(CNN) — US President Joe Biden participated in his first citizen forum since arriving at the White House last month, answering questions from CNN’s Anderson Cooper (and audience members) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
I watched, took notes, and had some ideas about what’s most important and why. My conclusions are below.
1. A strict deadline for vaccinations
Less than five minutes from the forum, Biden made a promise that will be big news not just tomorrow but for months to come. He said that “by the end of July, we will have more than 600 million doses, enough to vaccinate all Americans.”
That commitment sets the clock for Biden and his administration’s efforts to ensure that everyone in America who wants a vaccine has one by the end of July. (Biden also said he expected there to be 400 million doses by the end of May. And he set another goal: to get things back to normal in America by next Christmas.)
It’s worth noting that this is a departure from Biden’s earlier promise last month that anyone who wants a vaccine will be able to get it in the “spring.” Biden blamed the Trump administration for the need to push that timeline, insisting that his predecessor “wasted so much time” dealing with the virus.
2. Clarification of the question about the reopening of the school
Biden’s press staff got into trouble over the past week by claiming that schools that open one day a week would count as his promise to open most schools within his first 100 days in office.
Critics rightly pointed out that it seemed like an escape from it, as most parents, desperate after nearly a year of virtual classes, don’t see one day of school a week as close to normal.
Biden blamed a “miscommunication” for the confusion, insisting that he believes most students in kindergarten through eighth grade would go back to school, and “many” of them would go five days a week.
3. Biden as head dildo
Perhaps the biggest contrast between Biden and the man he replaced in office is empathy. Former President Donald Trump had none; Biden is all empathy, with his heart on his sleeve. The forum format played on Biden’s strength in that regard, and provided a stark reminder of how radically different Trump was from anyone who came before (or after) him in office.
Biden told several interrogators to speak with him after the forum to help them deal with their specific issues. And in a surprising exchange, a mother with her 8-year-old daughter stood up and asked Biden what to say to children who are worried about contracting covid and dying. “Don’t panic, darling,” the president told the little girl, speaking directly to her while telling her that children don’t usually get the coronavirus, and when they do, they rarely transmit it. It was a note of grace, and one that would have been unimaginable during the Trump presidency.
LEE: Joe Biden Says America Could Get Back To Normal By “Next Christmas”
4. The end of (talk about) Trump
Biden did his best not to mention the former president by name. (Biden’s preferred way of naming Trump without naming him was to refer to the 45th president as “the old guy.”) When asked direct questions about Trump, about his impeachment, about his meddling with the Justice Department, Biden was even more outspoken about his views on the man he defeated last November.
“I’m tired of talking about Donald Trump,” Biden said at one point. In another, he said this: “For four years, all that’s been in the news is Trump. For the next four years, I want to make sure all the news is from the American people. ” (That phrase drew applause from the socially estranged audience.)
What Biden clearly believes is that the best way to deal with Trump is to rob him of the media oxygen he craves. The less Biden talks about Trump, the less attention Trump gets. It’s a solid theory, especially when you consider that Trump was pulled from Twitter and Facebook. (It’s also the strategy that likely led Senate Democrats to backtrack on calling witnesses at Trump’s impeachment trial last weekend.)
5. A radical view on polarization
Despite study after study showing that both Congress and the nation are more deeply divided along party lines than ever before, Biden insisted they are not. “The nation is not divided,” he argued. “You have fringes at both ends.” Eh, ok. I know that Biden believes that things will return to normal the longer he has had Trump as president, and that he is in a unique position to make bipartisanship something again. He campaigned on it. And he thinks he won, at least in part, with that message.
Maybe! But there is very, very little evidence so far in his tenure, and yes, of course it is early! That suggests that GOP elected officials are ready to give up their Trump ways. And there is even less evidence that the Republican base wants more than Trump. A poll from Quinnipiac University released Tuesday showed that 75% of Republicans want Trump to play a “prominent” role in the party.
6. A man who rambles
Biden spent decades in the Senate before being elected by former President Barack Obama to serve as vice president. And that was seen on Tuesday night, when Biden gave long and winding answers to several of the questions posed, especially in regards to race and police, and how his administration would set policy regarding China.
In some cases he delved into politics, in other cases his responses were more difficult to follow. While Biden repeatedly apologized for lingering too long on his answers, it never really stopped him from continuing (and on).
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism