READ – Full remarks by President Biden in a CNN Town Hall with Don Lemon

Mount St. Joseph University, Cincinnati, Ohio

(July 21, 2021)

8:01 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: How you doing, pal? Good to see you. 

MR. LEMON: Good to see you.

THE PRESIDENT: Good to see you.

MR. LEMON: How you been?

THE PRESIDENT: Well. (Applause.) Thank you. (Laughter.)

MR. LEMON: It’s good to see you.

THE PRESIDENT: It’s good to be back.

MR. LEMON: Yeah, you as well.

So, listen, I’m going to get to the audience. And I know you don’t want to sit down, right?

THE PRESIDENT: No.

MR. LEMON: You’d rather stand here and talk to these guys.

THE PRESIDENT: I’m going to go out in the audience. (Laughs.)

MR. LEMON: We’re going to get to the audience questions in just a moment. But I have a couple questions I want to ask you.

THE PRESIDENT: Sure.

MR. LEMON: Because you know the pandemic is a big concern for everyone, really, around the world —

THE PRESIDENT: Sure is. 

MR. LEMON: — especially around America. New cases are up three — you know, three times since last month. Right? The pandemic is a big concern. Hospitalizations, death rising. 

So, you said last month that this — that the virus is in retreat. Do you still feel that way? Is that still the case?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, the virus — look, here’s the — it’s real simple: We have a pandemic for those who haven’t gotten a vaccination. It’s that basic, that simple. Ten thousand people have recently died; 9,950 of them, thereabouts, are people who hadn’t been vaccinated. 

There’s a simple, basic proposition: If you’re vaccinated, you’re not going to be hospitalized, you’re not going to be in an ICU unit, and you’re not going to die. 

So it’s gigantically important that you act like — we all act like Americans that care about our — our fellow Americans. To get — there’s legitimate questions people can ask — that they worry about getting vaccinated — but the questions should be asked, answered, and people should get vaccinated. 

But this is not a pandemic. We’ve made sure that since I got in office, we — we’ve inoculated over 160 million people; 85 percent of people over the age of 50. (Applause.) Anyway. 

It’s frustrating.

MR. LEMON: But what do you say to people who are worried about a new round of restrictions and mask mandates and so forth?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I’m saying — look — (laughs) — it’s a little bit like when I got elected. You know, the — this pandemic was out of control. You know, we’ve lost more people in the United States — over 630-some-thousand people than in every major war we’ve ever fought, in the United States of America. And that’s come to a screeching halt for those who’ve been vaccinated. It really has. Not a joke. This is overwhelming evidence to sustain that. 

And so, what I say to people who are worried about a new pandemic is: Get vaccinated. If you’re vaccinated, even if you do catch the “virus,” quote, unquote — like people talk about it in normal terms — you’re in overwhelm- — not many people do. If you do, you’re not likely to get sick. You’re probably going to be symptomless. You’re not going to be in a position where you — where your life is in danger. 

So, it’s really, kind of, basic.

Q    Well, let’s get to the questions, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT: Okay.

Q    Okay. I want to introduce you to Andrea Granieri. She’s a community resource director for a charter school. She’s a Democrat currently running for her local school board.

Andrea, welcome.

THE PRESIDENT: God love you. The most important, thankless job in the world: being on a school board.

Q    Thank you. So, here in Hamilton County, the vaccination rate remains at about 50 percent — and you talked about the virus that’s spreading. Masks are seen less and less. And, as you know, children under age 12 still are not eligible to be vaccinated. Schools are working with all of this information as they think about reopening next month. As a school employee and as a parent to children under age 12, what — I’m really concerned. What is your message to those parents, educators, and school districts?

THE PRESIDENT: I understand your concern. I really do. My children are grown now, but my grandchildren — and I have one who’s only one-and-a-half years old. So, you know, I understand — number one. 

My message is that one of the reasons why — you remember the criticism I got initially, saying, “Teachers should get vaccination, get in line first.” The vast majority of teachers are vaccinated, number one. 

Number two, the CDC is going to say that what we should do is, everyone over the age of — under the age of 12 should probably be wearing a mask in school. That’s probably what’s going to happen.

Secondly, those over the age of 12 who are able to get vaccinated — if you’re vaccinated, you shouldn’t wear a mask. If you aren’t vaccinated, you should be wearing a mask.

So it’s going to get a little bit tight in terms of, “Well, are mom or dad being honest that, you know, Johnny did or did not get vaccinated?” That’s going to raise questions. But I think what’s going to happen is you’re going to see this work out in ways that people are going to know in the community. Everybody knows in the community whether or not Johnny really did get the vaccination when he’s 15 or 17 years old. 

And so it’s going to — I think it’s — it’s a matter of community responsibility, and I think you’re going to see it work through. 

MR. LEMON: Well, let me ask — let me follow up on her question, asking: When will children under 12 be able to get vaccinated?

THE PRESIDENT: Soon, I believe. Now, look, one of the things that I committed to do when I got elected — I said —

MR. LEMON: How soon is “soon,” Mr. President? Not to —

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I — and let me he- — let me finish the question — the answer. “Soon” in the sense that I do not tell any scientists what they should do. I do not interfere. (Applause.)

And so they are doing — they are doing the examinations now — the testing now, and making the decision now. When they are ready, when they’ve done all the scientific need to be done to determine children at ages 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8, they, in fact, are — all have different makeups. They’re developing. They’re trying to figure out whether or not there’s a vaccination that would affect one child that’s at such and such an age and not another child. That’s underway. 

Just like the other question, there’s a logical — and I’ve heard you speak about it because you always — I’m not being solicitous, but you — you’re always straight up about what you’re doing. 

And the question is whether or not we should be in a position where you are — why can’t the — the — the experts say, “We know that this virus is, in fact — it’s going to be…” — or, excuse me — “We know why all the drugs approved are not temporarily approved, but permanently approved.” That’s underway too. I expect that to occur quickly.

MR. LEMON: Well, that means — you mean for the FDA? 

THE PRESIDENT: For the FDA.

MR. LEMON: Yeah. So, what do you —

THE PRESIDENT: The Federal Drug Administration.

MR. LEMON: You said that you’re talking to scientists, though, but what — what are they telling you, Mr. President?

THE PRESIDENT: What they’re telling me is, “Let us decide, based on scientific data, in how we proceed. Do it the way we would ordinarily do it.” 

Look, for example, everybody talks about how, you know, this virus came — this — this — the drugs that are designed to kill the virus came along so quickly. They’ve been working on it for two decades. There’s nothing quick about this. It’s been over two decades. 

So people said, “I’m not taking a drug that was approved so quickly.” It’s been two decades. The truth is we haven’t said it enough to people to allay their feals [sic]. There’s nothing — their fears. This is nothing that just happened yesterday and they said, “Well, let’s take a shot on this.” And there’s a process. Usually the process takes the better part of a year or more to get some of these things decided. 

But the expectation — they’re not promising me any specific date — but my expectation, talking to the group of scientists we put together — over 20 of them, plus others in the field — is that sometime maybe in the beginning of the school year — at the end of August, beginning of September, October — they’ll get a final approval saying the FDA said, “No, this is it. It’s good.”

But again, one last thing. I — we don’t talk enough to you about this, I don’t think. One last thing that’s really important is: We’re not in a position where we think that any virus — including the Delta virus, which is much more transmissible and more deadly in terms of non — unvaccinated people — the vi- — the various shots that people are getting now cover that. They’re — you’re okay. You’re not going to — you’re not going to get COVID if you have these vaccinations. 

MR. LEMON: Yeah. I want to stay on the subject. I want to get to Dr. Nicole Baldwin. She’s a pediatrician and a Republican.

Dr. Baldwin, go ahead.

THE PRESIDENT: Doc, how are you?

Q    Hi. Thank you for taking my question, Mr. President. I am a pediatrician who utilizes social media to educate about health. And I’m very concerned about the rise in misinformation from the anti-vaccine community that is eroding trust in lifesaving vaccines. Spread of this misinformation and declining vaccination rates could leave Americans vulnerable to vaccine-preventable diseases in the future. 

So, what I want to know is: What is the White House doing to combat medical misinformation and to restore America’s faith in science?

THE PRESIDENT: What we’re doing is, number one, to restore America’s faith in science is listen to the scientists. (Applause begins.) No, I’m not joking. (Applause.) I mean, literally listen to the scientists, and not interfere, not rush anything. Just make — let the scientists proceed, because they desperately want to get this right — number one.

Number two, you may have heard — I never get myself in trouble, as you know, politically — (laughs) — but you may have heard that I was critical of some of the things that are on Facebook, and it was that I was attacking Facebook. I wasn’t attacking Facebook. There was a report out saying that for that — something like 45 percent of the overwhelming disinformation on Facebook comes from 12 individuals. I said: They’re killing people — those 12 individuals; that misinformation is going to kill people. Not a joke. Not a joke. 

It’s like telling your kid, “I tell you what…” — four years old — “…when you see a red light, cross the street.” I mean, come on.

And so, what we’re trying to do is use every avenue we can — public, private, government, non-government — to try to get the facts out, what they really are. And one of the things, Doc, that’s happening, that I’m feeling better about — I’m not being a wise guy now. You know, you — one of those other networks is not a big fan of mine. (Laughter.)  One you talk about a lot.

But if you noticed, as they say in that southern part of my state, “They’ve had an altar call,” some of those guys. (Laughter.) All of a sudden, they’re out there saying, “Let’s get vaccinated. Let’s get vaccinated.” The very people who before this were saying —

So that — but that — I shouldn’t make fun. That’s good. It’s good. It’s good. We just have to keep telling the truth. That’s why — for example, my wife just flew to Alaska today to do an event in Alaska about making sure people understand and get vaccinated, talking about COVID, et cetera. 

So it’s — you know. And, by the way, there’s pockets. If you notice, there’s about — what? — four or five states that have close to 45 percent or whatever. Don’t hold me to the exact number.

MR. LEMON: Lower than that, even. In my home state of Louisiana, it’s 36 percent, and I think there are other southern states.

THE PRESIDENT: No, but I mean, out of all the cases —

MR. LEMON: Yeah.

THE PRESIDENT: — all the cases, a very overwhelming majority of those cases are in four or five states. And it’s just not — there’s nothing political about this. There’s no blue or red. (Applause.) 

MR. LEMON: Well, let’s bring in Christian Oliver. He’s a Democrat. He works for the insurance industry. 

Christian, what’s your question?

Q   Well, so, my wife Stephanie and I are newlyweds, as of this past Saturday.

THE PRESIDENT: I’d brag if I were you too. (Applause.)

As they say when they look at me and my wife: “You married up, kid.” (Laughter.)

Q   (Laughs.) Thank you.

We require all of our guests and vendors to be vaccinated to ensure safety. We are African American, and in many of our communities, people are against the vaccine. A reason that stood out the most in regards to our guests is that they don’t see the vaccine as being as safe as the CDC put it — puts it out to be. How are you working toward convincing those in these communities that the vaccine is safe? 

THE PRESIDENT: It’s really an important question because, in the African American community, there is less of an uptake of the vaccination. Number one, there’s a reason for that: You know, you go back just to even World War Two. African Americans were used as experimental; they were almost like guinea pigs in terms of ex- — they were — anyway. 

And your mom and dad remember that, or your grandparents remember that. And so there’s a reason for people to think that, “I don’t know, I’m not sure I trust. I’m not sure I trust this.” Plus, a lot of disinformation on top of it. 

One of the things that we’re doing is what I’ve done — “we’ve” done, excuse me — my team has done — is we’ve provided the ability to put in African American communities the vaccine and those who are, in fact, able to administer the vaccine, and people who are respected in the community, in the vacc- — in those areas, particularly in areas where you have public health commu- — public health centers, where you, in fact, have people who are the folks who are really at the low end of the economic scale, don’t have much access to anything. 

So we’ve taken literally mobile vans and people to the communities, to the hardest-hit communities, and it’s beginning to have some impact. But we have to talk about it more. 

For example, I was just with — I get in trouble because my wife is a Philly girl and a Philly fan, an Eagles fan. I just hosted the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. And — and there’s a guy — there’s a quarterback there. What’s his name, man? (Laughter.) 

Anyway, all kidding aside, you know, what we’re doing is getting people of consequence, who are respected in the community — whether they’re athletes, whether or not they are entertainers, whether they’re just well respected. And, by the way, one of the things I’ve gotten able to get done: I’ve get — I have overwhelming support from the African American clergy that I sort of come from, and my so- — support. They are opening up their churches for — as vaccination centers. (Applause.)

MR. LEMON: Can I ask you something, Mr. President? Because, you know — and, by the way, you got — I don’t know if you heard that you got applause when you corrected the “I” for “we.” And we’re talking about “we,” and I think that’s —

THE PRESIDENT: Well, it is “we.” 

MR. LEMON: — a commendable attribute to have. 

But even with my own family — I was just able to get with them. I haven’t seen my mom in a year and a half, except for two weeks ago. I hadn’t seen my family for two years since the last time they visited me two summers ago. But even within my own family — here I am on television every night — there is ambivalence, there’s misinformation, and there’s also mistrust in the system. How do you fix that? 

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think — you’re going to — this is going to seem like a non-answer to start with. One of the things I said when I ran for office — it’s not Democrat or Republican again — is we got to restore faith in government. You got to get people to a point where they trust government. 

And I made a commitment that when I made a mistake, I’d tell you I’ve made mistakes. And when I think I got it right, I’ll say it. But I’ll take responsibility for what I do and say. 

Part of it is just generally — (applause) — no, I don’t mean that — part of it is, generally, raising confidence in elected officials. Raising confidence. And I know this is going to sound like a non-answer to you, but part of this is that, you know — you know because you’re one of the most informed journalists in the country. You know the criticism I got when I said I’m going to unite the country. They said, “You can’t unite the country.” Well, if we can’t unite the country, we can never get some of these problems solved. 

And that goes to trust. Why can’t you unite the country? Why isn’t there a willingness to trust? Government trust is really at a — was at an incredibly low ebb. It’s coming up some. 

So with regard to your family in particular. Part of it is not just that they see you on television and trust you; the people who seem to have the most impact are the — are, you know, that — for that 17-year-old kid, the kid that he or she plays ball with. “You got the vaccination? Are you okay? I mean, you seem…” “No, it works.” Or you, you know — or the mom and dad, or the neighbor, or when you go to church, or when you’re — no, I really mean it. 

There are trusted interlocutors. Think of the people — if your kid wanted to find out whether or not there were — there’s a man on the moon, or whatever — you know, something, or, you know, whether those aliens are here or not — you know, who are the people they talk to beyond the kids who love talking about it? They go to people they respect, and they say, “What do you think?”

And so they should be asking other people — the people there — everything from their teachers to their ministers to the priest, to people that they trust.

MR. LEMON: Well, part of it is that — don’t you think part of it is that young people, especially those who are 30 — maybe 30, 40 and under, they feel like they’re invincible; they haven’t faced mortality. 

THE PRESIDENT: Isn’t it amazing we’re saying “40 or younger”? (Laughter.) It’s hard to say, isn’t it?

MR. LEMON: It is. But for them, you know, at first, the va- — at first, the virus wasn’t affecting them as much.

THE PRESIDENT: Yes.

MR. LEMON: And so they may feel that they’re invincible. And now that this Delta variant is affecting them, maybe they’ll have a “come to Jesus” of some sort. I’m —

THE PRESIDENT: Well, by the way, I think that is — that’s happening. And, look, think about this: This is the worst health crisis in 100 years. As I said, more people have died than all our major wars combined. Think about that. 

If I told you that or you had told me that two years ago, I’d say, “Come on. That’s not going to happen in America.” But it happened. It happened. And people are unfortunately — some more slowly than others —

Now, by the way, remember when I first got elected, the issue was, well, I said I was going to do a million shots a week, and people said, “Biden can’t do that” or “Biden team can’t do that.” And it was 2 million. We had trouble getting enough people — and people who wanted to get vaccinated. We’re opening up stadiums. We’re getting 100,000 people coming through. 

So, the vast majority of the American people said, “I understand. I want to get this vaccination.” But now, when the — when it’s phased off, either “I’m invincible, I’m young, I’m not going to get sick, it won’t happen to me” — or whatever the reason — now they’re looking around and they’re saying, “Whoa, boy. In the community I live in, there’s very few people who have gotten the vaccination. This COVID is much more transmissible; it’s really rising. I better get some…”

So, I think it’s gradually changing. And you got a great dog there, kid. (Laughter.)

Q   (Inaudible.) (Off-mic.)

MR. LEMON: By the way, that is Danielle Lippi. She’s a student here at the university, and she’s a Republican. She’s got a question for you. Go ahead, Danielle.

Q   Yes. Okay.

THE PRESIDENT: But your dog is a Democrat — I can tell. (Laughter and applause.) I’m teasing. I’m teasing. I’m a big dog person. I’m sorry.

Q   Her name is Wonder. (Laughs.)

So, my question is: The economy is picking up significantly as it reopens from the pandemic. Are you concerned about the higher inflation prices, especially as we see gasoline, automotive, and food prices increase rapidly? What is your administration doing to help prevent the economy from overheating, such as the poor and middle class are not hurt by the higher prices of goods in the long run? 

THE PRESIDENT: First of all, the good news is the economy is picking up significantly. It’s rational, when you think about it. The cost of an automobile bill, it’s kind of back to what it was before the pandemic. We compare what the prices were for the last year in the pandemic, and they are up. They’re up because, in fact, there was not much to call for.

For example, automobiles: You know, you had the rental car companies selling off their entire stock. You found yourself in the same way with automobile dealers. And all of a sudden, now it’s coming back, and we’re going to grow at 7 percent — is expected. We created more jobs in the first six months of my — our administration than any time in American history. No President has ever — no administration has ever created as many jobs. And all of a sudden, people are saying — (applause) — no, I don’t say it — but it goes to the legitimate question being asked about the concern about inflation. 

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. There will be near-term inflation because everything is now trying to be picked back up.

And, by the way, that’s one of the reasons why I also signed an executive order dealing with the whole idea of competition — you know, the idea that we’re in a situation where there are so many companies who are keeping people out of the competition. For example, you have over 600,000 people out there signing — 6 million people signing a — I better check the number — of — signing non-compete agreements. Not because they have any sta- — any secret, but because they were working for one fast food restaurant, and they’re told they can’t get 10 cents more going across town going to the other fast food restaurant. Why? To keep wages down.

And so what’s happening now is, all of a sudden, people are having choices. You know, I always thought the free market system was not only that there’s competition among companies, but, guess what? Companies should have to compete for workers. Guess what? Maybe even pay more money. (Applause.) 

MR. LEMON: So, you seem pretty confident that inflation is temporary. But if you’re pumping all of this money into the economy, couldn’t that add to —

THE PRESIDENT: No, look, here’s the deal: Moody’s, today, went out — a Wall Street firm, not some liberal think tank — said if we passed the other two things I’m trying to get done, we will, in fact, reduce inflation. Reduce inflation. Reduce inflation — because we’re going to be providing good opportunities and jobs for people who, in fact, are going to be reinvesting that money back into all the things we’re talking about, driving down prices, not raising prices. 

And so, it is — I sincerely mean this: Prices are up now, and they’re up in — for example, you’re in a position where you’re trying to build a house, trying to find two-by-fours and lumber. Well, guess what? People stopped working cutting lumber. They stopped doing it because they — the unemployment was so down.  Now, all of a sudden, there’s this need because people are coming back. And guess what? Instead of paying 10 cents, you’re paying 20. But you understand what I’m saying.

MR. LEMON: Yeah.

THE PRESIDENT: It relates to what, in fact, is now needed because we’re growing. I don’t know anybody, including Larry Summers — who’s a friend of mine — who’s worried about inflation, is suggesting that there’s any long-term march here if we do the things we’re going to do. 

For example, if we get this build on that I’ve been — put together a long time ago — and, by the way, I want to say, I’m in his territory. You know, there’s — Portman is a good man. Portman is a congressman from this area. I talked to him before I got — and I really mean it. He’s a decent, honorable man, and he and I are working on trying to get this — this infrastructure bill passed.

MR. LEMON: But you’re — you’re talking about Senator Rob Portman of Ohio?

THE PRESIDENT: Yeah, I’m sorry. I —

MR. LEMON: No, but —

THE PRESIDENT: I thought that (inaudible). I apologize.

MR. LEMON: Yeah, but — no, since you — you mention that infrastructure, the bipartisan infrastructure deal failed the procedural vote today. Right?

THE PRESIDENT: But — no —

MR. LEMON: In the Senate today.

THE PRESIDENT: Yeah, it did. But that’s irrelevant.

MR. LEMON: Go on. Okay. 

In the Senate, negotiators say that they need more time. 

THE PRESIDENT: Yeah.

MR. LEMON: Okay. So, then — but they’re expected to vote again on Monday, but how much time do you think that they need to get this done?

THE PRESIDENT: Until Monday. (Laughter.) Look — no, I’m not being facetious. I’m not being facetious. You had up to 20 Republicans sign a letter saying, “We think we need this deal. We think we need this deal.” And so I think there’ll be — by the way, the reason we’re talking this way: We need 60 votes to get something moving. And what’s going to happen is, I believe — because I take my Republican colleagues at my — at their word when you shake. I come from a tradition in the Senate: You shake your hand. That’s it. You keep your word.

And I found Rob Portman does that. I found that — you know, your governor is a good man. You shake his hand, it’s done. (Applause.)  No, I really mean that. I’m not — I’m not being falsely complimentary.

MR. LEMON: Do you think it’s going to move forward in the Senate on Monday?

THE PRESIDENT: I do. Here’s what I think: What happens is, the vote on Monday is a motion to be able to proceed to this issue. Then they’re going to debate the issue of the elements — the individual elements of this plan to sake [sic] sure we’re going to fix that damn bridge of yours going into Kentucky. (Applause.) No, I’m serious.

MR. LEMON: We’re going to talk about that bridge in just a moment. We asked (inaudible) about that bridge.

THE PRESIDENT: Anyway. But I think it’s going to get done. 

You may find in the amendments that take place on the detail — the detail of whether or not — and I’m the guy that wrote this bill to begin with, and so I’ve had to compromise to make changes in the bill. When I say “I,” I campaigned on this. I mean, everybody thought I was a little nuts when I talked about there are three reasons why I was running: one, to restore the soul of this country and bring back some decency; two, to build back the middle class because they’ve been getting really knocked around a long time. They’re the backbone that unite the country. 

And one of the big issues was dealing with infrastructure.  Remember, the last four years we had “Infrastructure Week” every week. We didn’t do a thing. But it’s necessary. (Laughter.) No, I really mean it. It’s going to not only increase job opportunities, it’s going to increase commerce. It’s going to — it’s a good thing, and I think we’re going to get it done.

MR. LEMON: A lot of this stuff you’re going need — you need bipartisan support. So, let’s — let’s talk about that.

Our next question comes from Cindy Peebles. She’s a financial executive and a Democrat. Go ahead, Cindy.

Q   Hello, Mr. President. I am dismayed at how often Democratic plans for stabilizing the economy or shoring up new strains of the virus are held hostage by the utopian need to gain bipartisan support. It appears, at every turn, the Democratic plan is weakened and still secures zero Republican votes. Sometimes the opposition is just wrong, and working to get them to agree with you is fruitless. Why is the strategy to abandon the need for bipartisanship not the right answer?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, look, I may be the wrong guy to talk to because I spent a lot of time as a Senator and Vice President, and I’m going to say something outrageous: I don’t know you’ll find any Republican I’ve ever worked with who says I ever broke my word, didn’t do exactly what I said I would do and keep my word.

And I was able to get an awful lot of compromises put together to do really good things, to change things. And I still believe that’s possible.

But the well has been so poisoned over the last four years. And even now, there’s still this lingering effort. A lot of my Republican friends — and I’m not talking about Portman; I’m not talking about your governor — a lot of my Republican friends say, “Joe, I — I know you’re right, but if I do this, I’ll get primaried and I’ll lose my primary. I’ll be in trouble.”

But I think that’s all beginning to move. I don’t mean overnight. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not playing out some panacea here. But I think people are figuring out that if we want to — I’ve always found you get rewarded for doing what you think at the time is the right thing, and people really believe you believe it’s the right thing to do.

MR. LEMON: Yeah.

THE PRESIDENT: And so I think you’re seeing it coming together. And, by the way, the compromises are — you know, are real — compromise within my own party between the far left and the center and some of the folks who are more conservative. That’s coming together. They said that would never happen, but if you notice, it has happened.

MR. LEMON: Well, let’s talk a little bit more about bipartisanship. You know, the Republicans removed all their picks today for the January 6 committee — the select committee. Nancy Pelosi rejected two of them.

The first thing I want to ask you is, what’s your reaction to that? But number two, if Republicans and Democrats can’t come together — right? — to investigate the biggest attack on our Capitol in 200 years, what makes you think that they can come together on anything?

THE PRESIDENT: These people. (Applause.) No, I mean it. I’m not being facetious. Democrats and Republicans. I don’t care if you think I’m Satan reincarnated. (Laughter.) The fact is, you can’t look at that television and say, “Nothing happened on the 6th.” You can’t listen to people who say this was a “peaceful march.” No, I’m serious. Think about it. Think of the things being said.

I’ve been through the other end of this when the Democrats, 35 years ago, were way off to the other side. Think about it.

MR. LEMON: But what you can do, though — what they can do is try to change the narrative and say, “Well, why wasn’t Nancy Pelosi prepared? Why weren’t the Democrats prepared for that to happen?” 

THE PRESIDENT: Well, no, they can say that, and you can make honest judgments about it. I have —

Look, I sometimes get myself in trouble for what I’m about to say — (laughter) — not that I ever get in trouble. (Laughs.) As you’ve heard me say before: No one ever doubts I mean what I say; the problem is I sometimes say all that I mean. And — (laughter).

But all kidding aside, I have faith in the American people — I really do — to ultimately get to the right place.

And, by the way, many times Republicans are in the right place. I don’t mean that the Repub- — that it’s always the Democratic point of view. 

But some of the stuff — I mean, QAnon: The idea that the Democrats or that Biden is hiding people and sucking the blood of children and — no, I’m serious. That’s —

Now, you may not like me, and that’s your right. Look, it’s a simple thing. You can walk out and say, “I just don’t like the way that guy wears his tie. I’m voting against him.” You have a right to do that. You have a right to do that.

But the kinds of things that are being said of late, I think you’re beginning to see some of the — and both — and by Democrats as well — sort of the venom get — sort of — sort of leak out a lot of it. We got to get beyond this. 

What do you say to your grandchildren or you children about what’s happening? Do you ever remember a time like this before, in the entire history, whether you’re Democrat or Republican?

This is not who we are. And I’ll say one last thing — and you’re going to — I’ve had a lot of experience internationally. And I mean that — not good or bad, just I have; I’ve chaired the Foreign Relations Committee. I’ve been deeply involved. I did national security for the — our last — the — the — the administration with Barack. 

But, folks, the rest of the world is wondering about us. Those of you who travel abroad — not a joke, not a joke — you ask — you know, when I went to this G7, all the major democracies — I walked in — and I know a lot of them because of my role in the past. And they walk in and I said, “America is back.” And they go — I’m serious, heads of state — I give you my word as a Biden — said, “Are you really back? I mean, how can I — we believe you, Joe, but will the country ever get it together?”

I talked to Xi — Xi Jinping in China, who I know well. We don’t agree on a lot of things. He’s a bright and really tough guy. He truly believes that the 21st century will be determined by oligarchs, by — and I’m not — not a joke. 

Democracies cannot function in the 21st century — the argument is — because things are moving so rapidly — so, so rapidly that you can’t pull together a nation that is divided to get a consensus on acting quickly. 

So, autocrats — autocracies — I had a long meeting with Putin, and I continued — I know him well. These guys actually are betting — betting — I’m not joking — on autocracies. 

Democracy has to stand up and demonstrate it can get something done. It’s not just important that we are — (applause) — no, I really mean it. 

MR. LEMON: Mr. President, we’re just getting started. We got a lot to talk about. 

THE PRESIDENT: I’m sorry.

MR. LEMON: No, no, no. You’re good. We’re going to take a quick break, and we’re going to come back with more questions for the President of the United States right after this. (Applause.)

(Commercial break begins.)

(Commercial break ends.)

MR. LEMON: Welcome back, everyone. We are live at a CNN Town Hall in Cincinnati, Ohio, with the President of the United States.

Straight to the audience for a question. This is John Lanni. He is the owner and co-founder of a restaurant group with 39 restaurants across the country, Mr. President. He is a Republican. 

John.

Q   Hi there, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT: Hey, John.

Q   Hi. Thank you for taking my question tonight. We employ hundreds of hard-working team members throughout the state of Ohio and across the country. And we’re looking to hire more every day as we try to restart our restaurant business. 

The entire industry, amongst other industries, continue to struggle to find employees. How do you and the Biden administration plan to incentivize those that haven’t returned to work yet? Hiring is our top priority right now.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, two things. One, if you notice, we kept you open. We spent billions of dollars to make sure restaurants could stay open. And — and a lot of people who now — who work as waiters and waitresses decided that they don’t want to do that anymore because there’s other opportunities and higher wages, because there’s a lot of openings now in jobs. And people are beginning to move — beginning to move. 

There’s some evidence that maintaining the ability to continue not — to not have your — have to pay your rent so you don’t get thrown out, and being able to provide for unemployment insurance, has kept people from going back to work. There’s no — not much distinction between not going back to work in a restaurant and not going back to work at a — at a factory. 

So people are looking to change opportunities, change what they’re doing. 

My — my deceased wife’s father-in-law was a restauranteur up in — up in Syracuse, New York. And, by the way, he tried to con- — he had a — had a restaurant that was in a town called Auburn, about 20,000 people, which was at a flagship 24-hour-a-day restaurant that — and he offered it to me, which I would have been making five times what I would in law school to try to keep me in Syracuse.

