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President Biden Wants To Reopen Schools Gradually; Americans Can Get Access To Vaccine By End Of July; Joe Biden Wants To Ignore His Predecessor; Domestic Terrorism A Growing Problem In U.S.; Biden Administration Listens To Science. Aired 10-11p ET
Aired February 16, 2021 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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 China when has been victimized by the outer world is when they haven't been unified at home.
So, the central -- to vastly overstate it, 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 point 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, trying to end the One-China policy by making it forceful, I said -- by the way, he said he gets it.
Culturally, there are different norms that 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 -- his predecessor, President Hu, and President Obama wanted us to get to know one another, because he was going to 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, CNN HOST: When you talk to him, though, about human rights abuses, is that just -- is that as far as it goes in terms of the U.S.? Or is there any actual repercussions for China?
BIDEN: 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 U.N. 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 more much more complicated than that. I'm -- I shouldn't try to talk China policy in 10 minutes on television here.
COOPER: Well, let me bring it back to the United States.
I want you to meet Joycelyn Fish, a Democrat from Racine. Joycelyn is the director of marketing for a community theater.
Joycelyn, welcome. Your question.
Good evening, Mr. President.
BIDEN: Good evening.
QUESTION: Student loans are crushing my family, friends and fellow Americans.
BIDEN: Me too.
QUESTION: The American dream is to succeed.
BIDEN: You think I'm kidding.
QUESTION: 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 proposed. We need at least a $50,000 minimum. What will you do to make that happen?
BIDEN: I will not make that happen.
It depends on whether or not you go to a private university or a 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 is going to be forgiven, rather than use that money to provide money for early education for young children who are -- come from disadvantaged circumstances?
But here's what I think. I think everyone -- and I have been proposing this for four years. Everyone should be able to go to community college for free, for free. That's...
BIDEN: That costs $9 billion. And we should pay for it.
And the tax policies we have now, we should be able to pay for you. You spend almost that much money as a break for people who own racehorses.
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 were -- if you're teaching school, after five years, you would have $50,000 of your debt forgiven.
If you worked in a battered women's shelter, if you worked -- and so on. So, you would be able to forgive debt.
Thirdly, I'm 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 start, you can work off that debt by the activity you have, and you cannot 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.
Each of my children graduated from school. I mortgaged the house. I was listed as the poorest man in Congress for -- not a joke -- for over 30 years.
And -- but I was able to borrow. 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 40 -- I mean -- excuse me -- 30 hours a week during school.
My other son went to Georgetown and Yale Law School, graduated with $142,000 in debt. And he worked for a parking service in -- down in Washington. My daughter went to Tulane University and then got a master's at Penn. She graduated with $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. My daughter's a social worker. My other son became a -- 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 skyboxes. What they need is more money invested in making -- so, that's why I provide, for example, $80 billion -- $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 cybersecurity or other future endeavors that pay well. 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 $50,000.
COOPER: Mr. President, let me ask you...
BIDEN: Because I don't think I have the authority to do it by signing with a pen.
COOPER: You have -- over the years, over your career, you have obviously 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 is it different?
BIDEN: I get up in the morning and look at Jill and say: Where the hell are we?
BIDEN: No, it's -- look, it's -- you know, I have only been president for four weeks.
And, sometimes, because things are moving so fast, not because of a burden, it feels like four years. It's not because of the burden. It's because there's so much happening that you focus on, you're constantly focusing on one problem or opportunity, one right after -- ad seriatim.
But what happens is that it's -- what I didn't realize, I had been in the Oval Office a hundred times as vice president or more -- more than that, every morning for the initial meetings. But I had never been up in the residence.
And one of the things -- 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 -- we're -- I find myself extremely self-conscious. There are wonderful people that work at the White House.
But someone is standing there and making sure I -- hands me my suit coat, or...
COOPER: You had never been in the residence of the White House?
BIDEN: I had only been upstairs in the Yellow Room, the Oval upstairs.
COOPER: I don't -- I have never been there either, but...
