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Biden holds first town hall as president

President Biden stands on stage smiling.
President Biden stands on stage during a break in a televised town hall event on Tuesday at Pabst Theater in Milwaukee.
(Evan Vucci / AP)

President Biden traveled to Wisconsin for a town hall event Tuesday evening to field questions about the pandemic, the economy and his plans for unifying a deeply divided nation, putting him face to face with voters for the first time since he took office.

The town hall, moderated by CNN anchor Anderson Cooper at the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee, featured a socially distanced audience, members of which were able to ask Biden questions. The event marked an early test for Biden to make good on his inaugural speech promise to promote “unity” and be “a president for all Americans.”

Before heading out, Biden told reporters at the White House that he picked Wisconsin for his first official trip as president because “there’s a lot going on” in the state, which has battled a severe COVID-19 outbreak for months.

“They’re as cold as the devil up there. They got a lot to deal with,” Biden said.

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White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said earlier in the day that Biden also selected Wisconsin because of the Badger State’s reputation as a political melting pot.

“Wisconsin is a state where clearly there are Democrats, Republicans, independents, as we saw from the final outcome of the vote in November — people who have different points of view on a range of issues,” Psaki told reporters in the briefing room. “The president felt that he could have a good conversation with people about the path forward, and also even people who disagree with him.”

Biden won Wisconsin by roughly 21,000 votes. It was one of six states where former President Trump falsely insisted for months that election results were tainted by fraud and Democratic cheating.

Biden’s proposed $1.9-trillion coronavirus stimulus package was expected to take center stage during the town hall.

The massive relief measure, which could be passed by the House as early as next week, would bankroll $1,400 stimulus checks to most Americans, renew soon-to-expire federal unemployment benefits at $400 per week and provide billions of dollars for COVID-19 vaccination efforts and billions more in budgetary relief for cash-strapped state and local governments.

But while polling shows the stimulus proposal is overwhelmingly popular among voters, Republicans on Capitol Hill have voiced near-unanimous opposition to appropriating another major round of COVID-19 relief.

The GOP resistance has prompted Democrats to pursue a budgetary option known as reconciliation that will allow them to pass Biden’s relief plan without Republican support.

Biden has said he supports the reconciliation option, opening himself up to questions about how that go-it-alone attitude squares with his vow for bipartisanship and unity.

Psaki said at Tuesday’s briefing that Biden’s plan should be considered bipartisan because a “vast majority of the American people like what they see in this package.”

“That should be an indication — or should be noted by members of Congress,” she said.

Beyond the coronavirus-stricken economy, Biden was likely to face questions at the town hall about whether his Justice Department would pursue criminal charges against Trump in light of the Senate acquitting him of the impeachment charge that he incited the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Even some Senate Republicans suggested after Trump’s Saturday acquittal that he should face criminal repercussions for stoking the Jan. 6 chaos.

Biden, however, has long said he won’t meddle in the Justice Department’s business, and that matters of prosecution will be left entirely up to Merrick Garland, his attorney general nominee, whose Senate confirmation hearing is set to start next week.


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