But I spent too many times at home hearing a — in his home, hearing a phone call: “The cook didn’t come in? He’s in a fight with his wife? What — what’s going on?”

Q   Exactly.

THE PRESIDENT: So I would — God love you doing what you do.

Q   It’s tough.

But all kidding aside, I think it really is a matter of people deciding now that they have opportunities to do other things. And there is a shortage of employees. People are looking to make more money and to bargain. And so I think your business and the tourist business is really going to be in a — in a bind for a little while. And one of the things — we’re ending all those things that are the things keeping people back from going back to work, et cetera. 

It’ll be interesting to see what happens, but my gut tells me — my gut tells me that part of it relates to — you know, you can make a good salary as a waiter or waitress. One of my sister-in-laws is — of five sisters — makes a very good salary. She works in Atlantic City. That’s where she’s — she’s from. But it is — there’s a lot of people who — who are looking to change their — their occupation, I think. But I could be wrong. 

MR. LEMON: Well, let me ask you, because he’s — John is looking to hire people. He’s got 39 restaurants across the country. 

THE PRESIDENT: Yeah. 

MR. LEMON: Is there anything you can do to help him out? I mean, he’s — he’s got to get people in.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, John — first of all, I — you know, the thing we did to help John and the Johns out is provide billions of dollars to make sure they could stay open. Number one. So you all contributed to making sure John could stay in business. (Applause.) And we should. We should have done that, as we did for other industries. 

But secondly, John, my guess is that people being $7, $8 an hour, plus tips, that — that’s — I think, John, you’re going to be finding — (applause) — 15 bucks an hour or more now. You know what I mean? But you may pay that already. You may pay that already. 

MR. LEMON: Well, let me — let me ask you, because everywhere I go, there isn’t pretty much a shop in my town, a restaurant or whatever, where there isn’t a “for hire” sign. 

We were trying to check into the hotel; they couldn’t get the rooms cleaned fast enough because they can’t find staff. You mentioned something — you said, “We’re going to end the things that may be keeping people back.” You think that’s the unemployment benefits expanded?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, that was the argument it was. I — I — I don’t think it did much. But the point is, it’s argued that because the extended unemployment benefits kept people –they’d rather stay home and not work — than go to work. 

MR. LEMON: You don’t think it hurt? Did that?

THE PRESIDENT: I see no evidence it had any serious impact on it. But you can argue — let’s assume it did. It’s coming to an end, so it’s not like we’re in a situation where — if that was it and it ends, then we’re going to see John is going to have no problem. 

But what I think is happening, folks, is, look, if you make less than fift- — and I’m not saying, John, your folks make less than 15 — you had good restaurants; that means their tips are good, people make a lot more than just what the — what the minimum wage — what the wage is being paid on with the — put tips on top of it.

But, folks, look, here’s the deal. Think about it: You know, if you have an — we — for example, I want to be able to — one of my programs is to make sure that we have four more years of school that’s free — two years for three-year-olds and four-year-olds, because it’s demonstrated that that — (applause) — increases significantly success, and community college. 

MR. LEMON: Yeah.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, those folks are not likely to want to go and be waiters. There’s nothing wrong being a waiter or waitress. My family has been engaged in that business. But the folks is —

And, lastly, if you make less than 15 bucks an hour working 40 hours a week, you’re living below the poverty level. You’re living below the poverty level. (Applause.)

MR. LEMON: I want to continue on and talk about — this has to do with infrastructure, because you got applause when you mentioned the bridge earlier — (laughs) — and —

THE PRESIDENT: By the way, your congressman wants that bridge too. (Laughter.)

MR. LEMON: Todd Michael is here. He’s a union electrician and a Democrat. He has a question about something that a lot of people in Cincinnati are concerned about. 

Todd, take it away. 

Q   As Mr. Lemon said, you have already touched on the subject of my question. The two most recent presidents — past presidents — had both campaigned using this region’s Interstate 75 Bridge — the Brent Spence Bridge that crosses the Iowa River — as backdrops with a promise of an infrastructure bill that would help with the replacement. 

President Biden, is it possible to bring Congress together to pass an infrastructure bill that builds a bridge that does not just benefit this region, but the entire I-75 corridor, from Michigan all the way to Florida?

THE PRESIDENT: The answer is absolutely, positively yes. (Applause.) I’m not just saying that. I’m not just saying that. And if you take a look at Ohio and Kentucky combined, there’s well over — there’s thousands of bridges that need repair. Thousands. Thousands of bridges. 

And we should be looking at it this way: It increases commerce, number one. But guess what? They’re good-paying union jobs. Union. (Applause.) Union jobs. 

And — and — and, by the way, can you ever think of a time — those of you who are economists, who are — who teach here, economics — can you think of any time when the middle class did better, the wealthy didn’t do really well? 

I’m not being facetious now. I’m being deadly earnest. Can you think of any time that’s occurred when the middle class does better? I’m tired of trickle down. I come from the corporate state of America. (Applause.)

And, by the way, I think you should be able to go out and make a billion dollars or a hundred million dollars if you have the capacity to do it. But I ask one thing: Pay your fair share. (Applause.) Just pay your fair share. I really mean it. And if you know anything about me, check it out: We have more corporations registered in Delaware than all the rest of America combined. Combined. Combined. I represented it for 36 years. I’ve never seen a time when we have the middle class growing that the wealthy didn’t do very, very, very well.

MR. LEMON: Yeah.

THE PRESIDENT: So, that’s what we have to do: Build it out and up, not just down.

MR. LEMON: Yeah. So that people like our next guest — who just graduated from law school, by the way — his name is Cory Marcum. He’s a graduate from the University of Cincinnati Law School. And he —

THE PRESIDENT: He’s a graduate, huh?

MR. LEMON: Excuse me, he’s heading to law school — I’m wrong — in the fall.

Q   Yes. (Laughs.)

MR. LEMON: So, Cory, good luck in law school. And what’s your question?

THE PRESIDENT: Your first year — you wish you had already graduated. (Laughter.) I know. I — me too.

Q   Yeah. (Laughs.) So, my question is: Last week, regarding the GOP’s efforts to restrict voting rights, you said those efforts were, quote, “the most dangerous threat to voting and the integrity of free and fair elections in our history,” end quote. While you have condemned these attacks, you and congressional members of your party have done little to actually stop these assaults. If these efforts are really the most dangerous in our history, isn’t it logical to get rid of the filibuster so we can protect our democracy and secure the right to vote? (Applause.) 

THE PRESIDENT: I stand by what I said. Never before has there been an attempt by state legislatures to take over the ability to determine who won. Not count the votes — determine who won. 

We have election officials across the board that they’re deciding to push out of the way. And if, in fact, tomorrow — let’s say we’re running last time and we’re — these laws had been in effect that are — these changes. In Georgia, the Georgia legislature — you know, Biden won by multiple thousand votes; they could say, “We don’t think it was legit.” And the state legislature votes, “We’re going send electors up to Congress to vote for Trump, not Biden.” That’s never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever been tried before. This is Jim Crow on steroids what we’re talking about. 

And so, it takes — to go to your second point, I’ve been saying for a long, long time: The abuse of the filibuster is pretty overwhelming. When I got to the United States Senate at a time when we had guys like Jim Eastland and Strom Thurmond and Robert F. Byrd and a whole range of people who were very, very, very, very, very, very conservative on race, to say the least — even then, if you were to filibuster, you had to stand on the floor and hold the floor. And that’s why Strom, I think, set the record at 24 straight hours or something. Don’t hold me to the number. But, you know, so you had to take — there were significantly fewer filibusters in those days. In the middle of the civil rights movement. 