BIDEN: No, and -- but it's -- but, look, the people down there are wonderful.
And I find that, like my dad -- you have heard me say this before. My dad used to say, everybody, everybody is entitled to be treated with respect.
And it's interesting how decent and incredible these folks are.
COOPER: Is it different than you expected it to be in some way?
BIDEN: You know, I don't know what I ever expected it to be.
I -- it is different, in that -- get in trouble here.
I said when I was running I wanted 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 have heard other presidents who have been extremely flattered to live there, has -- it's a little like a gilded cage, in terms of being able to -- but walk outside and do things.
The vice president's residence is totally different. You're on 80 acres overlooking the rest of the city. And you can walk out. There's a swimming pool. You can walk off the 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.
You can -- and -- but the White House is very different. And I feel a sense of -- I must tell you, a sense of history about it.
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, you know, literally. They move everything out and move something -- and it was interesting to hear these historians talk about what other presidents have gone through and the moments, and who are the people who stepped up to the ball and who are the people who didn't?
And what you realize is, the most consequential thing, for me, is, although I have 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, and how can -- like they're superhuman.
But I had to remind myself that the really fine men that I knew well, the last seven presidents, and at least there are 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?
COOPER: Have you picked up the phone and called any former president yet?
BIDEN: Yes, I have.
COOPER: Do you want to say who?
BIDEN: No, I don't. They're private conversations.
BIDEN: But -- and, by the way, all of them have, with one exception, picked up the phone and called me as well.
COOPER: I know you don't want to talk about them, but...
BIDEN: 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 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 where you pray for making sure that you're looking at the impact on the country and a little bit of good luck at the judgment you're making.
COOPER: Mr. President, thank you so much for joining us...
BIDEN: Thank you.
COOPER: ... in this town hall.
COOPER: We want to thank our audience for being here, for their questions.
We also want to thank the Pabst Theater for hosting us.
"CNN TONIGHT" with Don Lemon starts right now.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
DON LEMON, CNN HOST (on camera): And you just heard the President Joe Biden in our CNN town hall answering questions for more than an hour on the pandemic and the economy, condemning the rise of white supremacy and calling for this country to deal with systemic racism as we look at these live pictures now still coming in from the town hall site in Milwaukee.
Now in the hall with the masked invitation-only socially distanced audience, Joe Biden is still there, the president, and Anderson Cooper still on page.
So, this is CNN TONIGHT. I'm Don Lemon.
Thank you so much for joining us and staying with us. We're going to go over all the moments here, all the notable moments tonight. The president saying by next Christmas, things may b back to normal and the pandemic could be behind us, saying that by the end of July there will be enough vaccine, he says for everyone who wants it.
And then taking time to reassure an eight-year-old girl who's afraid of the virus. So, again, as I said there's lots to discuss. I want to get straight to CNN's Kaitlan Collins with the very latest on this. Kaitlan who is there.
Hello to you, Kaitlan. So, let's talk about the president. Made some news tonight on the pandemic and vaccines as he's still behind you on the stage as we're looking. Give us the headlines.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. He did. And one of the big questions, of course, has been when is every American who wants a vaccine going to be able to get one. Of course, you can hear behind me he's still interacting with the audience. It's down below. We're up here on the balcony right now.
And he said that he believes the answer to that question of when every American who wants one is going to get one is the end of July. That's when he says those 600 million doses, he believes will be available. Though, of course that came, Don, with a really important caveat, which is that does not mean all of those vaccines will have been distributed by then. That just simply means when they'll be available.
That was something he's continued to stress, which is when their actual vaccinators are going to be in the big process of this, is actually getting those shots administered into the arms of people.
And so, of course, the next big question that he's also been faced with is when are kids going to be back in school. There was a question about this that Anderson brought up tonight because just a few days ago in the briefing room, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary said the definition of that campaign promise about getting the majority of kids back into schools and reopen within his first 100 days meant at least one day back in the school per week.
And so, Biden said tonight that that was a miscommunication. He said that is not his goal. He said that he does still want that to happen but he believes it's going to be K through eight and he believes that will happen by the end of his first 100 days in office.
He said high schools are a different story, and he did suggest that there could be this idea of a summer school, basically, of it being in an additional school semester. Though of course --
LEMON: Let's --
COLLINS: -- those decisions will be up to the localities and those teachers unions.
LEMON: Kaitlan, let's listen to that. Stand by.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Your administration had set a goal to open the majority of schools in your first hundred days. You're now saying that means those schools may only be open for at least one day a week.
BIDEN: No, that's not true. That's what was reported. That's not true. There was a mistake in the communication. What I've -- what I'm talking about is I said opening the majority of schools in K through 8th 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.
COOPER: So, when do you think that would be K through eight, it is five days a week is possible?
BIDEN: I think we'll be -- I think we'll be close to that at the end of the first hundred days. We've had a significant percentage being able to be opened. My guess is they're going to be pushing to open all for -- all summer to continue like it's a different semester to try to --
COOPER: Do you think that will be five days a week or just a couple?
BIDEN: I think -- 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've said. Just like if you notice the contagion factor in colleges is much higher than it is in high schools or grade schools.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON (on camera): So, Kaitlan, I think he made it fairly clear with, you know, everything else. he says K through eighth grades will open at the end of the first 100 days and then maybe high schools can open after that. But he is implying that summer school could become a thing. That's interesting.
Implying again here -- I should say using the word imply again -- that students are behind and they need, they have a whole lot of catching up to do. That's why they may have to continue on year end until they catch up.
COLLINS: Yes, he stressed the importance of that. I do wonder how at one moment here tonight there was a little girl in the audience who was with her mom. And she wanted to ask a question about children getting coronavirus. And of course, I'll leave the medical aspect of that up to Sanjay Gupta. But what he was trying to do with reassuring her was talking about how
children do not get it at the same rate as adults and talking about that. So, you have to wonder if that's going to be something that is going to be factored into this debate that has been raging in the United States over whether or not schools should reopen, when they should reopen, what that should look like. And that was an answer that he did use here tonight, Don.
LEMON: All right. Stand by, Kaitlan. I want to bring in Jeff Zeleny in. He joins us as well. Jeff, you know, it's interesting. This is the president's first road trip out to talk to people. You know, we had politicians like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, great retail politicians. Joe Biden is among them and showing sympathy out on the campaign trail and also connecting with voters. Almost every single answer there was a, sort of, personal aside before answering to voters in the crowd.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Don, it was. And that is classic Joe Biden. I just stepped out of the room just as the town hall was ending. And really to a person, to an individual questioner, he drew a connection.
And you know, he told an old story about something his mother said or how, you know -- a lot of us have heard these before. But this is the first time this president, he is doing this. So, he is relatable in every measure of the word. Yes, he rambles from time to time. But he's absolutely relatable. And I think that is something that Americans like to see from their president.
But, Don, it was that moment that Kaitlan was just referring to with the second grader that he offered reassurance. He said, don't be scared, honey. He said, you will be fine. She was worried and is worried that she will get the coronavirus. Of course, this is something young children have been living with a large portion of their young lives.
And when he slowed the conversation down, not talking about the Senate or the House or policies or this or that, that was such a moment that presidents like to connect like that. So, Joe Biden does that much better than many do. So, I think that was one of the many memorable connections of the evening.
Now, did he make some grand policy pronouncement or make headway on how he's going to get the COVID bill passed? Not necessarily tonight. But he was absolutely relatable. And there was the sense that there is a new president. Yes, we've known that. But as he enters the second month of his presidency, it has the sense that it's an entirely different moment.
So, these young children will be growing up with a new president. So, that, to me, Don, stuck out tremendously as he talked to that second grader.
LEMON: And Kaitlan, at one point the president referred to the former president, he says as the former guy. And I thought that maybe -- I said is he speaking to the media right now because he doesn't want to talk about him. He wants to put him -- meaning the former guy, as he says -- behind him, in the rear-view mirror.
