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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10:00 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:

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.