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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10:06 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:

9:49 p.m. ET, February 16, 2021

Biden addresses how his administration aims to combat racial disparities in Covid-19 vaccine distribution 

From CNN's Maureen Chowdhury

Source: CNN
Source: CNN

President Biden addressed how his administration plans on combatting the racial disparities in Covid-19 vaccine distribution.

"The biggest part of this is physical access," Biden said during tonight's town hall.

Biden outlined three specific ways his administration aims to help reach a larger population in areas that are tough to get vaccines:

  • Sending a million vaccines a week to community centers that care for the "toughest of the toughest neighborhoods in terms of illness" moving forward.
  • Making vaccines available to more than 6,000 pharmacies across the country "because almost everyone lives" near a pharmacy.
  • Mobile vans and units will be sent into neighborhoods that are hard to get to including the elderly and minority communities who may not know how to register for the vaccine, "particularly in rural areas that are distant or in inner city districts."

Biden also mentioned creating mass vaccination centers at stadiums.

Watch the moment:

9:45 p.m. ET, February 16, 2021

Biden reassures 2nd grader: "You are going to be fine and we are going to make sure mommy is fine, too"

From CNN's Josiah Ryan

Taylor Glascock for CNN
Taylor Glascock for CNN

President Joe Biden addressed a second grader who asked him, through her mother, when she might be able to get the vaccine. 

Biden started off by pointing out that the vaccine had not yet been cleared for children. 

"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," he said.

He went on to reassure her, "you're the safest group of people in the whole world"

"I wouldn't worry about it, baby. I promise you," he said. "But I know it's kind of worrisome."

"Don't be scared, honey," added Biden "...You are going to be fine and we are going to make sure mommy is fine, too."

Watch the moment: