Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, cited Trump’s declaration earlier in the outbreak that he was a “wartime president,” saying, “It seems like our wartime president surrendered, waved the white flag and left the battlefield.”
The campaign event, for which Biden left the home where he has largely been quarantined, highlighted the starkly different messages the candidates are sending on the pandemic. Trump has portrayed his handling of the virus as a success, refused to wear a face mask even as other GOP officials are increasingly doing so, and often sought to direct the conversation elsewhere. Biden, in contrast, frames Trump’s approach to the coronavirus as a historic failure that illustrates his shortcomings.
Tuesday’s speech sought to tie together a raft of proposals Biden has offered since January, including some big-ticket items such as free covid-19 testing and treatment and guaranteed paid leave for those who must stay home from work while sick. He also focused on his push to expand safety-net programs during the pandemic, increasing Medicaid funding by 12 percent and food stamp funding by 15 percent.
“America knows this crisis isn’t behind us, even if you don’t, Mr. President,” Biden said. “They see what’s happening, even if you refuse to, Mr. President.”
Biden noted that many of the proposals he was offering might sound familiar, saying he and public health specialists have been pushing Trump to take the same set of actions for a long time.
“It feels like you’re hearing the experts talk about the same issues for months, you’d be right,” Biden said. “These have always been the steps that government needed to put in place to meet the threat.”
He pledged that, if elected, he would reach out to Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases who has become a widely trusted voice on the coronavirus, and ask him to serve in his administration. The promise came as Fauci gave dire testimony to a Senate panel, saying that the United States is not “in total control” of the outbreak, and he could envision infections rising to 100,000 a day.
Coronavirus infections are surging around the country, including in states such as Florida, Texas and Arizona, which Trump won in 2016 but where Biden hopes to be competitive in November. Anne Schuchat, the principal deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said recently that the U.S. has “way too much virus” to control it they way New Zealand, Singapore and Korea have.
The Biden campaign sought to demonstrate its adherence to public health guidelines in the way the speech was arranged. Reporters covering Biden’s event, which took place in the high school’s gym, sat in metal folding chairs within white circles that were about six feet apart. All members of the media had their temperatures checked by a Biden aide before being allowed to enter the gym and wore face masks.
Ali Pardo, the Trump campaign’s deputy communications director, said Biden is a poor messenger on covid-19 since he opposed one of Trump’s key early moves to limit the outbreak.
“Joe Biden wants to talk about a ‘Day One Agenda’ to fight coronavirus. On day one, he was against the travel restrictions that saved countless American lives,” Pardo said. “Joe Biden spent the last five months trying to come up with a plan. The President has been leading one that slowed the spread, made us the world leader in testing and reopened our economy.”
Trump has recently tried to push the nation’s focus away from the virus and instead talk about stimulating the economic recovery. He has held two large rallies recently, both circumstances that run counter to the advice of health officials, including those in his administration.
The president also has offered unproved and at times dangerous ideas on how to address the coronavirus, including promoting a drug now believed to be ineffective and suggesting that the virus could be treated via “an injection inside” the body with a disinfectant.
Trump also said at a rally that he had instructed officials to “slow the testing down” as a way to keep the country’s official data on infections lower. Aides later said he was not serious about that.
Biden last week hit Trump for his administration’s decision to ask the Supreme Court to strike down the Affordable Care Act, saying the action risked the lives of Americans who rely on the insurance provided by the law.
When it comes to the struggling economy, the former vice president has emphasized the need to control the outbreak as a critical step in giving Americans the confidence to go back to work.
He has offered an aggressive plan for testing Americans and caring for the sick, including a pledge that under his administration every person in the country would receive free testing and treatment for the virus, and that the federal government would “guarantee regular, reliable, free access to testing for every worker called back on the job.”
He has proposed a national board for coronavirus testing that would oversee a “surge” in the production of testing kits and ensure adequate lab capacity to process the results.
Those with covid-19 — or caring for loved ones with the disease — would receive guaranteed emergency paid leave allowing them to take time off from work with minimal financial impact. All essential workers would receive child-care assistance and an unspecified pay boost, Biden has said.
In promising to restart the economy safely, the former vice president has vowed to hire “at least” 100,000 workers to build a national surveillance system to identify virus hot spots. Biden would invoke the Defense Production Act to require manufacturers to churn out protective equipment domestically. He also would appoint a “commander” to oversee the country’s supply chains, a step meant to eliminate the competition among states that marked the early months of the pandemic.
Biden also wants to provide assistance to older Americans and increase monthly Social Security checks by $200. He has not outlined how these programs would be funded.