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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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:

9:29 p.m. ET, February 16, 2021

Biden to Americans: "If it's available — get the vaccine"

From CNN's Maggie Fox

Source: CNN
Source: CNN

President Biden advised Americans to get any coronavirus vaccine they can, whenever they can.

New variants may eventually reduce the efficacy of vaccines against coronavirus, Biden told CNN’s Anderson Cooper at a CNN Presidential Town Hall in Milwaukee Tuesday. The more the virus circulates, the more likely it is to change into vaccine-resistant forms. So, people should not wait and see, he urged.

“If you can get a vaccination, get it whenever you can get it, regardless of the other strains that are out there,” Biden said. 

“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 it,” Biden added. “But it will still be effective. So the clear notion is, if you're eligible, if it's available, get the vaccine. Get the vaccine," he continued.

9:26 p.m. ET, February 16, 2021

Biden is speaking about his $1.9 trillion coronavirus rescue package. Here's what is in the plan.

From CNN's Tami Luhby and Katie Lobosco

Bigger stimulus checks. More aid for the unemployed, the hungry and those facing eviction. Additional support for small businesses, states and local governments. Increased funding for vaccinations and testing. These are key parts of a $1.9 trillion proposal that President Biden is aiming for Congress to pass.

Billed as the American Rescue Plan, the package augments many of the measures in Congress' historic $3 trillion coronavirus relief bill from March and in the $900 billion legislation from December, which was scaled back to garner support from Senate Republicans.

Here's a look at some key things in the American Rescue Plan:

  • Beefed-up stimulus payments: The plan calls for sending another $1,400 per person to eligible recipients. This money would be in addition to the $600 payments that were approved by Congress in December and sent out earlier this month — for a total of $2,000. The new payments would go to adult dependents that were left out of the earlier rounds, like some children over the age of 17. It would also include households with mixed immigration status, after the first round of $1,200 checks left out the spouses of undocumented immigrants who do not have Social Security Numbers.
  • Enhanced unemployment aid: Biden would increase the federal boost the jobless receive to $400 a week, from the $300 weekly enhancement contained in Congress' relief package from December. He would also extend the payments, along with two key pandemic unemployment programs, through September. Lawmakers only provided an additional 11 weeks of support in the December package, which will last until March.
  • Rental assistance and eviction moratorium: The plan would provide $25 billion in rental assistance for low- and moderate-income households who have lost jobs during the pandemic. That's in addition to the $25 billion lawmakers provided in December. The plan would extend the federal eviction moratorium, set to expire at the end of January, to September 30, as well as allow people with federally-guaranteed mortgages to apply for forbearance until Sept. 30.
  • Aid for states and schools: Biden wants to send $350 billion to state, local and territorial governments to keep their frontline workers employed, distribute the vaccine, increase testing, reopen schools and maintain vital services.
  • More assistance for small businesses: The plan calls for providing $15 billion to create a new grant program for small business owners, separate from the existing Paycheck Protection Program. It also proposes making a $35 billion investment in some state, local, tribal, and non-profit financing programs that make low-interest loans and provide venture capital to entrepreneurs.

Read more about Biden's proposal here and the House Democrats' stimulus relief plan here.

9:33 p.m. ET, February 16, 2021

Teachers should move ahead in line to receive vaccine shots, Biden says

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

Taylor Glascock for CNN
Taylor Glascock for CNN

President Biden said teachers should move ahead in the line to receive shots in order to reopen schools, attempting to clarify an administration stance that he acknowledged had become muddled over the last week.

Speaking at a CNN town hall from Milwaukee during his first trip outside Washington since taking office, Biden said he wanted kindergarten through eighth grade schools open five days a week, and suggested some schools should remain open over the summer to make up for lost time.

Biden touted a ramping-up of a vaccination program he claimed was woefully inadequate when he entered the White House.

"There was nothing in the refrigerator, literally and figuratively," Biden said.

Pressed on how he would return students to classrooms, Biden said he would emphasize getting vaccines to teachers.

"I think we should be vaccinating teachers. We should move them up in the hierarchy," he said.

What we know: At least 28 states plus Washington, DC, have started allowing all or some teachers and school staff to receive the Covid-19 vaccine.

Though some states have announced they are prioritizing teachers, vaccine availability remains a concern across the country.

There are 22 states where teachers are still not eligible to receive the vaccine as a specific group — although some educators might fall into the current age group that state is vaccinating.

9:26 p.m. ET, February 16, 2021

Biden: Covid-19 vaccines will be widely available by the end of July

From CNN's Maureen Chowdhury

President Biden.
President Biden. Taylor Glascock for CNN

President Biden affirmed that Covid-19 vaccines will be widely available to the general public by the end of July during the first town hall of his presidency.

