CNN town hall with President Biden

By Melissa Macaya and Veronica Rocha, CNN

Updated 1423 GMT (2223 HKT) July 22, 2021
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11:28 p.m. ET, July 21, 2021

Biden's infrastructure agenda continues to face roadblocks in Congress. Here's where things stand.

From CNN's Alex Rogers and Manu Raju

While President Biden answers questions from a stage in Cincinnati about his infrastructure agenda, back in Washington, DC, the bipartisan infrastructure legislation is facing hurdles in Congress.

Senate Republicans blocked a vote Wednesday to start debate on a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, as they push for more time to strike a deal with Democrats and write the legislation.

The vote was 49-51, short of the 60 votes needed to advance the measure.

But lawmakers said their negotiations will intensify over the next few days with the goal of trying again to advance the measure by early next week.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer defended his decision to set up the vote despite Republican opposition, pointing out that the bipartisan group has spent more than a month negotiating. He said Wednesday that bipartisan negotiators are "close to finalizing their product" and that GOP senators "should feel comfortable voting to move forward today."

"We all want the same thing here: to pass a bipartisan infrastructure bill," said Schumer. "But in order to finish the bill, we first need to start."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said the push to advance the bill was a "stunt" that is "set to fail" because negotiators have not finalized an agreement.

Some background: Despite the finger-pointing among their party leaders, the bipartisan group could draft the bill and advance it in the coming days. Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins said Wednesday that she and 10 other GOP senators are sending Schumer a letter committing to advance the bill on Monday if a deal is finalized.

In June, the White House and a bipartisan Senate group agreed to a $579 billion in new spending to build roads, bridges, railroads and airports, along with water, power and broadband infrastructure projects.

11:16 p.m. ET, July 21, 2021

Students under the age of 12 will likely need to wear masks at school, says Biden

From CNN's Josiah Ryan

President Biden said tonight that students under the age of 12 will likely need to wear masks when schools reopen in the autumn, as they are not yet eligible to receive the vaccine. 

"Everyone under the age of 12 should probably be wearing masks in school," he said, answering a question from a Democrat currently running for her school board.

"That's probably what's going to happen," he added.

Biden also warned that the situation in schools could get "tight" as parents will have to rely on mutual trust on who is or is not vaccinated for those students who are eligible to receive the shot. 

"Are mom or dad being honest that Johnny did or didn't get vaccinated?" he said. "That's going to raise questions. I think what's going to happen is you are going see this work out in ways that people are going to know in the community."

"I think it's a matter of community responsibility and I think you're going to see it work through," he sad.

12:00 a.m. ET, July 22, 2021

Biden says he believes children under 12 will be able to get vaccinated "soon"

From CNN's Betsy Klein

Asked when children under the age of 12 will be able to get vaccinated, President Biden said it would be "soon, I believe."

When pressed on how soon this would be, Biden went on to say “soon, in the sense that I do not tell any scientists what they should do. I do not interfere. So, they are doing the examinations now, the testing now, and making the decision now,” he said, adding that scientists will make a decision “when they are ready” and have “done all the science that needs to be done” to determine the appropriate vaccination for different age groups.

"Children 5, 6, 7, 8, they all have different makeups. They're developing. They're trying to figure out whether or not there's a vaccination that affects one child that is at such and such an age, and not another child. That's underway," the President said during the CNN town hall.

In May, the US Food and Drug Administration expanded the emergency use authorization for Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine to include people ages 12 to 15. Children under the age of 12 are not yet eligible to receive a Covid-19 vaccine.

Biden also indicated that he expects the Covid-19 vaccines, which currently are approved under emergency use authorization, to get full approval Food and Drug Administration “quickly.”

The FDA granted priority review to Pfizer/BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine last week, with CNN reporting that an FDA official suggested a decision on full approval is likely to come within two months. Moderna has also begun submitting data for approval of its two-dose coronavirus vaccine, and Johnson & Johnson is expected to seek FDA approval. 

“They’re not promising me any specific date, but my expectation, talking to the group of scientists we put together… plus others in the field, is that sometime, maybe in the beginning of the school year, at the end of August, beginning September, October, they’ll get a final approval,” he said.

Watch the moment:

11:06 p.m. ET, July 21, 2021

Biden says pandemic is one of unvaccinated individuals

From CNN's Maureen Chowdhury

(Maddie McGarvey for CNN)
(Maddie McGarvey for CNN)

President Biden addressed the rising number of Covid-19 cases and said that the pandemic is now a concern for those who haven't received a vaccine.

"We have a pandemic for those who haven't gotten the vaccination. It's that basic, that simple," Biden said.

"If you're vaccinated, you're not going to be hospitalized. You're not going to be in an ICU unit. And you are not going to die," President Biden explained.

Biden also discussed vaccine hesitancy and urged people to ask "legitimate questions" so that they can then get answers.

"The question should be asked, answered and people should get vaccinated," he said.

8:19 p.m. ET, July 21, 2021

Entire audience fully vaccinated for tonight's CNN town hall

From CNN's Jason Kurtz

(Maddie McGarvey for CNN)
(Maddie McGarvey for CNN)

CNN's Don Lemon made certain to let viewers know that safety and health were of the utmost concern for the evening's town hall with President Biden.

"The President, myself and everyone here in our audience, we are all fully vaccinated," Lemon shared as the live town hall began from Ohio.

Biden's one-hour appearance comes as the nation continues to be impacted by a new strain of the virus, while certain swaths of America simultaneously reject medical experts' vaccine recommendations.

"Virtually all Covid hospitalizations and deaths are now among the unvaccinated," reported Lemon, who noted that Biden is working "to keep the pandemic in check and his goal of an infrastructure deal on track."

8:03 p.m. ET, July 21, 2021

Here's a look at the latest US Covid-19 case numbers and vaccination efforts

From CNN's Deidre McPhillips, Maegan Vazquez and Madeline Holcombe

CNN's town hall with President Biden just kicked off with a question about the Covid-19 pandemic.

Despite the Biden administration's progress vaccinating the US population these past months, there are now growing concerns surrounding lagging vaccination rates, Covid-19 vaccine disinformation and a rise in cases in some parts of the country.

The country averaged 37,055 new cases a day across a week as of Tuesday — 54% higher than the prior week and more than two and a half times the average recorded about two weeks ago (13,665), according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

The more contagious Delta variant of coronavirus, meanwhile, now makes up more than 80% of sequenced samples in the United States, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Tuesday.

The White House has faced hurdles in figuring out how to successfully address vaccine hesitancy among the American population and has warned that the current pandemic is one of the unvaccinated, who make up the majority of Covid-related hospitalizations and deaths.

Here's a look at the latest vaccination figures published Wednesday by the CDC:

  • 48.8% of the US population is fully vaccinated
  • The current pace of vaccinations (seven-day average): 252,647 people fully vaccinated per day; 516,441 doses reported administered per day. 
  • This daily average of people becoming fully vaccinated is the lowest it’s been since the end of January, when the US had only been vaccinating for about six weeks.
  • The mid-April peak was seven times higher, with nearly 1.8 million people becoming fully vaccinated each day. 
  • 20 states have fully vaccinated more than half of their residents: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin, as well as Washington, DC.
  • Alabama and Mississippi are the only states to have fully vaccinated less than 35% of residents. 
8:00 p.m. ET, July 21, 2021

NOW: Biden takes questions at CNN town hall after Republicans block vote on infrastructure bill

From CNN's Maegan Vazquez

(Maddie McGarvey for CNN)
(Maddie McGarvey for CNN)

President Biden just took the stage in Cincinnati and will face key questions on how his administration will handle some of the most pressing issues facing the country, including the Covid-19 pandemic.  

Tonight's event comes just hours after Senate Republicans blocked a vote to begin debate on a bipartisan infrastructure plan. But lawmakers said their negotiations will intensify over the next few days with the goal of trying again to advance the measure by early next week.

After riding high off the passage of the American Rescue Plan in March, the Biden White House has since been zeroed-in on infrastructure as its top legislative priority.

Here's a look at some key topics expected to take center stage tonight:

  • Covid-19 and lagging US vaccination rates
  • Infrastructure and Biden's legislative agenda
  • The economy
  • Cybersecurity
  • The Afghanistan withdrawal and foreign policy

Read more about tonight's town hall here.

7:43 p.m. ET, July 21, 2021

Some of the major challenges Biden's six-month-old presidency is facing

From CNN's Kevin Liptak and Maegan Vazquez

US President Joe Biden tours the IBEW / NECA Electrical Training Center in Cincinnati, Ohio,  on July 21.
US President Joe Biden tours the IBEW / NECA Electrical Training Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, on July 21. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

President Biden is in Ohio today for a CNN town hall on Wednesday as his six-month-old presidency reaches a critical juncture.

A major set of problems is unfurling as he makes his third visit to the state. Covid cases are rising, testament to a vaccination effort that stalled amid waves of disinformation and skepticism. Pent-up demand has caused an uptick in prices, leading to concerns over inflation.

And Biden's much-touted bipartisan infrastructure deal remains in a state of limbo as Republicans and Democrats rush to finalize the plan.

The President was set to depart Washington for Cincinnati around the same time the Senate blocked a vote to start debate on the infrastructure plan, a setback to Biden's attempts at fostering across-the-aisle cooperation. Negotiators say they will continue talking in hopes of striking a deal, but now Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer must schedule another vote for next week.

Biden's aides have been working behind-the-scenes to bring the deal to fruition. In theory, it would spend $600 billion repairing roads and bridges and bolstering broadband networks, among other physical infrastructure priorities. A separate $3.5 trillion framework being advanced only by Democrats includes the remainder of Biden's family and jobs agenda, including education, housing and child care.

At the same time, Biden is confronting a troubling rise in Covid cases that has now spread to every state in the country. Driven by the highly contagious Delta variant, nearly all new hospitalizations and deaths are among unvaccinated people. But the new surge has already forced some localities to reapply mask mandates.

The set of challenges is familiar territory for first-year presidents, who often confront unforeseen crises just as they are hoping to quickly enact the plans they ran on.

Aside from Covid and the economy, Biden is facing foreign hotspots in Afghanistan, Haiti and Cuba. And border crossings have again spiked, an issue the administration has struggled to contain.

Read more here.

7:33 p.m. ET, July 21, 2021

The town hall is taking place in the traditional battleground state of Ohio

CNN's town hall with President Biden will take place in Cincinnati, the hometown of Sen. Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican, who was one of the senators who signed on to a bipartisan infrastructure deal with the President last month at the White House and has been making the case for the GOP to work with Biden on key legislative priorities.

Portman is a key Republican to watch throughout Biden's first two years in office as he is retiring at the end of 2022 and could be a potential bipartisan dealmaker.

The event will take place in the traditional battleground state of Ohio, which has often been a key bellwether in presidential elections. The state has a Republican governor, Mike DeWine, who has been a key ally in the fight against Covid for Biden and has joined the President in multiple virtual events promoting Covid-19 vaccines.

The President has been traveling around the country in recent months selling his infrastructure proposal, often hitting Midwestern cities in key states and districts that will play a key role in both the 2022 and 2024 elections.

The President has gone to these areas touting his "Blue Collar Blueprint for America," attempting to reach voters who may have swung toward Trump in previous elections but have traditionally voted for Democrats.