President Joe Biden said police officers and emergency workers who refuse COVID-19 vaccination should stay home or be fired, as he answered questions during a CNN town hall on Thursday evening.
‘Yes and yes,’ he said to a thunderous round of applause.
‘By the way, I waited until July, to talk about mandating, because I tried everything else possible.
‘Mandates are working.’
Biden traveled to Baltimore for the town hall, where he delivered his most wide-ranging update yet on talks to break the deadlock on his mammoth social spending plans.
His $3.4 trillion program and a smaller infrastructure plan are held up amid divisions between centrists and progressives.
In a headline-packed 90 minutes, he said he was dropping proposals to pay for the spending with a corporate tax hike, that he was considering sending in the National Guard to ease supply chain problems, and would defend Taiwan if it was attacked.
But he also defended his stance on vaccine mandates in uncompromising terms.
The U.S. has lagged behind other wealthy nations in vaccinating people against COVID-19.
A series of mandates for federal workers and for companies with more than 100 staff triggered angry protests and reports of people being fired or resigning in protest.
‘Two things that concern me,’ he said. ‘One, are those who just try to make this a political issue – freedom. “I have the freedom to kill you with my COVID.”
President Joe Biden said he supported the firing of police officers and emergency responders who refused to get vaccinated during a CNN town hall on Thursday evening
Biden traveled to Baltimore for the event and a chance to address voters directly about COVID-19 and his massive spending plans that have divided Washington
Protests against COVID-19 vaccination mandates have spread around the country. Pictured here are protesters marching through New York City as a mandate went into effect for public school employees at the start of the month
Then he criticized what he called ‘misinformation’ about the death of former Secretary of State Colin Powell that focused on the fact he was fully vaccinated.
‘Well he knew he had serious underlying conditions, and it would be difficult,’ said Biden.
‘He clearly would have been gone earlier had he not gotten the vaccine.’
At the start of the night he was quizzed on his plans for a multi trillion dollar social spending plan, which is currently deadlocked in Washington.
Progressives want to push through a massive overhaul of social spending while centrists – Sen. Kyrsten Sinema and Sen. Joe Manchin – are pushing to reduce the price of the bill from its original $3.4 trillion.
Biden offered the centrists a concession, backing away from a corporate tax hike to pay for his Build Back Better agenda.
Host Anderson Cooper pressed him on whether he would be able to push through a proposed increase in corporate take to help fund trillions of dollars in new spending.
‘No, I don’t think we’re going to be able to get the votes,’ he said.
He had wanted an increase in the corporate tax rate from 21 percent to 28 percent for the biggest companies, triggering warnings that it could hamper growth and that the costs would be passed on to workers and consumers.
President Biden appeared at a CNN town hall on Thursday evening, and announced he was scaling back his spending plans and would not need to ramp up corporate tax
It marked the third time Biden has appeared on a CNN town hall since becoming president
Senators Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin want Biden’s ambitious social package scaled back and Biden cannot afford to lose their votes in the Senate
The event, in front of an invited audience, was a chance to deliver his message directly to the public while his own party remains split.
He immediately faced questions about whether he could bring around the holdouts in his own party, particularly Manchin, but expressed optimism that he was close to deal after weeks of intra-party bickering.
‘I think so, you know, look … I was a senator for 370 years,’ he said triggering laughter.
‘I was relatively good at putting together deals.’
Manchin, he added, would fall into line.
‘Joe’s not a bad guy,’ said Biden. ‘He’s a friend and he’s always the end of the day come around.’
But he pushed back at one of Manchin’s proposals that parents and other caregivers meet a work requirement before receiving a child tax credit.
‘No, here’s the deal. All these people are working anyway,’ he said, as he signaled that he wanted to target the wealthy.
‘And by the way, you know, why should somebody who is not working, and has, you know, makes has a million dollar trust fund, why should they get the benefit?’
Overall, he said, the aim was to get the bill done and worry about what had been left out later.
‘I’m prepared to do the things that we can get done now, that can begin to change the lives of ordinary Americans to give them a fighting chance and come back and try to get others later,’ he said.
As Biden seeks a final agreement in coming days, questions have emerged about whether some of his most oft-cited promises, like raising taxes on corporations and wealthy Americans might have to be dropped to ensure passage of the spending bill
Biden also explained that he had reduced his vision for paid parental leave.
‘It is down to four weeks,’ he said. ‘I can’t get 12 weeks.’