COLLINS: Yes, well, Jeff noting this is entering almost the second month of his presidency. The first half -- the first beginning part of it has really been -- had Donald Trump looming in the background of so much of it because of that impeachment trial.
And if you heard just there at the end as they were ending, President Biden said that he has gotten a call from every single living former president with the exception of one. He did not name, of course, Donald Trump, but that is the implication that he is the one who has still not called his successor, something that we know of course that had happened as of the day he actually took office.
But he repeatedly made a point tonight saying he did not want to talk about Donald Trump. When he was asked about the outcome of the impeachment trial and the fact that former President Trump was not convicted by his fellow Republicans by a large majority, He said he didn't want to talk about him. He said that repeatedly. I think that's something you'll start to see at the White House more and more as they tried to move the Biden agenda to the forefront and stop talking so much about the former president.
LEMON: Jeff, I'm glad you could run over and give us time --
ZELENY: And Don, he also --
LEMON: -- to get on television because --
ZELENY: He also though didn't talk about Republic -- he also didn't talk about Republicans, if I can say really quickly.
ZELENY: He did not take the bait. He said Speaker Pelosi has called Republicans cowards. No, no. President Biden wasn't going there. He wants some of these Republicans to vote for his initiatives. We'll see if they do. But I thought that was also interesting. As Kaitlan said, he did not want to talk about President Trump but also did not want to pile on to Republicans.
LEMON: Yes. Thank you both. I appreciate the conversation. Be safe. I'll see you soon.
I want to bring in now CNN's senior political correspondent Abby Phillip, chief political analyst Gloria Borger, and our senior political commentator David Axelrod. Good evening to one and all.
It has been interesting standing by watching this. The president the first time out of the White House meeting with -- having a town hall with the American people.
Gloria, let's start with you because the big news tonight, everyone's wondering when are we going to get back to normal? When are we going to get back to normal? The president said well, back to normal by Christmas and there will be a vaccine by the end of July readily available for everyone. Not making promises and he's going to level --
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, he said he hopes so.
LEMON: he hopes so.
LEMON: Right, not making promises. So, this is a leadership moment for President Biden. What did you think?
BORGER: I think it -- I think it was a leadership moment. Donald Trump in the rear-view mirror. And he came out -- and I think what he was trying to do tonight really was to be reassuring to the American people without overpromising. Everybody wants to get back to normal. Everybody wants their kids back in school. Everybody -- or lots of people -- want to get vaccinated. And he promised those 600 million vaccines. He didn't say everyone would get vaccinated, however.
He said we're going to spend more money getting vaccinations into people's arms. He wants kids to go back to school, but he said, wait a minute, maybe not all at once, you know. Maybe the older kids are going to have to wait. The younger kids can go -- can go back to school.
But most of all, I think what we saw tonight was a president who was not preoccupied with telling you how fabulous he is or what a great job he is doing. He was authentic Joe Biden, as those of us who have covered him over the years have known, trying to level with the American people, saying, look, we have a lot to do.
Here's what I'm for. For example, I'm for the minimum wage, although I see a way, we could do it gradually. Here's what I'm for. Here's what we're trying to do. And let us try and get this done.
BORGER: And that's who Joe Biden is.
LEMON: Yes. I think he also made some news which I'll talk a little bit later about not defunding the police --
LEMON: -- even though during the campaigns Republicans have tried --
BORGER: Yes. LEMON: -- to stick him with that and paint him with that brush of wanting to defund the police. But I digress.
David, let's talk more. I'll get to that a little bit later on the show. Did President Biden make the case for this $1.9 trillion rescue package that he wants passed?
DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, let's be clear. He's pushing on an open door. A lot of the elements that he talked about tonight are very, very popular if you look at polling. People want this to pass. And I thought he made a very human case for why it was important to pass when he talked about the people, the 10 million who are out of work, when he talked about the small business people who have lost their businesses.
