,000 a day by the end of June. But we also said contact tracing is a big piece of this, so we started with Rutgers School of Public Health, which is going to contribute several hundred folks. This is on top of the county folks who are already doing a really good job of this. But we then said, listen, if you want to sign up to be a contact tracer, go to our main COVID19.nj.gov website/tracing and give us your name.
Phil Murphy: (32:46)
I made that announcement at a press conference Tuesday at one o’clock of this week. The next day, someone asked me, same press conference, same time, how many had signed up, and my colleague told me that in 24 hours, over 21, 000 people had signed up to want to do this, which tells you two things. The spirit of service, not just in our state, but certainly here and around the country, and two, the amount of people who are desperately looking for a job right now.
Joe Biden: (33:14)
That’s exactly right.
Phil Murphy: (33:15)
Joe Biden: (33:17)
Exactly right. Well, in order for you all to effectively carry out your reopening plans to get the economy back on track, to support workers and their families and communities, you need the resources, and I know that the rising costs imposed by the pandemic, declining tax revenues have hit you really, really hard. And like I said, the house has stepped up and said we should be providing state and local funding so you don’t have to make the painful cuts. This isn’t some math exercise. It’s about people. It’s about making sure you don’t have to cut firefighters, teachers, police officers, critical public health programs, or stop work on roads and bridges.
Joe Biden: (34:05)
Look, we included the Recovery Act in 2009, it being critical to keep all these folks in place. What are you hearing from your mayors and your county executives about the budget cuts that they’re having to make? I’m assuming they’re coming to the state asking for help, and the budget cuts that they’re worried about if Trump and McConnell continue to block this funding. What are the local officials coming to you asking for? What kind of shape are they in?
Phil Murphy: (34:44)
They’re in tough shape. This has already started. That’s the other thing is we talk too often, I’m guilty of this myself, that this is a potential or possible eventuality, which runs the risk of this being abstract. We’ve got right now municipalities laying off firefighters in New Jersey. This is upon us, and the numbers are significant. Our numbers are deep, double digit billions of dollars that we think we need, and if we don’t get it, I think, Mr. Vice President, our folks think it’s up to one third at the state level, up to one third of our workforce, which is 200,000 more people, not just who would be out of their jobs, but they are overwhelming the people at the point of attack right now dealing with the residents who must-
Joe Biden: (35:33)
Gretchen Whitmer: (35:33)
Phil Murphy: (35:34)
… health related, unemployment claims filers, et cetera. So it’s real, and it’s upon us.
Gretchen Whitmer: (35:42)
Well, it’s the essential workforce that is still working. I mean, if you look at our budgets, we’re anticipating about a $3 billion shortfall in the current fiscal year. It will be bigger than that in the next fiscal year. And the places, of course, the biggest parts of our budgets, are public health, public safety, and public education, all of which are absolutely critical in a global pandemic where-
Gretchen Whitmer: (36:03)
All of which are absolutely critical in a global pandemic, where we are confronting this crisis. We’ve got to protect public health. We’ve got to protect public safety, and the education of our kids has already been so compromised. We think the usual learning loss of a summer is tough. We’re going to have real needs to wrap our kids around with the sports so that they can not lose all this time of education where they’re not in the classroom getting it.
Gretchen Whitmer: (36:28)
And so we do, and I think, to Phil’s point, as a group of governors, this is front and center for every single one of us, Democratic and Republican. And we are at the NGA trying to get Congress to take action. We’re grateful for what the House leadership did, but what’s going to happen in the Senate and where the White House is, I think, is the great unknown.
Gretchen Whitmer: (36:52)
And that’s why it’s got to be all hands on deck because these States are full of good people who just simply want government to work, and are desperately relying on these fundamentals that are at risk here if we don’t get this assistance quickly.
Ned Lamont: (37:07)
If I could just add, Mr. Vice president, what makes the education particularly tough is A. the risks that you’re going to have to cut it by 20%. At the same time, we’re probably going to have to shrink the size of our classes, so that there’s some type of social distancing there. We’re going to have to maybe stagger schedules a little bit. Like Gretchen said, this is all coming on the heels of kids who have had their education, to some degree, interrupted. If you can give us a little bit of certainty in terms of what we can plan for and budget for, that will make a world of difference for the future of these kids and our States.