Biden has given just 10 interviews in his first nine months in office, falling well short of his two immediate predecessors Donald Trump and Barack Obama who had done 57 and 131, according to Mark Knoller, a former CBS News White House correspondent who maintains a tally.
And the pace of those interviews has slowed – five came in Biden’s first two months in office.
Critics within his own party see a siege mentality in a president even as he reaches a crucial moment in steering his massive spending plans through Congress.
‘The guy has always been a gaffe machine. He loves talking but the people around him want to keep him under wraps,’ said a Democratic strategist who asked speak on background in order to freely discuss White House strategy.
‘This is one way to do it but you lose a bit of what makes Joe tick.’
President Biden left the White House with the first lady for the short trip to Baltimore on Thursday evening for a CNN town hall. It is his third appearance at such an event since taking office but he trails his predecessors for number of interviews
This will be Biden’s third CNN town hall since taking office
Biden found himself in familiar territory on Thursday.
The town hall was compered by Cooper who was also master of ceremonies in February for his first town hall as president.
His last one-to-one interview was more than two months ago, with George Stephanopoulos of ABC News – an alumnus of the Clinton White House.
But it was followed by days of fact checking misleading claims, from the number of Afghan troops to whether or not there were U.S. troops in Syria.
White House officials play down the significance of interviews, pointing out that the president has frequently taken a handful of questions from reporters attending events.
But that gives him the ability to pick and choose what he answers, say presidential observers, and allow him to simply walk away when he wants to.
Thursday’s town hall will be held before an invited audience.
‘Joe Biden can sometimes get off message so putting him in unscripted environments might not be the best way of Joe Biden communicating,’ Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons told The Hill.
Biden’s last one-on-one interview was with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on August 18
Even so Biden himself has joked about the way his aides prefer him not to get chatty.
‘I’m not suppose to take any questions,’ he said, during a visit to FEMA headquarters in August, ‘but go ahead.’
On that occasion he quickly brushed off a question about trouble in Afghanistan and walked away from reporters.
In May, he took a couple of questions after a COVID-19 update but said: ‘I’m not supposed to be answering all these questions.’
White House press secretary Jen Psaki admitted that was how officials wanted him to play it.
‘This is not something we recommend,’ she told David Axelrod, the former Obama adviser, during an interview for his podcast.
‘In fact, a lot of times we say, “Don’t take questions.”‘
Republicans have used Biden’s lack of interviews against him, saying the president lacks stamina or mental energy to fulfil the duties of the office. Some have dubbed him ‘Sleepy Joe.’
Biden says he will consider ‘doing away’ with the filibuster after the Republicans blocked the Freedom to Vote Act in the Senate
President Biden said he would consider ‘doing away’ with the filibuster to pass voting rights legislation, but cannot push to get rid of the 60-vote threshold entirely right now as he would lose three votes on his economic agenda.
‘I also think we’re going to have to move to the point where we fundamentally alter the filibuster,’ Biden said.
He said that he would ‘lose at least 3 votes’ if he brought up right now the larger conversation of eliminating the 60-vote threshold needed for most legislation in the Senate in favor of a simple majority.
Moderate Democratic Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin have both vocally opposed getting rid of the filibuster. It’s not clear who Biden was referring to as the third vote.
‘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, the foreign policy side.’
Biden confirmed he might move to nuke the filibuster on the Freedom to Vote Act, which failed without a single GOP vote this week, ‘and maybe more’
Republican senators, led by Mitch McConnell, filibustered a major voting bill on Wednesday, blocking Democrats’ plans to allow same-day voter registration and to make Election Day a holiday.
Biden confirmed he might move to nuke the filibuster on the Freedom to Vote Act, which failed without a single GOP vote this week, ‘and maybe more.’
‘That remains to be seen exactly what that means in terms of fundamentally altering it, whether or not we just end the filibuster straight up,’ said Biden. He added that Democrats might have to reform the filibuster on voting rights.
‘There are certain things that are just sacred rights. One is the sacred obligation that we never are going to renege on a debt. Only nation in the world we have never, ever, reneged on a single debt.’
As he called for reform, Biden approvingly recalled the way the filibuster used to be implemented, where a lawmaker would have to stand on the floor and speak for hours on end. Now that no floor speech is required, the filibuster is used far more frequently.
‘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.’
Republican senators filibustered a major voting bill on Wednesday, blocking Democrats’ plans to allow same-day voter registration and to make Election Day a holiday.