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CNN Live Event/Special

CNN Joe Biden Town Hall. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired March 27, 2020 - 20:00   ET



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: And good evening. I'm Anderson Cooper.

Welcome to a special CNN coronavirus town hall with Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden.

This is obviously not our typical town hall format. For obvious reasons, we have no audience. I'm in a small remote studio in New York. The camera is robotically controlled.

And Vice President Biden will join me momentarily from his home in Wilmington, Delaware.

We are focusing exclusively on the pandemic.

Today, another milestone. According to CNN estimates, we top 100,000 total cases in just the U.S. alone. The exact number as of this moment, 100,769 -- the most cases of any country in the world. At this time, last week, the number of cases was just over 18,000. At least 1,573 deaths as of today. Last week, there were 241.

Today, President Trump signed an executive order authorizing the secretaries of Defense and Homeland Security to summon reservists to active duty. Many of you sent in written and video questions online asking about what the government is doing right now to deal with the public health crisis and economic emergency, and if what else it could be doing, potentially, under a Biden administration.

Vice President Biden will be responding to as many questions as possible over the course of this hour. So, let's get right to him.

Mr. Vice President, welcome. Thanks for joining us tonight.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Happy to be with you, Anderson. I'm sorry for the occasion, but happy to be with you.

COOPER: I want to just ask you, first of all, before we get to viewer questions, just how is your life and Dr. Biden's wife -- life like today? You're staying at home like many of the rest of us.

BIDEN: Well, like everyone else, our governor has a stay in place order. So, we're operating out of my home in Wilmington, Delaware.

My day starts every morning when I have my medical team on the phone. We speak for anywhere from 20 minutes to -- to an hour, and they give me a brief, like I have here, laying charts and everything, and who -- how many deaths, how many -- how much has been done, how much have we've been able to get done, equipment we can be able to get to people, et cetera.

And then after that, Anderson, I do a -- an equally long briefing with my economic team. A group of economists and folks who work with me in the White House and we go over, in detail, what needs to be done, as well as what is actually being done, what the Congress passed, and what the Trump administration has done, has not done, or slow to do.

COOPER: Personally, I know your son Beau's family lives very close to you.

BIDEN: Oh, yes.

COOPER: You can't see your grandkids, can you?

BIDEN: No. But I -- I -- every single day, I speak to all five of my grandkids either on my phone, or I text with them. And -- and -- they're all over.

But two of them, Beau's children, live a mile, it's a crow flies from our home. And they come walking through the woods, there's a path through woods, and through a neighborhood, and we sit on our back porch and -- and they sit out on the lawn with two chairs there, and we talk about everything that -- that is going on in their day, and talk about being home from school, and who's driving whom crazy, and so on and so forth, but at least I get to see them.

COOPER: That's great.

BIDEN: And, occasionally, Jill and I live not far, not far at all. We border a school, a large one that -- and we have occasionally walked over and walked around the track by ourselves over there when -- bring the dog along with us.

But -- you know, otherwise, I'm just doing things like we're doing with you now and trying to keep abreast, and trying to urge and -- how can I say it? -- cajole the president into doing the things that should have been done and could be done faster.

I also --

COOPER: So, let me --

BIDEN: -- Anderson, was speaking regularly with the governors of the country. I spoke with the governor of Washington state today, the governor of Michigan last night, the governor of Pennsylvania, et cetera. And I -- just so I know it's on -- the Republican governors as well, to see what their -- what's happening on the ground for them.

I spoke with the governor of Louisiana not long ago. I missed a call with him today.

But my point is that, trying to keep focused on what's happening on the ground.

COOPER: So, let get to some questions particularly about -- about the administration's response thus far.

President Trump has said that, repeatedly, he wants the country or at least parts of the country opened up, as he said, as early as Easter, which is just more than two weeks away.

At a CNN town hall last night in a coronavirus crisis, Dr. Anthony Fauci told Dr. Sanjay Gupta and I, he thought that was aspirational. The vice president used the same word today to describe it, aspirational.

I'm wondering what you think of the idea of opening up by Easter, packing churches, and how long do you expect people will have to actually self-isolate?


BIDEN: Well, look, based on the data I'm getting from medical experts, they indicate to me that it's more likely to be sometime after the 31st of May into June, before we'd be in that position. But nobody knows for certain.

What we do know is that it's a false choice to make, saying that either open the economy or everything goes to hell, or, in fact, you take care of the medical side. You cannot make this economy grow until you deal with the virus and we -- and that curve. We have an exponential curve of -- going up, increasing every two days, doubling lately every two days -- every three days.

