By Dan Yount
The Cincinnati Herald
CINCINNATI, OH— President Joe Biden, during a CNN Presidential Town Hall Wednesday night in a Cincinnati suburb, answered questions ranging from the COVID-19 pandemic to inflation, jobs, infrastructure and police reform.
Two audience members wondered how Biden’s administration will combat misinformation about the vaccine and restore Americans’ faith in science — particularly in communities of color.
“We have to engage, talk about it more with Black communities,” Biden said, referring to medical science’s history of testing new vaccines and other medical innovations on people of color. “What we’re doing is getting people of consequence, who are respected in the community” to advocate for vaccination, he said.
The COVID-19 pandemic, especially as cases have recently spiked due to the spread of the delta variant, dominated the initial discussion at the town hall.
Biden said we now have a “pandemic for people who have not gotten vaccinated. It’s a simple proposition: If you’re vaccinated, you’re not going to be hospitalized, be in an ICU. You’re not going to die.”
The President noted that more than 630,000 American lost their lives to COVID-19, which is more than all Americans who lost their lives in all American wars.
When asked when children under 12 will be able to get the vaccine, Biden indicated it could be as soon as late August or early September, but it’s ultimately up to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
“Soon, but I do not tell any scientists what they should do. I do not interfere,” he said, receiving an applause.”
After serving six months in office, Biden took questions from moderator and CNN talk show host Don Lemon as well as Greater Cincinnatians — a mix of Democrats and Republicans — in the audience at Mount St. Joseph University in the Cincinnati suburb of Delhi.
In regard to a question about the massive influx of bills in various states that would limit voting rights, especially for minorities, Biden responded, “Never before (in recent years) has an attempt been made by state legislators to take over the right to vote. It’s Jim Crow on steroids,”
Biden noted that while overall crime is down in the country, gun violence is up, largely due to the illegal purchases of guns that fire 20/30 shots and gun sales to minors. Community responses, he said, should include getting more police on the streets, community policing and police departments hiring of psychologists and social workers to work with juveniles. “We have the dollars to do that,” he added.
Also, access to Pell Grants, housing and jobs should be available to those released from jail, not just $25 and a bus ticket, he said.
Biden said the economy is picking up, with the creation of more jobs in the first six months of his administration than in that same period for any President. “These are good paying, competitive jobs,’’ he added.
Biden’s massive bill that would reinvest in America’s roads, bridges and other infrastructure was an early topic as regional officials seek financing for the replacement if the Brent Spence Bridge that spans the Ohio river between Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky on one of the country’s primary north-south interstates.
Referring to it as “that damn bridge of yours,” the President said, “Absolutely, positively yes,” to a question from union electrician Todd Michel, about whether it would be possible to bring Congress together to pass a bill that would fix the Brent Spence Bridge. Biden said. “It increases commerce, number one, but also good-paying, union jobs.”
He applauded Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, for being willing to work on a Congressional committee steering federal lawmakers’ negotiations of the bill, which failed an initial procedural vote in the Senate earlier in that same day. (He said Republicans Portman and Gov. Mike DeWine “are good men.”
Biden also indicated big infrastructure projects like the Brent Spence Bridge could benefit from increased taxes on corporations and the wealthy, saying he’s “tired of trickle-down economics” and that these entities need to “pay their fair share.”
Getting back to work
Multiple questions from the audience dealt with getting people back to work after the prolonged pandemic shutdowns.
Joe Lanni, who co-founded Thunderdome Restaurant Group — which includes The Eagle, Bakersfield and other well-known Cincinnati eateries — asked how the president plans to incentivize people to return to work.
Biden was blunt, saying, “I think your business is really going to be in a bind for a little while.”
He downplayed the impact of continuing enhanced unemployment insurance and other benefits as a contributing factor keeping people from returning to the workforce.
“I think it really is a matter of people deciding now that they have opportunities to do other things,” he said. “People are looking to make more money and to bargain. If you make less than $15 an hour working 40 hours a week, you’re below the poverty level.”
In other comments, Biden said, “It has been the greatest honor for me for Americans to say to me that they want me to lead their county … and for world leaders asking us to lead (the free world).”
In response to a question from Lemon about what it has been like for Biden in the White House, the President said it as been hard to be comfortable with “all that is gong on out there.” He added, “While the well of bipartisanship has been so poisoned over the last four years, I have faith in the American people to get us to the right place.”
Earlier in the day, Biden toured a job training center in Westwood, touting his “Build Back Better” plan, which local union leaders said is critical to creating job security for trade workers.