Joe Biden: (37:40)
Well, I think it’s a gigantic deal. What I’ve been interested to see is the governors that I used to work with in the Senate, like the governor of Ohio and others, a lot of governors are speaking up, Republican governors, and saying, “Hey, Mr. President, we need help. We need the help.”
Joe Biden: (37:58)
It makes sense. And as I said, well, here’s what I’m hopeful of. And maybe I’m just, as one of my doctors said years ago, when I was hospitalized with an aneurysm, they said my problem is I’m a congenital optimist, but I think I am. I think that what’s happening is, all of this is sort of being stripped bare, and people are beginning to see and understand how things work and how they don’t work, and why it’s time to step up.
Joe Biden: (38:29)
And for example, I think it’s a false choice to say we either deal with employment or we deal with the virus. You can’t separate them. Unless you get the virus under control, unemployment and the economy is going to remain in real trouble. And so, one of the things that I think is important is as we get from stimulus, what we’re talking about now, into recovery, we have an opportunity to really provide for some real changes, economic change.
Joe Biden: (39:05)
For example, one of the things that we’re finding out all across the country, I’ve been pushing a thing. It’s not about me, but I’ve been pushing the thing for dealing with $20 billion for nationwide broadband. Particularly in rural areas, I worked a lot in your state, Gretchen, about dealing with this because in the peninsula, you got a lot of problems.
Joe Biden: (39:28)
And so all of a sudden, we’re finding out these parents from families that are not used to having to be concerned about their kids being able to get their education, now that they’re they’re home and they’re supposed to be attending, whether it’s college, graduate school, undergraduate school, high school, grade school, they’re finding they can’t get online. They can’t follow the teachers. They can’t do the classes.
Joe Biden: (39:52)
And so, I hope I’m not kidding myself. I think we’re going to be able to see some genuine, genuine recovery and creating as we deal with these issues. I think we could create 10 million good paying jobs just by dealing with infrastructure, the environment, and a whole range of things. It’s become clear to us that can be dealt with and employ people in a way that, in fact, is going to make us stronger, rather than weaker. But I’m keeping you a long time. I’m sorry. I’m taking advantage of you. Is there anything, any one of you would like to talk about before we close out, because I know kept you a long time.
Ned Lamont: (40:29)
I’d like to talk about the fact that we needed a congenital optimist in the white house. Mr. Vice President. We’ve learned a lot from this COVID, and we’ve got to start thinking about what we’ve learned that we could turn the corner on. You mentioned the digital divide, and the IT. Look, it’s all been telehealth and telecommuting.
Joe Biden: (40:49)
Ned Lamont: (40:50)
So Brown V Board of Education said if you can’t get access to the internet and can’t get access to online learning, you lose. We’ve got to expand that. I hope to God healthcare has learned what telehealth is, and we kind of build off of that. I hope we’ve learned a lot about nursing homes, Mr. Vice President, because that’s [crosstalk 00:41:10] going to recast in a big way. We need somebody who can think big in the White House.
Gretchen Whitmer: (41:15)
And I hope we’ve learned a lot about racial disparities and the agenda for America that really creates opportunity and equity. I hope that we have learned to embrace science and hey, let’s translate this into some good work to combat climate change. I mean, I’m hopeful that, in all of this grim reality, that we’re all doing our best to get through on behalf of our people, that we take with this some lessons learned that we can make a stronger United States, where there is opportunity, and that we are leaders on these fronts, because that’s where there is real potential for something positive to come out of this.
Phil Murphy: (42:01)
I would just echo and say, I endorse everything that Ned and Gretchen have just said. In particular, what it would be like to have you in the White House, Mr. Vice President. We need that optimism. We need a plan. We need to make decisions based on data and science. We need to close the inequities Gretchen talked about.
Phil Murphy: (42:22)
Every day, I speak to some loved ones of families who have lost someone to this. I just literally got off the phone just before you and Annie called me, Mr. Vice President with Mrs. Clegg, whose son, Michael, African-American Newark cop, died COVID-19. A healthy guy, 27 years on the service. Again, a proud African American community, a guy who was laying it out every day. We cannot afford, as a nation, to learn these lessons again. We’ve got to learn them now and take the steps we need to close those inequities. I could not agree more. And I’m incredibly honored to be on this conversation with each of you.
