By Claudia Chiappa
BU News Service
Democratic Nominee Joe Biden’s peaceful town hall stood in stark contrast with the previous presidential debate with President Donald Trump, where insults and interruptions filled the room. On Thursday night, Biden answered questions from constituents, outlining plans for his presidency and discussing hot topic issues such as healthcare, racial division and court-packing, among others.
Biden held his town hall at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia on Oct. 15, simultaneously with Trump’s debate in Miami. Biden’s town hall was moderated by ABC anchor George Stephanopoulos.
Biden, who said he gets tested for COVID-19 every day, kicked off the night discussing the pandemic with a mask in his hand.
Biden, who has been very vocal about his criticism towards the current administration’s handling of the COVID-19 outbreak, said that Trump should have recognized the situation’s gravity and acted earlier on.
“There should be a national standard,” Biden said. “It is a presidential responsibility to lead, and he didn’t do that; he didn’t talk about what needed to be done because he kept worrying, in my view, about the stock market.”
On the topic of a vaccine, Biden said that he would take a potential vaccine and encourage others to take it as long as scientists say that it is ready. If and when a vaccine is released to the public, Biden said that he would consider making it mandatory and he would tell every local official to mandate the vaccine.
“The words of a President matter,” he said.
To a voter worried about Biden’s plan to eliminate Trump’s tax cuts, Biden stressed his intention only to eliminate tax cuts and increase taxes for the wealthy.
When asked whether raising taxes on the wealthy and raising corporate tax is a wise choice, Biden cited a Moody’s analysis, claiming his tax plan would benefit the economy. Before enforcing the tax increase, however, Biden said he must get the votes and that he does not believe executive orders should be used to pass policies.
“I have this strange notion, we are a democracy,” Biden said. “We need consensus.”
Racial inequality and the 1994 crime bill
A young Black man asked Biden why Black people should vote for him when they feel like they live in a system that “continually fails to protect them.”
Biden said that in addition to making the criminal justice system fair, another key factor is helping African Americans gain and accumulate wealth by funding their schools and financially supporting young black entrepreneurs.
Later in the night, Biden was asked about his 1994 Crime Bill, which many believe resulted in a disproportionate number of people of color jailed for drug possession. While he defended the bill’s elements, saying that at the time it was supported by the Black Caucus, Biden said he regrets signing it.
He did however blame its failure to local mistakes made by the states, not by the federal government.
“I don’t believe anybody should be going to jail for drug use; they should be going into mandatory rehabilitation,” said Biden.
When asked whether he still believes more cops mean less crime, Biden agreed, but only if they are involved in “community policing, not jump squats.” Biden said that if elected, he plans to set up a national study group made up of police officers, social workers and Black and brown community members to come up with reforms.
His plan for addressing systemic issues in law enforcement also includes teaching cops how to de-escalate situations, doing more background checks on police officers, and hiring social workers and psychologists within police departments.
“We shouldn’t be defunding cops,” said Biden. “We should be mandating the things that we should be doing within police departments and make sure that there is total transparency.”
Fracking and the environment
Another important question for Biden was raised about his plans on fracking and the environmental policies. Biden reiterated that he does not plan on banning fracking, but he said he would make sure it is managed well not to emit methane or polluting waters.
In terms of other environmental policies, Biden discussed some details of his Green Plan, such as investing in renewable energy and electric vehicles and stopping subsidizing oil. He also said he does not support the Green New Deal, which he believes poses unattainable goals.
Peace and foreign policy
When asked whether Trump’s foreign policy deserves some credit, Biden said, “a little, but not a lot.”
“We find ourselves in the position where we’re more isolated in the world than we have ever been,” he said. “America first has made America alone.”
Biden complimented President Trump on the deal with Israel but criticized his decision to pull out of “almost every international organization” and his closeness with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un and Russia’s leader Putin.
The mother of a transgender girl asked Biden how he will ensure that LGBTQ+ people’s rights and lives are protected. Biden responded by saying he will “flat out change the laws.”
“There should be zero discrimination,” said Biden.
Supreme Court appointment
While most of the town hall saw Biden get into detailed plans for his potential presidency, there were a couple of instances where he was intentionally vague and failed to give a straight answer.
When asked about court-packing, whether he would consider expanding the Supreme Court seats, Biden said that he wouldn’t answer because that would divert the attention from what he believes is an inappropriate nomination, Judge Amy Barrett. Biden called the nomination “inconsistent with the Constitution.”
While Biden said he is “not a fan” of court-packing, he did not give a direct answer. He did agree that the voters deserve to know what his plans are and he said that he would declare his stance on the matter before Election Day.