On Oct 15, current president Donald Trump and the Democratic front runner Joe Biden held opposing town hall meetings in Florida and Pennsylvania respectively. The original plan was for the second debate to take place between the two, but after President Trump contracted COVID-19, he refused to do a virtual debate, and so the candidates hosted town halls at the same time. Below is a summary of the Biden town hall.
1st Voter: Nick Feden: I am a Democrat…Mr. Vice President, every day, my wife and I are in disbelief at the lack of coordinated federal action on COVID-19. We know that your administration would follow the science. My question for you is two parts. First, looking backwards to when this country first became aware of COVID-19, what would following the science have meant in terms of actual policy, and then, looking forward, what would your administration do in terms of following the science with real concrete policies that haven’t been done by the current administration?
J. Biden: “Well, first of all, going back, the fact is that we — the president was informed how dangerous this virus was. And all the way back in the beginning of February, I argued that we should be keeping people in China. And we had set up in our administration a pandemic office within the White House, there were 44 people on the ground. I suggested we should be seeking, and I didn’t hold public office, I was a former vice president, I suggested we, in fact, ask — to have access to the source of the problem, and to the best of our knowledge, Trump never pushed that. All those 44 people came home, never got replaced. In addition to that, I pointed out that I thought in February, I did a piece for “USA Today” saying this is a serious problem. Trump denied it. He said it wasn’t. We later learned that he knew full well how serious it was when he did an interview with George Woodward — I mean, excuse me, Bob Woodward. And at the time, he said he didn’t tell anybody because he was afraid Americans would panic. Americans don’t panic. He panicked. He didn’t say a word to anybody. Then I wrote a piece in March about what I thought we should be doing to take hold of this, using the — there’s an act that was passed a long time ago that allows the president to go into a business and say, stop making this and start making that, and took a long time for him to even institute that to get ventilators and so on. And so, the point was, he missed enormous opportunities and kept saying things that weren’t true. It’s going to go away by Easter, don’t worry about it. It’s all going to — when the heat — when summer comes, it’s all going to go away like a miracle. He’s still saying those things.
G.Stephanopoulos: Mr. Vice President, before you go to the future, can I follow back on looking back for just a little bit? You did have an op-ed in January where you warned of the seriousness of the pandemic. But there’s no record of you calling for social distancing, limited social gatherings, mandatory mask —
J. Biden: “Not back then.”
G.Stephanopoulos: In January or February? Right.
J. Biden: “No, in January and February, no, that’s correct. There wasn’t. That came at the end of March, and then I laid out a detailed plan relative to school openings in June and July and talked about — but you got — by that time, the science was becoming clearer and clearer of how this was spreading so rapidly. But the president kept denying that. If you notice, from March on, I stopped doing big meetings, I started wearing masks, you know? So, it was at a time when the science was saying and his key people, Dr. Fauci, were saying, you should be taking these precautions. So, what we should be doing now, there should be a national standard. Instead of leaving this up to — remember, the president said to the governors, well, they’re on their own. It’s not my responsibility. The governors can do what they need to do. Not my responsibility. It is the presidential responsibility to lead. And he didn’t do that. He didn’t talk about what needed to be done because he kept worrying, in my view, about the stock market. He worried if he talked about how bad this could be unless we took these precautionary actions then in fact the market would be done. And his barometer of success of the economy is the market. Thirdly, what we didn’t do is the president had an opportunity to open and allow schools and businesses to stay open if he — they got the kind of help they needed. So the Congress passed a couple trillion dollars worth of help and what happened was most of that money — significant portion of that money went to the very wealthiest corporations in the country, didn’t get to the mom and pop stores. So you had one in five, one in six minority businesses closing, many of them permanently, people being laid off. And then what happened was when the first tranche of — the first round of money for unemployment — enhanced unemployment passed — went — went by, he didn’t do anything. He didn’t do anything. And to the best of my knowledge, and I mean this sincerely, I can’t think of — I’ve been around for a lot of presidents and you know a lot of presidents in a crisis — I don’t ever remember one never calling the House and Senate Republicans and Democrats together.”
G.Stephanopoulos: Let’s look forward a little bit. You said that you would lock down the economy only if the scientist said it was necessary.
J. Biden: “But that wasn’t the context. They said would I lock down the — the economy is science said so. I said I’d follow science. What I — but I don’t think there’s a need to lock down.”
G.Stephanopoulos: But — yes, but I want to press you on that point there.
J. Biden: “Sure.”
G.Stephanopoulos: You — you’ve been in the Oval Office for eight years with President Obama. He would always say that only the — only the hard to solve problems … said what is most likely to happen is the scientist will disagree. The scientist will disagree with the economist. So the question is how are you going to decide this? Who are you going to listen to and how can you contain the pandemic without crushing the economy?
J. Biden: “Well, you can contain the pandemic by being rational and not trust the economy. For example, I laid out a plan how you can open businesses. You can open businesses and schools if in fact you provide them the guidance that they need as well as the money to be able to do it. What’s happening now is we know, for example, if you can open a business and you could have a sign on the door saying safe to come in, that’s why people aren’t going anyway when they’re open, and say because you have social distancing and you have plastic barriers when you go to the cashier you have separators between the booths, you don’t have large crowds, you reduce the size of the number of people you can have in the restaurant. You make sure there’s testing. That’s a really critical piece that he didn’t do, testing and tracing. And you make sure that people are equipped going to schools. You know we initially said — the government initially said they’re going to provide masks for every student and every teacher. Then they said no, no, no, no; FEMA said that — the president or whomever said no, no that’s not a national emergency. Not a national emergency. We need fewer — we need more teachers in our schools to be able to open, smaller pods. We need ventilation systems change. There’s a lot of things we know now and I’ve let — I laid them out in some detail. Now again, when I say I laid them out, I’m not an office holder. I’m running for office, it’s not like I’m still vice president or I was a United States senator pushing this. So I don’t want to say I, I, I. But we did lay out exactly what needed to be done. And take a look, we make up 4 percent of the world’s population, we have 20 percent of the world’s deaths. We’re in a situation where we have 210 plus thousand people dead. And what’s he doing? Nothing. He’s still not wearing a mask and so on.”
G.Stephanopoulos: The next one comes from Kelly Leigh. She’s from Philadelphia, Republican. Voted for Donald Trump in 2016. Undecided now.
2nd Voter: K. Leigh: Hi, Mr. Biden. My question is about the coronavirus vaccine or potential. Senator Harris stated that she absolutely would not take a vaccine from President Trump. And of course we all know it’s not President Trump that would create this vaccine, it would be doctors and scientist that presumably we all trust. So my question for you is if a vaccine were approved by — between now and the end of the year, would you take it and if you were to become president, would you mandate that everyone has to take it.
J. Biden: “Two things. Number one, President Trump talks about things that just aren’t accurate about everything from vaccines; we’re going to have one right away, it’s going to happen and so on. The point is that if the scientist — if the body of science is saying that this is what is ready to be done and they’re — it’s been tested and they’ve gone through the three phases; yes, I would take it and I’d encourage people to take it. But President Trump says things like, you know, everything from this crazy stuff he’s walking away from now, inject bleach in your arm and that’s going to work. No, I’m not being a bit — I’m not being facetious though. I mean he actually said these things. And now Regeneron is the answer. That’s going to cure everything. There’s 500,000 doses. We got a couple — you know, we have a — more than a few million people. You know, and so — and most of the — if you notice, most of the companies who are developing these vaccines are working. They’re making real progress. I meet with four leading scientists at least twice a week, in the beginning, four times a week, giving us the detail on what kind of progress is being made. And, right now, they do the right thing. When they run into a serious problem, they halt the test. They don’t continue until they figure out what the problem was. They’re not there yet. And most scientists say that it’s not likely to have a vaccine that would be available until the beginning of next year, into the spring of next year. And, in the meantime, what I worry about is the same thing with Regeneron, which is — which is a useful antidote — not antidote — a useful tool. But what’s happening is, there is no plan to figure out how to distribute it, how many — we have 500,000 vials of it. Well, we don’t have all the testing equipment. We don’t have all the ability to get it to the people who need it. And what we should be doing now — and, allegedly, it’s happening, but I have not seen it yet, nor the docs that I talk to have seen it — there should be a plan, when we have the vaccine, how do we distribute it?”
