CNN town hall with President Biden

By Meg Wagner and Mike Hayes, CNN

Updated 9:29 a.m. ET, October 25, 2021
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11:40 p.m. ET, October 21, 2021

President Biden answered questions at a CNN town hall tonight. Here's how the event played out.

President Joe Biden speaks to the audience while CNN anchor and host Anderson Cooper listens during CNN's Presidential Town Hall in Baltimore, Maryland, on October 21.
President Joe Biden speaks to the audience while CNN anchor and host Anderson Cooper listens during CNN's Presidential Town Hall in Baltimore, Maryland, on October 21. (Heather Fulbright/CNN)

President Biden answered a range of questions during a CNN town hall in Baltimore this evening.

The town hall came at a critical time for Biden as his administration continues to sell his ambitious legislative agenda to members of Congress and the nation.

If you're just reading in now, here's a look at some of the highlights from tonight:

  • On the infrastructure bill deal: Biden expressed optimism that Democrats in Congress would eke out a deal on his administration’s bipartisan infrastructure package and a budget reconciliation bill aimed at what he called “the care economy,” telling CNN’s Anderson Cooper “I do think we’ll get a deal.” 
  • On the spending plan — and what's NOT in it: Biden laid out in the most specific terms to date what will and won’t be included in a compromise budget measure that contains the bulk of his sweeping domestic agenda. He said a paid leave provision had been whittled down to four weeks, down from Biden’s goal of twelve weeks. And he said it would a “reach” to include dental, vision and hearing coverage to Medicare, a key priority for progressives, saying it was opposed by Sen. Joe Manchin — and that he believed Sen. Kyrsten Sinema was against it as well. Instead, he said he was working to include an $800 voucher for dental coverage, and was still negotiating vision coverage.
  • On the filibuster: Biden acknowledged in his strongest terms to date that filibuster reform will be necessary to pass key items like voting rights legislation and debt limit increases, but that doing so now would hamper his ability to pass his economic agenda. Asked whether he would entertain the notion of getting rid of the filibuster for voting rights legislation, Biden said "maybe more."
  • On the supply chain crisis: Biden said he's considering deploying the National Guard to help ease stress on the US supply chain as it prompts growing concern about the economy. "Yes, absolutely, positively. I will do that," Biden said.
  • On Covid-19 vaccine mandates: Pressed if police officers and other first responders who refuse the Covid-19 vaccine should be forced to stay at home or be let go, President Joe Biden told Cooper, “Yes, and yes.” Biden also lamented misinformation surrounding vaccines, “like what they're saying about my buddy Colin Powell — and he was my friend — who passed away.” Powell, who was vaccinated, died Monday of Covid-19 complications, but was immunocompromised while seeking treatment for multiple myeloma.

9:40 p.m. ET, October 21, 2021

President Biden and Colin Powell once raced Corvettes on a Secret Service racetrack

At the end of tonight's town hall, President Biden was asked what was something that people didn't know about Gen. Colin Powell, who died this week and whom the President considered a close friend.

Biden said that Powell had "enormous integrity," calling him "one of the few serious, serious players I've dealt with over these years." 

"When he made a mistake, he acknowledges it. He said, 'I acknowledge — I was wrong,'" the President said.

On the lighter side, Biden told Anderson Cooper a story about the time that he and Powell raced Corvettes on a Secret Service racetrack.

"He and I went out the Secret Service racetrack. He had a brand new Corvette, his family bought, his kids bought him, and I have a '67 and we raced. We raced. I'm serious. It was on Jay Leno. Check it out. Jay Leno. He is a hell of a guy," Biden said.

Biden said that he won the race but only because Powell "was worried I was going to crash into him." 

10:18 p.m. ET, October 21, 2021

Biden vows to protect Taiwan in event of Chinese attack

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

President Biden said the US was committed to coming to Taiwan's defense if it comes under attack from China — a stance that seems in opposition to America's stated policy of "strategic ambiguity."

Asked twice at CNN's town hall whether the US would protect Taiwan if China attacked, Biden said it would.

"Yes, we have a commitment to do that," he said.

Biden has made similar statements in the past, only to have the White House say longstanding US policy had not changed toward the island. The US provides Taiwan defensive weapons, but has remained intentionally ambiguous on whether it would intervene militarily in the event of a Chinese attack.

Under the "One China" Policy, the US acknowledges China's claim of sovereignty over Taiwan. In recent weeks, Beijing has sent dozens of warplanes near into Taiwan's Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), and Chinese President Xi Jinping has said that "reunification" between China and Taiwan was inevitable.