And so, we have to deal -- they're one and the same. You can't deal with the economic crisis until you deal with the health care crisis. And in the meantime --


BIDEN: -- the Congress has acted, and they moved with a $2 trillion package, on top of the one they've already passed, and it's about managing, about getting that out to the people, getting that out in the communities --


BIDEN: -- getting that distributed. And so --


COOPER: Well, just -- just a few minutes ago, President Trump said that he's going to decide Monday or Tuesday on social distancing guidelines. He already indicated New York, obviously, would -- would remain as it is.

Bill Gates said to Sanjay and I last night that there should be, basically, a -- that a lockdown has to be nationwide for it to actually be effective. It's got to be across the country for four to six to 10 weeks.

Do you think there should be a nationwide lockdown even in states that haven't seen a huge number of cases right -- so far?

BIDEN: The answer is -- I watched you last night, and I thought Bill Gates was really insightful. And I thought Bill Gates knew what he was talking about. I wish everyone could have seen that program.

Why would we not err on the side of making sure that we are not going to have a repeat? What happens if, in fact, we (INAUDIBLE) -- we don't look down across the country, we leave other places open, we find out because we haven't been able to test everybody, that there's an upsurge, and there's a new wave of coronavirus -- from people acquiring the coronavirus and we're back in the same -- in the same deal?

Look, that's why the Congress went out and passed this legislation. We can make sure that people are not held totally harmless, but held harmless, as much as they can be. We should be getting money out to small businesses, so, in fact, they don't go under, and they can pay their rent, and they can keep people on the payroll, even if they're not showing up. So, you're able to make -- take care of that.

We should be making sure that we're in a situation where the unemployment -- look, for example, I talked to one of the governors today and I said, now, there's -- the Congress did a good job on unemployment. They've not only provided a better case for it, but they laid out -- you get $600 above what you'd normally get, up to $75,000 income.

And I said, now, are you -- now, you saw the bounce, over 3 million people filed for unemployment. And I said, are you able to handle that? He said, well, no.

I've gone on this particular governor and say, we're going to need to hire 200 more people. And I said, well, you know, they passed a billion-dollar piece of that legislation to allow you to be able to accommodate these changes. Has anyone explained it to you yet?

Now, in fairness to the administration, it just got passed. But I hope what they do is what we did in another circumstance, which was an economic crisis, when we had a $900 billion Recovery Act the president asked me to handle. And what we did, we had one place in the White House, in the vice president's office. I put together an entire team, any governor, mayor, anyone could contact immediately, know where it's going, know what the money would be, know how it would get there, et cetera.


BIDEN: There has to be management here. That's really critical. It should begin right now.

COOPER: So, just be clear, if you are president now -- again, you don't have access to all the information the president has perhaps, but as you said, you've been talking to your experts -- would you go the route that Bill Gates was recommending which is essentially -- would you recommend to governors at every state to essentially lock down --

BIDEN: For --

COOPER: -- in order for a period of several weeks?

BIDEN: For -- for the time being, I would, yes, because here's the point, and you talked about it last night, Anderson. You don't know who doesn't have it. You don't know who doesn't have the virus.

So, a lot of people walking around looking like they're pretty healthy, and they may very well have the virus and transmit it.

So, two weeks in what is going to be a long fight to deal with this is a small price to pay, especially since you can compensate people for the lost time now that, in fact, the legislation has been passed by the Congress.

COOPER: Let's get the questions from viewers.

BIDEN: In my view.


COOPER: Greg Geilman is a real estate agent from Manhattan Beach, California, who recently tested positive for coronavirus. He sent us this question.


GREG GEILMAN, TESTED POSITIVE FOR CORONAVIRUS: When I got sick on March 18th, I called around to all the urgent cares and emergency rooms and doctors that I knew, and I was told that I couldn't come in and get tested unless I had severe difficulty breathing. I felt like I was in a third world country without the ability to get tested.

So, I finally found an urgent care through the help of social media, and I was able to get tested, and two days later, I have my results.

If you were president, how would you increase the availability of tests?


BIDEN: Well, what I would have done in the beginning is that making clear that we were going to need -- all the way back in January, there was -- the Intelligence Community indicated that this pandemic was on the horizon. I wrote an article back in January 17th saying we should be prepared now and laid out the things that I thought we should be doing then.

Look, the only thing we know in these crises of pandemics is, the only thing that you really make a mistake is going too slow. Going too fast, meaning providing the kind of help that is needed is -- and planning for it -- is not a problem. I heard someone today, I was on another show, and someone asked me

about, well, what happens if we make too many of the ventilators, we make too many of the test kits, et cetera? That's a little like asking in World War I, we may make too many landing craft. We're going to have some leftovers, so maybe we could make sure we get precise.

Get out now what can be gotten out -- now, now, now. And yesterday, and last month, and last week.

And so, I'm sorry that you had to go through what you went through, Greg. I really am. It's frightening, it's worrisome, and -- but the tests are getting out more now. But they should be able to be available nationwide, and that should have been right from the get-go a objective of the administration.

COOPER: The president has been critical of your -- the administration who you -- you, President Obama and you, saying that they inherited, you know, antiquated guidelines. And also, there are other experts who did warn after 2009 that medical equipment like life masks -- the masks were depleted after the swine flu outbreak.

Should the Obama administration have done more to replenish the supplies in preparation for future outbreaks?

BIDEN: Well, we -- we spent a lot of time. I was not part of it -- our administration spent a lot of time working with the incoming Trump administration, laying out exactly what could happen with a future pandemic, and that they were likely, not unlikely to occur. That it does not -- pandemics don't -- you know, get stopped by walls being built. They crossed borders quickly and easily.

And -- and there are a lot that we did do. We set up an office within the White House directly to stay focused on this, in the president -- in the White House and -- to deal with pandemics.

And the first thing this president did, maybe not the first but very first, he eliminated the office, took it out of the White House. He, in addition to that, when we were talking about early on in this crisis, we said -- I said, among others, that, you know, you should get into China, get our experts there, we have the best in the world, get them in so we know what's actually happening.

There was no effort to do that. He didn't put any pressure on Xi. I guess because of his trade deal, which wasn't much of a deal.

And in addition to that, what happened was, we had one person in country who was working -- he pulled him out of the country.

And so, I just don't think he has taken this seriously from the outset. And now, no -- I just don't think he is taking this seriously.

COOPER: Let me ask you. If -- if you become president, last night, Bill Gates said that for several tens of billions of dollars, which is certainly a lot of money but not a lot compared to the bailout that's just been passed, for several tens of billions of dollars, we, scientists, the scientific community, could set up processes by which the amount of time it takes to bring out a new vaccine, would be drastically reduce from 18 months to a year, that you'd have a much more robust system in place for the next pandemic.

Is that something you would pledge to do as president?

BIDEN: If you saw me sitting watching you, you saw me gone, yes! Absolutely, positively. Let the scientists -- let the scientists have sway. Let them move.

Let's use super computing. Let's use the capacities that Bill Gates talked about.

And it would be worth every single penny that was spent. I mean, this is -- it seemed to me it was a no-brainer.


BIDEN: And I -- the answer is yes, absolutely, positively.

COOPER: All right, this is -- seemed to me it was a no-brainer.


And I -- the answer is, yes, absolutely, positively.

COOPER: All right.

This is a question submitted by Sheri Reiter. She is a speech pathologist from El Paso, Texas.

Here's her question.


SHERI REITER, SPEECH PATHOLOGIST: Why is it that some rich and famous can have COVID-19 test and get results in 24 hours, but the poor elderly, like my father, who has been in a Houston hospital for over a week, who was tested on March the 19th, cannot get their results in a timely manner?

What is wrong with this picture?


BIDEN: We have not focused on dealing with what needs to be done from the outset.

And that's when -- you know, look, we talk about the ability to have tests where you can get results very quickly. I'm not a scientist, but they tell me that that can be done. But what we have to do is, we have to invest the time and money in getting them those -- those tests set up and made, the scientists put them together.

And what we're not doing is, we're not doing that ourselves now. And what we're doing is, we should be using the Defense Production Act to do whatever we need to do, whether it's the rapidity with which testing has to take place that you get a result, to actually getting the tests done, to investing in whether or not you have protective gear for our first responders, doctors, nurses, et cetera.

We should be doing -- and what we finally did, I guess that he finally took my -- not my -- well, I advised, but other people did too -- using that -- the Defense Production Act to produce ventilators. And General Motors is now going to be doing it.

Now, I found it interesting that, if you notice, every time he disagrees with anybody, whether it's -- he says now that he hoped General Motors was going to do the right thing, but they didn't. And they were going to -- I forget exactly how he characterized it.

And he said, but what do you expect? I know the chairman of that company.

Or when he talks to governors, he says, be careful when you talk to that governor, they're not very good, or calls another governor a snake.

This is not personal. It has nothing to do with you, Donald Trump, nothing to do with you. Do your job. Stop personalizing everything.

COOPER: He says that governors...

BIDEN: Stop it.

COOPER: He says that governors should be appreciative.

Is that how government is supposed to work?

BIDEN: I didn't think that was how it's supposed to work.

I thought the federal government's supposed to do their job, the federal government, dealing with a federal, national problem.

And, look, one of the governors and I spoke to, when they called and asked for help in terms of masks and other things, the president allegedly told her that, no, you take care of yourself. That's not my responsibility.

I forget the exact phrase used. You heard it repeated again that we're not the delivery service, whatever the phrase he used was.

So, this governor went out and got local manufacturers to agree to go ahead, and I think it was masks, make these masks. And they did.

And then along comes the president, and he outbids the state that had went ahead and did what he told them to do, outbids them, and he takes the masks.

I mean, this is -- there's supposed to be cooperation here. I mean, this has nothing to do with politics. And it really -- it really doesn't. It really doesn't.

COOPER: Yes. We're going to take a quick break.

When we get back, we will have more questions for former Vice President Biden.



COOPER: Hey. Welcome back to our live CNN Democratic presidential town hall with former Vice President Joe Biden.

I want to get right to some more viewer questions.

This question comes from Van Dang -- Van Dang-O'Callaghan -- sorry, Van -- from Brooklyn. She works in the fashion industry.

Let's take a look.


VAN DANG-O'CALLAGHAN, FASHION INDUSTRY WORKER: Hello, former Vice President. My name is Van Dang-O'Callaghan. I am here with my husband, Patrick, and our son Rowan (ph). We live in Brooklyn, New York.

I am wearing this mask to protect my family, as I have been diagnosed, based on my symptoms, for the coronavirus, although I cannot be tested due to the limited number of tests available here in New York City.

My husband and I are both hardworking, college-educated Americans who, like countless other Americans, will suffer as a result of this pandemic.

I work full-time for a small company that does not offer health benefits. My husband is a freelancer. We currently pay over $2,000 a month for health insurance for our family of three.

My question for you is that, when our savings account inevitably runs out due to him not being able to work right now, what is it that we sacrifice? Do we sacrifice food, rent, or health care?


BIDEN: You should not have to sacrifice anything.

Let me say that again. You should not have to sacrifice anything, not just because it's the fair thing for you be taken care of, your entire family, and every family in your circumstance, but because it's best for the whole country, the entire economy.

It's not just doing a favor for any individual, number one.

Your health care, you should not have to pay a penny for testing. And it should be available to you by now. We were promised it a while ago. You -- it should be available for you to be tested and determine what needs to be done. Number two, the House just passed an unemployment proposal that

increases by $600 the unemployment insurance you would get, whether or not you were part of -- you had been covered by unemployment insurance or paid into it before, including your husband, who may have been -- he is an entrepreneur on his own, doesn't have employees.

You will be covered. And that should be done. But that requires the government to be -- the federal government to help the states set up the unemployment offices in a way that they can handle this enormous, enormous call on the need for being the unemployment insurance.

Thirdly, the cost of a test should be absolutely zero for you, number one.

And, number two, I think the House and the Senate are going to have to go back and make sure anything related to the cost of the coronavirus health care should be free, paid for out of the federal funds.


But, equally important, one of the things I asked the president not to do, and the Republican attorneys general, about, I guess, week, 10 days ago, is withdraw their suit to try to do away with Obamacare, do away with the health care provisions that we passed, which covers over 100 million people with preexisting conditions, makes sure that you are in a position where you are able to have insurance.

It covers 20 million people who didn't have insurance. And, in fact, drop the suit. Let's make sure people have the coverage that was available under Obamacare. Do not, do not try to strike it down, because we have to add onto that. We have to add onto that to make sure it's even more -- more available, more affordable.

So, all of those things. One, make sure that you are getting the test as rapidly as you can. You need not pay for that test. I'm -- the House is going to have to come back and the Senate again. Anything relating to the coronavirus, you should not be -- cost any...


BIDEN: ... American to be able to pay for it, et cetera.

COOPER: Well, let me ask, Mr. Vice President, you know, obviously more than three million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits for the first time just last week because of the mass job layoffs.

Many also lost their health insurance. Medicare for all would have prevented these kinds of disruptions in health care coverage. Your plan would preserve employer-based health care.

I'm wondering, in a case like this, is your plan better than Medicare for all?


Number one, it would be available to everyone. And we provide the plan -- I have provides an option, a Medicare option, a public option for Medicare, if you can't afford the health care you had. Or you lose it because your employer -- you would automatically be covered if you qualify for Medicaid.

And so you would be covered. It can get passed, and it's affordable. It costs a lot of money, but it doesn't cost $35 trillion over 10 years. It cost close to a billion dollars.

And so my point is that it's the quickest way to make sure we get covered.

But, in the meantime, with regard to this virus, you should not have to pay anything for the cost of the virus. That should be directly appropriated money from the federal government.

COOPER: This next question comes from Angela Campbell, a teacher and union leader who lives in Middle River, Maryland.

This is the question:


ANGELA CAMPBELL, TEACHER/UNION LEADER: The current COVID-19 worldwide pandemic has laid bare the issues of so many workers in our economy that do not have a living wage or basic protections, such as paid sick leave, but are so essential that they report to work, when it's deemed unsafe for everyone else to do so.

If elected as our next president, what dollar amount will you set as our new national living wage? And what will you do to ensure that every worker has paid sick leave?


BIDEN: Well, number one, I would ensure every worker had paid sick leave, period, and across the board. And it should be up to 14 weeks' paid sick leave, and -- number one.

Number two, there should be childcare made available as well for people who, in fact, are going to find themselves in a position of needing help.

Number three, the national minimum wage should be $15, but that's not nearly enough. What we should be doing is making sure that we invest the kind of money that is going to be needed as we rebuild the economy into dealing with the -- for example, reimagining our infrastructure in this country.

At the same time, we can be dealing with a lack of wage availability, a fair -- a decent wage, and dealing with global warming. And we can do it by -- I have a program to invest a trillion dollars in both transportation and infrastructure.

We can do that, provide good-paying jobs for people who are -- can make $35, $40 an hour and benefits. And, thirdly, we should make sure that we, in fact, make unions more

easy -- easier to unionize, and take on those companies that spend about a billion dollars a year now trying to prevent people from being able to unionize and taking actions that prevents them from being able to do that.

That's not directly related to the virus, but it's related to a living wage. It's related to people being able to compete. And it's related to people being able to make a decent wage where they can raise a family.

COOPER: This next question is from Aimee Daramus. She is a clinical psychologist and a professor from Chicago.


AIMEE DARAMUS, CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST: In order to manage COVID-19, people have had to isolate in their homes.

That was a wise move, but it's increasing rates of anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems and may have a negative effect on people's relationships.

How will you enforce mental health parity laws to ensure continued mental health care once the crisis is over?


BIDEN: Well, two things, Doc.

I -- that -- and you know more about this than almost anybody going to be listening to this.

Number one, we have to take away the stigma of -- I spoke with a group of health care providers today and first responders.


And I talked about -- one of them talked about the pressure on them and mental health issues that -- dealing with what you talk about, the separation and the economic anxiety, the physical fear of going into the operating room, and the physical fear of pulling someone out of a burning car that, in fact, may also be -- have the virus, et cetera.

So, first of all, we have to deal with the stigma. It is -- there is no distinction between a mental health problem and a physical health problem. They are both health problems, and there should be absolute parity.

Insurance companies should have to cover both equally, number one. And we tried to do that in Obamacare.

Secondly, in terms of the idea of people being in a position where they can't have access to this health care, that's part of what I do, in addition to, in my health care plan, that not only provides for more funding for and mandating parity for mental health issues, but also opens up significant number of mental health clinics around the country.

And you know, Doctor, in most rural areas, there's still the same problems as every other area, but they don't have these clinics available to them. So, I would double the number of mental health clinics that exist in the United States of America.

Number three, what we can do is, we also -- and we have learned a lot. And you know a lot about this. We learned that, in fact, you know, mental health problems develop, in many cases, very early.

And so what I would do is, I triple the amount of money spent on early education, Title I schools, schools from low-income bases, low-income neighborhoods. And I would triple it from $15 billion to $45 billion a year, so that we could pay teachers more, but, in addition to that, we can put everybody 3, 4, 5 years old into school, not day care, school.


BIDEN: And we put in social workers and school psychologists.

They can pick up the early signs of distress among students. Generation Z, as you know, is the most -- has the greatest anxiety of any generation in the country, for the first time in American history.

And last point that I think is important to mention is that we're in a situation where we have now learned that, for example, drug abuse doesn't cause mental health problems. Mental health cause -- problems cause drug abuse.

We can -- we can deal with a lot of things by getting early -- dealing with anxiety early on by doubling the number of school psychologists we have in our schools.

COOPER: There is, certainly -- I mean, there's just so much fear and anxiety across the country.

You know, I'm in New York. The city's -- the streets are -- you know, are empty. I have lived here all my life, never seen anything like it, other than in war zones or people awaiting hurricanes in places.

What do you say to people who are justifiably scared about their futures, about society's future, about what lies ahead?

BIDEN: They are scared.

But let me tell you, you know, you and I talked in a different context about my talking about we need to restore the soul of America and start to deal with people with decency, et cetera.

Well, we're seeing the soul of America now. Take a look what's happening. Everywhere you look, you see people reaching out to help people. Everywhere you look, you see people doing things that -- that represent who we are.

This is an incredible nation. The American people are generous and decent and good and fair and bright. And it makes you so proud to be an American.

And what I think we should be looking at is how we extend this kind of reaching out to others that exists today as we move into recovery, into the health recovery and economic recovery, because it's who we are. We're -- we're an incredible people.

I'm so proud -- it sounds corny, but I'm so proud to be an American. Look what they're doing.

I will give you an example. A friend of mine used to work with me, a guy who lives down in North Carolina, has three beautiful young girls. And the school -- one of them's in kindergarten. And school was out.

They got a phone call from the kindergarten teacher -- and, apparently, it wasn't the only grade in that school that kids got a call from -- and said: I am going to be coming by your house in my car beeping the horn. Why don't you call out in the driveway on your tricycle and wave to me and let's talk for a second from the car?

It took her three hours to get through the neighborhood. They're continuing to do it.

Or, for example, my wife, Jill, because we had that Biden cancer initiative and the Moonshot, well, one of the women on that -- on that group of -- among Nobel laureates, as well as the major -- the heads of major cancer hospitals, is a person that provides the kind of aid people need when they're frightened and scared and how they can -- how they can traverse the cancer system, because it's scary when you get that diagnosis.

COOPER: Mm-hmm.

BIDEN: How do you show up for diag -- well, she gave Jill a call. They're working on the following.


That is that we have a circumstance now -- she talks about how there are women, older men and women, home who need chemo. They are afraid to leave the house to go get it. They don't know how to get there. They don't know what they're doing.

So, they are setting up a network of calling people, reassuring them, finding out what they need, putting together this entire network nationally, so people can reach out and say, it's going to be OK. We're going to get through this. We're going to get through this, and here's -- tell us what you need now, see if we can help you now.

I mean, it really is -- we're going to get through this. We will get through this. But we can make it a lot easier than harder, the way it's being made now by the way the president started this off.

COOPER: Vice President Biden, stay right there.

We're going to be back in just a few minutes with more from the vice president. BIDEN: OK.


COOPER: And welcome back.

We are live with Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.

I want to get to our next viewer question.

This is Bob Egan. He's a restaurant owner from New Jersey. He has a question about the economy.



BOB EGAN, OWNER, SUNSET PUB & GRILL: We at the Sunset Pub & Grill in Lincoln Park, New Jersey, are feeling the pain, along with our staff and fellow restaurant owners.

My question is, big businesses have been bailed out so many times. What more would you have put into this bill if you were president to help the small family-owned restaurants?


BIDEN: Well, number one, you employ about as many people as most of the big businesses do, number one, and more.

Number two, this time, I thought it was really important they put limitations on the money bailing out big businesses, so they have to keep their -- they have to focus on the employee, keeping them on the payroll as long as they can, making sure they get compensated, not having -- allowed to buy back their stock, not benefiting the CEOs and/or the stockholders, but the people who work for them.

What I would do -- and I think we have gotten a long way. The House, Nancy Pelosi has gone a long way. Small businesses need help now. And so we have to make sure you're in a position to be able to get the kind of immediate aid that's available to you under this new legislation.

And it's about management, how it gets out the door from the federal government and the White House. And that is that you should be in a position that your rent is able to be paid, you're not going to get behind that way. You should be able to keep people on the payroll and get compensated for doing that, as well as the fact that you should be in a position you can reopen again as soon as possible.

In addition to getting a $1,200 direct payment -- that's not nearly enough for the small businesses -- we have to make sure the small business loans that you go into get and/or the no-interest loans you get, they are in a position where we're going to say to the banks, you got to get them out the door.

As you know, they're not very good at focusing on...


