During his CNN town hall event on Wednesday evening, President Joe Biden told a struggling restaurant owner who is having a hard time finding workers, to pay his employees more. The comment from Biden was met with harsh criticism online.
The restaurant owner, John Lanni, explained to Biden that he is having a tough time finding employees during the COVID pandemic, presumably because the federal government is paying people who then don’t feel the need to work.
Biden’s response drew criticism from Republicans online including from RNC Research who tweeted: “Watch: Joe Biden scolds a struggling small business owner to pay more to find workers.”
Ohio Republican Senate candidate J.D. Vance also joined in, saying Biden’s “response is a joke.”
Read the exchange below:
This is John Lanni. He is the owner and co-founder of a restaurant group with 39 restaurants across the country, Mr. President. He is a Republican.
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Q Hi there, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: Hey, John.
Q Hi. Thank you for taking my question tonight. We employ hundreds of hard-working team members throughout the state of Ohio and across the country. And we’re looking to hire more every day as we try to restart our restaurant business.
The entire industry, amongst other industries, continue to struggle to find employees. How do you and the Biden administration plan to incentivize those that haven’t returned to work yet? Hiring is our top priority right now.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, two things. One, if you notice, we kept you open. We spent billions of dollars to make sure restaurants could stay open. And — and a lot of people who now — who work as waiters and waitresses decided that they don’t want to do that anymore because there’s other opportunities and higher wages, because there’s a lot of openings now in jobs. And people are beginning to move — beginning to move.
There’s some evidence that maintaining the ability to continue not — to not have your — have to pay your rent so you don’t get thrown out, and being able to provide for unemployment insurance, has kept people from going back to work. There’s no — not much distinction between not going back to work in a restaurant and not going back to work at a — at a factory.
So people are looking to change opportunities, change what they’re doing.
My — my deceased wife’s father-in-law was a restauranteur up in — up in Syracuse, New York. And, by the way, he tried to con- — he had a — had a restaurant that was in a town called Auburn, about 20,000 people, which was at a flagship 24-hour-a-day restaurant that — and he offered it to me, which I would have been making five times what I would in law school to try to keep me in Syracuse.
But I spent too many times at home hearing a — in his home, hearing a phone call: “The cook didn’t come in? He’s in a fight with his wife? What — what’s going on?”
THE PRESIDENT: So I would — God love you doing what you do.
Q It’s tough.
But all kidding aside, I think it really is a matter of people deciding now that they have opportunities to do other things. And there is a shortage of employees. People are looking to make more money and to bargain. And so I think your business and the tourist business is really going to be in a — in a bind for a little while. And one of the things — we’re ending all those things that are the things keeping people back from going back to work, et cetera.
It’ll be interesting to see what happens, but my gut tells me — my gut tells me that part of it relates to — you know, you can make a good salary as a waiter or waitress. One of my sister-in-laws is — of five sisters — makes a very good salary. She works in Atlantic City. That’s where she’s — she’s from. But it is — there’s a lot of people who — who are looking to change their — their occupation, I think. But I could be wrong.
MR. LEMON: Well, let me ask you, because he’s — John is looking to hire people. He’s got 39 restaurants across the country.
THE PRESIDENT: Yeah.
MR. LEMON: Is there anything you can do to help him out? I mean, he’s — he’s got to get people in.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, John — first of all, I — you know, the thing we did to help John and the Johns out is provide billions of dollars to make sure they could stay open. Number one. So you all contributed to making sure John could stay in business. (Applause.) And we should. We should have done that, as we did for other industries.
But secondly, John, my guess is that people being $7, $8 an hour, plus tips, that — that’s — I think, John, you’re going to be finding — (applause) — 15 bucks an hour or more now. You know what I mean? But you may pay that already. You may pay that already.
MR. LEMON: Well, let me — let me ask you, because everywhere I go, there isn’t pretty much a shop in my town, a restaurant or whatever, where there isn’t a “for hire” sign.
We were trying to check into the hotel; they couldn’t get the rooms cleaned fast enough because they can’t find staff. You mentioned something — you said, “We’re going to end the things that may be keeping people back.” You think that’s the unemployment benefits expanded?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, that was the argument it was. I — I — I don’t think it did much. But the point is, it’s argued that because the extended unemployment benefits kept people –they’d rather stay home and not work — than go to work.
MR. LEMON: You don’t think it hurt? Did that?
THE PRESIDENT: I see no evidence it had any serious impact on it. But you can argue — let’s assume it did. It’s coming to an end, so it’s not like we’re in a situation where — if that was it and it ends, then we’re going to see John is going to have no problem.
But what I think is happening, folks, is, look, if you make less than fift- — and I’m not saying, John, your folks make less than 15 — you had good restaurants; that means their tips are good, people make a lot more than just what the — what the minimum wage — what the wage is being paid on with the — put tips on top of it.
But, folks, look, here’s the deal. Think about it: You know, if you have an — we — for example, I want to be able to — one of my programs is to make sure that we have four more years of school that’s free — two years for three-year-olds and four-year-olds, because it’s demonstrated that that — (applause) — increases significantly success, and community college.
MR. LEMON: Yeah.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, those folks are not likely to want to go and be waiters. There’s nothing wrong being a waiter or waitress. My family has been engaged in that business. But the folks is —
And, lastly, if you make less than 15 bucks an hour working 40 hours a week, you’re living below the poverty level. You’re living below the poverty level. (Applause.)
MR. LEMON: I want to continue on and talk about — this has to do with infrastructure, because you got applause when you mentioned the bridge earlier — (laughs) — and —
THE PRESIDENT: By the way, your congressman wants that bridge too. (Laughter.)