WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Joe Biden, confronting questions over his lack of visibility during a crisis that has upended the presidential primary, on Monday pressed President Donald Trump to step up his response to the coronavirus.
In his first appearance before the American public in six days, Biden faulted the White House’s initial actions as too slow and insufficient, declaring: “Trump keeps saying that he’s a wartime president. Well, start to act like one.”
Biden, who holds a commanding lead over Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, appeared on a livestream from his home in Wilmington, Delaware. He spoke from a lectern bearing a Biden sign, just as if he were on the campaign trail. In the backdrop were bookshelves along with a lamp and an assortment of framed photos.
“Let me be clear: Donald Trump is not to blame for the coronavirus, but he does bear responsibility for our response,” Biden said. “And I, along with every American, hope he steps up and starts to get this right.”
Biden has struggled to gain visibility during the crisis, a challenge made even more stark by Trump’s constant presence on television. The president has appeared daily at news briefings at the White House, events that drive television news coverage. Biden, on the other hand, did not appear on camera in front of the public for an extended stretch of time — from Tuesday night to Monday morning — as the outbreak intensified.
Biden’s absence from public view has been the subject of taunts on Twitter, where hashtags like #WhereIsJoe were used to skewer him, including by Trump campaign officials. His low profile highlighted a real political risk for his candidacy as the crisis worsens: Trump’s message on the virus, however factually flawed or misleading, could seep in among U.S. voters without being robustly challenged by Democrats, including by the president’s likely general election opponent.
“What I’m concerned about is that we see Donald Trump every day with this crisis giving his press report,” a donor said during a virtual fundraiser with Biden on Sunday, according to a pool report. “And I would just love to see you more. Like, how do we get more of you and less of him on our airwaves?”
Biden’s campaign has been working on improving his ability to communicate with the public, and he said at Sunday’s fundraiser that a recreation room in his home had been converted into a television studio for his use.
His team has also been active in posting on social media about the virus. A video from the campaign featuring Ronald Klain, a former chief of staff to Biden who was the Ebola response coordinator in the Obama White House, has been seen more than 4 million times on Twitter.