The thing about Joe Biden is he speaks in very human terms. And you know, these town halls are sort of -- if he were an Olympian, this would be his gold medal event, these town halls, because there are people in front of him. He can relate to them and their problems, and he speaks to them in a very colloquial way about those problems. I thought he was effective on that.
You know, there are no definite answers to these questions. This is a very, very difficult problem and he was careful not to be emphatic about these deadlines. But I actually think that moment that Jeff and Kaitlan mentioned is so important when he spoke to that little girl.
AXELROD: Because what people want to know is that someone's on the job and cares about them and is working every day to make this right. I think he did communicate that, Don.
Let me just say a couple of other things. I do think Gloria is absolutely right. He was authentic, but he is authentic and that is another great strength of his. And he radiates decency, and I think that came across in this. And he wasn't willing -- you know, you mentioned the defunding police line, which was, I think, very important. He went on to talk about the reforms that were necessary but also on student loans.
He didn't give an answer that was necessarily the answer that every progressive Democrat wanted --
AXELROD: -- that he would write down $50,000 of student debt. So, he was very frank, he was very honest, and he was very calm and sensical. I think he had a great night.
LEMON: Well, then, that's what I want to talk to Abby about. Abby, let's talk about this. Because, you know, Joe Biden is dealing with the moderates, right, and then he has a very progressive wing of the party as well. That $15 -- Gloria mentioned it a moment ago, the $15 minimum wage is a sticking point between moderate and progressive Democrats. Did it sound to you like it's going to make it into this final rescue package or not?
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, I think it's clear that Joe Biden believed in a $15 minimum wage, but I do think that he is cognizant that this is something that may not make it at the end of the day, whether it's for procedural reasons or for political reasons. And not just because Republicans might not want it there, but maybe even some moderate Democrats may not necessarily think that this is the right vehicle for that.
I mean, you heard him talk about how the -- getting there gradually. I mean, that is the plan for the minimum wage, but it seems to signal that they feel like they have more time to get to that point. And it's not in the same category of things like school funding, like money for vaccinations and so on and so forth where there is a sense of urgency of right now this needs to get done before it's too late.
So, you know, you do see him kind of positioning himself in some of these ways to make it clear that he supports the idea. And I think similarly on student loans. He supports the idea of cancelling some student loans. The question is how far is he willing to go or how far does he think the politics will allow him to go in this particular moment.
LEMON: Hey, Abby, I want to ask you about, he talked about white supremacy, the racial disparity on the vaccine and said that there will be no defunding the police, as we just mentioned. What is the message he's putting out here? What do you think is behind this? What is he trying to convey?
PHILLIP: Well, look, I mean this is the -- this is where Joe Biden has been on this issue really from the beginning, trying to give voice to the desire for justice and equal treatment when it comes to black people being able to not fear for their lives from police, but not going so far to the left.
I mean I think on so many of these issues -- and defunding the police is really no different -- Joe Biden is not willing to go necessarily where activists want him to go.
But he does want a voice, a desire for reform, a desire for there to be changes made to the system. And that is probably as close as you're going to get to Joe Biden's true north star politically.
PHILLIP: I mean, this is not someone who has been known for being kind of on the far edges of his party. He has always wanted to be to the center left. And he's probably further left now than he has been in his career and so I think this is really no different than any of that.
LEMON: All right. Abby, David, and Gloria, thank you so much --
(CROSSTALK) BORGER: And Don, can --
LEMON: Yes? Yes?
BORGER: I just want to add on white supremacy. You know, Biden came out there and said these guys are demented. They are dangerous people. It is clear that he will treat -- or his administration will treat white supremacists who endanger other people's lives as domestic terrorists.
LEMON: Yes. Well, as it should be, right? Thank you very much. I appreciate all of you.
LEMON (on camera): You know, she called out white supremacists and domestic terrorist for a full week. What does she think of what President Biden had to say about it tonight and other things as well? We're going to talk about her policy and talk about what the president said. The former impeachment manager, current congresswoman -- there she is -- Stacey Plaskett is next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: I got involved in politics to begin with because of civil rights and oppositions to white supremacists, the Ku Klux Klan and the most dangerous people in America continue to exist.
