Feb 17, 2021
Joe Biden Wisconsin CNN Town Hall Transcript February 16
President Joe Biden participated in a CNN town hall with Anderson Cooper in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on February 16, 2021. He talked about stimulus packages, COVID-19 vaccines & timelines, school reopening, student debt, and more. Read the full transcript here.
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Anderson Cooper: (00:02)
Welcome. We are live in the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. This is a CNN Presidential Town Hall, the first with President Joe Biden. I’m Anderson Cooper. President Biden is just four weeks into his presidency and facing multiple crises. Nearly 500,000 of our fellow citizens, Americans have died from COVID-19. Millions out of work right now and a nation dangerously divided. Tonight we’re going to be answering questions from the American people. The president will be answering questions from the American people on his first official trip since taking office. Some of the questioners here voted for him, some did not. The president and I will not be wearing masks on this stage. He of course has been vaccinated. Over the past several weeks I have repeatedly tested negative for coronavirus as recently as yesterday and this morning as well. We will however be keeping our distance from one another and the audience is very limited, socially distanced and all wearing masks when they’re seated. With that, I want to welcome the 46th President of the United States, President Joe Biden.
Joe Biden: (00:57)
Anderson Cooper: (00:57)
How are you sir?
Joe Biden: (00:59)
Good to see you man. Hi folks, how are you? Good to be back, man.
Anderson Cooper: (01:10)
It’s nice to see you, sir.
Joe Biden: (01:13)
You know you enjoy being home with the baby more. [inaudible 00:01:16]
Anderson Cooper: (01:16)
I do, yes. He’s nine and a half months, so I’m very happy.
Joe Biden: (01:20)
I get it. No, no. Everybody knows I like kids better than people.
Anderson Cooper: (01:22)
I saw a picture of you with your grandson recently.
Joe Biden: (01:24)
Anderson Cooper: (01:24)
Yeah. So we got a lot of questions in the audience. We have about 50 or so people here. They are all socially distanced. We have some folks who voted for you, some folks who did not, and we’re going to get as many questions in as possible.
Anderson Cooper: (01:36)
Before we get to that, I just want to start with a couple of just big picture questions about the pandemic and where we are right now.
Joe Biden: (01:41)
Anderson Cooper: (01:43)
New cases of COVID-19, hospitalizations have fallen by half in the last month, so have new cases. That’s the good news. There’s this potential threat, potential surge from the variants coming down the pike potentially. When is every American who wants it going to be able to get a vaccine?
Joe Biden: (02:01)
By the end of July this year. We have … We came into office, there was only 50 million doses that were available. We have now … By the end of July, we’ll have over 600 million doses, enough to vaccinate every single American.
Anderson Cooper: (02:23)
When you say by the end of July, do you mean that they will be available or that people will have been able to actually get them? Because Dr. Fauci –
Joe Biden: (02:34)
They’ll be available.
Anderson Cooper: (02:34)
They’ll be available.
Joe Biden: (02:35)
They’ll be available.
Anderson Cooper: (02:35)
Joe Biden: (02:35)
Here look. What we did, we got into office and found out the supply, there was no backlog. There was nothing in the refrigerator figuratively and literally speaking and there were 10 million doses a day that were available. We’ve upped that, in the first weeks that we were in office to significantly more than that. We’ve moved out, went to the Pfizer and Moderna, and said, “Can you produce more vaccine and more rapidly?” They not only agreed to go from 200 to 400, then they have agreed to go to 600 million doses. We got them to move up the time because we used the National Defense Act to be able to help the manufacturing piece of it to get more equipment and so on.
Anderson Cooper: (03:22)
So if the end of April … Excuse me, end of July, they’re available to actually get them in the arms of people who want them. That will take, what? A couple more months?
Joe Biden: (03:31)
Well no, a lot will be being vaccinated in the meantime.
Anderson Cooper: (03:35)
Joe Biden: (03:35)
In other words it’s not all of a sudden 600 million doses are going to appear, and what’s going to happen is it’s going to continue to increase as we move along and we’ll have reached 400 million by the end of May and 600 million by the end of July and the biggest thing though as you remember when you and I … I shouldn’t say it t hat way, as you remember, but when you and i talked last, we talked about … It’s one thing to have the vaccine which we didn’t have when we came into office, but a vaccinator … How do you get the vaccine into someone’s arm? So you need the paraphernalia, you need the needle, you need the mechanisms to be able to get it in, you have to have people who can inject it in people’s arms.
Anderson Cooper: (04:14)
That’s been one of the problems is just getting enough people.
Joe Biden: (04:16)
Yes. Now we have made significant strides increasing the number of vaccinators. I issued an executive order allowing former retired docs and nurses to do it. We have over 1,000 military personnel. The CDC is … I mean excuse me, the … We have gotten the National Guard engaged. So we have significant number of vaccinators, people who would actually be there, plus we have opened up a considerable number of locations where you can get the vaccination.
Anderson Cooper: (04:50)
I want to introduce you to Kevin Michel. He’s an independent from Wauwatosa. He’s a mechanical engineer for a vehicle company. Kevin, welcome. What’s your question?
Joe Biden: (04:57)
Hi. Welcome to Milwaukee.
Kevin Michel: (04:59)
Good. My questions is regarding education.
Joe Biden: (05:02)
Kevin Michel: (05:03)
Considering that hybrid and virtual school instruction have been in place for nearly a year now, what is the plan and recommendation to get students back into the brick and mortar buildings? As a parent of four children, I find it imperative that they get back to school as safely as possible.
Joe Biden: (05:17)
My mother would say, “God bless you son. No purgatory for you.” Four kids home, I really mean it. By the way, the loss of being able to be in school is having significant impact on the children and parents as well. What we found out is there are certain things that make it rational and easy to go back to the brick and mortar building. One, first of all, making sure everybody is wearing protective gear. It’s available to students as well as to teachers, the janitors, the people who work in the cafeteria, the bus drivers. Secondly, organizing in smaller pods, which means that’s why we need more teachers. Instead of a classroom of 30 kids in it, you have three classes and that same of 10 kids each in those. I’m making the number up, less … It doesn’t have to be literally 10.
Joe Biden: (06:08)
In addition to that, we also have indicated that it is much better, it’s much easier to send kids K-8 back because they are less likely to communicate the disease to somebody else, but because kids in … Sophomores, juniors and seniors in high school, they socialize a lot more and they’re older and they transmit more than young kids do, it’s harder to get those schools open without having everything from the ventilation systems and having …
Joe Biden: (06:42)
For example, school bus drivers. We got to make sure that you don’t have 60 kids or however many, it would depend on the size of the school bus, sitting two abreast in every single seat, and so there’s a lot of things we can do short of … I think that we should be vaccinating teachers. We should move them up in the hierarchy as well.
Anderson Cooper: (07:05)
Let me ask you, your administration had set a goal to open the majority of schools in your first 100 days. You’re now saying that means those schools may only be open for at least one day a week.
