At the start of the evening, Biden was asked if he still “felt the virus is in retreat,” as he had said when he gave a speech announcing that America had passed 200 million doses of vaccine. In response, Biden said, “We have a pandemic for those who haven’t gotten a vaccination. It’s that basic, that simple. Ten thousand people have recently died; 9,950 of them, thereabouts, are people who hadn’t been vaccinated.” Biden went on to point out that since taking office his administration has vaccinated over 160 million people, including 85% of those over the age of 50. And for those people, “this is not a pandemic.”
“There’s a simple, basic proposition,” said Biden. “If you’re vaccinated, you’re not going to be hospitalized, you’re not going to be in an ICU unit, and you’re not going to die.”
Pressed over the topic of whether people should be concerned about a new round of mask mandates, social distancing requirements, and business restrictions, Biden responded by saying that he had a simple response to people with those concerns: “Get vaccinated.”
The first question to Biden from a member of the audience was about the restrictions that children will face when going back to school. The president said that he expected the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to warn that everyone under 12—who are currently not eligible for vaccines—should wear masks when school begins in August. Biden said that “the vast majority of teachers are vaccinated” and anyone not vaccinated should be wearing a mask. But he did not state, as the American Association of Pediatrics did on Tuesday, that everyone should wear a mask in schools.
Following this, Biden was asked two important questions concerning vaccine available. The first was when children under 12 would have access to vaccines. Biden’s answer was “soon,” but when Lemon tried to secure a more specific response, Biden gave one of the key statements of the evening. After reminding the audience that the vaccines produced “so quickly” were actually the result of over two decades of work, Biden directly addressed the concerns of those who keep saying that the vaccines are somehow “experimental” or “only temporarily approved.”
The vaccines, said Biden, will be available “’Soon’ in the sense that I do not tell any scientists what they should do. I do not interfere.”
A follow-up question from a Republican pediatrician spoke to her own concerns about the misinformation being spread about vaccines. “What,” the pediatrician asked, “is the White House doing to combat medical misinformation and to restore America’s faith in science?”
Biden’s response was straightforward. First he said that the White House would “literally listen to the scientists, and not interfere, not rush anything. Just make—let the scientists proceed, because they desperately want to get this right.” And then he spoke to the issue of false information on social media: “There was a report out saying that for that—something like 45% of the overwhelming disinformation on Facebook comes from 12 individuals. I said: ‘They’re killing people — those 12 individuals; that misinformation is going to kill people.’ Not a joke. Not a joke.” (Note: No. 2 on that list of 12 propagandists spreading false information about vaccines is Robert Kennedy Jr.)
The president also noted that many of those who had been speaking against the vaccine have recently had “an altar call” as they’ve watched the delta variant drive up numbers in red states: “All of a sudden, they’re out there saying, ‘Let’s get vaccinated. Let’s get vaccinated.’”
Following more questions about the pandemic, Lemon again questioned President Biden about the need for getting full FDA approval for the vaccines.
What the scientists are saying, said Biden, is: “Let us decide, based on scientific data, in how we proceed. Do it the way we would ordinarily do it.” But Biden did put a rough date on when he thinks the FDA will finally remove the “emergency use” from the vaccine authorization: “They’re not promising me any specific date,” said the president, “but my expectation, talking to the group of scientists we put together—over 20 of them, plus others in the field—is that sometime maybe in the beginning of the school year, at the end of August, beginning of September, October, they’ll get a final approval.”
When it came to the infrastructure plan, Biden expressed that he was still having to “haggle” with both Republicans and with some Democrats, making real compromises to find a deal. That included, said Biden, compromises within the Democratic Party “between the far left and the center and some of the folks who are more conservative.” Since they were in Ohio, Biden didn’t miss the opportunity to say that he expects Sen. Rob Portman, who is part of the bipartisan group negotiating the final details, to keep his word about the infrastructure deal.
Asked by a Republican member of the audience about concerns over inflation, Biden responded that of course there was inflation—because demand is so much higher now that vaccinations are helping the nation recover from the pandemic. “There will be near-term inflation because everything is now trying to be picked back up.” Biden also warned that employers might be fighting over employees for some months. But Biden said that economic forecasts didn’t predict that either the inflation or the employee shortage would last for long.
When it came to a question on voting rights, Biden stuck by the blunt terms he had used in earlier appearances: “Never before has there been an attempt by state legislatures to take over the ability to determine who won. Not count the votes—determine who won.” Even so, Biden continued to be just as stubborn in his refusal to call for an end to the filibuster. Despite saying that “the abuse of the filibuster is pretty overwhelming,” when directly challenged over whether it was more important to protect the filibuster than voting rights, Biden replied, “No. It’s not. I want to see the United States Congress, the United States Senate, pass S.1 and S.4, the John Lewis Act, and get it on my desk so I can sign it. But here’s the deal: What I also want to do—I want to make sure we bring along not just all the Democrats; we bring along Republicans, who I know know better. They know better than this.”
And that seems to be a wall that no amount of evidence can shatter. Biden insisted that his effort was all about bringing the country together. He bluntly admitted that the filibuster is a remnant of the Jim Crow era, but insisted that attempts to remove the filibuster would “throw the entire Congress into chaos and nothing will get done.”
Biden built on this theme, saying that Republicans would “love to have a debate about the filibuster instead of passing the recovery act.” Or would love to debate the filibuster rather than making child care payments permanent. But Biden wouldn’t seem to acknowledge that the focus on attempts to pass his legislative packages while leaving the filibuster in place meant that much of that agenda—including protections of voting rights being eroded at the state level—would never pass.
When it came to the Floyd Act, named for police murder victim George Floyd, Biden insisted that the Senate needed to work toward its passage, but he had a sharp answer for Republicans who claimed that he was anti-police. “They’re lying,” said Biden. However, “The point is that they—it doesn’t justify maltreating the public. You have no right to do that. None.“ Biden insisted this was because, in many localities, police were called on to do too much, and that there were situations that really demanded “a psychologist or a social worker.”
Biden finished up by answering a question about the opioid crisis in which he both said that drug companies should be held to account for their role and called out China for “sending fentanyl to Mexico, in large part, that’s being mixed with opioids and/or heroin and other drugs.” Biden also took this opportunity to talk about addiction in general, to empathize with families that have suffered from drug addition, and to express his pride in his son Hunter for how he was fighting his own addictions.
Finally, President Biden ended the night talking about how odd it was to first hear Hail to the Chief and realize it was being played for him. When he heard the music, Biden said, “I wondered, ‘Where is he? No, you think I’m kidding. I’m not kidding.”
Being president, said Biden, requires that every action he takes means deliberate and careful thought beyond his role as a senator or vice president. “‘Is the decision I’m about to make, will that cause war? Will that cause conflict? The decision I’m about to make, is that going to hurt people? Is it going to help people?’ That’s the part that is different.”