BIDEN: ... getting out the door the small business loans.

And so if, in fact, they do not do that, they do not make that their focus, the banks, then I would look to another version of the Defense Production Act to be able to force them to have to do that. That's their first priority.

That's going to keep the economy in a better shape than anything else we're doing.

COOPER: Many European governments are protecting jobs, covering salaries and wages for companies, in order to avoid mass layoffs.

With the huge number of Americans filing for unemployment, is that something the U.S. government should cover, company payrolls?

BIDEN: Well, I think they should -- the companies should, in fact, be in a position of trying to keep people on their payrolls and get compensated for keeping them on their payrolls.

And, by the way, the idea that we, in fact, are taking care of employees up to a certain point, but we're not taking care of the employees of the larger companies, not the -- the stockholders, not the company CEOs, but the employees, the basic employees, is something, I think, we're going to have to take a hard look at doing.

COOPER: This is Brennan Jones. He's from New York City, worked on Broadway, until he lost his job because of the virus.

Here's what he wanted to know.


BRENNAN JONES, WORKED ON BROADWAY: What is your position on a rent freeze to the communities most affected by COVID-19 right now?

Millions, like me, have lost their jobs, and have no way to pay their rent on April 1. Yet, in New York, our landlords have gotten a break on their mortgages, while we renters have gotten no such relief.

Additionally, if you are in favor of a rent freeze, would you forgive rent not paid during the freeze, or would it still be owed after the freeze was lifted?


BIDEN: I would make it a rent freeze for at least the next three months. Freeze it and forgive it, so that you're able to stay in that place, because -- and, in the meantime, though, if we got the money -- you're supposed to be able to get a $1,200 direct payment and unemployment insurance, et cetera.

If that occurs, and that's working, then it makes a difference in whether or not you have the rent freeze. If your unemployment benefits take you up to, essentially, what you would be get -- make you whole up to $75,000, then, in fact, that would take care of it.

But there should be a rent freeze. No one should be evicted during this period, period.

COOPER: Vice President Biden, some states like New York, Massachusetts, they have issued moratoriums on shutting off utilities, you know, electricity, water, during the crisis.

Is that something you would support?

BIDEN: Absolutely. I'd do it nationwide.

Look, people -- here's the deal. You know, the vast majority of people who worry about their utilities being shut off are people who are living hand to mouth, are people living daily, the people -- the over 50 percent of the people who say that all the studies showed before this -- this great economy, as he called it, collapsed because of coronavirus, well, guess what?

Over 50 percent of the people said, if they got a bill for more than $400 in a month they didn't anticipate, they couldn't pay it. They had no savings. They had no ability to do it.


BIDEN: They'd have to borrow the money or sell something.

So, yes, absolute, absolute freeze.


COOPER: This next question is from Cyndi Ramirez. She's a small business owner from New York. And she's asking about the economy.


CYNDI RAMIREZ, SMALL BUSINESS OWNER: Vice President Biden as a female small business owner, based on New York City who's about to become six months pregnant, I have been on an intense roller coaster ride, to say the least. My husband and I, we own three bars and two spas in New York. And we are facing some serious debt accumulation in our future.

It's really hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel right now. We believe that rent relief and grants, not loans, are the answer.

So my question to you, Mr. Biden, is what will you do to help small businesses come out of this alive?

BIDEN: Just as you said. Rent relief, number one. And direct payments, number two, that aren't loans.

But the fact is that, beyond that, you're in a situation where, you know, you said that you are -- did you say you were pregnant? I didn't -- I lost you. COOPER: Yes. She's about to be six months pregnant.

BIDEN: About to be six months pregnant. Well, by the way, as you -- what we found out today is that the likelihood of you being affected -- your child being affected by this is highly unlikely. So I don't want you worrying too badly about whether or not the virus itself is -- there's no hard proof. But people are optimistic that that won't be the case, that you won't have that impact.

COOPER: Yes. We're going to take another quick break.

BIDEN: Scientists are.

COOPER: Yes. We'll have more with the vice president right after this.



COOPER: And welcome back to our live CNN Democratic presidential town hall with former Vice President Joe Biden.

Our next question comes from Luke Murphy. He's a New York City -- he lives in New York City, works in business technology. Here's his question.


LUKE MURPHY, WORKS IN BUSINESS TECHNOLOGY: Vice President Biden, having led the United States through the Great Recession, what do you believe are the most important qualities of a president in times of crisis?