LEMON (on camera): We're back now. You can see the president's motorcade arriving -- has arrived to General Mitchell Airport in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. There is Joe Biden, the president, boarding Air Force One now to head back to Washington, D.C. after his town hall with our Anderson Cooper ended just moments ago.
And the president during that town hall condemning the growth of white supremacy tonight. That as a top Democratic lawmaker sues the former president over his role in the January 6th capitol riot.
So, joining me now to discuss is the delegate from the U.S. Virgin Islands and the former impeachment manager, Stacey Plaskett. We're so happy to have her here. Thank you so much for joining.
You're the first lawmaker to be able to discuss the president going out and meeting with the American people and having a town hall tonight. So, I want you to listen to -- good evening to you. I want you to listen to what the president said about his plan to take on white supremacy first. Here it is.
DEL. STACEY PLASKETT (D), U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS: Sure.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BIDEN: I got involved in politics to begin with because of civil
rights and opposition to white supremacists, the Ku 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. 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON (on camera): Well, Congresswoman, I don't need to tell you the kind of people that showed up at the capitol with the -- you know, of that ilk. Does the president have the right idea about what needs to happen?
PLASKETT: I think he does. And wasn't it refreshing to hear someone speaking to us, a president, who is speaking transparent with a great deal of transparency explaining what he knew, what he didn't know as he was talking to that little girl, the young American, and outlining how he was going to tackle issues that are really very large.
The issue of white supremacy, I think that it's going to have to be multilayered. And so, I'm so grateful to Congressman Bennie Thompson whose chairman of Homeland Security working with the NAACP to actually, you know, go after some of the incidents that happened on January 6th, along with other prosecutorial offices as well as the president himself speaking out against it.
We know that in the last administration, the FBI, under director Chris Wray, raised the alarms about white supremacy and extremist groups being a major terrorist threat. But they did not have the force of the president supporting them and was thwarted many times in that effort.
So, I think this is a turning leaf for us, one to be very clear about what is going on in this country, and then being very vigilant on how to tackle it.
LEMON: Listen, I know that you were an impeachment manager, but you do other things and you're on other committees when it comes to Washington, the work that you do in Washington, D.C. So, let's talk about something that's very important to you because the president touted his COVID relief package tonight. He said the money needs to be spent --
LEMON: -- now so that the country can come roaring back. As it stands now, Democrats are going to have to pass this on their own. Is that fine with you? Are you OK with that?
PLASKETT: Listen, you know, elections have consequences, and fortunate for us one of the consequences is that we are in the majority. Would we like to have negotiations in which we can have a bipartisan effort? Of course. Because history has shown us that those bills that are passed with bipartisan support usually have much more lasting effort when we're negotiating within -- among ourselves.
But we are in desperate times right now. I know the people of the Virgin Islands, who have relied so heavily on tourism, are really feeling the brunt of the COVID pandemic. Never mind what's happening to our schools, our small businesses, as well as our health care workers. So, we've got to be aggressive in tackling this. And if that means that Democrats have take -- got to take the lead to get that done, then that's what's going to happen.
LEMON: He said that we can -- meaning him and lawmakers -- can create seven million jobs this year. The economy has to be dealt with now. We need unemployment insurance. Look at the people in food lines, he said. Look at the people being kicked out of their apartments, look at the people missing out on mortgage payments.
How much longer can it go on this, well we're going to do it, we're going to do it, we're going to do it? When does the action actually happen, Congresswoman?
PLASKETT: Well, you know, Speaker Pelosi has indicated that she's ready to get something done in the next week. While I was an impeachment manager and working on my presentation before the Senate, in between that I was in the conference room in markups with the ways and means committee on agriculture committee. We're doing the work. We're getting the legislation together for it to be brought to the senate and for the Senate to then do its job and bring it to the president's desk for signature.
