President Joe Biden appeared at a CNN town hall event in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on Tuesday, February 16. Taking questions from the audience, Biden discussed a wide range of pressing issues from COVID-19 vaccines and re-opening schools to police reform and student debt relief.
In an hour-long Q&A, the president made clear where he stands on how much student debt could be forgiven. He also said he supported vaccinations for teachers and school staff and pointed to CDC guidance on small classes and good ventilation for going back to school during the pandemic. Asked about defunding the police, he gave a firm no, though it’s unclear what role the president could have in setting municipal police budgets to begin with.
Here are some highlights from what Biden had to say as he nears the end of his first month in office.
Biden still supports $10,000 in student debt cancellation
“It depends on whether or not you go to a private university or a public university,” Biden said. “It depends on the idea that I say to a community, I’m going to forgive the debt, the billions of dollars of debt for people who have gone to Harvard and Yale and Penn and schools my children — I went to a great school. I went to a state school.”
Biden then indicated that funding for student debt relief could be drawn from early childhood education, saying, “But is that going to be forgiven, rather than use that money to provide for early education for young children who are — come from disadvantaged circumstances?”
Biden proposed free community college, as well as free public university tuition for families making under $125,000. He also said he wanted to “provide for changing the existing system now for debt forgiveness if you engage in volunteer activity” and to limit student debt payments to a certain percentage of someone’s take-home pay. The president also questioned university priorities that put “skyboxes” before students.
“In this moment of economic pain and strain, that we should be eliminating interest on the debts that are accumulated, number one,” he said. “And, number two, I’m prepared to write off the $10,000 debt, but not $50,000.”
On COVID vaccines and reopening schools
The night opened with a discussion of the COVID-19 vaccine and rollout strategy.
“By the end of July we’ll have over 600 million doses, enough to vaccinate every single American,” Biden said, though that math doesn’t add up at two doses per person with an estimated 330 million people in the United States . What’s even less clear is where vaccine distribution will be by then, as Biden said his administration had to rapidly expand the capacity in its first weeks in office and they’re working to add more vaccinators to the rollout.
That was followed by questions about reopening schools. Asked about how to get students back into physical classrooms, Biden called for smaller class sizes, more teachers, and protective gear for all students, faculty, and staff. He said it’s less likely high schoolers would return than K-8 students because “they socialize a lot more and they’re older and they transmit more than young kids do.”