Joe Biden: (07:17)
No, that’s not true. That’s what was reported, that’s not true. That was a mistake in the communication, but what I’m talking about is I said opening the majority of schools in K through eighth grade because they’re the easiest to open, the most needed to be opened in terms of the impact on children and families having to stay home.
Anderson Cooper: (07:39)
So when do you think that would be K-8, at least five days a week if possible?
Joe Biden: (07:42)
I think we’ll be close to that at the end of the first 100 days. We’ve had a significant percentage of them being able to be opened. My guess is they’re going to probably be pushing to open all for … All summer, to continue like it’s a different semester –
Anderson Cooper: (07:59)
Do you think that would be five days a week or just a couple?
Joe Biden: (08:01)
I think many of them five days a week. The goal will be five days a week. Now it’s going to be harder to open up the high schools for the reasons I said. Just like, if you notice, the contagion factor in colleges is much higher than it is in high schools or grade schools.
Anderson Cooper: (08:19)
I want you to meet … This is Justin Belot, he’s a high school teacher from Milwaukee who is a Democrat. Justin, thanks for being with us. What’s your question?
Joe Biden: (08:28)
What do you teach?
Justin Belot: (08:29)
I teach English. High school English.
Joe Biden: (08:31)
My wife teaches. God love you.
Justin Belot: (08:32)
Wonderful. Thank you Mr. President. So along the same lines of schools, so this great debate on when to transition to in-person learning. While there are numerous warnings not to be in large groups or to have dinner parties or small parties, why is it okay to put students and teachers in close proximity to each other for an entire day, day after day? With large class sizes and outdated ventilation systems, how and when do you propose this to occur? Finally, do you believe all staff should be vaccinated before doing so?
Joe Biden: (09:00)
Number one, nobody is suggesting, including the CDC in this recent report that you have large classes, congested classes. It’s smaller classes, more ventilation, making sure that everybody has masks and is socially distanced, meaning you have les … Fewer students in one room. Making sure that everyone from the sanitation workers who work in the lavatories, in the bathrooms and do all the maintenance, that they are in fact able to be protected as well. Making sure you’re in a situation where you don’t have the congregation of a lot of people, and as I said, including the school bus, including getting on a school bus. So it’s about needing to be able to socially distance, smaller classes, more protection, and I think that teachers and the folks who work in the school, the cafeteria workers and others, should be on the list of preferred to get a vaccination.
Anderson Cooper: (10:00)
I want to introduce you to Kerri Engebrecht, an independent from Oak Creek. Kerri, welcome. Go ahead.
Kerri Engebrecht: (10:06)
Joe Biden: (10:06)
Kerri, how are you?
Kerri Engebrecht: (10:07)
Very good, thank you. Our 19-year-old son was diagnosed with pediatric COPD at the age of 14. We’re told he has the lungs of a 60 year old. He does all he can to protect himself. Last month he even removed himself from the campus of UW-Madison as he feels it’s safer and he has less exposure here at home. We’ve tried all we can to get him a vaccine. I hear of others who are less vulnerable getting it based on far less. Do you have a plan to vaccinate those who are most vulnerable sooner to give them a priority?
Joe Biden: (10:41)
Well the answer is yes there are but here’s how it works. The states make the decisions on who is … In what order. I can make recommendations, and for federal programs, I can do that as President of the United States, but I can’t tell the state you must move such and such a group of people up, but here’s what I’d like to do. If you’re willing, I’ll stay around after this is over, and maybe we can talk a few minutes and see if I can get you some help.
Anderson Cooper: (11:16)
Let me just ask you though, Johnson & Johnson could be authorized, a new vaccine from them could be authorized in a couple weeks. That would be a big deal.
Joe Biden: (11:25)
Yes it would.
Anderson Cooper: (11:25)
Bringing a lot more vaccines on, millions of more doses to the supply. Once that happens, given the urgency of these variants and the potential threat from them, should states stop giving priority to certain groups and just open vaccine access for everyone?
Joe Biden: (11:39)
Well it depends on how much they have available. I think there still should be priority groups in case there are not enough for everyone, available to everybody. And look, we don’t know for certain. Let me tell you what my national COVID team has said, that the variants … By variants you mean the Brazilian strain, the South African strain –
Anderson Cooper: (12:01)
Joe Biden: (12:01)
The British strain and London and et cetera. There’s thus far, thus far, there is no evidence that the existing vaccinations available from Moderna and Pfizer do not either make sure that they apply … They work as well against the strain in the United States, and there is no evidence that they’re not helpful. So if you can get a vaccination, get it whenever you can get it, regardless of the other strains that are out there. There are studies going on to determine it is not only more communicable but are there vaccine … Do the vaccines not provide helpful protection by getting the vaccine? There are some speculation, I got to be very careful here because millions of people are watching this. It may be that a certain vaccination for a certain strain may reduce from 95% to a lower percentage of certainty that it will keep you from getting –
Anderson Cooper: (13:08)
It may not be as effective as –
Joe Biden: (13:10)
It may not be as effective.
Anderson Cooper: (13:11)
Against a variant, but it still would be effective.
Joe Biden: (13:13)
Still be effective. So the clear notion is, if you’re eligible, if it’s available, get the vaccine. Get the vaccine.
Anderson Cooper: (13:24)
I want you to meet, this is Dessie Levy, a Democrat from Milwaukee. She’s a registered nurse, former academic dean. She’s also currently director of a faith-based nonprofit. Dessie, welcome.
Joe Biden: (13:34)
By the way, you’ve heard me say this before Becky. If there’s any angels in heaven, they’re all nurses, male and female. Doctors let you live, nurses make you want to live. I can tell you as a consumer of healthcare and my family. You’re wonderful. Thank you for what you do.
Dessie Levy: (13:49)
God bless you. Mr. President, hello. My name is Dr. Dessie Levy and my question to you is considering COVID-19 and its significant impact on black Americans, especially here in Milwaukee, and thus the exacerbation of our racial disparities in healthcare, we have seen less than three percent of blacks and less than five percent of Hispanics given the total number of vaccines that have been administered to this point. Is this a priority for the Biden administration and how will the disparities be addressed and that’s both locally and nationally.
Joe Biden: (14:32)
Well first of all it is a priority, number one. Number two, there’s two reasons for it being the way it is. Number one, there is some history of blacks being used as guinea pigs in other experiments, I need not tell you, doctor, over the last 50 to 75 to 100 years in America so there is a concern about getting the vaccine, whether it’s available or not, but the biggest part of it is access, physical access. That’s why last week I opened up … I met with the Black Caucus in the United States Congress and agreed that I would … All of the community health centers now which take care of the toughest of the toughest neighborhoods in terms of illness, they are going to get a million doses a week and how we’re going to move forward, because they’re in the neighborhood. Secondly, we have opened up and I’m making sure that there’s doses of vaccine for over 6,700 pharmacies because almost everyone lives within not always walking distance but within the distance of being able to go to the pharmacy like when you got your flu shot. That is also now being opened.
Joe Biden: (15:51)
Thirdly, I also am providing for mobile vans, mobile units to go into neighborhoods that are hard to get to because people are on … For example, even though everyone is within basically five miles of a Walgreens let’s say, the fact is if you’re 70 years old, you don’t have a vehicle and you live in a tough neighborhood meaning it’s a high concentration of COVID, you’re not likely to be able to walk five miles to go get a vaccine. The other thing we found is, and I’m sorry to go on, but this is really important to me. The other portion is a lot of people don’t know how to register. Not everybody in the community, in the Hispanic and the African-American community, particularly in rural areas that are distant and/or inner city districts, know how to use … Know how to get online to determine how to get in line for that COVID vaccination at the Walgreens or at the particular store. So we’re also … I’ve committed to spend a billion dollars on public education to help people figure out how they can get in there. That’s why we’re also trying to set up mass vaccination centers like places in stadiums and the like.
Anderson Cooper: (17:15)
Are you concerned about the rollout of this online? Because it has been incredibly confusing for a lot of people, not just –
Joe Biden: (17:23)
Anderson Cooper: (17:24)
Older people, it’s young people just trying to find a place to get a vaccine.
Joe Biden: (17:28)
Yes, and I have because look what we inherited. We inherited a circumstance here where … And now for the first … We did a lot in the first two weeks, a circumstances where number one, there weren’t many vaccinators. You didn’t know where you could go get a vaccine administered to you because there was no one to put it in your arm, number one. Number two, there was very little federal guidance as to say what to look for, how to find out where in fact you could go. You can go online and every single state now has a –
Joe Biden: (18:03)
… And go online, and every single state now has a slightly different mechanism by which they say who’s qualified, where you can get the vaccines and so on. So it’s all about trying to more rationalize in detail so ordinary people like me can understand, I mean that sincerely. I mean, my grandchildren can use that online make me look like I’m in the seventh century. But all kidding aside, it is a process and it’s going to take time. Think of what we didn’t do, and you and I talked about this during the campaign, we didn’t do from the time it hit the United States. You’re going to inject someone and your arm is going to go away, you’ll all be down by Easter. We wasted so much time, so much time.
Anderson Cooper: (18:55)
Another question about vaccines. This is Jessica Salas, she’s an independent from Milwaukee, a graphic designer. Jessica, welcome.
Jessica Salas: (19:02)
Thank you. As we’ve been talking about the coronavirus is very real and very scary, and it’s especially scary for children who may or may not understand. My children, Layla, eight here and my son Mateo seven at home often ask if they will catch COVID and if they do will they die? They are watching as others get the vaccine and they would like to know when will kids be able to get the vaccine?
Joe Biden: (19:26)
Well, first of all honey, what was your first name?
Joe Biden: (19:29)
Layla, a beautiful name. First of all, kids don’t get COVID very often, it’s unusual for that to happen. The evidence so far is children aren’t the people most likely to get COVID, number one. Number two, we haven’t even done tests yet on children as to whether or not the certain vaccines would work or not work or what is needed. So you’re the safest group of people in the whole world, number one.
Joe Biden: (20:01)
Number two, you’re not likely to be able to be exposed to something and spread it to mommy or daddy and it’s not likely mommy and daddy are able to spread it to you either. So, I wouldn’t worry about a baby, I promise you, but I know it’s worrisome. Are you in first grade? Second grade?
Joe Biden: (20:23)
Oh, you’re getting old. Second grade. Well, have you been in school, honey?
Joe Biden: (20:31)
Jessica Salas: (20:31)
Joe Biden: (20:31)
See that’s a scary thing too. You don’t get to go to school, you don’t get to see your friends, and so what a lot of kids and, I mean, and big people too, older people, their whole lives have sort of changed like when it used to be. It used to be this go outside and play with your friends and get in the school bus and go to school and everything was normal, and now when things change people get really worried and scared. But don’t be scared, honey, don’t be scared, you’re going to be fine and we’re going to make sure mommy is fine too.
Anderson Cooper: (21:12)
Let me ask you just for folks who are watching out there, there are a lot of people who are scared, there’s a lot of people-
Joe Biden: (21:16)
Anderson Cooper: (21:16)
… Who are hurting. When do you think this pandemic is… I mean, when is it going to be done? When are we going to get back to normal?
Joe Biden: (21:26)
Well, all the experts, all the committee that I put together with the leading researchers in the world and the United States are on this committee of mine, are headed of by Dr. Fauci and others. They tell me, “Be careful not to predict things that you don’t know for certain what’s going to happen because then you’ll be held accountable.” I get that. But let me tell you what I think based on all that I’ve learned and all that I’ve studied and all that I think that I know, it’s a high probability that the vaccinations that are available today and the new one, Johnson & Johnson God willing will prove to be useful, that with those vaccinations the ability to continue to spread the disease is going to diminish considerably because of what they call herd immunity. And now they’re saying somewhere around 70% of the people have to constitute, some people said 50, see. But a significant number have to be in a position where they have been vaccinated and/or they’ve been through it and-
Anderson Cooper: (22:44)
Joe Biden: (22:45)
And have antibodies and have antibodies. And so if that works that way, as my mother would say with the grace of God and the goodwill of the neighbors, that by next Christmas I think we’ll be in a very different circumstance, God willing, than we are today. I think a year from now when it’s 22 below zero here, no, a year from now I think that there’d be significantly fewer people having to be socially distanced, have to wear a mask, they said, but we don’t know. So I don’t want to over promise anything here.
Joe Biden: (23:25)
I told you when I ran and when I got elected, I will always level with you. I use Franklin Roosevelt’s example, I’ll shoot and give you straight from the shoulder, straight from the shoulder what I know and what I don’t know. We don’t know for certain but it is highly unlikely that by the beginning of next year’s traditional school year in September we are not significantly better off than we are today. But it matters, it matters whether you continue to wear that mask, it matters whether you continue to socially distance, it matters whether you wash your hands with hot water, those things matter, they matter and that can save a lot of lives while we’re getting to this point, we get to herd immunity.
Anderson Cooper: (24:14)
You’ve made passing the COVID relief bill the focus of your first 100 days. Those in the right say the proposal is too big, some of the left say it’s not big enough. Are you committed to passing $ 1.9 trillion bill or is that final number still left for negotiation?
Joe Biden: (24:34)
I’m committed to pass. Look, some of you are probably economists there, college professors or teachers in school. This is the first time in my career, and as you can tell I’m over 30. The first time in my career that there is a consensus among economists left, right, and center and including the IMF and in Europe that the overwhelming consensus is, in order to grow the economy a year, two, three, and four down the line, we can’t spend too much. Now is the time we should be spending, now is the time to go big.
Joe Biden: (25:17)
You may recall I managed the last experiment we had with the stimulus and it was 800, no, I don’t mean it that way, but it was $800 billion. We thought we needed more than that and we think we did. It ended up working but it slowed things up by about… And it depended on who you talk to, between six months and a year and a half. We can come back, we can come roaring back. It’s estimated by most economists including Wall Street firms as well as think tanks, political think tanks left right and center, it is estimated that if we pass this bill alone will create seven million jobs this year, seven million jobs this year.
Joe Biden: (26:11)
And so the thing we haven’t talked about I’m not going to go on because I want to hear your question, I apologize, we haven’t talked about… I remember you and I talking during the campaign and you had the former guy saying that, well, we just can open things up and that’s all we need to do. And we said, “No, you got to deal with the disease before you deal with getting the economy going.” Well, the fact is that the economy now has to be dealt with and what is it? Look at all the people, you have over 10 million people unemployed. We need unemployment insurance, we need to make sure that you have for 40% of the children in America… I talk about food shortage, 60% of it.
Joe Biden: (26:57)
Did you ever think you’d see a day in Milwaukee, you’d see in the last six months people lining up in their automobiles for an hour for as far as you could see to get a bag of food? I mean, this is the United States of America for God’s sake. We can’t deal with that? We promised to look at all the people who were on the verge of being kicked out of their apartments because they can not afford their rent. What happens when that happens? Everything. Look at all the mom and pop, the landlords that are in real trouble if we don’t subsidize this in the meantime.
Joe Biden: (27:31)
Look at all the people who are on the verge of missing and how many people have missed their last two mortgage payments and are able to be foreclosed. And that’s why I took executive action to say they can not be foreclosed down in the meantime, because look at what the impact on the economy would be. You think it’s bad now, let all that happen. Look at all the people who have lost their insurance, how many… I’m not asking for show of hands, how many of you had jobs with corporations or companies that provided healthcare? The COBRA healthcare? Well, guess what? The company goes under and guess what? You lose your health insurance. Well, we should be making sure you’re able to pay for that so that we keep people moving. So I think bigger and the vast majority of the serious people say bigger is better now not spending less.
Anderson Cooper: (28:19)
This is Randy Lange, an independent who supported Donald Trump in 2020. Randy is the co-owner of a woodworking company here in Milwaukee. Randy, welcome.
Randy Lange: (28:29)
You’re proposing a $15 minimum wage. Given the lower cost of living in specifically in the Midwest many business owners are concerned that this will put them out of business, forcing them to downsize or cut benefits. How can you instill confidence in small businesses that this will benefit the Midwest business growth?
Joe Biden: (28:47)
Well, first of all, the South is not much different than the Midwest in that regard as well. But here’s the thing, if you look back over the last 40 years as minimum wages increased the end result of net employment hasn’t changed. The vast majority of the economists, and there’s studies that show that by increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour it could have an impact on a number of businesses but it would be de minimis, et cetera.
Joe Biden: (29:15)
Here’s the deal, it’s about doing it gradually where it’s $7.25 an hour. No one should work 40 hours a week and live in poverty, no one should work 40 hours and live in poverty. But it’s totally legitimate for small business owners to be concerned about how that changes. For example, if we gradually increased it, when we indexed it at seven 20, if we kept it indexed by 20 to inflation people would be making 20 bucks an hour right now, that’s what it would be.
Anderson Cooper: (29:50)
The congressional budget office says that a $15 minimum wage would lift 900,000 people out of poverty but would also cause 1.4 million people, their jobs is that right?
Joe Biden: (30:00)
Yes, but there’s also if you read that whole thing about Pinocchio’s and all the rest, there are also equal numbers studies saying that wouldn’t have that effect, and particularly as you do it in terms of how gradually you do it. So let’s say, you said you’re going to increase the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour between now and the year 2025 to two $12 an hour, to $13 an hour. You double someone’s pay and the impact on business would be absolute diminish and/or grow the GDP and it will grow and would generate economic growth.
Joe Biden: (30:35)
But it’s not a legitimate as a small business person to worry about whether or not increasing it at one felled swoop would have that impact. I do support a $15 minimum wage, I think there is equally as much if not more evidence to dictate that it would grow the economy and long run and medium run benefited small businesses as well as large businesses and it would not have such a dilatory effect, but that’s a debatable issue.
Anderson Cooper: (31:02)
I want you to meet another small business owner. This is Tim Eichinger, a Democrat from Milwaukee, Co-owner of Black Husky Brewing. Tim, welcome.
Tim Eichinger: (31:11)
Thank you. My partner and I own a small brewery in the River West neighborhood of Milwaukee and we have nine amazing employees. We rely primarily on selling our beer out of our tap room, and with the pandemic our business has gone down about 50%. Now, we’ve relied primarily on loans, grants, as well as our own reserves to survive. However, the new assistance has been too slow and recently it’s gotten more restrictive on how we can apply it. What will you do so that small mom and pop businesses like ours will survive over large corporate entities?
Joe Biden: (31:48)
Change it drastically, first of all by making sure we have inspectors general. You may remember when the first bill passed, you may remember there was a guy running saying, “What’s going to happen is the banks aren’t going to lend you the money. They’re going to ask you a question, ‘Do you have your credit with us? How many loans do you have with us? What credit cards you have with us?'” Because even though they were being underwritten and we build their rear ends out last time out it was too much trouble to lend to you.
Joe Biden: (32:17)
What did the president do? And I don’t want to pick on the fashion, I’m tired of talking about Donald Trump, I don’t want to talk about him anymore. But the last administration spent time, a lot of time talking about how there was no need for inspector generals. We found out that 40% of the money, the PPP loans to go to small businesses went to corporations that were multimillion dollar corporations. You’re going to see an investigation showing that a lot of this was fraudulent where it went.
Joe Biden: (32:52)
So what I’m doing is I provide $60 billion for you to be able to make capital investments in order to be able to open safely and make sure you’re in a position that you can do the things that are recommended. You’ve noticed there’s been very little federal directions for you all as to how to safely open your businesses. Yet you know if you’re able to test your employees, if you’re able to be in a situation, if you serve people, you have plexiglass dividers, the whole range. If you’re able to have everybody with a mask and the like, you can do so much to save but you don’t get that direction.
Joe Biden: (33:33)
So the money I guarantee you is going to go to small businesses with people and I’m shooting, and by the way the original definition of the small business is 500 or fewer employees. Well, that’s not what I mean by small businesses. What we meant by small businesses, the mom and pop business is the whole communities together and keep people together, and particularly in neighborhoods where if you don’t have a beauty shop, a barber shop, a hardware store, a grocery store, et cetera, the center of the community begins to disintegrate some. What I like to do is if you are willing to give me an address, to lay out for you precisely without taking more time, I’m going to get into trouble I’m supposed to only talk two minutes in an answer, is to let you know exactly how that $60 billion in part of the recovery package will go to small businesses.