G.Stephanopoulos And once we get it, if it is safe, if it is effective, will you mandate its use?
J. Biden: “The answer is, depending on how clear there’s — vaccines, they say, have a very positive impact, and they are going to affect positively 85 percent of the American public. There’s others that say, this vaccine is really the key. This is — this is the golden key. It depends on the state of the nature of the vaccine when it comes out and how it’s being distributed. That would depend on. But I would think that we should be talking about — depending on the continuation of the spread of the virus, we should be thinking about making it mandatory.”
G.Stephanopoulos: How could you enforce that?
J. Biden: “Well, you couldn’t. That’s the problem, just like can’t enforce — you can’t enforce measles. You can’t come to school until you have a measles shot. You can’t. But you can’t say, everyone has to do this. But you would — just like you can’t mandate a mask. But you can say — you can go to every governor and get them all in a room, all 50 of them, as president, and say, ask people to wear the mask. Everybody knows.”
G.Stephanopoulos: And avoid lockdowns?
J. Biden: “And avoid lockdown, yes. You don’t have to lock down if you are wearing the mask.”
G.Stephanopoulos: Let’s get a question on the economy. Anthony Argirakis from Canonsburg, Pennsylvania — it’s a suburb of Pittsburgh — Republican. Voted for President Trump.
3rd Voter: A. Argirakis: You stated that anyone making less than $400,000 will not see one single penny of their taxes raised…but also state that you are going to eliminate the Trump tax cuts. The Trump tax cuts reduces taxes for the majority of workers, I would argue not enough. What is your plan for either extending the tax cuts for the middle class or creating a new plan that further reduces those taxes?
J. Biden: “I carry this card with me. When I said the tax — the Trump tax cuts, about $1.3 trillion of the $2 trillion in his tax cuts went to the top one-tenth of 1 percent. That’s what I’m talking about eliminating, not all the tax cuts that are out there. And, by the way, if you just take a look, we reduced the corporate tax rate from 35 percent and Democrats and Republicans who were in office thought it should come down to 28 percent. He reduced it to 21 percent. You have 91 out of every — of the Fortune 500 companies not paying a single solitary penny. If you raise the corporate taxes back to 28 percent, which is a fair tax, you’d raise $1 trillion 300 billion by that one act. If you made sure that people making over $400 grand pay what they did in the Bush Administration, 39.6 percent, you would raise another — this goes up to, let me get to the exact number here. About another $200– excuse me. $92 billion. So you could raise a lot of money to be able to invest in things that can make your life easier, make you change your standard of living by making sure you have affordable healthcare, by making sure you’re in a situation where you’re able to send your kind to school, and if you have a student debt, you can deal with it. Making sure that your home, that you can pay your mortgage…Moody’s did an analysis of my — detailed analysis of my tax plan and my economic plan. They said I will, in four years — Moody’s. Wall Street. Said I will create 18.6 million new jobs, good paying jobs, number one. Number two, and I’ll — the GDP will grow by a trillion dollars more than it would under Trump, and seven million more jobs than under Trump’s, and the reason is, when you allow people to get back in the game and have a job, everything moves. Everything moves. Right now, you’ve got the opposite. You had, last year, during this pandemic, you had the wealthiest billionaires in the world, and the nation, they made another $700 billion. Seven hundred billion dollars. He talks about a V-shaped recovery. It’s a K-shaped recovery. If you’re on the top, you’re going to do very well. And the other things I’m — and if you’re on the bottom or if you’re in the middle or the bottom, your income is coming down. You’re not getting a raise. I should — I don’t know what you’re doing. You may get a raise. Hope you’re a billionaire, I — but, but all kidding aside, it’s about growing the economy. And, George, the way out, the reason why I’m so optimistic about economic recovery, more than I’ve ever been, is we have these four crises happening all at once and one helps the other. For example, we’re going to invest a great deal of that money into infrastructure. And into green infrastructure. We’re going to put 500,000 charging stations on new highways we’re building, and old highways we’re building. We’re going to own the electric market. You know as well as I do, from your days — you know, in the old days, where the president has — spends about $600 billion a year on government contracts, everything from making sure they have aircraft carriers to automobile fleets for the — in the United States. If you make — make — and we can — and it’s not in violation of any international trade agreement, made in America. If you actually insist that, whatever that product is, made in America, including the material that goes into the product, we — it’s estimated we’re going to create somewhere between another 4 million and 6 million jobs just by doing that. But what’s happening now under his trade policy, a lot of this is going overseas. You get a benefit from going overseas, if you have much of it being made overseas. So, if you send it overseas, you get a 10 percent tax increase on your– on the product. If you make it in America and you bring it back, you get a 10 percent growth. If you bring back a company and you’re going to open up an old facility, you get a 10 percent tax credit for all you invested. That actually works, George.
