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Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP
Biden held his first town hall since becoming president in Milwaukee, WI. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP

Biden’s first town was like the campaign trail, full of promises yet to be met

The president’s first town hall in Milwaukee touched on a host of issues with little concrete accomplishments to go with the promises.

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On Tuesday, Feb. 16, President Joe Biden answered questions from voters at his first town hall meeting in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He addressed concerns about the pandemic, school reopenings, the ongoing debate over minimum wage, white supremacy, and more. 

On the pandemic:

Biden urged Americans to get the vaccine as soon as it becomes more widely available. 

Less than five minutes into the town hall, Biden made a series of ambitious promises concerning vaccinations for all Americans, as well as when a sense of normalcy will return.

He expects that by the end of July, every American will be able to receive the vaccine. 

Without explicitly promising anything, Biden also announced that things should be largely back to normal in the states by next Christmas. 

Aware of how bleak it is to announce that we will likely live through another year of the pandemic, he was careful not to get anyone’s hopes up too high, but offered something for Americans to look forward to.

"As my mother would say, with the grace of God and the goodwill of the neighbors, that by next Christmas I think we'll be in a very different circumstance, God willing, than we are today," Biden said. "A year from now, I think that there'll be significantly fewer people having to be socially distanced, having to wear a mask."

On the minimum wage debate:

Biden proudly defended his administration’s call for a federal raise in minimum wage to $15 an hour. 

He did acknowledge that the wage increase could put some employers in a tight spot, but cited economists and studies demonstrating that the impact would be minor. He also argued that it would greatly help those who have been stuck at $7.25 an hour since 2009. 

“No one should work 40 hours a week and live in poverty,” Biden said. “But it’s totally legitimate for small business owners to be concerned.” 

On school reopenings: 

Biden said that his goal was to focus on reopening the majority of K-8 schools by the end of his first 100 days in office because they are the “easiest to open,” due to the relatively low transmission rate of the coronavirus between young children. 

He reiterated that in order for schools to safely reopen, teachers and other staff members like lunchroom workers and custodians should be given a higher priority for the vaccine. 

On student loans:

When Biden was asked about whether he is in favor of $50,000 in student loan forgiveness, he bluntly responded that he will “not make that happen.” 

Instead, he suggested he will continue supporting $10,000 in student loan forgiveness, expressing concerns that a higher amount of debt cancellation would complicate the process of enacting other policies, such as free community college and early childhood education.  

He said he was also opposed to a larger amount of debt forgiveness because it would benefit borrowers who went to more expensive and elite private universities, “like Harvard and Yale and Penn.” 

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez took aim at Biden’s statement on Twitter, stating two points worth considering. She held that entire generations of working class kids were encouraged to accumulate more and more debt “under the guise of elitism.” 

She also pointed out that there shouldn’t have to be a trade-off between free early childhood education and student loan forgiveness. 

“We can have both,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote. 

On white supremacy and policing:

Biden was a little vague in addressing the white supremacy that persists in this country, as well as how it thrives within the government, but he did note that the ideology is “the greatest domestic terror threat in the U.S.” 

Unlike his predecessor, who refused to denounce white supremacy and has coddled white supremacists groups on multiple occasions, Biden has validated the pervasive nature of white supremacy. 

“It’s complex, it’s wide ranging, and it’s real,” he said.

He vowed to make sure that the Justice Department and the Civil Rights Division focuses heavily on the issue and on dealing with the rise of the dangerous ideology. 

When asked about how law enforcement could better protect citizens in high-crime neighborhoods while training officers to respond with more compassion, he responded by saying that defunding the police will not be a part of that plan. 

In direct opposition to what Black Lives Matter activists have been calling for since the death of George Floyd, he plans to add more funding into law enforcement. 

“We have to put more money for this to work so we have legitimate community policing, and we are in a situation where we can change the legislation,” he said. 

While campaigning last year, Biden promised to invest $300 million into a program that would focus on diversifying officers and training them to have better relationships with their communities. 

He also reaffirmed another campaign promise of ending jail sentences for drug use alone. 

“No one should go to jail for the use of a drug, they should go to rehabilitation,” he said. 

Biden is planning not to take funds away from law enforcement, but to add more in hopes that healing can come from within, to reduce the tension and senseless violence. 

“Every cop, when they get up in the morning and put on that shield, has a right to expect to be able to go home to their family that night,” Biden said. “Conversely, every kid walking across the street wearing a hoodie is not a member of a gang and about to knock somebody off.”

Biden took a brave stance on concerns over the nation’s divideness. 

“The nation is not divided. You go out there and take a look and talk to people, you have fringes on both ends. But it’s not nearly as divided as we make it out to be and we have to bring it together,” he said. 

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