Remarks by President Biden and Vice President Harris During a Briefing at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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Remarks by President Biden and Vice President Harris During a Briefing at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  (2021) 
Joseph Robinette Biden and Kamala Devi Harris

Delivered 2021-03-19

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Atlanta, Georgia

2:17 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: You know, one of the things that caught my attention — and I think we talked about this very early on, within the first six weeks of the virus becoming where it — everybody, and people starting to get sick, and some of them die. And — was I got a call from a mayor — a really great guy, a real hardworking fellow in Detroit — saying to me, “Mr. President, you don’t understand.” This was even before — I wasn’t President then, actually. He called me, “Mr. Vice President.” He said, “You know, I don’t think people understand. You know, my community is now about 80 percent African American. And we’re dying and getting sick at a much higher rate than the white community here, or any other community.”

And I brought that up, initially, before I put together that group that you’re leading and helping lead, and no one wanted to hear it. And I remember they — we had trouble getting your predecessors to track it. But what you’re doing really makes a difference. It makes a gigantic difference. As the Vice President knows as well or better than anybody, it really, really makes a difference. So, thank you.

DR. LIBURD: Thank you. Dr. Walensky? Thank you so much.

DR. WALENSKY: Any other questions for us?

THE PRESIDENT: No, but why are y’all standing? (Laughter.)

That’s the first one. You don’t have to stand for us. Why don’t you sit down? For real. Get comfortable.

PARTICIPANT: No chair.

THE PRESIDENT: No, they have chairs. They have chairs. (Laughter.) But, you know, that’s — that’s the first question.

And the second question is, why did only one person clap? I don’t know. They might take that (inaudible). You know what I mean? (Laughter.) I’m teasing. I’m teasing. (Applause.)

The reason I do this, as the Doc knows — you all are too serious here — we owe you a gigantic debt of gratitude, and we will for a long, long, long time, because I hope this is the beginning of the end of not paying attention to what’s going to come again and again and again and again.

We can build all the walls we want. We can have the most powerful armies in the world, but we can’t — but we cannot stop — we cannot stop these viruses, other than be aware of where they are and move quickly on them when we find them.

And the one thing that I — the reason I am so, so happy to have been able to — anyway — to have Doc here is that science is back.

No, all kidding aside. Think about it: For the longest time, not just — not just as it relates to CDC, but science — science was viewed as — as sort of an appendage to anything else we were talking about. But it’s back.

And I just want you to have some confidence that it’s not only — are the Vice President and I and the whole team, and the whole COVID team writ-large committed, but the American people have moved. The American people have moved. This is a bipartisan effort now. Now, it isn’t showing itself in the way senators and congressmen vote, but the public — the public. We were talking about it on a — on a helicop- — on the airplane. The public, in a bipartisan way.

When I came up with this $1.9 billion for this whole COVID — and the economic relief side of it as well — we were told that it could never pass; we’d never get any help. Well, we didn’t get any help in the Senate or the House, but you have 55 percent of the Republicans in America supporting it. You have 90-some percent of the Democrats, 80-some —

The point is, the public is thankful to you, because it’s about science. That’s what they understand. They understand.

And we’re not going back to the old days. Even if tomorrow the whole administration changed, I think things have — you’ve changed things. You’ve changed them in a way that are going to make everybody healthier in this country. And when we have a crisis, you’re prepared to meet it because you speak truth and science to power, and that is — that is the power.

So, to all of the folks listening — I guess you said there’s hundreds or if not thousands of people listening:

DR. WALKE: Yes.

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

There’s an entire generation coming up that is learning from what you’ve done. I don’t just mean learning about how to deal with a virus. Learning about it makes a difference to tell the truth, to follow the science, and just wherever it takes you, and just be honest about it. And that’s what you’ve all done.

So we owe you a debt of gratitude in all the lives you’ve saved. I carry in my pocket — and the Doc knows — on the back of my schedule, I have listed every single day with the exact number of people who have died from COVID the day before. I mean for cumulative. We’re at 535,217 dead as of yesterday, last night.

It’s got to stop. But you’re slowing it. It’s stopping. And it really, really matters. You know, that’s more people than have died in all of World War — Americans — all of World War One, World War Two, the Vietnam War, and 9/11 combined — combined — in a year. In a year.

And you are the Army. You’re the Navy. You’re the Marines. You’re the Coast Guard. I really mean it. This is a war. You are the frontline troops. It sounds silly to say it that way. It sounds sort of grand. But think about it.

And, finally, we got the vaccines. We got the companies together. And then they didn’t have the wherewithal to be able to produce all the vaccines.

So there’s a thing called the Defense Production Act. As President, I’m allowed to enforce it. So I had people saying, “Stop making that, and start making these.”

We finally put together — did you ever think you’d see the day — because you’ve all been involved with medicine — see two major drug companies cooperate for the good of the country? One invent — one come up with the drug, and the other say, “Well, we’ll manufacture it for you”?

So what — what you’re doing really, really, really matters, not only — and I’ll end with this — not only in saving lives, but changing the mindset of the country. Changing the mindset of the country. And it’s affected everything, not just affected people’s health. It’s affected their attitude — the attitude about what we can do as a country.

Everybody thought that I was — I didn’t quite understand when I announced that we were going to — we had over 100 million shots in less than — you remember when I said we’re going to — my goal was to have 100 million shots in people’s arms in the first 100 days as President? And everybody said, “Oh, that sounds — yeah, right.” Now it’s, “He should have been more — have been, you know…” (Laughter.) “Why didn’t they say more?” You know what I mean?

But here’s the point: The point is that it is changing the way we look at a whole range of things. And when I announced it, everybody but the Vice President wondered why I also pointed out that we landed a rover on Mars at the same time: Because this is the United States of America, for God’s sake. There is nothing, nothing, nothing we cannot do when we do it together. And that’s what you’re showing everybody.

So I came to say thank you. I really mean it. I have a whole lot of nice notes on here about the science, but — (laughter) — but I came here to say thank you, because you’re not only — you’re changing the psyche of the country. You’re saving lives. You’re saving lives. But you’re changing the psyche of the country.

And this is, as I said — it’s not being — I don’t — I don’t think we’re being chauvinistic about our country, but this is — think about it: We’re the only country in the world that has, every time we’ve gone into a crisis, have come out stronger immediately after the crisis than when we went in before the crisis. Think about it. It’s about who we are.

Closing comment: I was with Xi Jinping — China. I spent more time with him, I’m told, than any world leader — because when he was Vice President, I was Vice President.

His President and mine wanted us to get to know one another because it was clear he was going to become the President. And I spent — traveled 17,000 miles with him in China, in the United States, and Asia generally, and met with him, I guess, they tell me, 24, 25 hours alone, just me and an interpreter, and he and an interpreter. And, by the way, I handed in all my notes. (Laughter.) Minor point.

But all kidding aside, he asked me — we were on the Tibetan Plateau. He asked me and said to me, “Can you define America for me?” And I said, “Yeah, in one word. And I mean it — in one word: possibilities.” Possibilities. That’s what you guys believe in: possibilities, based on science and hard data.

And so I just thank you for not only your intellectual skills, but your heart — your heart, your determination. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

And I shouldn’t have done that because I wanted to yield to my Vice President, who’s smarter than I am.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, there’s not much to add to that, Mr. President. (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, just sorry.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: No, I — but I will say that I do believe that this administration, with the leadership of our President, is without any question about science.

And everyone here knows, before the President was President, he was dedicated to science — the Moonshot. And so — and my mother was a scientist. I grew up — the first job I had — little-known fact — was cleaning pipettes at her lab. I was awful. She fired me. (Laughter.)

And then there was this moment of global crisis. And the President takes calls with leaders around the world. We talk with people around the world. And they have named their centers of disease control after this center of disease control. They put their — the name of their country, and they call it “CDC.”

You all are a model for the world around what can be done based on a pursuit of that which will uplift and improve human condition and life. And you guys do this work around the clock.

And so we are here to say thank you — because it’s not easy. You’re making difficult decisions right now, some of the most difficult, but you’re making those decisions based on science, based on hard work, and based on a commitment to the public health. And therein lies part of the nobility of your work.

You do this work on behalf of people you will never meet, on behalf of people who will never know your names because you care about our country and their wellbeing. So we are here to thank you. Thank you.

2:29 P.M. EDT

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).