"By the end of July we'll have over 600 million doses, enough to vaccinate every single American," Biden told CNN's Anderson Cooper.

Biden noted that there were only 50 million doses available when he assumed office. Biden said that he implemented the Defense Production Act to "get the manufacturing piece of it to get more equipment."

He explained that one of the major obstacles for actually injecting the vaccine into people was the lack vaccinators. Biden said he issued an executive order to increase the number of vaccinators.

"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 a thousand military personnel ... We have gotten the National Guard engaged ... Plus we have opened up a considerable amount of locations where you can get the vaccine," he said.

Watch the moment:

9:46 p.m. ET, February 16, 2021

Biden says his administration made a "mistake in the communication" on school reopenings

From CNN's Josiah Ryan

Taylor Glascock for CNN
Taylor Glascock for CNN

President Joe Biden tonight clarified confusion on what would qualify as a school reopening, saying that reports that a school could be considered open if it was open just one day per week stemmed from a "mistake in the communication."

Biden was responding to a question from CNN's Anderson Cooper who asked, "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." 

Biden then interjected saying there had been an error in how the standard was communicated.

"No, that's not true," he said. "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 8th grade because they're the easiest to open, the most needed to be open in terms of the impact on children and families having to stay home. "

Biden's incoming administration pledged last year to reopen “the majority of our schools” in the first 100 days, but later White House press secretary Jen Psaki qualified that one day a week would count as a reopening. 

“His goal that he set is to have the majority of schools — so, more than 50% — open by day 100 of his presidency,” she said. “And that means some teaching in classrooms. So, at least one day a week. Hopefully, it’s more.”

As of Monday, a total of 28 states plus Washington, DC, had started allowing all or some teachers and school staff to receive the Covid-19 vaccine.

Though some states have announced they are prioritizing teachers, vaccine availability remains a concern across the country.

There are 22 states where teachers are still not eligible to receive the vaccine as a specific group — although some educators might fall into the current age group that state is vaccinating.

Some more context: The director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Sunday emphasized the need for masking and other mitigation measures in order to reopen schools safely, saying "we have work to do" as teachers, students and parents continue to struggle with Covid-19's impact on education.

The CDC on Friday released its long-awaited guidelines for reopening schools that focus on five key Covid-19 mitigation strategies: the universal and correct wearing of masks; physical distancing; washing hands; cleaning facilities and improving ventilation; and contact tracing, isolation and quarantine. Vaccines and testing are not among the "key" strategies the agency lays out, calling them "additional layers" of Covid-19 prevention.

About 89% of children in the US live in a county considered a red zone with high levels of Covid-19 transmission under those new school opening guidelines shared by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday, according to a CNN analysis of federal data.

Watch the moment:

10:08 p.m. ET, February 16, 2021

What Biden has said about his vaccination goals 

From CNN's Maegan Vazquez

Taylor Glascock for CNN
Taylor Glascock for CNN

President Biden is being asked about his administration's vaccine plans and timeline for distribution.

Last Thursday, Biden announced that the United States will have enough coronavirus vaccines for 300 million Americans by the end of July, underscoring that he believes his administration has made significant progress given that there wasn't a rollout plan in place under the Trump administration.

"Within three weeks, 'round the clock work with so many people standing behind me and in front of me, we've now purchased enough vaccine supply to vaccinate all Americans, and now we're working to get those vaccines into the arms of millions of people," Biden said during his speech at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.

Biden used the NIH appearance to announce that the timeline for the previously announced vaccine purchases had been moved up.

Moderna and Pfizer will deliver a total of 200 million coronavirus vaccine doses by the end of July, rather than the end of the summer, he said. The companies will also deliver 100 million expected doses by the end of May, rather than the end of June.

The President, echoing claims made by other administration officials since the start of his tenure in office, asserted that the Trump administration "did not have a plan" for vaccine distribution.

In the waning days of the Trump administration, officials announced they would be releasing reserved coronavirus vaccine doses that they had saved for second doses of the vaccine. However, shortly after the announcement, it became clear many of those reserves had already been released last year as production was ramping up.

Thursday's announcement pushes up the Biden administration's previous timeline for vaccinating the US population. Late last month, Biden had said the US was on track to have enough vaccine supply to fully vaccinate 300 million Americans by the end of summer or early fall.

The President also said on Thursday that the country was on track to beat its goal of administering 100 million vaccine doses into the arms of Americans in his first 100 days of office.