MR. LEMON: But let me — let me talk to you about that.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, let me finish my answer, because I’ll tell you what I’d do. I would go back to that where you have to maintain the floor. You have to stand there and talk and hold the floor. (Applause.) You can’t just say that now.

MR. LEMON: I understand that. But what difference is that if you hold the floor for, you know, a day or a year? What difference does it make? 

Here’s the thing for me: You talked about people — and this is important for people who look like me. My grandmother would sit around when I was a kid, fifth grade — (applause) — had a fifth-grade education. I learned that she couldn’t read when I was doing my homework. And she would tell me stories about people asking her to count the number of jellybeans in the jar or the soap. 

And so why is protecting the filibuster — is that more important than protecting voting rights, especially for people who fought and died for that? (Applause.) 

THE PRESIDENT: No. It’s not. I want to see the United States Congress, the United States Senate, pass S.1 and S.4, the John Lewis Act, and get it on my desk so I can sign it. (Applause.)  

But here’s the deal: What I also want to do — I want to make sure we bring along not just all the Democrats; we bring along Republicans, who I know know better. They know better than this.

And what I don’t want to do is get wrapped up, right now, in the argument of whether or not this is all about the filibuster or —

Look, the American public, you can’t stop them from voting. You tried last time. More people voted last time than any time in American history, in the middle of the worst pandemic in American history. More people did. (Applause.) And they showed up. They’re going to show up again. They’re going to do it again. 

But what I want to do is I’m trying to bring the country together. And I don’t want the debate to only be about whether or not we have a filibuster or exceptions to the filibuster or the — going back to the way the filibuster had to be used before.

MR. LEMON: But isn’t that the only way you’re going to get it done right now?

THE PRESIDENT: No, I don’t believe that. I think we can get it done.

MR. LEMON: If you — if you — you agree with the former president; he has called — as you call him, your “old boss” — that it’s “a relic of Jim Crow.”

THE PRESIDENT: It is.

MR. LEMON: If it’s a relic of Jim Crow, it’s been used to fight against civil rights legislation historically, why protect it?

THE PRESIDENT: There’s no reason to protect it other than you’re going to throw the entire Congress into chaos and nothing will get done.

MR. LEMON: Right. 

THE PRESIDENT: Nothing at all will get done. And there’s a lot at stake. The most important one is the right to vote. That’s the single most important one. And your vote counted, and counted by someone who honestly counts it.

But it goes beyond that. For example, wouldn’t — wouldn’t my friends on the other side love to have a debate about the filibuster instead of passing the recovery act? Or wouldn’t they love doing it instead of being in a position where we provide for — how many of you have children under the age of 17? Raise your hand. Guess what? You’re getting a lot of money in a monthly check now, aren’t you? (Applause.) 

No, you deserve — (applause) — no, no, no, I really mean it. Republicans used to fight for it as well. It’s called the Child Tax Credit. If you have a child under the age of seven, you get 300 bucks a month — 350 bucks a month. If you have a child under — between 7 and 17, you get a total of 200 bucks a month. And guess what? It’s cutting child poverty in half. In half. (Applause.) 

MR. LEMON: Mr. President, I want to talk about something else that affects people a lot, and to children as well. The next question — and it’s about gun violence. This is from a paralegal and she’s an advocate. Her name is Andrea Solis Canto. She’s a Democrat. 

Andrea, go ahead.

THE PRESIDENT: I used to be a public defender, kid. Thanks for what you’re doing.

Q   (Laughs.) Thank you. So, gun violence has been on the rise across the country, and as a recent student and young professional living in Over-the-Rhine, I’ve seen this firsthand. Gun violence has taken the lives of so many young students and young people. I’m tired, and I want to see change that’s going to make our cities, like Cincinnati, safer.

So, how will you address gun violence, from a federal point of view, to actually bring about change and make our local cities safer?

THE PRESIDENT: Now, I’m not being a wise guy. There’s no reason you should — have you seen my gun violence legislation I’ve introduced? As you know — because you’re so involved — actually, crime is down; gun violence and murder rates are up. Guns. I’m the only guy that ever got passed legislation, when I was a senator, that made sure we eliminated assault weapons. The idea you need a weapon that can have the ability to fire 20, 30, 40, 50, 120 shots from that weapon — whether it’s a — whether it’s a 9-millimeter pistol or whether it’s a rifle — is ridiculous.

I’m continuing to push to eliminate the sale of those things, but I’m not likely to get that done in the near term. So here’s what I’ve done: The people who, in fact, are using those weapons are acquiring them illegally — illegally. And so what happens is, I’ve gotten ATF — Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms — I have them increase their budget and increase their capacity, along with the Justice Department, to go after the gun shops that are not abiding by the law of doing background checks. (Applause.) For real. That’s number one.

Number two — number two, we’re in a position where you — most of the cities — and I don’t know enough — I think you’ve had a lot of gun violence here in Cincinnati. I think it was up to — what? — how many — how many how dead? Five hundred over a period. Don’t hold me to the number — whatever it was. But my point is, all across the country. And it’s not because the gun shops in the cities are selling these guns. They are either shadow gun dealers and/or gun shops that are not abiding by the law.

So, we’re going to do major investigations and shut those guys down and put some of them in jail and — for what they’re doing: selling these weapons. There’s also a thing called “ghost guns” that are being sold now and being used. 

And so — but in addition to that, what we have to do is we have to deal with a larger problem of the whole issue of law enforcement, generally. We’re in a situation where, as much as we need to pass the Floyd Act and all that — but here’s the deal: Cops are having real trouble. They’re not all bad guys; there’s a lot of good guys. We need more policemen, not fewer policemen. But we need them involved in community policing. Community policing. (Applause.) 

And when we did that, violent crime went down. All the criticism about the original crime bill — well, guess what? Crime went down until we stopped doing community policing. So it’s about getting — we have availability now of over billion — lots of money for cops to be able to hire psychologists, psychiatrists, as well as social workers to be engaged in the process. (Applause.) 

MR. LEMON: Mr. President, we’re going to put a period, maybe a comma right here because we have more to come. We got to take a quick break.

We’ll be right back. More from President Joe Biden right after this. (Applause.)

(Commercial break begins.)

(Commercial break ends.)

MR. LEMON: Welcome back to our CNN Town Hall with the President of the United States, Joe Biden. I just — I said we were going to put a comma on it because I want to continue this conversation. 

You said that you need — we need more police, right? Your words. So then, how do you respond to Republicans who try to paint you and your party as anti-police?

THE PRESIDENT: They’re lying. (Applause.) No, look, never once — we have to change police conduct. We have to have rules where things are open. We have to have rules where you can be able to determine what the background — how many times a cop has violated the rules and be able to have access to what’s going on in police departments, or the Justice Department can get involved in whether or not they have to change their pattern and practices.

I’ve always said that.

MR. LEMON: But what about defunding the police though? Because there’s a “Defund the Police.”

THE PRESIDENT: No, I’ve never — never, never said defunding the police.

Look, I don’t know any community, particularly the communities that are in the most need and the poorest and the most at risk, that don’t want police. They want police, though, to look at them as equals. (Applause.) They want police to treat them in a way. They don’t want police abusing. 

And what happened was we got in the position where — we used to have community policing where the cop — my deceased son was the attorney general of the state of Delaware. And what we did when that original bill got passed was he would go down in the tough neighborhoods in my — in my state — in my city of Wilmington, which is overwhelming a minority city, and he’d go where the — everybody can tell me where the best basketball is played in a playground here in this city. You know where it is; you know who the best ballplayers are; you know where they are.

