President Biden visits Baltimore for televised 'town hall'




  • In Business
  • 2021-10-22 00:59:00Z
  • By Baltimore Sun

BALTIMORE - President Joe Biden made his first official visit to Baltimore since becoming chief executive Thursday, making a plea to the American public in support of his infrastructure plan during a nationally televised town hall hosted by CNN.

Biden was greeted by raucous applause from the crowd as he walked onto the stage wearing a dark suit and a wide grin. He waved at the crowd and put one hand over his eyes as he peered into the audience.

Biden's appearance comes during a push by Democratic lawmakers in Washington to pass his legislative package, which includes efforts to boost spending on social programs, climate change mitigation and infrastructure.

The infrastructure bill is designed to improve roads, bridges, transit systems and broadband, and help fund Chesapeake Bay restoration, and the social spending package contains key elements of Biden's agenda including expanding child care support and health care.

The total cost of the "Build Back Better" plan, originally priced at $3.5 trillion, has proved to be a sticking point during weeks of partisan haggling over the legislation. On Thursday, White House officials and key Democrats rushed to rework several pieces including trimming social services and climate change programs in an effort to pare back the legislative package to about $2 trillion.

Officials are also rethinking plans to reverse Trump-era tax cuts and instead considering new taxes on corporations and the investment income of the wealthy to finance the package. Congressional Republicans have argued corporate tax increases would cripple American businesses.

CNN hosted the event at Center Stage's 541-seat Pearlstone Theater in Baltimore's Mount Vernon neighborhood. Hours before the event, audience members waited in lines to have their identification and coronavirus vaccination cards checked.

Members of CASA, a regional advocacy group for immigrants, stood outside the theater wearing matching red T-shirts and chanting: "What do we want? Citizenship! When do we want it? Now!"

Yury Guardado, an undocumented immigrant and activist, said CASA is hoping to send a message to Biden to support a broader path to citizenship.

"He needs to keep his promise," the 15-year-old said. "We are asking for what is ours and we are demanding for what is ours. We have been hiding for too long."

Other demonstrators included two people in dinosaur costumes opposed to medical testing on animals at federal labs, as well as a group with neon pink and yellow signs reading: "Keep Iran Deal."

Several members from the Pride Center of Maryland were able to use federal government connections to get tickets to the event.

Brian Askew, a case manager and workforce development coordinator, said the group planned to "absorb the beauty and awe of a presidential arena and mindset." Askew said he's hoped to hear how the Pride Center could help the White House's mission with the LGBTQ community, especially with getting people back to work.

When Tamera Trimuel received an email from Morgan State University's president asking for questions to potentially attend a town hall with Biden, she jumped at the opportunity.

Before the town hall, the 18-year-old said if called upon, she would ask Biden about funding for historically Black colleges and universities like Morgan State. The college freshman, who's studying multimedia journalism, said she finds cuts to promised funding troubling since the African American community, particularly in Georgia, helped get Biden elected.

Even if the Chicago native doesn't get the chance to ask a question, she's looking forward to soaking up her first presidential town hall. "I'm really looking forward to just the experience in general and hearing his answers," she said. "We are the future generation and it's important that we're involved in the political conversations."

Biden and first lady Jill Biden touched down in Marine One at Fort McHenry National Monument at 7:17 p.m., where they were greeted by Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes and Mayor Brandon Scott.

A motorcade then rolled through South Baltimore and downtown, then up to Mount Vernon, where demonstrators along Calvert Street shouted and cheered as the motorcycles and SUVs arrived.

Biden has been eager to advance the legislative package which has been in the works for much of the year, particularly before he leaves for an overseas global climate summit next week.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has set an Oct. 31 deadline for the House of Representatives to pass the infrastructure deal, which the Senate approved previously with support from both Democrats and Republicans.

The Senate-passed version contained several provisions of specific importance to Marylanders, but it is unclear how many of those provisions will remain when the final details of the deal are hammered out. That version included five years of funding for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Chesapeake Bay program, and language allowing the Red Line - a planned Baltimore light rail system rejected by Gov. Larry Hogan six years ago - to be revisited.

Still in consideration is $500 billion to battle climate change, $350 billion for child care subsidies and free prekindergarten, a new federal program for at least four weeks of paid family leave, a one-year extension of the $300 monthly child tax credit put in place during the COVID-19 crisis, and money for health care provided through the Affordable Care Act and Medicare.

Likely to be eliminated or shaved back are plans for tuition-free community college, a path to permanent legal status for certain immigrants in the United States and a clean energy plan that was the centerpiece of Biden's strategy for fighting climate change.

Ahead of Biden's visit, Gov. Larry Hogan issued a statement saying the president should take a more bipartisan approach to the infrastructure negotiations.

"America's biggest problems cannot be fixed by one party alone," said Hogan, a Republican. "If the president truly seeks to bring us together, then I urge him to use this town hall to focus on the bipartisan, common sense solutions to the serious problems that face us."

Biden initially had planned to visit Baltimore for a tour of the Emergent BioSolutions vaccine manufacturing plant in Bayview. He canceled the visit after the New York Times reported that Emergent BioSolutions had profited greatly by winning government contracts for anthrax vaccines at a time when the nation's medical stockpile needed masks and other supplies.

Baltimore Sun reporters Jeff Barker and McKenna Oxenden contributed to this article.

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