G.Stephanopoulos: So, there’s not going to be any delay on the tax increases.
J. Biden: “No, well, I’ve got to get the votes. I got to get the votes. That’s why — you know, the one thing that I — I have this strange notion. We are a democracy. Some of my Republican friends and some of my Democratic friends even occasionally say, “Well, if you can’t get the votes by executive order, you’re going to do something.” Things you can’t do by executive order unless you’re a dictator. We’re a democracy. We need consensus.”
G.Stephanopoulos: And welcome back to our Town Hall with Joe Biden. We’re going to get a question now from Cedric Humphrey, he’s a student from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, progressive Democrat.
4th Voter: C. Humphrey: Many people believe that the true swing demographic in this election will be Black voters under the age of 30. Not because they’ll be voting for Trump, but because they won’t vote at all. I myself have had this exact same conflict. So, my question for you then is, besides you ain’t Black, what do you have to say to young Black voters who see voting for you as further participation in a system that continually fails to not protect them?
J. Biden: “Well, I’d said, first of all, as my buddy John Lewis said, it’s a sacred opportunity, the right to vote. You can make a difference. If young Black women and men vote, you can determine the outcome of this election. Not a joke. You can do that. And the next question is, am I worthy of your vote, can I earn your vote? And the answer is, there’s two things I think that I care, that I’ve demonstrated I care about my whole career. One is in addition to dealing with a criminal justice system to make it fair and make it more decent, we have to be able to put Black Americans in a position to be able to gain wealth, generate wealth and so you look at what that entails and it entails everything from early education; that’s why I’m supporting making sure that when you have Title One Schools as you know schools with the least tax base to be able to support their schools, I increased the funding for them from 15 to $45 billion. That allows every teacher in that school to make up to 60,000 bucks and the problem now is they’re leaving the schools, they’re not there, we’re short about a million-and-a-half teachers, a million-and-a-quarter teachers. Number two, every three and four and five-year-old will go to school; school not daycare, school. And all the great universities including the one you’ve gone to, go to or went to, in fact talks about in the last eight years what’s happened, what happens when you let them go to school they make up rapidly whatever shortcoming they had in terms of their education prior to that. They’ve not heard as many words spoken, etc., etc. What happens is that the studies show that 58 percent will increase by 58 percent their chance of going all through 12 years of school and going through successfully. We’ll also provide for the ability to bring in social workers and school psychologists. We have one school psychologist in America now for every 1507 kids; it should be one to 500, not just in schools that are poor but in all schools because we learn that for example drug abuse doesn’t cause mental illness; mental illness cause drug abuse. But failure to get hold of people and deal with their anxieties. In addition to that I’d provide for $70 billion for HBCUs for them to be able to have the wherewithal to do what other universities can do because they don’t have the kind of foundational support they need and so that would allow them for example like we did in our administration, the president allowed me to go down and we awarded a cybersecurity laboratory, ability to compete for a cybersecurity laboratory. The federal government spends billions of dollars a year on universities because they are the best kept secret or where most of the major inventions come out of and so that school now will be able to produce young Black women and men who are going to go into a field of the future that’s burgeoning; cybersecurity. And that’s what’s going to help a great deal. In addition to that if you’re a young man about to graduate and you’ve graduated from school and you want to own your first home and you’re, well it’s awful hard to get the money and depending on the background, excuse me, your economic background is to get a downpayment so we’re going to guarantee first-time home buyers a $15,000 downpayment for first-time home buyers. In addition to that, what all the studies now show and I’ve been arguing this for a long time is young Black entrepreneurs are just