President Biden participated in a town hall question and answer session in Milwaukee hosted by Anderson Cooper on CNN on February 16, 2021, which lasted approximately one hour and ten minutes. Read the text of the entire townhall at whitehouse.gov. Below are several excerpts from the Q&A with President Biden:
QUESTION ON COVID VACCINES FOR BLACKS AND HISPANICS:
CNN’s ANDERSON COOPER: 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.
PRESIDENT BIDEN: By the way — you’ve heard me say this before, Becky [sic] — 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 — my family. You’re wonderful. Thank you for what you do.
AUDIENCE MEMBER DESSIE LEVY: 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 3 percent of blacks and less than 5 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.
THE PRESIDENT: 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 and other experiments — I need not tell you, Doctor — over the last 50 to 75 to 100 years in America. So there’s a — 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 — all of the fed- — 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, you know, a week, in 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.
Thirdly, I also am providing for mobile — 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, you know, 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 you’re — 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 part — 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.
Watch the video of this clip below:
MR. COOPER: Are you concerned about the rollout of this online? Because it has been incredibly confusing for a lot of people, not just —
THE PRESIDENT: Sure.
MR. COOPER: — you know, older people. It’s younger people just trying to find a place to get a vaccine.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes. And I have. Because look — 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 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.
Number two, there was very little federal guidance; it’s 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 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, I’m not — my — you know, my grandchildren can use that online — you know, make me look like I’m in, you know, the seventh century.
But all kidding aside, so this is a process, and it’s going to take time. It took us a — 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 — it hit the United States. “You’re going to inject something in your arm, it’s going to go away.” “You’re going to be in a — it’ll all be done by Easter.”
We wasted so much time. So much time.
QUESTION ON COVID VACCINES FOR KIDS:
MR. COOPER: Another question about vaccines. This is Jessica Salas. She’s an independent from the Milwaukee, a graphic designer.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Hi, 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 Matteo — 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.
THE PRESIDENT: Well first of all, honey — what’s your first name?
LAYLA SALAS: Layla.
THE PRESIDENT: Layla. Beautiful name. First of all, kids don’t get the vacci- — get COVID very often. It’s unusual for that to happen. They don’t — they — and there — 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 that’s — so you — you’re the safest group of people in the whole world — number one.
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 it, baby. I promise you. But I know it’s, kind of, worrisome. Are you in first grade, second grade?
LAYLA SALAS: Second.
THE PRESIDENT: Oh, you’re getting old. (Laughter.) Second grade. Well, has your school — have you been in school, honey?
LAYLA SALAS: No.
THE PRESIDENT: No. See, that’s — that’s, kind of, 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 — they just — their whole lives have, sort of, changed, like when it used to be. It used to be, let’s 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.
Watch the video of this clip below:
ON RETURNING STUDENTS FULL-TIME TO SCHOOL BUILDINGS:
MR. COOPER: 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?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Hi, welcome to Milwaukee.
THE PRESIDENT: How you doing?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Good. My question is regarding education.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: And 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.
THE PRESIDENT: My mother would say, “God bless you, son.” No purgatory for you — four kids home. I really mean it. And, by the way, the loss of being able to be in school is having significant impact on the children and parents as well.
And so, 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. And I’m — I’m not making the number up; it might be less. It doesn’t have to be literally 10.
In addition to that, we also have indicated that it is much better, it’s much easier to send kids K-through-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 — and having —
For example, school bus drivers — you know, we — we got to make sure that you don’t have 60 kids, or however many there — depending on the size of school bus — sitting two abreast in every single seat.
And so there’s a lot of things we can do, short of — and I think that we should be vaccinating teachers. We should move them up in the hierarchy as well. (Applause.)
MR. COOPER: Well, let me ask you, 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.
THE PRESIDENT: No, that’s not true. That’s what was reported [by White House press secretary Jen Psaki]; that’s not true. There was a mistake in the communication [from my press secretary]. But what I — 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.
MR. COOPER: So when do you think that would be — K-through-8, at least five days a week if possible?
