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Biden talks COVID, building bridges and getting back to work at Mount St. Joseph town hall

Posted at 8:59 AM, Jul 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-23 16:20:11-04

DELHI TOWNSHIP, Ohio — President Joe Biden during a town hall Wednesday night answered questions ranging from the COVID-19 pandemic to inflation, jobs, infrastructure, police reform and the opioid epidemic.

Biden took questions from moderator Don Lemon as well as Greater Cincinnatians — a mix of Democrats and Republicans — in the audience at Mount St. Joseph University.

See WCPO's live coverage of CNN's town hall on Twitter here:

Here are a few of Wednesday night's highlights:

Building bridges

It didn't take long for the topic to turn to infrastructure and Biden's push for a massive bill that would reinvest in America's roads, bridges and other infrastructure.

The primary focus was the Brent Spence corridor.

Todd Michel, a union electrician, asked: "Is it possible to bring Congress together to pass a bill that would fix the Brent Spence Bridge?"

"Absolutely, positively yes," Biden said. "It increases commerce, number one, but also good-paying, union jobs."

He applauded Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, for being willing to work on a Congressional committee steering federal lawmakers' negotiations of the bill, which failed an initial procedural vote in the Senate earlier Wednesday.

“We’re gonna fix that damn bridge of yours going into Kentucky," Biden said.

But he also hinted that big infrastructure projects like the Brent Spence Bridge could benefit from increased taxes on corporations and the wealthy, saying he's "tired of trickle-down economics" and that these entities need to "pay their fair share."

Portman, on the other hand, said he believes a solution can be found without increasing taxes.

IN-DEPTH: Brent Spence 'symbolizes' Biden's focus on infrastructure

COVID continues

The first several questions Biden fielded concerned the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, especially as cases have recently spiked due to the spread of the delta variant.

Most of his answers came back to the vaccines now available.

"We have a pandemic to those who haven't gotten the vaccination; it's that simple," Biden said. "It's a simple proposition: If you're vaccinated, you're not going to be hospitalized, be in an ICU. You're not going to die."

When asked when children under 12 will be able to get the vaccine, Biden indicated it could be as soon as late August or early September, but it's ultimately up to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

"Soon, but I do not tell any scientists what they should do. I do not interfere."

Two audience members wondered how Biden's administration will combat misinformation about the vaccine and restore Americans' faith in science — particularly in communities of color.

"We have to engage, talk about it more with Black communities," Biden said, referring to medical science's history of testing new vaccines and other medical innovations on people of color. "What we're doing is getting people of consequence, who are respected in the community" to advocate for vaccination, he said.

Getting back to work

Multiple questions from the audience dealt with getting people back to work after the prolonged pandemic shutdowns.

John Lanni, who co-founded Thunderdome Restaurant Group — which includes The Eagle, Bakersfield and other well-known Cincinnati eateries — asked how the president plans to incentivize people to return to work.

Biden was blunt, saying, "I think your business is really going to be in a bind for a little while."

He also downplayed the impact of continuing enhanced unemployment insurance and other benefits as a contributing factor keeping people from returning to the workforce.

"I think it really is a matter of people deciding now that they have opportunities to do other things," he said. "People are looking to make more money and to bargain. If you make less than $15 an hour working 40 hours a week, you're below the poverty level."

Earlier in the day, Biden toured a job training center in Westwood, touting his "Build Back Better" plan, which local union leaders said is critical to creating job security for trade workers.

"Roads and bridges are our bread and butter," said Larry Thompson, president of Laborers Local 265. "That’s what keeps us going, and if there’s anything that can cause more construction… people are looking forward to developing. So his infrastructure plan and providing money to help constructors sustain a decent workforce is a plus for us as a labor union."

But Hamilton County GOP chair Alex Triantifilou said it's not Biden's plans or policies that will bring job security.

"By embracing business, reducing regulations, cutting taxes, cutting corporate taxes, that worked," he said. "That worked for four years. Our economy was humming right along. The Republican plan, the Paul Ryan tax plan signed by President Trump ultimately created jobs for everyone across the board, across the ideological spectrum."

Listen to WCPO's Hear Cincinnati Podcast discuss President Biden's visit and more news of the week: