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October 18, 2020

Biden talks COVID-19 vaccine, Supreme Court, equality at Philadelphia town hall

New SeasonDemocratic presidential nominee Joe Biden was heavy on details on a variety of subjects Thursday night -- including COVID-19, the Supreme Court, racial and LGBT equality and climate change -- at his town hall event in Philadelphia, which was broadcast by ABC News.

ABC News political analyst George Stephanopoulos moderated the 90-minute event.

COVID-19

The Democratic presidential nominee opened up the town hall taking President Donald Trump to task for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and offering his own answers.

"He missed enormous opportunities and kept saying things that weren't true," Biden said of Trump.

"'It's going to go away by Easter. Don't worry about it. ... When the summer comes, it's all going to go away like a miracle.' He's still saying all those things."

The former vice president said there should have been earlier national standards on how to limit the spread of the virus, including a face mask mandate.

When asked whether he would require all Americans to take a COVID-19 vaccine once one's available, Biden said, "It depends on the state and the nature of the vaccine when it comes out and how it's being distributed."

Biden acknowledged such a mandate would be difficult to enforce completely, comparing it to measles vaccines required by schools.

"We should be thinking about making it mandatory," he said, adding that he'd ask governors, mayors and council members to encourage and mandate vaccines.

He added a vaccine at the earliest may be ready by next spring but he is "worried about" the lack of a distribution plan for when one does come available.

Supreme Court

Biden offered his most complete answer to date when asked whether he would "pack" the Supreme Court if he were elected president.

Previously, he'd declined to answer the question, saying whatever answer he gave would distract voters from Republicans rushing to confirm Trump nominee Amy Coney Barett on the high court bench.

"No matter what I answer I gave you, that's the headline tomorrow," he said. "It won't be about what's going on now, the improper way they're proceeding."

Biden did not dismiss the idea that he could possibly expand the size of the Supreme Court as president -- but promised that he would consult with members of Congress and a number of top legal experts and advisers on the matter.

Biden did say he's "not a fan" of court-packing and promised announce a full and direct answer on the question before Election Day, after the Senate concludes its confirmation process for Barrett.

Racial equality

Biden took some heated questions from the audience concerning courting Black voters and his support of a 1990s crime bill that has been widely criticized for discriminating against people of color.

A young Black student asked Biden, beside stelling them "you ain't Black," a comment the former vice president made that he has said he regrets, how will he convince Black Americans he is not part of a system that fails to protect them.

Biden responded that Black men and women could determine the outcome of this election, touting his economic and education policies as evidence of his worthiness for their vote.

"We have to be able to put Black Americans in a position to gain wealth, generate wealth," he said.

To accomplish that, he proposed increased funding for Title I low-income schools from $15 billion to $45 billion a year, allowing each teacher in those schools to earn a salary of up to $60,000. All children from the age of 3 would also go to school, which would increase their chances of graduating by nearly 60%, and more social workers and psychologists will be staffed at educational institutions, he said.

He also said he would provide historically black universities with $70 billion in new funding to give them foundational support for endowments.

First-time home buyers will also receive a guaranteed $15,000 credit toward their down payment, he said.

"It's about accumulating wealth," he said. "You're behind an 8 ball. The vast majority of people of color are behind an 8 ball."

He then fielded a question concerning his support of the 1994 Violent Crime and Law Enforcement Act that has been widely blamed for incarcerating people of color.

Asked if his support of it was a mistake, Biden said, "Yes, it was."

He said there was some good in the bill, but that he opposes its increased funding to state prison systems.

Biden added that he also believes no one should go to jail for drug use offenses, they should undergo mandatory rehabilitation, while marijuana should be decriminalized and those arrested under such offenses should have their records cleaned.

"We got to change the system ... changing the system from punishment to rehabilitation," he said.

Foreign policy

On foreign policy, Biden said the Trump administration has made the United States less secure by isolating it more than its ever been.

"America first has made America alone," he said. "You have Iran closer to having enough nuclear material to build a bomb. North Korea has more bombs and missiles available to it. We find ourselves with our NATO allies saying they publicly can't count on us."

He said Trump deserves some credit for bringing Israel together with its Arab neighbors, but he also "embraces all the thugs in the world" amid a rise in authoritarian regimes.

"If you take a look, we're not very well trusted around the world," he said.

Biden said Trump is "literally" laughed at when he goes to the United Nations.

"So I would respectfully suggest no, there is no plan -- no coherent plan for foreign policy," he said.

LGBTQ rights

Biden took a strong stance concerning laws Trump has made that either reverse or roll back transgender rights, stating that he would undo them.

"I would flat out just change the law," he said, responding to a question about his stance on Trump's moves that bar transgendered people from serving in the military, among others. "I would eliminate those executive orders."

He said there should be "zero discrimination," voicing support of LGBTQ rights.

Climate change

Biden spent a segment talking about his plans for creating high-paying jobs while investing heavily in clean energies.

While saying he would not ban fracking, "it has to be managed very, very well." And he said the country would eventually have to wean itself off fossil fuels in part by ending billions in federal subsidies on oil and gas operations.

He also said again that as president he would not ban fracking and reiterated that he opposes the Green New Deal proposed by progressive Democrats, insisting that his environmental plan is better.

Biden signed up for the event after Trump refused to participate in a virtual town hall-style debate that was supposed to take place Thursday night. The Commission on Presidential Debates made the debate virtual after Trump was diagnosed with COVID-19.

Trump called such a virtual debate "ridiculous" and a "waste of time."

Instead, Trump held his own town hall in Miami, broadcast by NBC, where he was pressed by questions on his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Supreme Court and healthcare.

The final debate between Trump and Biden is scheduled for Oct. 22 at Belmont University in Nashville.

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