Anderson Cooper: (34:27)
All right. We’re going to take a quick break. When we get back we’ll have more questions for the president of the United States, Joe Biden. We’ll be right back. And welcome back. We’re live at a CNN Town Hall event at the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with President Joe Biden. We are back, thanks so much for being here. Before we get back into the audience I wanted to ask just a question about what we just witnessed. Before the Senate voted to acquit the former president in the impeachment trial you said you were anxious to see if Republican senators would stand up, only seven did. House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi called the rest cowards. Do you agree with her?
Joe Biden: (35:03)
I’m not going to call names out. Look, for four years all that’s been in the news is Trump. In the next four years I want to make sure all the news is the American people, I’m tired for an option. It’s time.
Anderson Cooper: (35:25)
Senator Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell, said that the former president is “Still liable for everything he did while he was in office.” If your Department of Justice wanted to investigate him, would you allow them to proceed?
Joe Biden: (35:36)
I made it clear, one of the most serious pieces of damage done by the last administration was the politicizing of the Justice Department. And if you who are lawyers know, whether you’re a Democrat, Republican, conservative, or liberal, it has been more politicized than any Justice Department in American history. I made a commitment, I will not ever tell my Justice Department, and it’s not my…
Joe Biden: (36:03)
… Ever tell my justice department, and it’s not mine, it’s the people’s justice department, who they should and should not prosecute. Their prosecutorial decision to be left to the justice department. Not me.
Anderson Cooper: (36:15)
I’d want you to meet Joel Berkowitz from Shorewood. He’s a Democrat, a professor of foreign languages and literature at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Joel, thanks for being here.
Joel Berkowitz: (36:23)
Thank you, Anderson. Good evening, Mr. President.
Joe Biden: (36:25)
I’m not bad at the literature part, but after five years of French, I still can’t speak a word, so I apologize.
Joel Berkowitz: (36:29)
I’ll teach you some Yiddish sometime, how’s that?
Joe Biden: (36:31)
Hey, by the way, I understand a little bit of Yiddish.
Joel Berkowitz: (36:35)
I’m sure you do.
Anderson Cooper: (36:36)
It would be a shonda if he didn’t, but.
Joel Berkowitz: (36:39)
More seriously, Mr. President, like millions of my fellow citizens, I was shaken by the attack on the Capitol on January 6th, and on our democracy more broadly, by your predecessor and his followers. While I appreciate efforts being made to bring them to justice, I worry about ongoing threats to our country from Americans who embrace white supremacy and conspiracies that align with it. What can your administration do to address this complex and wide-ranging problem?
Joe Biden: (37:06)
It’s complex, it’s wide-ranging and it’s real. I got involved in politics to begin with because of civil rights and opposition to white supremacist, the Klu Klux Klan, and the most dangerous people in America continue to exist. That is the greatest threat to terror in America, domestic terror. And so I would make sure that my justice department and the civil rights division is focused heavily on those very folks. And I would make sure that we, in fact, focus on how to deal with the rise of white supremacy.
Joe Biden: (37:43)
And you see what’s happening in the studies that are beginning to be done, maybe at your university as well, about the impact of former military, former police officers on the growth of white supremacy in some of these groups. You may remember in one of my debates with the former president, I asked him to condemn the Proud Boys. He wouldn’t do it. He said, “Stand by, stand ready.” Or whatever the phrase exactly was. It is a bane on our existence. It has always been. As Lincoln said, “We have to appeal to our better angels.” And these guys are not, and women, are in fact demented. They are dangerous people.
Anderson Cooper: (38:26)
I want you to meet James Lewis, an Independent from Milwaukee. He’s a labor attorney. James, welcome.
Joe Biden: (38:30)
James, if I say anything you don’t like, let me know right away, will you?
James Lewis: (38:33)
All right. You’re all right.
Joe Biden: (38:34)
You’re as big as a mountain.
James Lewis: (38:35)
Good evening, President Biden. I was a public defender in Kenosha County when the police shot Jacob Blake. I witnessed the city I worked in burned and devastated. And recently, District Attorney Michael Graveley denied to prosecute the police officers responsible. So my question to you is, what will your administration do to correct these wrongs that we witnessed, not just in Kenosha, but across this country? And what will we do to bridge the gap between communities and their police?
Joe Biden: (39:08)
Three things. First of all, I was a public defender as well. And I think it’s high time that we had public defenders being paid the same as prosecutors. My son, by the way, was a great prosecutor. He was the Attorney General of the State of Delaware, and he was a federal prosecutor before that. And so I’m not condemning all prosecutors, but I am saying that it matters that you have adequate defense and you are able to attract people who, in fact, can live on being able to be that public defender. Number one.
Joe Biden: (39:43)
Number two, we are pushing very hard, and I think we’ll get it done, is the legislation relating to what is appropriate police behavior, and studying police behavior, and coming down with recommendations that are consistent with the legislation that was put in place as a consequence of all the world seeing one man shoved up against the curb and murdered after eight minutes and 46 seconds. And so there’s a number of things relating to everything from no-knock warrants and a whole range of things you know. There’s legislation that’s being introduced, separately. I hope it will pass.
Joe Biden: (40:27)
But thirdly, I think we have to deal with systemic racism that exists throughout society. And one of the things I’m going to recommend there, is that we look at an entire panoply of things that affect whether or not people of color, primarily, are treated differently. And that goes for everything from prosecutorial discretion. You know as a public defender, and well, by that I mean, what happens is … It will take too long to go through the whole explanation, but let me try to do it quickly.
Joe Biden: (40:59)
What happens now is, if you in fact are and going to … you arrest someone because they had … and you want to charge them. You can charge them with robbery or armed robbery. You charge them with armed robbery, you get a lot more time than if you don’t charge with robbery. But if you want to make sure that someone who doesn’t know much about their representation is able to … you engage in prosecutorial misconduct by offering them to plead to essentially … It’s not the same. Burglary, which gets them two years and probation. And so you don’t even get a trial. You plead because you don’t have [inaudible 00:41:42] representation. You feel like everything’s again you, and you’re in trouble.
Joe Biden: (41:47)
When I did the sentencing act that was designed to keep, make sure we had the same time for the same crime. As chairman of the Judiciary Committee, I’d looked at all 10 federal districts, and we took six months to do it, and found out if you’re black and you were your first time offense of being accused of burglary, and maybe you committed it, and you were white, and you did the same exact crime, in all 10 districts throughout the United States of America, the person … and don’t hold me to the exact numbers, but the percentages is right. If you’re a first-time white guy, you’d get two years. You get seven years if you’re black.
