Biden says Trump ‘surrendered’ to coronavirus in blistering speech

  • >>Matt Stevens and Thomas Kaplan, The New York Times
    Published: 2020-07-01 09:06:11 BdST

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Former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic Party’s presumptive presidential nominee, speaks in Wilmington, Del, Tuesday, June 30, 2020. The New York Times

Joe Biden levelled a broad attack against President Donald Trump on Tuesday over his response to COVID-19, his refusal to wear a mask, his handling of intelligence on Russia targeting US troops and even his “cognitive capability” during a rare news conference in which Biden repeatedly drew distinctions with his November opponent.

Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, laid out an updated plan to address the pandemic as cases rise in many states. He accused Trump of having “surrendered” to the virus. And he underscored the importance of wearing a mask in public, something the president has refused to do, saying, “You have a moral obligation.”

From a lectern in a high school gym in Wilmington, flanked by two teleprompters and in front of an American flag, Biden denounced Trump in a 20-minute speech that focused on the coronavirus. Then he took questions from reporters for about half an hour. The blistering critique he made of Trump spanned the breadth of the presidency, touching on matters foreign and domestic, as well as the example and the tone Trump had set.

“The president talks about, you know, manhood and, you know, and being strong, and you don’t need the mask,” he said. “I think we have to start appealing to the better side of human nature by pointing out that that mask is not so much to protect me.”

“It’s to protect other people,” he added. “And it’s called patriotism. It’s called responsibility.” The president, Biden said, “puts everything in terms of him.”

Before the speech, the Biden campaign released an updated plan for fighting the coronavirus, given “the current circumstances we face as a result of President Trump’s persistent failures.”

The plan said that “minutes after he is declared the winner of the election,” Biden would call Dr Anthony S Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, and ask him to work for Biden just as he has worked for past presidents.

“Dr Fauci will have full access to the Oval Office and an uncensored platform to speak directly to the American people — whether delivering good news or bad,” the plan said.

The plan addresses issues like improving testing and tracing, supplying personal protective equipment, developing a vaccine and reopening the economy. In his speech, Biden encouraged the president “to adopt this plan in its entirety.”

Biden, the former vice president, has made only sporadic in-person appearances since the pandemic upended Americans’ daily routines, and his campaign is refraining from holding rallies with large crowds that are typically a staple of the campaign trail.

On Tuesday, Biden described the current situation as “the most unusual campaign, I think, in modern history.” He said that he would not hold rallies as the pandemic raged — a contrast with Trump.

“I’m going to follow the docs’ orders, not just for me, but for the country,” Biden said.

“The irony is I think we’re probably communicating directly in detail with more people than we would have otherwise,” he added, describing his many virtual appearances and citing his strong poll numbers. “But I’d much rather be doing it in person.”

Over the past few months, Biden has repeatedly criticised Trump over his response to the coronavirus, and this month, he laid out an eight-part plan for reopening the economy.

As of Tuesday, more than 126,000 people had died of the virus in the United States alone and more than 2.6 million people nationwide had been infected.

Trump has staunchly defended his handling of the pandemic and has, at various times, claimed that the virus will fade away and that the spike in cases was a result of increased testing. He and his administration have insisted on reopening the economy rapidly, even as concerns about viral spread have persisted.

And the surge in cases in recent weeks in states like Florida, Texas and California has forced the political leaders of those states to pause their reopenings and close down businesses like bars that had previously been allowed to restart operations.

“Statewide lockdowns that so many Americans lived under for months were intended to buy us time to get our act together,” Biden said in his speech. “Instead of using that time to prepare ourselves, Donald Trump squandered it.”

Biden, addressing the president, said that Americans had not made sacrifices “so you could ignore the science and turn responsible steps like wearing masks into a political statement.” Biden said last week that if he were president, he would use his authority to require people to wear masks in public.

“We absolutely need a clear message from the very top of our federal government that everyone needs to wear a mask in public,” he said Tuesday. “Period.”

Biden’s criticism of the president was hardly limited to the coronavirus.

He assailed the president over reports that Russia had secretly offered bounties for killing US and coalition troops in Afghanistan, saying that lawmakers should “demand the facts.”

He said Trump should have gathered officials to work out any discrepancies in the intelligence, readied the government to respond if needed, and called President Vladimir Putin of Russia to warn him that “if any of this is true,” there would be a “big problem.”

Biden said of Trump: “The idea that somehow he didn’t know or isn’t being briefed, it is a dereliction of duty if that’s the case. And if he was briefed, and nothing was done about this, that’s a dereliction of duty.”

Biden reiterated he expected to name a running mate by early August. Asked if he had begun to prepare for debates against Trump, Biden said: “I can hardly wait.” And he offered a confident rejoinder to attacks from Trump and his allies over Biden’s mental capacity.

“I can hardly wait to compare my cognitive capability to the cognitive capability of the man I’m running against,” he said.

Biden was also asked about his view on removing statues and names of historical figures who have expressed racist ideas and sentiments.

He drew a distinction between figures such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson — both American presidents who had owned slaves — and those who had committed “treason” and were “trying to take down a union to keep slavery.”

He said Confederate monuments, for example, “don’t belong in public places.” But other monuments and statues, like the Jefferson Memorial, serve more as “remembrances,” he said, and should be protected.

© 2020 The New York Times Company