We've got to look at nutrition. We've got to look at health care workers in supporting them as well, as well as questioning the virus in nursing homes and making sure the teachers feel safe and we've been transparent with them so our children can get back to school and get to learning, that parents feel secure as they are going to work that there's a place for their children, as well as you said providing that support to small businesses and unemployment insurance all at the same time.
That's got to be big. It's got to be bold. And then on top of that, we need to continue to begin working on the president's plan to build back better. That means infrastructure.
I'm part of a new Democratic coalition where we're really very focused on infrastructure and economic development to try and support businesses and innovation, which America has always been at the forefront of in this country.
LEMON: Well, also -- and also about rebuilding some of the trust in our institutions, which was our institutions were attacked during the last administration. And also, some independents. At the town hall, the president said --
LEMON: -- that he will never tell his Justice Department who to investigate, who not to investigate. He's responding to a question about the former president's role in the riot at the capitol. What do you think of that?
PLASKETT: You know, I think that, again, that that is the right attitude. The Department of Justice, I worked at the Department of Justice in the Bush administration working for tremendous men, Larry Thompson, James Comey, working with Chris Wray and Robert Mueller. And the Justice Department needs to be able to do its work.
They are the people's Justice Department and they need to be the attorneys general as the attorney general for the people of the United States, not the private attorney for the president of the United States. So, I'm happy to hear him say that.
And you know, as a child of a law enforcement officer, my dad was a New York city police officer for 30 years, my grandfather as well. It's also refreshing to hear him talk about community policing and police officers wanting to be a support to communities.
We need to give them the tools to be able to do that, not to continue to make them military operations but to make them support and protect the communities in which they work, whether that's through education, whether that's through programming.
You know, I am in favor of Ayanna Presley's bill to get rid of qualified immunity, which has really been kind of a blanket under which police officers can operate as almost as clans to not be punished for against communities, and particularly African-American communities.
So, I'm happy to hear him talk about the independence of the Justice Department while at the same time being a protector of those people who need the support of the president and the Justice Department at the same time.
LEMON: Well, Congresswoman, I enjoyed our conversation. I hope you'll come back and we can talk more policy in the future. In the meantime, get some rest.
PLASKETT: Thank you.
LEMON: Because I've seen you everywhere --
LEMON: -- this week. And you've been a very busy person. Thank you so much. I appreciate it.
PLASKETT: Ready to go home tomorrow to the Virgin Islands, and I welcome you down as well.
LEMON: Yes. Send sunshine and warmth back here because you know we're dealing with a cold spell and the storm around much of the country.
PLASKETT: Yes, yes.
LEMON: Thank you very much, Congresswoman. I'll see you soon. Be safe.
PLASKETT: take care.
LEMON: Take care.
PLASKETT: All right.
LEMON (on camera): President Biden tonight saying by the end of July everybody who wants a vaccine will be able to get one, and going on to say things could be very different by next Christmas.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON (on camera): So breaking news, President Joe Biden answering questions from Americans about the COVID pandemic during our CNN town hall tonight, promising that 600 million doses of the vaccines will be available by the end of July and saying that life in America may be back to normal by Christmas.
A lot to discuss with Dr. Leana Wen, the former Baltimore City health commissioner.
Doctor, thank you so much. It feels like Christmas. We just, you know, got -- we just had a Christmas, and so it's going to be a while before we get back to normal according to the president.
We heard at this town hall that anyone who wants to know when I can get a vaccine, right, and when are my kids going back to school. Did you hear a clear strategy from President Biden tonight on that?
LEANA WEN, EMERGENCY ROOM PHYSICIAN, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: Well, his first answer about when it is that every American will be able to have access to a vaccine, he said end of July. It's probably, I'm sure it's an honest answer based on the information that he has, but I think it must come as a disappointment to a lot of people because we were told by the previous administration that we would have access to the vaccine by the spring.