Joe Biden: (42:27)
So, in order to make sure that you could not send people to jail for the same crime, I came up with this sentencing commission, which said that everybody who commits the crime has to receive between instead of zero to 20 years, you drastically cut down the number of years you could go to jail, but say you have to, if you’re, it’s a one first-time offense, you have to get sentenced between one and a half and three years. Okay?
Joe Biden: (42:55)
But what happens is prosecutors use that as a mechanism to send people to jail, and it makes it look like they were dealing with mandatory sentencing, which it wasn’t designed to do at all. It’s designed to make sure that people were treated fairly. There’s much more, I’m sorry to go on. There’s much more to talk about, but-
Anderson Cooper: (43:13)
We actually have a related question over here. This is Dannie Evans, a pastor in Janesville who works as a supervisor for the Juvenile Justice Diversion Program in Rock County. He’s an Independent, voted for Donald Trump in 2020. He’s also a member of the state’s 32 member Racial Disparity Task Force created in the wake of the Jacob Blake shooting last summer. Dannie, welcome.
Dannie Evans: (43:32)
Good afternoon, Mr. President. Defund the police is discussed as an option for reforming policing. However, there are communities where people live in fear, not of the police, but in fear of the violent gangs who commit crimes in those neighborhoods. How can we be sure that we don’t over-legislate police officers so that they can’t do their job to protect the law-abiding citizens who live in these high-crime neighborhoods, and yet train officers to police with compassion?
Joe Biden: (44:04)
By number one, not defunding the police. We have to put more money in police work, so we have legitimate community policing and we’re in a situation where we changed the legislation. No one should go to jail for a drug offense. No one should go to jail for the use of a drug. They should go to drug rehabilitation. Drug rehabilitation, number one. We should be in a position where we change the system of sentencing system to one that relates to a notion of … think they’re telling you that … is related to making sure that what you do is you focus on making sure that there’s rehabilitation. The idea that we don’t have people in prison systems learning how to be spending the money, learning how to be mechanics, learning how to be cooks, learning how to have a profession when you get out. The idea that we deny someone who served their time access to Pell grants, access to housing, access to … Right now, as you well know, most places you get out of prison, you get 25 bucks and a bus ticket. You end up back under the bridge exactly where you were before.
Joe Biden: (45:18)
And the fact is that the concern in many minority communities is black on black, Hispanic on Hispanic, not just … but here’s the deal. There has to be much more serious … How can I say it? Much more serious determination as to what the background and the attitudes of the recruit is, what their views are. There should be much more psychological testing, like you would if you go into the intelligence community. What is it? What are the things that make you respond the way you do? Because there is inherent prejudice built into the system as well.
Joe Biden: (45:57)
And we also need to provide for, and it’s happening, more African-American and more Hispanic police officers. Now, by the way, they don’t get it all right either by a long shot. But every cop, when they get up in the morning and put on that shield has a right to expect to be able to go home to their family that night. Conversely, every kid walking across the street wearing a hoodie is not a member of a gang and is about to knock somebody off. So, it’s about education. I’d love to talk to you more about it because it is the answer in my view, that and education. Actually, access to education.
Joe Biden: (46:36)
And one of the things that I talk a lot about, and I’m sorry to go on about this, but it’s important, I don’t think we can look at our opportunity, and let’s stick with the African-American community for a minute. In terms of the criminal justice system, that is only one small piece of why people are the way they are. You realize, I don’t know what home you live in, but if you go ahead and you want to get insurance and you’re in a black neighborhood, you’re going to pay more for the same insurance I’m going to pay for the exact same home. Your car, you never had an accident in your car. You live in a black neighborhood, you’re going to pay a higher premium in your car.
Joe Biden: (47:12)
You’re going to … so there’s so many things that are built in institutionally that disadvantaged African-Americans and Latinos that, in fact, I think, and one of the great advantages … I’m sorry to go on, but one of the great advantages, as bad as things are, I keep reading from presidential historians how I’ve inherited the worst situation since Lincoln, worse than Roosevelt because economic crisis, political crisis, racial crisis, et cetera. But the fact is that everyone’s gotten a close-up look now and seeing what’s happened. That kid, that kid holding that camera for eight minutes and 46 seconds awakened the whole world. When I met with his little daughter after he was dead, she said, “My daddy changed the world.” Guess what? Not only here in the United States, around the world, people said, “Whoa, I didn’t know that happened.”
Joe Biden: (48:06)
Dr. King, when my generation, when I got involved in the civil rights movement as a high school student in the early sixties, and you had Bull Connor and his dogs in the late fifties, singing on those ladies going in their black dresses, going to church, and little kids, and fire hoses ripping their skin off. He said, “What happened there was it was a second emancipation.” Because people in places where there weren’t black communities said, “That really happens? I didn’t believe it.” They saw it happen. And so it generated the Voting Rights Act. It generated Civil Rights Act and he called the Second Emancipation.
Joe Biden: (48:46)
We have a chance now, a chance now to make significant change in racial disparities. And I’m going to say something’s going to get me in trouble, which couldn’t go through a whole show without doing that. And that is that, think about it. If you want to know where the American public is, look at the money being spent in advertising. Did you ever, five years ago, think every second or third ad out of five or six you’d turn on would be biracial couples? No, no, I’m not being facetious. The reason I’m so hopeful is this new generation. They’re not like us. They’re thinking differently. They’re more open. And we’ve got to take advantage of it.
Anderson Cooper: (49:28)
I want you to-
Joe Biden: (49:28)
Anderson Cooper: (49:32)
I want you to meet LuVerda Martin, a Democrat from Mequon.
LuVerda Martin: (49:36)
Anderson Cooper: (49:36)
Mequon, sorry. LuVerda is a certified nurse midwife, but welcome.
LuVerda Martin: (49:43)
Good evening, Mr. President.
Joe Biden: (49:44)
LuVerda Martin: (49:45)
Our nation’s experiences with and through COVID-19 and other recent tragedies have strengthened the foundation of division among Americans. What are your immediate and tangible plans to address how deeply divided we are as a nation?
Joe Biden: (50:00)
I take issue with what everybody says about the division. For example, my plan on COVID. 69% of the American people support it. 69. In this state, a recent poll, 60%. 60%. 45% of Trump voters and 55% of Republican voters. The nation is not divided. You go out there and take a look and talk to people. You have fringes on both ends, but it’s not nearly as divided as we make it out to be. And we have to bring it together. You may remember the trouble I get in. I said there were three reasons I was running. One to restore the soul of the country, decency, honor, integrity. Talk about the things that mattered to people, treat people with dignity. Secondly, I said to rebuilt the backbone of the country, the middle-class and this time bring everybody along and have a chance. And the third reason was to unite the country.
Joe Biden: (50:58)
On my own primary, I got, “Unite the country? What are you talking about?” You cannot function in our system without consensus, other than abusing power at the executive level. So, I really think there’s so many things that we agree on that we don’t focus enough on. And that’s in large part, I think because we don’t just condemn the things that are so obviously wrong, obviously wrong, that everybody agrees on. The way they were raised. The way we were raised. As my mother would say, if half the things that occurred in the last campaign came out of my mouth, then she’d say as a kid, we’d wash my mouth out with soap. I mean, we have to be more decent and treat people with respect. And just decency.
Anderson Cooper: (51:53)
Let me ask about a question which does often divide many people in this country, immigration.
Joe Biden: (51:59)
Anderson Cooper: (51:59)
Your administration, along with congressional Democrats expected to unveil an immigration reform bill just this week. You want a pathway to citizenship for the roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants. Would you sign any immigration bill if it did not include that, a pathway for the roughly 11 million undocumented?
Joe Biden: (52:16)
Yeah, there’s a whole range of things that relate to immigration, including the whole idea, how you deal with … what confuses people is you talk about refugees. You talk about undocumented. You talk about people who are seeking asylum, and you talk about people who are coming from camps or being held around the world. And there are four different criteria for being able to come to the United States. The vast majority of the people, the 11 million undocumented, they’re not Hispanics. There are people who came on a Visa, who was able to buy a ticket to get in a plane and didn’t go home. They didn’t come across the Rio Grande, swimming. Excuse me. Sorry.
Joe Biden: (53:10)
Sorry. It’s the Irish in me. But all kidding aside. So, there are a lot of things that relate, but I think that we can no long … look you’ve heard, even if you’re not involved in politics at all, you’ve probably heard me say this a thousand times and matter fact, everyone is entitled to be treated with decency, with dignity. Everyone is entitled to that. And we don’t do that now for the first time in American history. If you’re seeking asylum, meaning you’re being persecuted, you’re seeking asylum, you can’t do it from the United States. You used to come, have an asylum officer determine whether or not you met the criteria, and send you back if you, in fact, but you can’t even do that. You got to seek asylum from abroad.
Anderson Cooper: (54:01)
But just to be clear though, and I know you’re going to be-
Joe Biden: (54:03)
… from abroad.
Anderson Cooper: (54:03)
But just to be clear though, I know you’re going to be announcing stuff later this week, or that’s what I’ve heard. You do want a pathway to citizenship-
Joe Biden: (54:09)
Anderson Cooper: (54:10)
… for roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants, and that would be essential in any bill for you.
Joe Biden: (54:15)
Well, yes. But by the way, if you came along and said to me, in the meantime, “We can work out a system whereby we’re going to… For example, we used to allow refugees, 125,000 refugees, into the United States in a yearly basis. It was as high as 250,000. Trump cut it to 5,000. Come with me into Sierra Leone, come with me into parts of Lebanon, come with me around the world and see people piled up in camps, kids dying, no way out, refugees fleeing from persecution. We, the United States used to do our part. We were part of that. That’s, send me your huddled masses. Come on.
Joe Biden: (55:05)
And so I would, if you had a refugee bill by itself, I’m not suggesting that, but there’s things that I would deal by itself, but not at the expense of saying I’m never going to do the other. There is a reasonable path to citizenship and it shows up… One of the reasons why we have been able to compete with the rest of the world so well is most of our major competitors are xenophobic. I remember you questioned me when I came back from China and I said, “I predict within less than a year, they’re going to end their One-China policy.” And I got clobbered by saying… Because they said, “Biden didn’t talk about the fact that how immoral it was.” And it was when we were running against the Republican ticket, led by Mitt Romney, a fine guy.
Anderson Cooper: (55:49)
You just talked to China’s president-
Joe Biden: (55:51)
Yes, for two hours.
Anderson Cooper: (55:52)
What about the Uyghurs? What about the [crosstalk 00:55:55]
Joe Biden: (55:55)
We must speak up for human rights. It’s who we are. My comment to him was, and I know him well, and he knows me well. We are two our conversation.
Anderson Cooper: (56:07)
You talked about this to him?
Joe Biden: (56:08)
I talked about this too, and that’s not so much refugee, but I talked about it. I said, “Look… Chinese leaders, if you know anything about Chinese history, it has always been the time when China has been victimized by the outer world is when they haven’t been unified at home. So the central… Vastly overstated. The central principle of Xi Jinping is that there must be a united tightly-controlled China. And he uses his rationale for the things he does based on that. I pointed out to him, no American president can be sustained as a president if he doesn’t reflect the values of the United States. And so the idea, I’m not going to speak out against what he’s doing in Hong Kong, what he’s doing with the Uyghurs in Western mountains of China and Taiwan, the One-China policy by making it forceful.
Joe Biden: (57:04)
I said, and… He said… He gets it. Culturally, there are different norms at each country and their leaders are expected to follow. But my point was that when I came back from meeting with him and traveling 17,000 miles with him, when I was vice-president and he was the vice-president, and that’s how I got to know him so well, at the request of President Hu. Not a joke, not a joke. His predecessor, President Hu and President Obama wanted us to get to know one another because he was going to be the president. And I came back and said, “They’re going to end their one child policy, because they’re so xenophobic, they won’t let anybody else in, and more people are retired than working. How can they sustain economic growth when more people are retired?
Anderson Cooper: (57:52)
When you talked to him though about human rights abuses, is that as far as it goes in terms of the US, or is there any actual repercussions for China?
Joe Biden: (58:00)
Well, there will be repercussions for China and he knows that. What I’m doing is making clear that we in fact, are going to continue to reassert our role as spokespersons for human rights at the UN and other agencies that have an impact on their attitude. China is trying very hard to become the world leader and to get that moniker and to be able to do that they have to gain the confidence of other countries. And as long as they’re engaged in activity that is contrary to basic human rights, it’s going to be hard for them to do that. But it’s much more complicated. I shouldn’t to try to talk China policy in 10 minutes on television.
Anderson Cooper: (58:41)
Well, let me bring it back to the United States. I want you to meet Jocelyn Fish, a democrat from Racine. Jocelyn is a director of marketing for a community theater. Jocelyn, welcome. Your question.
Jocelyn Fish: (58:50)
Hello. Good evening, Mr. President.
Joe Biden: (58:51)
Jocelyn Fish: (58:52)
Student loans are crushing my family, friends and fellow Americans.
Joe Biden: (58:58)
Jocelyn Fish: (58:58)
The American dream is to succeed-
Joe Biden: (59:00)
You think I’m kidding.
Jocelyn Fish: (59:00)
But how can we fulfill that dream when debt is many people’s only option for a degree? We need student loan forgiveness beyond the potential $10,000 your administration has a proposed. We need at least a $50,000 minimum. What will you do to make that happen?
Joe Biden: (59:15)
I will not make that happen. It depends on whether or not you go to a private university or public university. It depends on the idea that I say to a community, I’m going to forgive the debt, the billions of dollars of debt for people who have gone to Harvard, and Yale, and Penn, and schools my children. I went to a great school. I went to a state school. But is that going to be forgiven rather than use that money to provide for early education for young children who come from disadvantaged circumstances?