Joe Biden: (43:03)
Well, thanks. But look, folks, it was 85000 people who’ve died. They’re not a number. They left behind entire families and communities. And we all know from our own personal experiences that it’s awful hard to overcome the loss of a son, daughter, mother, father, husband, wife, mom, dad. I mean it takes a long time.
Joe Biden: (43:33)
The only thing I can tell those folks who have had those losses is that they’re going to stay with you. They’re in your heart. They’re not going to go away. They’re part of you. And the way I’ve focused on it is the way you can deal with it is have a purpose. And the purpose is changing the circumstances that created this circumstance in the first place.
Joe Biden: (43:55)
And I think there’s an awful lot of people who are willing to do that. To see all those kids out of medical school signing up, all those nurses are showing up. It’s amazing. It’s amazing. I drive you guys crazy over the last year about talking about we have to restore the soul of America. We’re seeing the soul of America. The soul of America is all those people who are just going out and literally, many of them risking and losing their lives to carry the rest of us on their back.
Joe Biden: (44:26)
Look, I know you all need to get back to governing. So let me close by thanking you again for your work and always being available if I pick up the phone and call and ask for your input, and you’ve been exemplary leaders in a time of crisis. For real. I’m not just saying it. I know I speak for all of us when I say, thank you, thank you for all of the frontline workers you’re backing up, for all the people that are keeping our community running during crisis and risking, as we’ve just pointed out, all of us, their personal health and safety in the process.
Joe Biden: (45:02)
They’re real American heroes. They real American heroes are the doctors, the nurses, healthcare workers, EMTs, firefighters, police. If I can, as they used to say in the Senate, a point of personal privilege, a family member who had a problem out on the West coast, found themselves in an emergency, and these EMT guys and firefighters showing up and being there to take care of her. She’s fine now.
Joe Biden: (45:32)
But the point is, they show up. They don’t ask, “By the way, where are you from? How much money do you have? What’s your color? What’s your religion? What’s your background?” They just don’t do it.
Joe Biden: (45:44)
And grocery store workers, clerks, meat packers, farm workers, delivery drivers, the mass transit workers. All those folks, all too often the lowest paid, least appreciated members of society. But in this crisis, they’re showing us what is essential. And it’s making it clear about who is invaluable in our nation.
Joe Biden: (46:06)
I think it’s time we reward these people and actually make this country work better again. I want to thank you all for taking the time, sharing your insights. I know you are really on the line every single minute. We’ve talked today about a lot of difficult issues, but I know that we’re going to get through this together, because seeing the American character, the very soul of this country on display every day, we know there’s not a single thing we can’t accomplish when we stand together as one nation, united in purpose, taking care of our neighbors, committed to getting the job done.
Joe Biden: (46:39)
That’s what we’ve seen. Seen us through every crisis of the past. I think it’s going to see us through again, in no small part because of your leadership. So, I wish you well. If my mom were here, she’d look at you all, and Phil, we always quote our mom. She’d say, “God bless you, dear.”
Joe Biden: (46:57)
God bless you for what you’re doing. I really mean it. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. We need you badly. You’re doing an incredible job. Thanks for taking the time.
Ned Lamont: (47:05)
See you in Connecticut, Mr. Vice President.
Joe Biden: (47:07)
All right. God willing.
Gretchen Whitmer: (47:08)
See you in Michigan!
Phil Murphy: (47:09)
[crosstalk 00:47:09] Mr. Vice President. Take care.
Joe Biden: (47:11)
You’ll see me more than you want me See me more than you want me once this is done. As you’ve all pointed out in the past, I’m usually the first one to show up and the last one to go home. I’m like the poor relative. But anyways, thank you all very, very much.
Gretchen Whitmer: (47:23)
Phil Murphy: (47:23)
Take care. Thank you so much.
Ned Lamont: (47:25)
God bless you. [crosstalk 00:47:25] guys.
Phil Murphy: (47:25)
Good to see you, Gretchen.
Gretchen Whitmer: (47:25)