THE PRESIDENT: 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 — my guess is they’re going to probably be pushing to open all for — all summer — to continue like it’s a different semester (inaudible).
MR. COOPER: Do you think that would be five days a week or just a couple?
THE PRESIDENT: I think — I think many of them are 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.
Watch the video of this clip below:
ON PRESIDENT BIDEN’S PHONE CALL WITH CHINESE PRESIDENT XI JIN PING, AND CHINA’S HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES AGAINST UIGHER MUSLIMS AND OTHERS:
MR. COOPER: You just talked to China’s President, I believe.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, for two hours.
MR. COOPER: What about the Uyghurs? What about the human rights abuses in China?
THE PRESIDENT: We must speak up for human rights. It’s who we are. We can’t — my comment to him was — and I know him well, and he knows me well. We’re — a two-hour conversation.
MR. COOPER: You talked about this to him?
THE PRESIDENT: I talked about this, too. And that’s not so much refugee, but I talked about — I said — look, you know, 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 — 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 — and by the — he said he — he gets it. Culturally, there are different norms that each country and they — 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 — 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 be the president.
And I came back and said they’re going to end their One China — 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?
MR. COOPER: 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?
THE PRESIDENT: 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 — 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 than that. I’m — I shouldn’t have tried to talk China policy in 10 minutes on television here.
Watch the video of this clip below:
The above are just several excerpts from President Biden’s Townhall meeting hosted by CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Feb. 16 in Milwaukee. Watch the entire Feb. 16 townhall with President Biden at youtube. Read the text of the entire townhall at whitehouse.gov.
1. What concern did audience member Dr. Dessie Levy express to President Biden about the distribution of covid vaccines to black and Hispanic Americans?
2. What concerns did President Biden express about Black and Hispanic Americans’:
a) Access to the vaccine
b) Ability to get to a vaccination location
c) Ability to register for the vaccine online
3. Prior to President Biden’s statement during the CNN Townhall that “we’re also trying to set up mass vaccination centers, like places in stadiums and the like,” cities in many states had already set up vaccination centers at sports arenas and stadiums, including various MLB, NFL and NBA stadiums, fairgrounds and convention centers.
a) Do you think the federal government under President Biden’s Coronavirus Task Force should take over the coordination of vaccine centers in the states – or do you think each states’s governor and health department should establish their own systems as they have already been doing? Explain your answer.
b) Ask a parent the same question.
4. How did President Biden respond to the question audience member Jessica Salas asked for her daughter: “My children…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.”
5. Audience member Kevin Michel, a father of four, asked President Biden, “What is the plan and recommendation to get students back into the brick-and-mortar buildings? …I find it imperative that they get back to school as safely as possible.”
a) What specifics did President Biden give for his plan on how/when students will be able to return to in-school classes?
b) Are you encouraged by President Biden’s plan? Explain your answer.
c) Note: Some school districts never went virtual; schools in many cities including New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, etc. have not yet returned to any in-school classes; or returned for a short period only to go all virtual again – some with no end date set yet.
Do you think the federal government should mandate how/when every school district returns to regular in-school classes? Or should individual states (or counties/school districts) each have their own plan? Explain your answer.
d) Ask a parent the same question.
e) Discuss with a parent: If a school district (for example, Chicago) is keeping schools all virtual but parents and students are calling for schools to re-open, should the governor or the president order the district to establish a plan to open? Considering states’ rights, does the president have the legal authority to do so?
6. Before he was inaugurated, President Biden said his goal was to get students back to school full-time in his first 100 days in office. Last week his White House press secretary Jen Psaki said his goal was to have students return for at least one day a week. The president then corrected her, saying this had been reported in error. He told CNN’s Anderson Cooper his goal is for K-8 students to return to school five days a week. For what reasons does the president exclude high school students from his goal of returning students to the classroom?
Do you agree with President Biden? Explain your answer.
7. a) What do you know about the human rights abuses in China against the ethnic Muslim Uyghers?
b) What do you think about President Biden’s response to Anderson Cooper’s question “What about the Uyghurs? What about the human rights abuses in China?”
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