‘We Have to Restore the Soul Within This Country:’ Biden, Harris Discuss Their Future Plans for the U.S. in First Post-Election Interview

With less than 50 days left until the 2021 presidential inauguration, President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris sat down today with CNN’s Jake Tapper, who interviewed the duo in their first joint interview since prevailing over US President Donald Trump in the November election.

 

The hour-long special was held in Biden’s hometown of Wilmington, Delaware.

 

Tapper spoke with Biden and Harris on everything from the COVID-19 pandemic, vaccine safety, inequity, and more.

 

During the interview, Biden revealed what he thinks are the four top issues impacting Americans:

  1. Coronavirus

  2. The economy

  3. Racial inequity

  4. Climate change

 

Harris said that with climate change, “the clock is ticking rapidly on this issue” and that tackling climate change won’t be easy.

 

“It will require a convening. But as the president-elect always says, look, this as much as anything is also about jobs. It’s about investing in research and development. It’s about investing in the American worker with jobs that are well-paying jobs, good union well-paying jobs,” she said during the CNN interview.

 

According to Biden’s plan, as president, he will reinstate federal protections, rolled back by the Trump Administration, that were designed to protect communities of color. He will also ensure that communities of color are at the center of impacts of climate change and pollution, and they must be at the center of any solutions, according to his website. That includes access to safe drinking water for all communities and making water infrastructure a top priority by creating systems to monitor lead and other contaminants in our water supply and take necessary action to eliminate health risks and by supporting communities in upgrading their systems.

Ensuring equity not just in environmental change but inside the White House is a top priority, too, for the Biden-Harris administration. Biden said that his Cabinet will “look like the country.”

 

“I’m going to keep my commitment that the administration both in the White House and outside in the cabinet is going to look like the country,” Biden said during the CNN interview. “My job is to keep my commitment and to make the decisions. And when it’s all over, people will take a look and say, I promise you, you’ll see the most diverse cabinet, representative of all folks, Asian-Americans, African-Americans, Latinos, LGBTQ, across the board.”

 

Regarding the pandemic, Biden told Tapper that he wants to make clear to the public that when the vaccine comes on the market and is safe, he will ensure that the economy remains open to some degree and everyone will have “clear guidance” on the next step.

“Bars and restaurants, we will provide you with the wherewithal and you’re going to be 

able to reopen,” Biden said on CNN, adding that he will also emphasize the importance of continued masking like on airplanes, buses, and inside federal buildings.

Biden also said that on his first day during his inauguration he is going to ask the public to wear masks for 100 days, which is not “forever.”

 

“I think we’ll see a significant reduction [in COVID-19 cases] … and that occurs with vaccinations and masking to drive down the numbers considerably,” Biden said.

Tapper asked Biden if he credits Trump for Operation Warp Speed in creating the vaccines for the COVID-19 virus.

Biden said that it is one thing to get the vaccine delivered and another to remove the vaccinations and put them in a person’s arm.

 

“We need help to do that,” he said of what he described as an incredibly expensive proposition. “That is why we’re continuing to hope that the [U.S.] Senate does something and responds to the immediate need. And we’re going to need a lot more billions of dollars … but [we] have to be able to get the vaccine distributed.”

 

Biden said the vaccine distribution focus is on nursing homes and nursing personnel; along with people hurt the most in Black and brown communities.

 

“Folks like African Americans and Latinos are the first ones hurt when something happens and the last one recovered,” Biden said, adding that statistics show that these communities are three to four times more likely to die if they contract COVID-19. “They need help and need to get it in immediately.” 

 

Tapper said that most experts agree that elementary schools should be the last thing to close because the risk of students catching COVID-19 is minimal, and remote learning in some aspects has been “disastrous.” He asked Harris if the new administration will defer to health experts or teacher’s unions when it comes to elementary schools.

 

Harris said that public health experts must be the leaders in this conversation because COVID-19 is a public health epidemic.

 

“They must help form the decisions but our educators are on the frontlines,” she said, adding that every parent wants their children to go back to school. “The way we achieve that is being smart, prioritizing the safety of our children and their teachers, family community, and prioritizing the education of our children.”

 

Biden said that he has spoken to teacher union leaders and there is a “clear plan” which involves safely reopening elementary schools with smaller pods of classes, more teachers, better ventilation, and more sanitization — a $100 million effort.

 

“We can make it safe for teachers if we invest in what needs to be done,” he said, adding that states are running out of money and that would be the federal government’s responsibility to pay short term.

 

Tapper also asked Harris what her game plan would look like in communicating with Biden.

 

Harris said that they are “full partners in this process” and she will be the “first and last one in the room” on nationwide initiatives.

 

Biden said that a lot is at stake and since winning the election he and Harris have to “restore the soul within this country, meaning honor and decency, honesty, basic, basic fundamental decency.”

 

“We have to rebuild the backbone in this country, the middle class, that and this time bring everybody along,” he said.

 

To watch the full interview click here.

 

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