He’d go down and sit there on the bench with his son, my — my grandson, who’s now 16, when he was 5 and 6 years old, and let them know he was there. He’d go over and knock on the window of the local cop, who was sitting there by himself in a squad car. I’d say, “Get out of the car. Meet people.” 

Because what used to happen was cops used to — when first community policing came about — they’d go in and they knew who the minister was in the church, they knew who owned the local liquor store, the local drugstore, the local grocery store. And they’d walk in and say, “Look, I’m Joe Biden, and I’m going to be in this beat. Here’s my cell number. You have a problem, call me. Here’s my cell number.”

MR. LEMON: You said it’s tough right now. You said police are up against — well, they’re up against the narrative that, you know, the country is anti-police, Democrats are anti-police, Joe Biden is anti-police. And then you have —

THE PRESIDENT: They aren’t saying Joe Biden is anti-police. Cops are not saying that about Joe Biden. They know me, period. (Applause.)

MR. LEMON: Go on.

THE PRESIDENT: They’re not saying. Republicans are saying it on the far — I’m not going to — anyway, it doesn’t matter. 

MR. LEMON: No, you can — no, I want you to talk about this, because — I mean —

THE PRESIDENT: No, look —

MR. LEMON: — it’s an important narrative. There is no more important issue, I think, right now than safety. You can rebuild a home. You can, you know, get a lot of things back. But, Mr. President, you cannot get back a life. And it —

THE PRESIDENT: That’s exactly right. That’s exactly right.

MR. LEMON: Yeah. And if police aren’t doing their jobs, that increases —

THE PRESIDENT: Okay — no, if police aren’t doing their job, they should be held accountable. They should be fired if they’re not doing their job. They should — (applause) — I have no — I make no excuses for that. 

We should have, for example, the George Floyd Act, where chokeholds are against the law, where a whole lot of things that are laid out in that legislation. And, by the way, I grew up in a neighborhood where you became a cop, a firefighter, or a priest. I wasn’t qualified for any one of them, so here I am. (Laughter.) 

But all kidding aside — I’m not joking — the guys that grew up in Scranton and Claymont, Delaware — a steel town — that’s what we did. That’s what they did. It’s what my friends did. 

And here’s the point: The point is that they — it doesn’t justify maltreating the public. You have no right to do that. None. But now what’s happening is, because they’ve become — it’s become so tough across the spectrum, we’ve actually cut down on a number of police, unrelated to anybody asking for it. The towns and cities aren’t spending as much money on it. There is not as much federal money to hire police. And now, what’s happening is police are not wanting to be a cop. Raise your hand if you want to be a cop now. What do you think, huh? 

So what we got to do is we got to give them the help they need to be better at their job. The idea that you have someone sitting on a ledge, saying they’re going to jump off a ledge, and you call the cop, and sending a guy or a woman who’s a law enforcement officer, has a criminal justice degree, when you could send with him or her — you could send with them a psychologist or a social worker, or somebody who can talk to them. 

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Yes!

THE PRESIDENT: No, I mean it. (Applause.) I’m serious.

MR. LEMON: Mr. President, I want to get to more questions now. I’m going to bring in Lynne Miller. She’s an attorney and a Democrat. 

Lynne, what’s your question?

Q   Mr. President, the opioid crisis continues, and in this part of the country, it remains a huge problem. While the over-prescription of opioids is part of that problem, the drugs available in the black market are a growing issue as many of these contain fentanyl. That took the life of our son. How can your administration combat the issue of illegal opiates, many of which our young people buy online? Someone should bear responsibility for delivering death through the mail.

THE PRESIDENT: They should bear responsibility. You may or may not be aware: Even in the period when I was out of office, I was railing against the fact that drug companies were selling on the open market. There was one case — what’s really got me was you had two drugstores in small town in West Virginia having something like prescription for 4,000 pills. And it was obviously drug trafficking. That’s what was going on. 

So what we did was — what they did was, they went after it. They just settled with Johnson & — some of the drug companies who make opioids for twenty-si- — was it $26 billion or 27. Today, if I’m not mistaken, the settlement took place.

But here’s the deal: In addition to that, you have the Chinese sending fentanyl to Mexico, in large part, that’s being mixed with opioids and/or heroin and other drugs, which is a dead-set killer of people. 

And so, what we have to do — I’ve had this encounter with China, and we’re going to continue it. But we’ve also increased the number of DEA agents — what we’re doing at the border — and how we’re going to deal with ex- — the intercepting that drug trade. 

In addition to that, the Justice Department is moving on dealing with the whole opioid issue by increasing significantly the number — the number of people in Justice Department working on this issue. And so, there’s much more to say about it, but it is incredibly, incredibly dangerous. 

MR. LEMON: Mr. President, I believe there’s no better way to speak about this than —

THE PRESIDENT: (Inaudible) —

MR. LEMON: — from experience. I don’t think there’s probably a family in this room who hasn’t been affected by addiction. You’ve been very open about your son Hunter’s problems with addiction. This is personal for you. And listen, I’ve dealt with it in — within my own family. Every family deals with it. But this is personal for you. 

THE PRESIDENT: Yes. And I’m so damn proud of my son. My son just wrote a book about how he overcame being addicted. And he did it, and he’s doing it, and he is in good shape, thank God. 

Here’s the thing: We don’t have nearly enough people involved in mental health and drug addiction services — number one. (Applause.) Number one.

Number two — number two, we shouldn’t be sending people to jail for use; we should be sending them to mandatory rehabilitation. (Applause.) Mandatory rehabilitation.

Number three, when people are in fact in jail, they should be getting — if that’s not the main crime, but they also did — they should be getting treatment while they are in jail. 

Fourth, when people get out of jail — whether it’s for drug addiction or any other crime — if they’ve served their time, they should have full access to everything from Pell Grants, to public housing, to — to the like. (Applause.)  

And, by the way — and, by the way, folks, it’s not just the right thing to do; it’s the smart thing for us to do. Because what happens? Years ago, there was a guy named Arlen Specter from Pennsylvania. He and I introduced legislation that was a second chance. It would — meant that, right now, when you get out of jail in most prisons in the states around the country — what happens? — you get a bus ticket and 25 bucks. You end up under the bridge, just like you did before. You’re almost — almost guaranteed to get back in — in whatever — whatever your problem was before. 

So, they should have access to drug treatment. They should have access to housing. They should have access to whatever they qualify based on their income. And we should, in prisons as well, be training people differently. 

But the mi- — the big thing here is: We have to deal with the idea of addiction by providing for what we all know — it’s a disease of the brain.

MR. LEMON: Yeah.

THE PRESIDENT: It’s a disease of the brain and has to be treated as such. 

MR. LEMON: I think it’s — I think addiction and mental health issues have to be dealt with, just as if you break your arm and go to the doctor. We should be able to talk. There should be —

THE PRESIDENT: I agree.

MR. LEMON: — there shouldn’t be a stigma about it. 

I want to bring in now Madeena Nolan. Madeena Nolan is a writer and editor. She’s a Democrat.

Madeena, what’s your question?

THE PRESIDENT: Hi, Madeena.

Q   Good evening, Mr. President. Vice President Harris said to Guatemalans, “Don’t come.” Recently, you have indicated you are in favor of refugees coming to this country. Could you please explain your administration’s basic stance on immigration? 

THE PRESIDENT: Yes. They should not come. 

What we’re trying to set up is, in the countries like in — and particularly in the Northern Triangle — Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, et cetera — we are setting up in those countries: If you seek asylum in the United States, you can seek it from the country, from your — in place. You can seek it from an American embassy. You can go in and seek and see whether or not you qualify. We’ve significantly increased the number of officers who can hear cases as to whether or not you qualify under the law for being here as a refugee. That is — that’s what we’ve done. 

Thirdly, we have enabled a move, significantly, to change the number — there were thousands of people in — in custody with the Border Patrol. It’s now cut by 90 percent, where there — it’s considerably down. 

What I — what I do say is: The one place you may heard that I’m talking about more immigrants coming in are those folks from Afghanistan who helped the American soldiers, who will be — they and their family will be victimized very badly as a consequence of what happens if they’re left behind. And so, we’re providing for them to be able to see whether they qualify to meet this special requirement to be able to come to the United States as a refugee and as, ultimately, earning citizenship here. It seems to me it’s the only decent thing that we can do. 

In the meantime, we’re going to send people to American bases, where they’re not going to be able to leave the base while their cases are being determined — whether they qualify — and also other bases.

MR. LEMON: I want to talk to you about DACA. I got two questions on immigration. They’re quick questions I want to ask you about. Because just last week, there was a federal judge who ruled the program unlawful, blocked it from accepting new applications. What do you say to DREAMers who are really worried about their futures here in the United States?

THE PRESIDENT: I’m not letting this go. Look, guys, let’s just put it — (applause) — let’s just put this — you know, we talk about DREAMers sort of generically. Let’s think about it now, what it really means: You’re five years old. You’re nine years old. Your mom or your dad says, “I’m going to take you across the Rio Grande and we’re going to illegally going to go into the United States.” What are you supposed to say? “Not me. That’s against the law”? I’m –no, I’m being — I’m being deadly earnest. What can a kid say? What could they do? They come here with really no choice. And they’re here, and they’re good, good people. They’ve done well. (Applause.) Ten thousand of them were first-line workers. (Applause.) These are kids who’ve done well. 

And so, what we’re going to do is, first of all, appeal the case — number one. But number two, we’re going to make sure that — a number of my Republican colleagues say they support the right of DREAMers to come. Let’s call the question. They should be able to stay in the United States of America when a child comes (inaudible). (Applause.)

MR. LEMON: Mr. President, you’ve been the big guy for six months now in the White House. Can you take us behind the scenes — something that was extraordinary or unusual that happened that stands out to you?

THE PRESIDENT: Yeah. “Mr. President, you didn’t close the door. Mr. President, what the hell are you going out at this time for?” You know. (Laughter.) You know, it’s — it’s a wonderful honor. As you can tell, I hope I have very good manners, but I’m not very hung up on protocol. (Laughter.) 

And I — and the Secret Service is wonderful. And because things are so — (applause) — and because things are so crazy out there, it is very hard to get comfortable like I would ordinarily be. For example, I think all of the — all the help that’s there, providing meals and all the rest — I think they love us. We can say, “Don’t come in for breakfast. We can get our own breakfast.” Because I like to walk out in my robe and go in. (Laughter.) No, no, I’m not — you think I’m joking. I’m not. You know what I mean? 

And so it’s just a — you know, the only place I have felt like what the office connotes is when I went to Europe and watched the rest of the heads of state react to me — not me, because I’m the President of the United States of America — the United States of America. 

And here’s what happened: It’s the first time I ever felt like — you always hear say “leader of the free world.” Well, I realize, when I’m sitting across from Putin, who I know, he knows who I am; I know who he is. He knows I mean what I say and can do what I say. He understands. It doesn’t mean he will do it or not do it. But the point is it’s the first time I’ve ever felt the notion that I am in the office that is the leader of the free world. And we must be the leader of the free world. If we don’t do it, nobody good is likely to do it or has the capacity to do it. I really mean it. I genuinely mean it. 

So, it’s the thing, Don, that is the only time — and, by the way, the first time I walked downstairs and they played “Hail to the Chief,” I wondered, “Where is he?” (Laughter.) No, you think I’m kidding. I’m not kidding. You know, I mean —

MR. LEMON: It’s a great tune, isn’t it? 

THE PRESIDENT: It’s a great tune, but I — you know, you feel a little self-conscious. (Laughter.) But you think I’m kidding. I’m not.

But I am — I am not at all self-conscious about the power that goes with the office as it relates to resolving issues. These are issues that I’ve dealt with my whole life. Whether I’m good or bad, I have more experience coming to the office than anyone who’s ever held that office. I have done — I’ve — I’ve been deeply steeped in foreign policy, the justice system, the econo- — not that I’m right. I don’t mean that. But nothing has come before me where I’ve gone, “Oh, my God, I never — I never thought…” 

You know, what the difference is — I used to kid Barack — he’s a good friend — President Obama. And, you know, at one point, I’d always be the — I was always the last guy in the room, for real. On every important decision, I got to give my advice. I’d give it all away, but I’d be the last guy before I walked out. And one day, he thanked me. And I said, “Mr. President, here’s the deal: I should be paying you, not you me, because I get to give the advice, and then I get to leave.” (Laughter.)

No, I’m serious. Think about it. The one thing that is real, that is different — I don’t — and I feel comfortable with it — but is you’re the last guy in the room. 

MR. LEMON: Yeah.

THE PRESIDENT: You decide, “Is the decision I’m about to make, will that cause war? Will that cause conflict? The decision I’m about to make, is that going to hurt people? Is it going to help people?” That’s the part that is different.

But the living conditions, I mean, it’s such a great, great honor to live in the White House. But, quite frankly — I kid the Vice President — like, one day, Barack came over to NAVOBS — it’s called Naval Operations [sic] — the Vice President’s Residence — which is on about, I guess, 80, 90 acres. And it’s a beautiful, beautiful spot. And there’s a fence around the whole property.

MR. LEMON: I bet you miss that, don’t you?

THE PRESIDENT: I do. (Laughter.) And Barack came over and he said, “This is great.” And I said, “I’ll tell you…” And I said, “Trade you only if the power goes with it.” 

But the point is that, there, it was totally different. You could walk out in your shorts — with a short-sleeve shirt on, and you can walk around and there wasn’t anybody there. You can’t walk out anywhere now. (Laughter.) But I’m not complaining. I’m trying to answer your question as honestly as I can. 

MR. LEMON: Yeah.

THE PRESIDENT: I just — it’s the greatest honor, I think, could ever be bestowed on an American that a majority of American citizens said, “I want you to lead the country.” And it’s a great honor — a great honor when you have presidents and prime ministers and the rest of the world saying, “You know, what does the United States think?” You’re the leader of the free world. 

I was able to go to the G7 and change their mind about a whole range of things. They never once had included China in any criticism on what was going on. They’re very reluctant to be able to be in a position — you and I have talked about this — about whether or not they’re going to do business with China in a way that, you know, pushes America aside. 

All of a sudden, if you notice, we’re getting a great deal — not because of me, but because of the administration I put together. And America is back; traditional America is more back. And they’re willing to follow us, I think. (Applause.)

Q   Well, Mr. President — Mr. President, here’s the deal. Mr. President, here’s the deal: I’m the last guy that gets to ask you questions tonight. 

THE PRESIDENT: Uh-oh.

MR. LEMON: Yeah. And then I get to leave. (Laughter.) Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT: Thanks, man.

MR. LEMON: I appreciate it.

THE PRESIDENT: Appreciate it. (Applause.)

MR. LEMON: We’re so glad that you guys are here and that you got to ask questions to the President of the United States. Thank you so much. 

Thank you to our audience, for everyone, for being here taking questions. Of course, thank you to the President of the United States. And we want to thank Mount St. Joseph University right here in Cincinnati, Ohio — right? — (applause) — for housing us.

9:19 P.M. EDT

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