Joe Biden assailed Donald Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic on Tuesday, arguing the president has failed to protect Americans and exacerbated a crisis that other countries have managed to control.
Biden, the Democratic nominee, laid out his plan to fight the virus and safely reopen the economy, and he urged Trump to adopt his proposals. The moment, he said, required the president to lead and move beyond politics.
“Mr. President — the crisis is real — and it’s surging,” Biden said. “Promises and predictions and wishful thinking pulled out of thin air are not only doing this country no good, it’s making them lose more faith in their government.”
Striking a contrast with Trump, Biden called on all Americans to wear masks in public, which the president has so far refused to do.
Biden also said that if he is elected, one of the first calls he would make would be to Anthony Fauci to ask him to serve in his administration. The former vice president said Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and other medical experts and scientists would be empowered, and he would not “censor their ability to speak directly to the American people.”
In his current role, Fauci has made regular television appearances, spoken at the coronavirus task force briefings and testified before Congress.
Biden’s speech in Wilmington, Delaware, came more than six months after the first covid-19 case was reported in the country and as cases are spiking. More than 125,000 Americans have died as a result of the pandemic and millions have lost their jobs as the economy shut down to stop the spread. In recent weeks, new hot spots have emerged in states that had reopened their economies, particularly in the South and across the Sun Belt.
The appearance marked one of the rare campaign events he has held in recent months, having mostly campaigned via live stream from his Delaware home. However, as Trump has commanded the airwaves, Biden has opened a wide lead in polls over the president. A recent poll from The New York Times and Siena College found Biden leading by 14 points nationally and by at least six points in six key battleground states.
Biden criticized Trump for holding a crowded campaign rally, playing golf and charged that the president called for slowing down testing for the virus because increased cases would hurt his political prospects.
“Month after month, as other leaders in other countries took the necessary steps to get the virus under control, Donald Trump failed us,” Biden said. “Month after month, as many of us urged him to step up and do his job, he failed us.”
Addressing Trump directly, he added: “The American people didn’t make enormous sacrifices over the past four months so you could waste your time with late-night rantings and tweets. They didn’t make these sacrifices so you could ignore the science and turn responsible steps like wearing a mask into a political statement.”
As he laid out his plans, Biden repeated his calls for massive increases in testing and contact tracing and for the development of uniform, nationwide standards for reopening the economy. He criticized the state-by-state approach currently underway.
Tim Murtaugh, the communications director for Trump’s campaign, said Biden was using the pandemic as “a political weapon in a cynical attempt to undermine confidence in the federal response.”
“Joe Biden will trot out, yet again, his same tired attacks on President Trump’s federal coronavirus response,” Murtaugh said on a call with reporters. “Since the beginning, he has done nothing but lob partisan grenades from his basement in Delaware while facing very little scrutiny for his own record. The only thing that Joe Biden knows about handling a public health crisis is that he can’t.”
After his speech, Biden held his first news conference since March, when in-person campaign events were shut down as stay-at-home orders went into effect. Biden expressed concern about reports that Russians had paid bounties for killing American soldiers in Afghanistan, saying the idea that Trump would not have been briefed on the intelligence would be “a dereliction of duty.” Biden said he might request a classified briefing on the intelligence and questioned Trump’s mental acuity.
“He talks about cognitive capability,” Biden said. “He doesn’t seem to be cognitively aware of what’s going on. He either reads and/or gets briefed on important issues – and then forgets it – or he doesn’t think it’s necessary that he needs to know it.”
When later asked about his own mental abilities, Biden shot back, “I can hardly wait to compare my cognitive capability to the cognitive capability of the man I’m running against.”