as successful as white entrepreneurs or anyone else, given a shot. But you can’t get the money. Where do you go to get the startup money? So what President Obama and I did, we had a program, we took $1,500,000,000 and we invested it in all the SBAs around the country, in the state SBAs, Small Business Associations and that generated, $30 billion came off the sideline because if you have a guarantee of $200,000 for your new startup enterprise, you’re an entrepreneur, you’re going to be able to attract if it’s government money, there’s a guarantee you’ll be to attract another $100,000. It generated $30 billion. Now I’m changing that program and I’ll get this done without much trouble I believe in the Congress from $1.5 billion to 30 billion. That’ll take $300 billion off the sideline and grow because you know and for example if you in fact and I were the same age and we split our differences and we were the same age and we went to the same builder to buy us each the same home but my home was in a white neighborhood on one side of a highway and yours is in a Black neighborhood; same exact home. Your home will start off being valued 29 percent less than my home, yet your insurance for that home will be higher. You’ll be taxed more for it. We’ve got to end this. That’s what got me involved in politics in the first place; a thing called “redlining.” We can change so much and we can do so much to change the circumstances to give people a real opportunity –”
G.Stephanopoulos: No, not at all. Garnet Valley, Pennsylvania. Republican who voted for President Trump last time-Angelia Politarhos.
5th Voter: Angelia Politarhos Thank you. Thank you, George. Thank you, Vice President Biden. Nice to meet you. What’s your view on the crime bill that you wrote in 1994 which showed prejudice against minorities? Where do you stand today on that?
J. Biden: “Well, first of all, things have changed drastically. That crime bill, when it voted, the Black Caucus voted for it, every Black mayor supported it across the board. And it didn’t — the crime bill itself did not have mandatory sentences except for two things. It had three strikes and you’re out which I voted against in the crime bill. But it had a lot of other things in it that turned out to be both bad and good. I wrote the Violence Against Women Act, that was part of it. The Assault Weapons Ban and other things that were good. What I was against was giving states more money for prison systems that they could build, state prison systems. And you have 93 out of every 100 people is in a state prison not in a federal prison because they built more prisons. I also wrote into that bill a thing called drug courts. I don’t believe anybody should be going to jail for drug use, they should be going into mandatory rehabilitation. We should be building rehab centers to have these people housed. We should wipe out — we should decriminalize marijuana, wipe out the record so you can actually say in honesty have you ever arrested for anything, you can say no. Because we’re going to pass a law saying there is no background that you have to reveal relative to the use of marijuana. And so there’s a lot of things. But in addition to that, we’ve got to change the system. I joined with a group of people in the house to provide for changing the system from punishment to rehabilitation Along with a guy named Arlen Specter, who you may remember — I wrote the Second Chance Act.
G.Stephanopoulos: Was it a mistake to support it?
J. Biden: “Yes, it was. But here’s where the mistake came. The mistake came in terms of what the states did locally. What we did federally, we said — you remember, George, it was all about the same time for the same crime. What I had done as chairman of the judiciary committee, I took the ten circuit courts of appeals, took some really brilliant lawyers working for me in judiciary, we did a study. And we determined what happens if for the first, second, third offense for any crime in the criminal justice system at the federal level. If you’re a Black man, it’s the first time you commit a robbery, how long would you go to jail on average, if you’re a white man, how long? Black man would go to jail on average 13 years, white man, two years. I go down the list of every single crime. So we set up a sentencing commission, we didn’t set the time. Every single solitary maximum was reduced in there. But what happened was it became the same time for the same crime. So it said you had to serve between one and three years. It ended up becoming much lower. Black folks went to jail a lot less than they would have before. But it was a mistake.”
