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'What would they have me cut?': Biden urges Republicans to vote for his Covid relief bill

Biden also stressed that the vaccine was safe during a visit to a Pfizer factory, as his administration grapples with overcoming vaccine hesitancy.
Image: President Joe Biden tours a Pfizer manufacturing site on Feb. 19, 2021, in Portage, Mich.
President Joe Biden tours a Pfizer manufacturing site on Friday in Portage, Mich. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer; Jeff Zients (hidden), the White House coronavirus response coordinator; and Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla look on.Evan Vucci / AP

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden called on Republican lawmakers Friday to support his nearly $2 trillion Covid-19 relief plan, dismissing the argument from some critics that the proposal is too expensive.

Biden and congressional Democrats, however, appear prepared to move forward without Republican support and push the sprawling relief package through Congress in the coming weeks.

"Critics say that my plan is to big, that it costs $1.9 trillion," Biden said in a speech at Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine manufacturing facility near Kalamazoo, Michigan.

"Let me ask them: What would they have me cut? What would they have me leave out? Should we not invest $20 billion to vaccinate the nation? Should we not invest $290 million to extend unemployment insurance for the 11 million Americans who are unemployed so they can get by?"

Earlier Friday, House Democrats released the full text of their Covid-19 relief bill, paving the way for a final House vote to be held as early as next week. Although Democrats have narrow majorities in both the House and Senate, Biden had hoped to pass his first major piece of legislation with strong bipartisan support. But that quickly proved to be difficult as Republicans raised concerns over the price tag of Biden's bill, voicing their support instead for a much smaller package.

Biden said he was grateful that Congress is moving forward with getting the relief passed and said that he would still not rule out hearing ideas on how to make the package cheaper.

"I am open to that," Biden said. "But we have to make clear who is helped and who is hurt. My hope is that the Republicans in Congress listen to their constituents. According to the polls, there's overwhelming bipartisan support."

As the Biden administration continues to ramp up vaccine supply, they will be forced to confront a new challenge: vaccine hesitancy.

Biden said Friday that he understood that America had a dark history of subjecting minorities to medical abuse and empathized with the hesitancy from some, but that he hoped people would be less resistant after seeing that he and Vice President Kamala Harris had gotten their vaccinations on television.

"If there's one message to cut through to everyone in this country it's this: The vaccines are safe," Biden said. "Please, for yourself, your family, your community, this country, take the vaccine when it's your turn and available. That's how to beat this pandemic."

As more vaccines become available to Americans, Biden also said it was important to adopt a global strategy. On Thursday the White House announced plans to contribute up to $4 billion to a World Health Organization-backed program called COVAX that supports access to vaccines for 92 countries.

"It's not enough that we find cures for Americans," Biden said. "You can't build a wall or a fence high enough to keep a pandemic out."

Still, Biden said he could not provide the public with a timeline for when life could realistically return to normal.

"I will always be straight with you," Bide said. "I can’t give you a date when this crisis will end. But I can tell you that we’re doing everything possible to have that date come sooner rather than later."