5 things to watch during CNN’s town hall with Joe Biden

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CNN will hold a town hall with President Joe Biden at 8 p.m. ET on Wednesday in Cincinnati, Ohio, that will air live on CNN, CNN International and CNN EspaƱol, stream on CNN.com and CNNgo and be available on demand to subscribers via cable/satellite systems, CNNgo platforms and CNN mobile apps.

At 8 p.m. ET, Biden will take the stage at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati with moderator Don Lemon for an hour-long event that’s expected to touch on a wide range of issues, checking in on how he’s doing six months into the job and what’s next.

The cloud of the Covid-19 still hangs over the President, following him since his time on the campaign trail. The evolving state of the pandemic will likely be top of mind during CNN’s town hall.

The event comes one day after the White House acknowledged there have been prior Covid-19 breakthrough cases among White House staffers in addition to a fully vaccinated official who CNN reported on Tuesday tested positive for the virus. It also comes after several vaccinated Texas Democratic lawmakers who met with Vice President Kamala Harris tested positive for the virus. The vice president has tested negative.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently announced that the highly contagious Delta variant of Covid-19 now makes up more than 80% of sequenced samples in the United States.

The White House has faced hurdles in figuring out how to successfully address vaccine hesitancy among the American population and has warned that the current pandemic is one of the unvaccinated, who make up the majority of Covid-related hospitalizations and deaths.

Now, the administration also faces questions about whether to bring back more preventative measures, whether Americans will need a Covid-19 booster vaccines and when international travel will recommence.

Infrastructure and Biden’s legislative agenda

After riding high off the passage of the American Rescue Plan in March, the Biden White House has since been zeroed-in on infrastructure as its top legislative priority.

During the President’s trip to the battleground state of Ohio on Wednesday, Biden is likely to try to make the case for his infrastructure agenda — much like he has done in other key states and the Midwest in recent months, touting his so-called “Blue Collar Blueprint for America.”

Senate Republicans blocked a vote on Wednesday to begin debate on a bipartisan infrastructure plan. But lawmakers said their negotiations will intensify over the next few days with the goal of trying again to advance the measure by early next week.

The White House had indicated that they supported Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer bringing forward Wednesday’s vote. But Republicans said that the New York Democrat wasn’t going to have the votes if he plowed ahead.

Democrats, meanwhile, are well underway in planning their own infrastructure proposal as part of the reconciliation process.

The White House has indicated that the only disagreement among the bipartisan group is pay fors, with discussions about that being ongoing. But keep in mind that disagreements about financing government spending are the reason why every other infrastructure negotiation over the past decade has fallen apart.

The economy

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The US economic recovery from the pandemic is chugging along, but it’s not yet at pre-pandemic levels — marking a major challenge the President will likely have to address Wednesday night.

Expect him to make an argument similar to the one he made on Monday during a speech at the White House, when he directly confronted inflation concerns and touted six months of economic growth under his administration.

Biden has argued that recent price increases are temporary. He also said this week that no serious economist is suggesting there’s unchecked inflation.

But economic anxieties about the Delta variant and inflation are making an impression on investors.

This past Monday was the worst day for the Dow since a 943-point drop in late October, and it was the biggest decline this year. The markets, however, have since rallied.

And even though the economy has recovered sharply after falling into a hole in the spring of 2020, it is still not back to where it was prior to when the pandemic first hit the United States.
For example: employers added 850,000 jobs in June, more than economists had expected. But the US economy is still down 6.9 million jobs compared with February 2020, and the unemployment rate inched higher, rising to 5.9% from 5.8% in May.

Cybersecurity

Since Biden took office, cyberattacks have made an impact slew of major companies and hurt international supply chains — affecting everything from a meat supplier to an IT software vendor to an American oil pipeline.

These hacks have had real life consequences for everyday Americans. Many have observed the cost of affected goods increase or have found out about their private information being compromised. And on Wednesday, the President may be asked about what his administration will do to stop these attacks from happening in the future.

Over the last several months, the Biden White House has urged Russia to take action to stop criminal actors in the country from engaging in cybe attacks. But on Monday, the US also launched a new offensive against China, joining a coalition of international allies in accusing China of using “criminal contract hackers” to carry out malicious activities around the world — including through a massive hack of Microsoft’s email system.

The White House has stopped short of penalizing Beijing with sanctions or diplomatic expulsions, in stark contrast to how the administration has responded to similar malign behavior by Russia in the past several months.
Now, the Biden administration is debating internally whether and how to impose sanctions on China for its malfeasance in cyberspace, according to people familiar with the matter.

The Afghanistan withdrawal and foreign policy

Biden announced earlier this month that the military drawdown from Afghanistan would be finished by the end of August.

But US intelligence services, military commanders and members of Congress are all warning that the Afghan government won’t be able to stand up to the Taliban without the backing of American firepower. The Taliban are already moving rapidly to take over districts in the northern parts of Afghanistan, leading US military commanders to raise the prospect of a civil war once US troops are gone.

The President and his administration have continued to defend the pace of the US withdrawal from America’s longest war. But the decision to exit the country has become a pressure point as the Afghans face the increasingly likely potential that the Taliban will overwhelm the current government and retake control of the country.

Biden may be asked about the state of the withdrawal. He could also face questions about longstanding and emergent foreign policy challenges, such as issues related to China and Russia, international vaccine sharing efforts, and the ongoing dissent in Cuba and Haiti.

CNN’s Lauren Fox, Betsy Klein, Anneken Tappe, Paul R. La Monica, Natasha Bertrand, Kevin Liptak, Jason Hoffman, Brian Fung, Alex Rogers and Manu Raju contributed to this report.

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