And I think even members of the Biden administration have said that there would be access at least by the spring. And so, I think at this point we need a better accounting of exactly what's happening with supply because they're all these numbers that are floating around. I think it's important for all the manufacturers to say here's what we should expect in terms of supply right now, in two weeks, by mid- March, by end of March.
Having that kind of track, that kind of tracking actually also helps to explain what the delays might be. It's not about blame, but it's about giving visibility and predictability to the American people and to states that are trying to figure this out too.
LEMON: OK. So, explain to us he said, you know, by July, so what does this time line mean for reaching herd immunity? Because, you know, he also mentioned the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and he said, you know, things could speed up, there could be more or it could take longer. We would not, he couldn't really pin them down. But what does this mean for herd immunity and with that time line?
WEN: Yes. So, I think there are three different end points that we should be talking about. The first end point is when it is that every American is going to be eligible to get the vaccine. So, when are we done with the priority categories and when can we get to everyday people who are not elderly, who don't have chronic medical issues.
I would hope that that's sometime in the spring. The second end point I think is the one that President Biden was referring to about July, which is when is it that people are just going to be able to walk into their pharmacy and get access to a vaccine, not wait for months but just get the vaccine that day. Maybe that's end of July we're hearing at this point.
Then I think there's the third end point of herd immunity. And that's probably about 80 percent of Americans being vaccinated. I would hope that we can get there by the end of the year, which is probably why President Biden is saying about end, about Christmas. But if we want to reach herd immunity by the end of this year, we need to ramp up vaccinations a lot more. We're currently at about one a half million vaccinations a day. We need to really be getting to two and half to three million vaccinations a day. I think we can get there but we're not there yet.
LEMON (on camera): So, re-opening schools, let's talk about that. Getting kids back into schools, huge issue. This is what he said about teachers.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JUSTIN BELOT, HIGH SCHOOL TEACHER: Why is it OK 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. And finally, do you believe all staff should be vaccinated before doing so?
BIDEN: 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 less -- fewer students in one room.
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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON (on camera): So, he said that teachers should move up in the vaccination line, but did you hear an answer on whether vaccinating teachers should be required to reopen schools?
WEN: Well, President Biden didn't say that. And I wish that he did. We have right now 89 percent of U.S. counties according to a CNN analysis are in the red zone. What the CDC classifies as the highest risk for transmission. Many of these schools are already open for in-person instructions.
I don't understand why we can't just say if getting our kids back in school is such a key priority, why it isn't that teachers are prioritized for vaccinations. I don't think we should -- we're not saying that every teacher needs to be vaccinated before any teacher goes back to school, but rather those teachers that are already in school, or that we're asking to come back to school for in-person instruction, they should go to the front of the line.
If we're prioritizing our kids, then we should prioritize our teachers and critically the school staff as well, and I actually think that that's something that the Biden administration -- look, they've come out with a very good plan for reopening schools that is based on science, that is based on evidence, that's divided according to community transmission and the mitigation measures. The one part that's so glaringly missing is the protections that teachers and school staff deserve.
LEMON: He also discussed racial disparity in getting the vaccine. What did you think of that moment, doctor?
WEN: I thought he did a very good job. And President Biden's throughout has really emphasized the issue of equity. I have never heard any administration, really, embed equity in all of their work, in their metrics, in the way that they're doing the work.
All the efforts, for example, to distribute vaccines through community health centers, through pharmacies, and underserved areas, focusing on equity as a goal as well as a process, I think is really important. I'm glad that there's attention to this because without specific attention and intention towards equity, we're only going to be exacerbating disparities that have already been unmasked by COVID-19. LEMON: Dr. Wen, thank you for your time. I appreciate it.
WEN: Thank you.
LEMON: So, as President Biden was speaking to America tonight, his predecessor was attacking a member of his own party, "dour, sullen, and unsmiling political hack," a direct quote. We'll tell you who he's going after, next.
LEMON: So, here's our breaking news tonight. President Joe Biden answering questions from Americans in our CNN town hall in Milwaukee. The president's first town hall since taking office.