MILWAUKEE — With President Joe Biden making his first official visit since taking the oath of office, the number one topic people want answers on relate to the pandemic and the progress being made.
“I hope to hear about vaccine distribution,” Cheryl Armstrong said. “I want to know how it’s going to be allocated in Milwaukee.”
“We need a lot more vaccines,” Jim Leifer said. “I still haven’t gotten mine yet and I’m 65 and older.”
Tuesday, President Biden will have to answer questions like these from a selected group invited to attend the Town Hall style event at the Pabst Theatre, hosted by CNN. While Cheryl and Jim aren’t attending the event, people like them will surely have similar questions.
“[President Biden] understands this,” Mayor Tom Barrett said. “He is committed to this. I’m certainly going to put an exclamation point on it at any opportunity I can to let him know how important it is for [vaccine] supply.”
Barrett says after a phone call with the Department of Health and Human Services this weekend, he expects the state to go from about 90,000 COVID-19 vaccinations coming into the state per week to increase by 6,000 to 7,000 vaccines per week; something he credits the Biden Administration for facilitating.
Barrett says he is unsure if he will be in attendance for the invite-only town hall, but he plans on meeting President Biden at the airport with Congresswoman Gwen Moore and Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley. Barrett hopes to hammer home how important it will be for equity in Milwaukee to receive more vaccine.
“One of the things the federal government has done to address equity is to increase distribution to community health centers,” Barrett said. “Those located in neighborhoods on both the south and north sides. That’s an important step in making sure we address equity issues as it pertains to vaccine distribution.”
The visit also puts the State of Wisconsin in the national political spotlight, yet again.
“Wisconsin represents a lot of the important political divides that exist in the United States,” Philip Rocco, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Marquette University said. “There is a strong, partisan divide. It’s not a red or blue state. There is a strong rural, urban and suburban divide with constituencies with different needs. Wisconsin represents an opportunity for the president to speak to multiple audiences at once.”
Rocco believes the pandemic will dominate the conversation.
“People are expecting to see some sort of turnaround in the COVID-19 pandemic,” Rocco said. “This is a moment where there is a very important task of public reassurance, that help is on the way. What can the Federal Government do right now to speed the relief and recovery as soon as possible? There is still a real supply issue on vaccines. What is the Federal Government doing to speed up that supply or pipeline problem? This is the top concern. It is the way the people will be evaluating the President’s performance.”
Wisconsin GOP Executive Director Mark Jefferson released the following statement, criticizing President Biden’s trip.
“President Biden pulled a bait and switch on Wisconsinites. After disingenuously calling for unity, his 40+ executive orders prove that he wants to enact a liberal wish list – not work across the aisle. President Biden should only visit Wisconsin if he plans to announce that he is reversing his job-crushing cancellation of the Keystone pipeline and calling for schools to follow the science and actually reopen," according to Jefferson.
Mayor Barrett says Wells Street between Plankinton Avenue and Water Street will remain closed Tuesday. He advises everyone to avoid the area unless travel downtown is necessary.