Takeaways from President Joe Biden’s visit to Baltimore: national focus, local admiration

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President Joe Biden made his first visit to Baltimore as chief executive on Thursday night, pitching his agenda in a town hall organized by CNN. Here are some key takeaways from the event.

There was no talk of gun violence

In a city struggling with more than 300 homicides a year — most of them involving guns — the topic of gun control and curbing violence would seem a natural fit.

But Biden never brought up the topic himself. And none of the questions from host Anderson Cooper or audience members directly included gun violence.

Baltimore is one of more than a dozen cities and counties from across the country that have signed on to participate in a collaborative effort led by Biden to reduce gun violence that will be paid for with coronavirus relief money.

Biden was asked broadly about policing reforms, including a proposal in Minneapolis to replace the police department with a “department of public safety” with a broader mission.

In his response, Biden spoke about the need for more community policing and mental health workers to assist police. He said he doesn’t support calls to “defund” police departments.

The focus was on national issues, not local ones

While the audience members were local — attending city colleges or living in places that included Bowie, Baltimore and Towson — the questions all had national implications.

The questions from audience members and host Anderson Cooper cut across a broad range of issues, including gas prices, taxes, child care, college affordability, immigration and voting rights.

There was extensive discussion of Biden’s efforts to pass his key initiatives, including a bill to fund infrastructure projects.

The self-identified Republicans picked for questions — two students at Baltimore universities — asked Biden about immigration and visiting the Southern border and what he would do to keep up militarily with China.

The president has little patience for anti-vaxxers

Addressing coronavirus vaccination mandates, Biden said he thinks they’re working. He said people have not been leaving jobs at airlines or with the military en masse due to vaccine mandates.

He said it’s “mildly fascinating” that Fox News — where he does not have a friendly audience — has a vaccination mandate.

Biden has proposed requiring employees at all companies with 100 or more workers to be vaccinated, as a way of getting more people to get the shot.

Biden said he doesn’t like that the issue of vaccination against a deadly disease has been politicized and subject to misinformation.

Mimicking an anti-vaccination viewpoint, he said: “‘I have the freedom to kill you with my COVID.’ Freedom? Come on.”

Morgan State University felt the love

Many of those selected by CNN to ask questions of the Democratic president were affiliated with local universities. The audience gave warm support to all of the questioners, but especially those from Morgan State University, a historically Black university in Baltimore.

Biden picked up on the pro-Morgan vibes and tried to interject the school’s name in some of his answers, and noted that he’s spoken there before.

During a commercial break, Biden leaned down from the stage and spoke with audience members, shaking hands with a man in an orange Morgan State sweatshirt.

Baltimore liked President Biden more than President Trump

When President Donald Trump visited Baltimore, he was often greeted with angry protesters. One especially eventful visit in 2019 came shortly after Trump derided the city as rat-infested and criticized the late Elijah Cummings, then one of the city’s congressmen. As Trump’s motorcade sped toward a meeting in Harbor East, he was met with a tirade of profane gestures and curse words.

Biden was met with protesters this time, but they were tamer and focused on specific policy issues: helping immigrants, fighting climate change, ending medical testing on animals and promoting peace.

As Biden’s motorcade pulled up on North Calvert Street, bystanders cheered, applauded, and took photos and videos with their cellphones.

And the audience inside the theater repeatedly showered the president with applause for his remarks.

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