Biden said he was not concerned about an intentional military conflict with China — but indicated he was worried about unintentional escalation. 

“China, Russia and the rest of the world knows we have the most powerful military in history of the world. Don't worry about whether they're going to be more powerful,” he said. “But you do have to worry about whether or not they're going to engage in activities put them in a position where they may make a serious mistake.”

Biden, citing his relationship with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, said he wasn’t looking to enter a prolonged conflict.

“I have spoken and spent more time with Xi Jinping than any other world leader has. That's why you hear people saying Biden wants to start a new cold war with China. I don't want a cold war with China. I want China to understand that we are not going to step back and change any of our views.”

A White House official later clarified Biden’s comments tonight on Taiwan, saying Biden was “not announcing any change in our policy and there is no change in our policy” in his remarks about China and Taiwan.

“The US defense relationship with Taiwan is guided by the Taiwan Relations Act. We will uphold our commitment under the act, we will continue to support Taiwan's self-defense, and we will continue to oppose any unilateral changes to the status quo,” the official said. 

9:32 p.m. ET, October 21, 2021

Biden says "I guess I should go down" and visit the US-Mexico border

From CNN's Josiah Ryan

President Biden tonight said he will consider visiting the southern border, suggesting he has not visited so far because he has been busy visiting the sites of disasters around the country.

"I know it well," said Biden, when asked if he had plans to visit the area. "I guess I should go down, but the whole point of it is I have not had a whole lot of time to get down."

Biden noted that he has travelled the country and the globe since taking office in January, adding he has "not had a whole lot of time to get down" to the border. 

"I have been spending time going around looking at the $900 billion worth of damage done by hurricanes and floods and weather and traveling around the world," he said.

Earlier in the exchange Biden also defended his decision to keep in place Title 42, a policy of former President Donald Trump's which allows immigration officials swiftly return people who cross over the border in order to limit the spread of Covid-19.

"We have maintained that because of the ... continued extent of Covid in those countries from which people are coming," he said. "It is very, high. So, we maintained the policy."

"We are not sending back children, we send back adults, and we send back large families but we don't send back children in that circumstance," he added.

10:13 p.m. ET, October 21, 2021

Biden: "I also think we're going to have to move to the point where we fundamentally alter the filibuster"

President Joe Biden speaks during CNN's Presidential Town Hall in Baltimore, Maryland, on October 21.
President Joe Biden speaks during CNN's Presidential Town Hall in Baltimore, Maryland, on October 21. (Heather Fulbright/CNN)

President Biden was asked about changing the filibuster so that Democrats can pass the voting rights legislation.

The President said getting into a debate over the filibuster right now will cost him votes on his economic agenda.

"Here is the deal, if, in fact, I get myself into at this moment the debate on the filibuster, I lose at least three votes right now to get what I have to get done on the economic side of the equation, foreign policy side of the equation," he said.

Biden said that in the meantime they should bring back a rule where lawmakers have to physically hold the floor "immediately."

"It used to be the filibuster the way it worked — and we have ten times as many — more than that, times the filibuster has been used since 1978, it used to be you had to stand on the floor and exhaust everything you had and when you gave up the floor and someone else sought the floor, they had to talk until they finished. You're only allowed to do it a second time. After that, it's over. You vote. Someone moves for the vote. I propose we bring that back now, immediately."

Biden added that he believes we are at the point where moving forward "we fundamentally alter the filibuster."

He said it "remains to be seen exactly what that means in terms of fundamentally — on whether or not we just end the filibuster straight up."

In an answer to a follow-up question, Biden said he would entertain the possibility of doing away with the filibuster on the voting rights issue "and maybe more"

Watch the moment:

9:39 p.m. ET, October 21, 2021

Biden was just asked about the filibuster. Here's what the Senate procedure does.

The fight over voting rights has once again put the filibuster front and center. President Biden was just asked about the Senate procedure during his town hall event.

Senate Republicans blocked another voting rights bill Wednesday, as some on the left call to change the chamber's rules to allow the Democratic Party to unilaterally change federal election law. The vote was 49 to 51.

Amid the Republican blockade, Democrats on the left have also increasingly called on their party's senators to gut the Senate's filibuster rule requiring 60 votes to advance most legislation.

Pennsylvania Lt. Governor John Fetterman, a Senate Democratic candidate, said in a statement, "every Democratic Senator who votes in favor of this bill today, but won't support getting rid of the filibuster, is engaging in performative politics, and is content with the GOP's complete assault on our democracy."

But what is a filibuster, and why do Democrats want to change it? The short version of the story is that Democrats want to reinterpret Senate rules so they can use just 50 votes to pass things like the voting rights bill or Biden's massive infrastructure package.

According to the Senate website — which has its own glossary — a filibuster is this: "Informal term for any attempt to block or delay Senate action on a bill or other matter by debating it at length, by offering numerous procedural motions, or by any other delaying or obstructive actions."

These days, it's shorthand for anytime senators demand a supermajority to cut off debate and move to an actual vote on just about anything.

When people talk about ending the filibuster, what they really mean is reinterpreting Senate rules around cloture so that legislation could pass by a simple majority instead of being held up by a minority.

Because Democrats have only 50 votes right now, every one of them needs to be on board to change the Senate rules — and they could be changed back in the future. Currently, moderates like Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia are not in favor of changing it.

Read more about the filibuster here.

Watch the moment:

CNN's Zach Wolfe, Daniella Diaz and Alex Rogers Kate Sullivan contributed reporting to this post.

9:57 p.m. ET, October 21, 2021

Biden details negotiations with moderate Sens. Manchin and Sinema over domestic agenda

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

President Biden explained tonight that Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema were holdouts on critical priority items: expanding paid leave and Medicare, offering tuition-free community college and raising taxes on corporations.

He described in detail how he'd arrived at critical compromises with the two moderate senators, and offered new insights on national television into two of the most important relationships in Washington.

Biden said a paid leave provision included in the original framework had been whittled down to four weeks, a significant concession from Biden's original goal of twelve weeks.

He said it would be a "reach" to include dental, vision and hearing coverage to Medicare, a key priority for progressives including independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, saying Manchin opposed it — and that he believed Sinema was against it as well.

Instead, he said he was working to include an $800 voucher for dental coverage, and was still negotiating whether vision could be added, too.

He flatly said he was opposed to work requirements for a child tax credit, which Manchin has favored.

And he acknowledged that tuition-free community college was unlikely to make it in the final bill, saying instead an expansion of Pell grants could help drive toward expanded higher education.

9:36 p.m. ET, October 21, 2021

Biden says Sen. Sinema won't increase taxes on wealthy "a single penny"

From CNN's Allie Malloy, Kevin Liptak and Kaitlan Collins

President Biden, when asked about Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s stance on Build Back Better, said that Sinema is “supportive” of his environmental agenda but added it “breaks down” over Sinema’s reluctance to increase taxes “a single penny.” 

“She’s smart as the devil. She’s very supportive of the environmental agenda in my administration. Where’s she’s not supportive — where she says she won’t raise a single penny in taxes on the corporate side and on wealthy people,” Biden said of the senator from Arizona. 

Biden added that he is continuing to work with the senator to reach a point where can present a “serious piece of legislation” for the American people.

As for how they’d get there, Biden said there were down to “four to five issues” he’s not going to discuss on national television. 

Biden said it appeared unlikely he would get corporate tax hikes included in the plan amid opposition from Sinema. 

“I don’t think we are going to be able to get the vote,” he said.

A White House official added on Biden’s comments: "The President was referring to the challenge of having the votes to move forward on raising the corporate rate, not to the ability to raise revenue through a range of other tax fairness proposals, which Senator Sinema supports."

9:15 p.m. ET, October 21, 2021

Biden says first responders who refuse the Covid-19 vaccine should be forced to stay home or let go

From CNN's Jason Kurtz

President Joe Biden speaks with CNN anchor and host Anderson Cooper at CNN's Presidential Town Hall in Baltimore, Maryland, on October 21.
President Joe Biden speaks with CNN anchor and host Anderson Cooper at CNN's Presidential Town Hall in Baltimore, Maryland, on October 21. (Heather Fulbright/CNN)

President Biden said emergency responders should be mandated to receive the Covid-19 vaccine and possibly risk losing their job if they refuse.

"I'm wondering where you stand on that should police officers emergency responders be mandated to get vaccines and if not, should they stay at home or be let go?" CNN's Anderson Cooper asked the President.

"Yes, and yes," Biden said matter-of-factly.

Biden noted that he held out before going all-in on mandatory vaccines, but the scientific data ultimately forced his hand.

"I waited until July to talk about mandating. I tried everything else possible. The mandates are working," he said.

The President went on to note that there are two angles regarding the vaccine that bother him in particular.

"One, are those who just try to make this a political issue," he said, adding, "The second one is the gross misinformation that's out there."