By Karen Stokes
President Joe Biden participated in his first town hall meeting since becoming president this past Tuesday, Feb. 16. The town hall took place at the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee was moderated by CNN’s Anderson Cooper.
Topics ranged from the $1.9 million economic rescue package and domestic terrorism, but it’s no surprise that the majority of the questions focused on COVID-19 19 and the vaccine.
One of the first questions to the president was when will the vaccine be available for every American that wants to be vaccinated.
“By the end of July of this year,” Biden said. “When we came into office there were only 50 million doses available. By the end of July, we’ll have over 600 million doses, enough to vaccinate every single American.”
When pressed to elaborate from Cooper, the president responded,
“They’ll be available. Look, what we did, we got into office and found out that the supply, there was no backlog, I mean there was nothing in the refrigerator, figuratively and literally speaking, and there were 10 million doses that were available. We’ve upped that in the first three weeks that we were in office to significantly more than that.”
According to the CDC, as of Feb. 16, more than 52 million doses have been administered, reaching 11.5% of the total U.S. population.
Dessie Levy, a nurse and a democrat from Milwaukee wanted the president’s thoughts on the significant impact that COVID-19 has had on the Black community.
Less than 3% of Black people and less than 5% of Hispanics were vaccinated. Levy asked if this is a priority for the Biden administration and how will the disparities be addressed?
The president said that it is a priority.
He reminded everyone of the history of Blacks being used as guinea pigs for medical experiments over the last 50 to 100 years in America and why there is a concern about getting the vaccine.
Biden said access to the vaccine is an issue. He has met with the Black Caucus in the United States Congress and agreed that all of the community health centers which take care of the toughest neighborhoods in terms of illness, are going to get a million doses.
He continued, “Secondly, we have opened up and I’m making sure that there’s doses of the vaccine for over 6,700 pharmacies, because almost everyone lives within the distance of being able to go to the pharmacy, like when you got your flu shot.”
“Thirdly,” the president said, “I also am providing for mobile vans, mobile units to go into neighborhoods that are hard to get to because people are on — for example, even though everyone is within, you know, basically five miles of a Walgreens, if you’re 70 years old and you don’t have a vehicle, you’re not likely to be able to walk five miles to go get a vaccine.”
Cooper asked if Biden was committed to passing a $1.9 trillion economic rescue package, or is that final number still up for negotiation?
“This is the first time in my career that there is a consensus among economists left, right, and center that is over- — and including the IMF and in Europe — that the overwhelming consensus is: In order to grow the economy a year or two, three, and four down the line, we can’t spend too much. Now is the time we should be spending. Now is the time to go big,” said Biden. “We can come roaring back. It’s estimated that if we by most economists, including Wall Street firms, as well as political think tanks — left, right, and center — it is estimated that if we pass this bill alone, we’ll create 7 million jobs this year. Seven million jobs this year.”
The politically charged riot at the US Capitol remains in the minds of Americans. According to Reuters, members of right-wing extremist groups, including the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers and Boogaloo Bois have been arrested but domestic terrorism remains a threat.
When University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee professor Joel Berkowitz asked Biden about white supremacists and their ongoing threats, 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 said. “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.”
After the violence on Jan. 6, the impeachment and Donald Trump’s acquittal, Biden said any decision to prosecute former President Trump for anything he did while in office will be left up to the Department of Justice, and he will not interfere in a possible investigation.
Even though bated by Cooper to talk about his predecessor, Biden took the high road.
“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.”