G.Stephanopoulos: Let me ask another follow up on the crime bill. It also funded 100,000 police —
J. Biden: “Yes.”
G.Stephanopoulos: Back in 1994. You’ve often said that more cops clearly mean less crime. Do you still believe that?
J. Biden: “Yes. If, in fact, they’re involved in community policing not jump squads. For example, when we had community policing from the mid-90s on till Bush got elected, what happened? Violent crime actually went down precipitous. Remember the significant rise in violent crime that was occurring the late 80s into the 90s. It went down and fewer African Americans were arrested because you had the requirement – the cops didn’t like it, they didn’t like the community policing, because you had to have two people in a vehicle, they had to get out of their cars, they had to introduce themselves to — who owned the local liquor store, who owned the local grocery store, who was the woman on the corner. And what they would do, George, that they’d actually go and give people their phone numbers. The cop would give the phone number. So, if Nelly Smith was on the second floor where drug deals took place and things happened below her, she — I mean, her apartment, she could call and say, it’s Nelly and there’s something going on here and they’d never reveal it was her, because they know if she knew that, in fact, they reported, they would never report. She — they never report. So, it actually started to come down. What happened? They eliminated the funding for community policing. Community policing doesn’t mean more people coming in in up-armored Humvees and swarming like that. When they did, it turned out by the time we got to the late ’90s, the crime had come down so much, and the mayors and everybody asked the question, where do you want me to spend the money? They say, well, only 1 percent thought violent crime was a problem. It was as high as 22 percent.”
G.Stephanopoulos: Right now, we have a systemic problem. How do you get the kind of policing, prevent the kind of policing —
J. Biden: “You have to change the way in which they put — one of the things I’m going to do, George, is what — is set up a national study group made up of cops, social workers, as well as made up of the Black community and the brown community to sit down in the White House and over the next year, come up with significant reforms that need to take place within communities. You have to bring them together. One of the things I’ve observed is, you know, the neighborhood I grew up — I grew up in Claymont, you either became a cop, a firefighter or a priest. I wasn’t qualified much to do any one of them. But here’s the deal, all kidding aside, most cops don’t like bad cops. They don’t like it. And so, what happens is, they get intimidated into not reporting. So, one of the things we do is there has to be transparency available. We have to be able to do — go in at the federal level, be able to go in and check out whether or not there’s systematic problems within police departments. If, in fact, a cop is — needs to be tried, it’s not the prosecutor in the community, in the district or there, you’ve got to go outside the community to get another prosecutor to come in and handle the crime. There’s a lot of things we’ve learned and it takes time, but we can do this. You can ban chokeholds, you can — but — but beyond that, you have to teach people how to de-escalate circumstances, de-escalate. So, instead of anybody coming at you and the first thing you do is shoot to kill, you shoot them in the leg. There’s ways — you have to do more background checks in terms of whether or not the person coming in passes certain psychological tests. And the last thing I’ll say, and I’m sorry, but it’s really, I think, really, really important, is you have to be in a position where you are able to identify — identify the things that have to change and one of the things that has to change is, so many cops get called into circumstances where somebody is mentally off. Like what happened not long ago, that guy with the knife. That’s why we have to provide — within police departments, psychologists and social workers, to go out with the cops on those calls, those — some of those 911 calls, to de-escalate the circumstance, to deal with talking them down. But we can’t — cops are kind of like schoolteachers now. You know, schoolteacher has to know everything from what — how — how to handle hunger in a household, as well as how to teach you how to read. Well, cops don’t have that breadth, and there’s a lot of things we can do. We shouldn’t be defunding cops, we should be mandating the things that we should be doing within police departments and make sure there’s total transparency.”