CNN town hall with President Biden

By Melissa Macaya and Veronica Rocha, CNN

Updated 12:09 a.m. ET, February 17, 2021
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10:31 p.m. ET, February 16, 2021

Biden: "No one should go to jail for the use of a drug"

From CNN's Josiah Ryan

Taylor Glascock for CNN
Taylor Glascock for CNN

President Biden addressed racial disparities in enforcement of drug use this evening, saying he believed no one should be imprisoned for using an illegal drug.

He suggested funds used for enforcement should instead be repurposed for rehabilitation.

Biden was responding to a question from an audience member who wanted to know how police departments could be reformed while providing increased protection, particularly in minority communities. 

"How can we be sure that we don't over legislate police officers so that they can do their job to protect the law-abiding citizens who live in these high crime neighborhoods and yet train officers to police with compassion?" asked Dannie Evans, a pastor and member of the Wisconsin Racial Disparity Task Force.

"By number one, not defunding the police," replied Biden. 

"We have to put more money in police work so we have legitimate community policing and we're in a situation where we change the legislation," he continued. "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."

"We should be in a position where we change the system of sentencing system," he added.

Watch the moment:

12:09 a.m. ET, February 17, 2021

Biden was just asked about his immigration policies. Here's what he has done so far on the topic.

From CNN's Maegan Vazquez

Taylor Glascock for CNN
Taylor Glascock for CNN

One of President Biden's first acts was signing a series of executive actions that undo several Trump administration immigration policies.

The actions Biden signed early on in his presidency included preserving the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, halting border wall construction and reversing the travel ban from predominantly Muslim countries.

In the weeks after his swearing-in, the Biden administration proposed revising the number of refugees who can be admitted to the US this year to 62,500, a significant increase from the 15,000 cap put in place under Trump, and is preparing to admit migrants forced to remain in Mexico awaiting their US hearings under a controversial Trump-era policy.

The Biden administration, in concert with Hill Democrats, is also preparing to unveil legislation this week that seeks to provide a pathway to citizenship to the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States. But the administration, Biden has said, has a long way to go on immigration.

The President will need the approval of Congress to pass his administration's immigration bill, which, among other investments in border security and foreign aid to Latin America, provides a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants living in the US.

10:06 p.m. ET, February 16, 2021

Biden: "The nation is not divided"

From CNN's Maureen Chowdhury

President Biden said he takes issue with "everybody" stating that the US is a divided country.

"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," Biden said in response to a question about his immediate and tangible plans to address division in the country.

Biden explained that he believes most people in the country agree on issues like coronavirus aid.

"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... We have to be more decent and treat people with respect and just decency," Biden said.

Biden went on to revisit and mention some of the reasons he decided to run for President, including restoring the "soul of the country" and rebuilding the "backbone of the country."

9:56 p.m. ET, February 16, 2021

Biden says prosecuting Trump will be up to the Department of Justice

From CNN's Jason Hoffman 

President Biden said any decision to prosecute former President Trump for anything he did while in office will be left up to the Department of Justice, and he will not interfere in a possible investigation.

Asked by CNN’s Anderson Cooper if he would allow the Justice Department to proceed in an investigation into Trump, Biden said that decision lies with the Department of Justice. “One of the most serious pieces of damage done by the last administration was the politicizing of the Justice Department,” Biden said at a CNN Town Hall on Tuesday.

“I made a commitment, I will not 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 decisions will be left to the Justice Department, not me,” he continued.

10:05 p.m. ET, February 16, 2021

Biden says he has some concerns about the online aspect of the coronavirus vaccine rollout

From CNN's Jason Hoffman

Taylor Glascock for CNN
Taylor Glascock for CNN

President Biden said he does have some concerns about the online aspect of the coronavirus vaccine rollout, shining a spotlight on the digital divide in the United States. He also said some of that concern stems from time that was wasted by the previous administration.

Biden said that while he does have some concern about the online rollout of vaccines, every state now has some sort of mechanism where individuals can check to see if they’re qualified to receive a vaccine and where to get it.

“You can 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,” he said. Biden joked that his grandkids make him look like he’s from the seventh century when it comes to being online.

In many states, elderly populations are among the first eligible for the vaccine, but with registration largely taking place online, some are forced to lean on family members and volunteers with high-speed internet and more digital know-how to register.

Biden also criticized the Trump administration in his answer, saying his administration inherited a poor vaccine distribution plan.

“We inherited a circumstance here where… a circumstance 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,” Biden said. “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.”

Watch the moment:

10:00 p.m. ET, February 16, 2021

Biden says White supremacists are the greatest domestic terror threat in America

From CNN's Maureen Chowdhury

Taylor Glascock for CNN
Taylor Glascock for CNN

President Biden said White supremacists are the greatest domestic terror threat in the US during a town hall event. "It's complex, it's wide ranging, and it's real," Biden added.

"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," he said.

Biden explained that his administration would also look into the impact of the rise of White supremacy in specific groups including, the military and former police officers.

He called people who support White supremacist ideals "demented" and "dangerous."

Watch the moment:

9:47 p.m. ET, February 16, 2021

Biden: The next four years is not about Trump, but the American people

Taylor Glascock for CNN
Taylor Glascock for CNN

President Biden demurred this evening when asked by CNN's Anderson Cooper if he agreed with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's comment that Republican senators who voted to acquit former President Trump were "cowards."

"I'm not going to call names out," said Biden. "Look, for four years all that's been in the news is Trump. The next four years I want to make sure all the news is the American people. 

"I'm tired of talking about Trump," he added, receiving a round of applause from the social distanced audience. 

9:42 p.m. ET, February 16, 2021

Key things to know about Biden's agenda to battle Covid-19

From CNN's Maegan Vazquez

Taylor Glascock for CNN
Taylor Glascock for CNN

President Biden's agenda to tackle the pandemic has taken center stage during tonight's town hall.

The top item on Biden's to-do list: getting a massive $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package through Congress and getting coronavirus vaccines into the arms of Americans.

With Democrats controlling both houses of Congress, Biden's party has the upper hand for passing federal relief into law. Earlier in the negotiations process, Biden — who kicked off his presidency with calls for unity amid a time of division — indicated that he'd be willing to make some concessions to earn the support of some Republicans.

But now a process is underway that will allow Democrats to pass the relief through the Senate with only 51 votes.

The Biden administration has also pressed forward with deploying a national coronavirus vaccine rollout strategy. The President and members of his administration have repeatedly claimed that their predecessors in the Trump administration had no plan.

The goal, the President and administration officials now say, is having enough doses to vaccinate 300 million Americans by the end of July.

Another priority related to the pandemic: reopening schools. But so far, Biden's plan to open schools safely amid the pandemic has been met by a messy reality, with pushback from teachers unions and conflicting messages between public health officials and the administration.

9:55 p.m. ET, February 16, 2021

Biden says country may be back to normal by "next Christmas" 

Taylor Glascock for CNN
Taylor Glascock for CNN

Asked when he thinks the country will get back to normal, President Biden said he is cautious of predicting a timeline, but pointed to "next Christmas" as a moment where the nation could be under a "very different circumstance."

Biden noted that with the current vaccinations, and the upcoming Johnson & Johnson vaccination, the ability to continue to spread the disease "is going to diminish considerably" due to herd immunity.

"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," Biden said.

"A year from now, I think that there will be significantly fewer people having to be socially distanced, have to wear a mask, but we don't know," Biden said.

Once again, Biden cautioned that he did not want to "over promise anything here."

Watch the moment: