WILMINGTON, Del. — Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said Tuesday that President Trump has “surrendered” in the fight against the coronavirus as new cases skyrocket in the U.S.
“He called himself a wartime president. Remember when he exhorted the nation to sacrifice together ‘in the face of this inevitable and invisible enemy’? What happened? Now it’s almost July and it seems like our wartime president has surrendered,” said Biden.
“The president gives no direction, and he pits us against one another. We can’t continue on like this — half recovering and half getting worse. We can’t continue — half wearing masks and half rejecting science. We can’t continue — half with a plan and half just hoping for the best.”
The former vice president made his remarks from a high school gymnasium in his hometown. He took a few questions from the press, including one concerning reports that the Russian government had offered bounty payments to Taliban forces if they killed U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
Biden said it was a “big problem” if the story was true.
“This president talks about cognitive capability,” he said of Trump, who has said he was unaware of intelligence about the alleged bounty payments and also, without evidence, routinely implies Biden is senile. “He doesn’t seem to be cognitively aware of what’s going on.”
Biden also addressed the renaming of buildings and institutions named after racists, saying there was a “distinction” between statues and memorials celebrating Confederate officials and those honoring the founders of the U.S. He said he believed that statues honoring George Washington and Christopher Columbus, which have been targeted by protesters in recent weeks, should be protected, while statues of Confederates like Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee should be moved to museums.
Nearly 130,000 Americans have died of the coronavirus so far, according to Johns Hopkins University, and there have been more than 2.5 million positive cases in the U.S. The disease is still spreading rapidly across the country, especially in Southern states like Florida and Texas. There have also been spikes in Arizona and California. The European Union announced on Tuesday that it will continue to ban most Americans from visiting due to the prevalence of the virus in the U.S.
A Yahoo News/YouGov poll released last week found that only 39 percent of registered voters approve of Trump’s response to the coronavirus. The president has repeatedly downplayed the threat posed by the virus, has mostly refused to wear a face mask in public and held a much-criticized indoor rally in Tulsa, Okla., earlier this month as the disease continued to ravage the country.
For the last several months Biden has hammered Trump and his administration for what he views as compounding failures in coronavirus preparedness, premature reopening plans, insufficient access to testing and categorical dismissal of transmission data. The former vice president has made several speeches about Trump’s coronavirus response in virtual fundraisers as well as the limited in-person events his campaign has hosted.
“The steps you’ve taken so far haven’t gotten the job done, Mr. President. Fix the shortage of PPE for our health care workers before you tee off another round of golf,” said Biden during his remarks.
He also said that if elected he would invite Dr. Anthony Fauci, a longtime public health official and one of the leaders of Trump’s coronavirus task force, to serve in his administration. While testifying before a Senate committee on Tuesday, Fauci said he would “not be surprised” if the U.S. starts seeing 100,000 new infections per day.
And Biden touted his own plan for combating the virus, including an increase in testing to track its spread. “Testing is how we see what’s happening in communities all across the country. It’s our eyes on the ground. Without it, we’re flying blind. That’s why it’s so important to have reliable access to testing everywhere,” he said.
Biden is also proposing a 12 percent bump in Medicaid funding, a 15 percent food stamp benefit and a $200-per-month increase in Social Security checks — among other ambitious, and costly, reforms.
Recent New York Times/Siena College polling shows Biden 14 points ahead of Trump nationally, with the president’s support slipping with typically Republican-leaning white, male and older voters.
That poll also finds wide disapproval for the administration’s handling of the pandemic. Biden and Trump are within close margins in key states such as Texas and Pennsylvania. A recent Fox News poll likewise found Biden leading Trump by 12 points.
On Monday, the president falsely claimed the numerous polls showing him trailing Biden were “fake.”
“Sorry to inform the Do Nothing Democrats, but I am getting VERY GOOD internal Polling Numbers. Just like 2016, the @nytimes Polls are Fake! The @FoxNews Polls are a JOKE! Do you think they will apologize to me & their subscribers AGAIN when I WIN? People want LAW, ORDER & SAFETY!” Trump tweeted.
The Trump administration seems to be shifting its tone on mask wearing, a simple technique to slow the spread of the virus that’s become highly politicized. Both Vice President Mike Pence and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have unconditionally endorsed mask wearing. Trump has been pictured only once wearing a mask and did not require attendees at his Tulsa rally to wear them either.
Biden, in contrast, has promoted his mask wearing on social media, joining many Democrats — and even Dick Cheney — in promoting the practice. Biden has also said that, as president, he would mandate the wearing of masks in public — a view supported by two-thirds of Americans, according to the Yahoo News poll.
“Everyone needs to wear a mask,” he said Tuesday. “Period.”