Joe Biden: (59:49)
But here’s what I think. I think everyone, and I’ve been proposing this for four years, everyone should be able to go to community college for free, for free. That costs $9 billion, and we should pay for it. Instagram the tax policies we have now, we should be able to pay for it. You spend almost that money as a break for people who own race horses.
Joe Biden: (01:00:14)
And I think any family making under $125,000, whose kids go to a state university they get into, that should be free as well. And the thing I do in terms of student debt that’s accumulated is provide for changing the existing system now, for debt forgiveness if you engage in volunteer activity. For example, if you’re teaching school, after five years, you’d have $50,000 of your debt forgiven. If you worked in a battered woman’s shelter, if you worked in so on, so you’ll be able to forgive debt.
Joe Biden: (01:00:53)
Thirdly, I am going to change the position that we have now to allow for debt forgiveness because it’s so hard to calculate, whereby you can now, depending on how much you make and what program you sought, you can work off that debt by the activity you have, and you can not be charged more than X percent of your take-home pay, so that it doesn’t affect your ability to buy a car, own a home, et cetera.
Joe Biden: (01:01:25)
Each of my children graduated from school. I mortgaged the house. I was listed as the poorest man in Congress, not a joke, for over 30 years. But I bought a home I spent a lot of time working on, and I was able to sell it for some profit. But my oldest son graduated after undergraduate and graduate school with $136,000 in debt, after working 30 hours a week during school. My other son had went to Georgetown and Yale Law School, graduated $142,000 in debt. And he worked for the parking service down in Washington. My daughter went to Tulane University and then got a master’s at Penn. She graduated a $103,000 in debt. So I don’t think anybody should have to pay for that, but I do think you should be able to work it off.
Joe Biden: (01:02:24)
My daughter’s a social worker. My other son ran the World Food Program USA, and so on. They didn’t qualify. But my point is I understand the impact of the debt and it can be debilitating. And I think there’s a whole question about what universities are doing. They don’t need more sky boxes. What they need is more money invested in making… That’s why I provide, for example, $70 billion over 10 years for HBCUs, and other minority-serving universities, because they don’t have the laboratories to be able to bring in those government contracts, that can train people in cyber security or other future endeavors that pay well.
Joe Biden: (01:03:11)
But I do think that in this moment of economic pain and strain, that we should be eliminating interest on the debts that are accumulated, number one. And number two, I’m prepared to write off the $10,000 debt, but not 50.
Anderson Cooper: (01:03:32)
Mr. President, let me ask you-
Joe Biden: (01:03:34)
Because I don’t think I have the authority to do [inaudible 01:03:37].
Anderson Cooper: (01:03:37)
Over the years, over your career, you’ve already spent a great deal of time at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, except now you’re living there and you’re President. It’s been four weeks. What’s it like? How’s it different?
Joe Biden: (01:03:51)
I get up in the morning and look at Jill and say, “Where the hell are we?” No. Look, I’ve only been president four weeks and sometimes because things are moving so fast, not because of burden, it feels like four years. It’s not because of the burden. It’s because there’s so much happening that you’re constantly focusing on one problem or opportunity ad seriatim. But what happens is that it’s… What I didn’t realize, I had been in the oval office 100 times as vice-president or more than that, every morning for the initial meetings, but I had never been up in the residence.
Joe Biden: (01:04:43)
One of the things that, I don’t know about you all, but I was raised in a way that you didn’t look for anybody to wait on you. And it’s where I find myself extremely self-conscious. They’re wonderful people that work at the White House, but someone standing there and making sure, hands me my suit coat, or-
Anderson Cooper: (01:05:05)
You’d never been in the residence of the White House.
Joe Biden: (01:05:07)
I only been upstairs in yellow room, the Oval upstairs.
Anderson Cooper: (01:05:13)
I don’t know. I’ve never been there either.
Joe Biden: (01:05:16)
But look, the people down there are wonderful and I find that like my dad, you’ve heard me say this before. My dad used to say, “Everybody, everybody’s entitled to be treated with respect.” It’s interesting how decent and incredible these folks are.
Anderson Cooper: (01:05:40)
Is it different than you expected it to be in some way?
Joe Biden: (01:05:44)
I don’t know what I ever expected it to be. It is different in that… Get in trouble here. I said when I was running, I want it to be president, not to live in the White House, but to be able to make the decisions about the future of the country. And so living in the White House, as you’ve heard other presidents who have been extremely flattered to live there, it’s a little like a gilded cage in terms of being able to walk outside and do things. The vice-president’s residence was totally different. You’re on 80 acres, overlooking the rest of the city, and you can walk out, there’s a swimming pool. You go walk off a porch in the summer and jump in a pool, and go into work. You can ride a bicycle around and never leave the property, and work out. But the White House is very different. And I feel a sense of, I must tell you, a sense of history about it.
Joe Biden: (01:06:57)
Jon Meacham, who you know, and several other presidential historians helped me with my… I asked my brother, who’s good at this, to set up the Oval Office for me. Because it all happens within two hours, literally. They move everything out and move something in. It was interesting to hear these historians talk about what other presidents have gone through, and the moments, and who were the people who stepped up to the ball, and who’s the people that didn’t. What you realize is, the most consequential thing for me is although I’ve known this, watching seven presidents who I got to know fairly well, is I always in the past, looked at the presidency in the terms of Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Roosevelt, and George Washington. They’re superhuman. But I had to remind myself that they’re really fine men that I knew well, the last seven presidents. And at least they’re people who I knew well enough to know that I could play on the same team with. So it took away the sense of this is, “My God, I’m not Abraham Lincoln, I’m not Franklin Roosevelt. How do I deal with these problems?”
Anderson Cooper: (01:08:26)
Have you picked up the phone and called any former president yet?
Joe Biden: (01:08:29)
Anderson Cooper: (01:08:30)
I have. Do you want to say who?
Joe Biden: (01:08:32)
No, I don’t. They’re private conversations. But by the way, all of them have, with one exception, picked up the phone and call me as well.
Anderson Cooper: (01:08:46)
I know you don’t want to talk about him.
Joe Biden: (01:08:52)
No, but look, it’s the greatest honor I think an American can be given, from my perspective. And I literally pray that I have the capacity to do for the country what you all deserve need to be done. But one thing I learned after eight years with Barack is no matter how consequential the decision, I got to be the last person in the room with him literally, on every decision. I can make a recommendation, but I walked out of the room and it was all him, man. Nobody else, the buck stops there. And that’s when you pray for a making sure you’re looking at the impact on the country and a little bit of good luck at the judgment you’re making.
Anderson Cooper: (01:09:55)
Mr. President, thank you so much for joining us in this town hall.
Joe Biden: (01:09:59)
Anderson Cooper: (01:09:59)
We want to thank our audience for being here, for their questions. We also want thank the…