On Wednesday President Biden set off for Ohio to take part in a CNN townhall, using it to voice his concerns and priorities on key topics such as COVID-19, vaccines, voting rights and inflation. Here are some of the key takeaways.
One of the major topics that Biden faced could be summed up as Voting rights vs. The Filibuster. Only last week Biden declared that the movements in some states to restrict voting rights was the “most significant test of our democracy since the civil war.” Citing this quote, a member of the audience asked the president, if he truly believed that, why didn’t he just end the filibuster and pass the legislation which would defend the right to vote. Biden responded by comparing the recent efforts of some states to that of “Jim Crow on steroids,” and told the audience, “I stand by what I said. Never has there been an attempt by state legislatures to take over the ability to determine who won.”
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Biden did admit that the “abuse of the filibuster is pretty overwhelming.” When Lemon pressed Biden as to why “protecting the filibuster is that more important than protecting voting rights, especially for people who fought and died for that,” Biden responded by arguing that he wanted Congress to pass the legislation so that “we bring along, not just all the Democrats, we bring along Republicans who I know better, they know better than this.”
When asked about the rapidly rising rate of inflation Biden stated that he didn’t believe it would persist in the long run, telling the audience that “The vast majority of the experts, including Wall Street, are suggesting that it’s highly unlikely that it’s going to be long term inflation that’s going to get out of hand.” Adding that “There will be near term inflation because everything is now trying to be picked back up.”
Whilst on the economy, the president was also asked about the lack of people returning to the workforce, Biden said he believed that this is primarily down to people switching careers or not being able to survive on the minimum wage. Another audience member who is an owner and co-founder of a restaurant group asked Biden about the hospitality sector. Biden noted that some businesses will continue to struggle, telling the audience member “ I think your business and the tourist business is really going to be in a bind for a little while.”
Turning to COVID-19, Biden used the townhall as an opportunity to announce that children under the age of 12 will be able to get vaccinated against COVID-19 “soon”. Telling the audience that, “I do not tell any scientist what they should do. I do not interfere.” When discussing a possible timeline for a delivery of a child vaccine Biden said that “My expectation talking to the group of scientists we put together, over 20 of them plus other in the field, is that some time, maybe in the beginning of the school year, at the end of August, beginning September, October, you’ll get a final approval.” The president also said that the CDC could possibly recommend that children under the age of 12 should “probably be wearing a mask in school.”
Interestingly the townhall event which had been widely advertised failed to garner a large audience in comparison to the other news networks. Voice of America reporter Steve Herman, who was the radio pool reporter for the trip, shared an image noting how the “[b]ack of the auditorium is empty.” Herman also shared footage showing other angles where spectators were largely missing from seats.
When asked whether the room was half full due to coronavirus concerns or a lack of public interest, CNN spokeswoman Lauren Pratapas told The Post “This was a typical audience size for a CNN town hall.” The CNN townhall averaged around 1.5 million online viewers compared to MSNBC which averaged 1.6 million, and FOX News which averaged 2.7 million viewers, beating the townhall by a whooping 83%.
Critics of Biden took to social media to mock the Townhall. CBS News digital White House reporter Kathryn Watson tweeted of a “Possible drinking game for those who, unlike me, aren’t working: Every time President Biden says: 1. All kidding aside 2. I’m not joking 3. I’m being serious 4. I’m not being facetious.” Users also hit Biden for a painful clip in which he struggled to answer a question from the moderator, Don Lemon, about when children under the age of 12 will be able to get vaccinated. “Joe Biden struggles to keep his thoughts straight when talking about vaccines,” posted the Republican National Committee’s RNC Research Twitter account.