BIDEN: Number one, understanding that you have to be both reassuring, but you have to look to experts to give you advice on, in this case, scientists. The second most important thing is to be able to manage. When we were going through the Great Recession, we bailed the country out with a $900 billion bill. What I found was you have to manage it every single day.

I put together a staff that was within the vice president's office. We took offices across the street. And I was on the telephone, without exaggeration, with every single governor except one multiple times, with over 150 mayors and county executives, laying out in detail how they could implement the money they were getting, what they could do, what they couldn't do with it, answering their questions, making sure, for example, that if they were going to put in new lighting in the streets of their city because they didn't have the lighting that was available to them, they -- to put in lighting that was better for the environment, and made sure that they couldn't do things that they thought they could do and urged them to do things that they could do.

And so it's about management. It's about day to day to day. And I give you my word for the better part of that 18 months, I was literally on the phone at least three to four hours a day with my team talking about the detailed implementation. How do we get the money? What do we do? Who do we go to? Who do we ask for? Et cetera.

And it's very, very important. And there should be one central place everybody knows they can pick up the phone and get an answer at the White House.

COOPER: I want to play something that a doctor from Elmhurst Hospital in New York shot while she was at work. She did this for The New York Times. She took video herself of the hospital that showed the situation there. She also said this.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't have the support that I need and even just the materials that I need physically to take care of my patients. And it's America. And we're supposed to be a first world country.


COOPER: I'm wondering what your message is...

BIDEN: God love her.

COOPER: ... to a doctor like that, to the other medical professionals, the nurses who are out there on the front lines taking care of everyone.

BIDEN: They have to get whatever is needed first, first, first, because, look, the thing that the experts talk to me about in the morning is, what happens if these docs are the ones that are getting sick? The docs and the nurses and the first-responders aren't available? Everything goes to hell. Everything gets worse exponentially. They need the help immediately.

They need the ventilators. They need the equipment. They need the masks. They need the protection. And they need it now. Now. They needed it -- they needed it two months ago, but they need it now. And that should be the number one priority, whatever it takes.

And that's why, for example, calling out the retired medical personnel from the United States military who are raising their hands saying, we'll go in and help. The University of Pennsylvania. where I taught, just -- they graduated all their med students early so they could now go in and help in hospitals now.

There's an urgent, urgent, urgent need now. And we have to be able to protect these people.

COOPER: Yes. We have about two minutes left. One of the things that's especially awful about the deaths of people with coronavirus is that they often die alone, without family or friends by their side because of the needs to protect everybody, no one to hold their hand -- or family members, at least, holding their hand.

More than a thousand families in the United States have had to plan funerals that almost no one can attend for the same reasons. I'm wondering what -- as we close tonight, what your message is to those families and to all of the country?

BIDEN: My message is, God love you. You know, I've lost a couple of children. I've lost a wife.


And it is incredibly difficult to go through. And it's harder to go through when you haven't had an opportunity to be with the person while they're dying.

My mom, my dad, I was able to be with them and lie in bed with them as they took their last breath. My son, I was able to do that. My deceased wife, I was not able to do that. I was not able -- I was not able to be there. And it makes a gigantic difference for people.

And seek help. Seek help afterwards. Seek help. Talk to people who have been through it so they know, they know they can tell you that you can get through it. You really can. It's possible. But, boy, it is so, so, so hard. And that's one of the cruelest, cruelest things that's happening.

A very good friend of ours is her mom's in a nursing home in Boston. She showed us pictures, she sits outside of the room -- sits outside of the room in a chair, outside the window, and just puts her hand on the window so her mom can touch her hand in the window. It's just this is the human connection is so, so profoundly important.

And when you don't have it, you've got to get help. And, by the way, I'm not going to give my phone. But anyway, those who have been through that, you can contact my campaign. I'm happy to try to talk to you. Not that I'm an expert but just having been there, I'm so sorry for you.

COOPER: Yes, you've been through it. We are all in this together. And I appreciate your time tonight, Mr. Vice President.

BIDEN: Thank you. Thank you, Anderson. You're doing a heck of a job, the news media is keeping this all straight, man, for real.

COOPER: Just trying to do our part. Take care. Thank you.

BIDEN: Thank you.

COOPER: The news continues right now with Chris Cuomo right after a break.



CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, everybody. I'm Chris Cuomo. Welcome to PRIMETIME.

Governors all over the country are echoing the cries of the sick and the scared, the desperate on the front lines. And the president's response to their calls for help? Ask nicely.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: All I want them to do, very simple, I want them to be appreciative.