Center Stage, an intimate venue in Baltimore’s Mount Vernon, will host CNN’s Thursday night town hall with President Joe Biden, the network told The Baltimore Sun on Wednesday. It will be his first visit to the city as chief executive.
The live event will be held in the 541-seat Pearlstone Theater.
Center Stage was extensively renovated in 2017, drawing fresh attention to the 19th-century structure in the 700 block of N. Calvert St. A large television transmission truck sat outside the theater Wednesday morning.
While details still are being finalized, here is what we know about the town hall.
When is it?
The 90-minute, town hall-style event is scheduled for 8 p.m. Thursday. It will be broadcast by CNN and moderated by network anchor Anderson Cooper.
The Baltimore City Department of Transportation is advising motorists in the downtown business district to be on the lookout for congestion, temporary traffic stops, road closures and parking restrictions between 6:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. Thursday.
Where will it be held?
It will be in Center Stage’s Pearlstone Theater. Presidential town halls are typically held in auditoriums, often on college campuses. The goal is to pick a venue large enough to accommodate VIPs and some local residents, but small enough to provide an intimate atmosphere.
Biden has held two town halls since assuming office in January. The last one, in July, was held at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati.
Who gets to submit questions?
The network said it is reaching out “to a broad range of civic, business and political groups to solicit their questions.”
Among those invited to pose questions are students and faculty members at Morgan State University, the historically Black university in Northeast Baltimore.
“Yes, we have been asked by the organizer to have our students/faculty submit a question,” Morgan State spokesman Larry Jones said in an email. He said the university sent a campuswide message Tuesday morning soliciting questions to be sent directly to a private network portal.
If a student or faculty member’s question is picked, the network will “provide an invitation and location of the town hall” so the question can be asked in person, Jones said.
The Johns Hopkins University also was contacted. HopkinsLocal, a university economic program, invited recipients in an email to submit questions “on the economy, the president’s two proposals before Congress on infrastructure and social spending, along with other pressing issues of the day.”
The email said only “a limited number” of seats were available.
CNN said it does not rewrite or edit questions. Cooper, the moderator, will be asking his own questions as well.
Who is invited to attend?
Attendees “are chosen from the pool of people from the groups who expressed interest in attending and submitted questions,” CNN said.
It said the audience will be “a mix of Republicans, Independents and Democrats.”
Why is Baltimore hosting?
The city has the advantage of being only about 40 miles from the White House.
It is also an appropriate place to showcase “real world” needs, said Martha McKenna, a Maryland Democratic strategist who said the visit would be “terrific for Baltimore.”
Biden was scheduled in March to visit Emergent BioSolutions’ plant in East Baltimore. But he canceled the trip at a time when the company was struggling with COVID-19 vaccine production troubles. Vice President Kamala Harris toured a mass COVID-19 vaccination site at M&T Bank Stadium in April to mark 100 days after she and Biden were sworn in Jan. 20.
Presidential administrations have frequently used the city as a backdrop to deliver various sorts of messages. Former President Donald Trump, a Republican, twice came city, once to speak to a gathering of U.S. House Republicans at a Harbor East hotel and another time to Fort McHenry, where U.S. soldiers withstood a British bombardment in 1814, inspiring Francis Scott Key to write the poem that became “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Baltimore could hardly be friendlier terrain for Biden, a former senator from neighboring Delaware who got 87.2% of the city’s vote during the 2020 presidential election.
Why it matters?
Biden’s visit comes as he seeks to reach an agreement with lawmakers on a legislative package that would boost social spending and climate change mitigation, and on infrastructure. The infrastructure bill is designed to improve roads, bridges, transit systems and broadband, and help fund Chesapeake Bay restoration.
“I do think this is a very important moment in the Biden presidency,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat.
“Baltimore is a good place for the president to come,” said U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes, a Democrat representing portions of Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Howard and Montgomery counties. “All these critical investments we’re seeking to make are things the residents of Baltimore care about — public transportation, high-quality health care, paid medical and family leave, making sure we’re updating our infrastructure,” Sarbanes said.
Congressional Republicans say Biden’s agenda would cripple American businesses because of corporate tax increases needed to fund the social spending initiatives in his “Build Back Better” agenda. The president also is negotiating with members of his own party over the scope of the multi-trillion-dollar package.
His Baltimore visit will come after meetings this week with groups of moderate and progressive Democrats to try to unite them behind his legislative priorities.