President Joe Biden took the stage at the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee Tuesday night in his first official trip as president. He spent much of the CNN town hall meeting discussing the coronavirus, including a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package.
Biden took questions from people in a nearly empty theater, as attendance was limited for the sake of social distancing.
He spoke on wide range of topics including a $15 minimum wage, immigration reform, student loan forgiveness and defunding the police.
Randy Lange, a small business owner from Milwaukee, raised the question regarding minimum wage saying that for many small businesses paying employees $15 an hour might be unsustainable.
Biden sympathized with Lange. “It's not illegitimate as a small business person to worry about whether or not increasing it at one fell swoop would have that impact,” he said.
Nevertheless, Biden defended a minimum wage hike as long as it’s gradual.
"The vast majority of the economists, and there are studies that show by increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour, it could have an impact on a number of businesses, but it would be de minimis, et cetera. Here's the deal. It's about doing it gradually," he said.
Biden also was asked about student loan forgiveness. Jocelyn Fish, a Democrat from Racine, asked the president if he would go beyond his proposed $10,000 loan forgiveness to $50,000.
Biden said no. “I will not make that happen. But here's what I think, I think everyone and I've been proposing this for four years, everyone should be able to go to community college for free, for free. That's, that's $9 billion,” he said.
And for families making less than $125,000 whose children go to a state university, Biden said that should be free as well.
Another audience member asked about police reform. Biden said he's pushing for legislation that looks at police behavior and no-knock warrants. But he said he does not agree with defunding the police.
"We have to put more money in police work so we have legitimate community policing," he said.
That doesn't go far enough, according to Brandon Willborn. He was apart of a group hundred who gathered outside the Pabst Theater before Biden started speaking to call attention to their concerns.
“We need to make it so that the police who don't live in these communities don't work in these communities. You can't come from Oak Creek working in Milwaukee and think you know everything. You can't come trying to run other people's community coming from Oak Creek. So we need a lot of things to change. And we are here today to just make sure by hear us, you know, we're here, we're not going to stop,” said Willborn.
The group Voces de la Frontera also gathered downtown earlier Tuesday to urge the president to take action on immigrant rights.
Since being sworn in four weeks ago, Biden has signed a series of executive actions on immigration. They’ve ranged from preserving the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), halting border wall construction and reversing the travel ban from predominantly Muslim countries.
But Alondra Garcia, a DACA recipient and a teacher in Milwaukee, said she wants to see more done to protect undocumented workers like her parents.
“I felt heartbroken to see my parents not be considered a part of the community, the country knowing that all, documented or not, deserve relief especially as ITIN (individual taxpaye identification number) taxpayers. We need congress to deliver on the promise to deliver and protect immigrant ITIN taxpayers to be included in the next federal pandemic legislation. Because you know what? Immigrants are what make this country what it is today,” said Garcia.
Garcia hoped that Biden will include undocumented taxpayers in the second stimulus bill and create legalization for 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States. In the town hall, Biden said he's committed to a pathway to citizenship.
The Republican Party of Wisconsin released a statement before the town hall meeting. It said Biden "disingenuously" called for unity but has signed more than 40 executive orders that amount to a "liberal wish list." The statement said the orders show Biden doesn't plan to work across the aisle.
The president will make another stop in the Midwest this week when he travels to Kalamazoo, Michigan to tour a Pfizer facility that's manufacturing the COVID vaccine.