Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden lambasted President Donald Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic Tuesday, saying that Trump is “in retreat” with more than 125,000 Americans dead and the virus worsening in many states.
In a speech in Wilmington, Delaware, the former vice president recounted what he cast as Trump’s missteps, from Trump’s early dismissals of the virus to his more recent refusals to wear a mask in public appearances.
Pointing to Trump in March declaring himself a wartime president in battling the coronavirus, Biden said: “What happened? Now it’s almost July, and it seems like our wartime president has surrendered – waved the white flag and left the battlefield.”
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Biden’s remarks came as recent polls of voters nationally and in key swing states show him with a lead over Trump. Biden’s public appearances in recent months have been limited to small, invite-only crowds.
The 77-year-old former vice president appeared eager to respond to the Trump campaign portraying him as in cognitive decline, a case often made using out-of-context video from Biden’s public appearances. He said he “can hardly wait” to debate the 74-year-old Trump.
Biden also chided Trump for either failing to read or forgetting the contents of the daily briefing delivered to the President. The White House has denied that Trump was “personally briefed” on reports that Russia offered bounties to Taliban fighters to kill US troops in Afghanistan, claiming that the intelligence “wasn’t verified.”
“If he wasn’t briefed, it was a dereliction of duty. And if he was briefed and he didn’t do anything, that’s a dereliction of duty,” Biden said.
And, when asked by a reporter if he has been tested for any sort of cognitive decline, Biden said: “I can hardly wait to compare my cognitive capability to the cognitive capability of the man I’m running against.”
Biden’s speech tied together proposals he has issued in recent months, including calls for a national board to oversee a “massive surge” in coronavirus testing.
He framed most of his remarks as directly addressing Trump, urging the President to adopt Biden’s proposals immediately.
“You know 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,” Biden said.
Biden’s plan includes offering free coronavirus testing to all Americans. It also calls for 100,000 people to be hired to form a national contact tracing workforce, as well as a doubling of drive-through testing sites.
He is also urging Trump to use the Defense Production Act to ramp up production of protective equipment for health care workers, testing supplies and other supplies.
His plan includes a series of steps designed to help businesses and schools reopen, including financial support for retaining and rehiring workers, building a best-practices clearinghouse for schools and guaranteeing paid leave for anyone with coronavirus or who is caring for someone with the virus.
Biden said he would call Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, shortly after being declared the winner of the general election to ask him to remain on in his position of director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a post Fauci has held since 1984.
He also criticized Trump’s administration for what he cast as a piecemeal state-by-state approach to whether and how businesses can reopen.
“We need real plans, real guidelines, with uniform, nationwide standards, to help us chart our economic re-opening. Whatever we’ve been doing now is not working. The state-by-state approach will only produce confusion and slow any progress,” he said.
Biden said there should be federal guidance “that everyone needs to wear a mask in public, period. Period.”
“Wear a mask. It’s not just about you. It’s about your family. It’s about your neighbors. It’s about your colleagues. It’s about keeping other people safe,” he said.
During his first question-and-answer session with reporters in months, Biden said he planned to announce his vice presidential running mate by early August – potentially later than the August 1 deadline he had previously set.
Biden was also asked by reporters Tuesday about the cultural battle around the removal of monuments. He drew a distinction between former Confederate leaders, who he said belong in museums, and slave-owners who played pivotal roles in the founding of the United States, statues of whom he said should remain in place.
“The idea of comparing whether or not George Washington owned slaves or Thomas Jefferson owned slaves and somebody who was in rebellion, committing treason, trying to take down a union to keep slavery – I think there’s a distinction there,” Biden said.
He said statues of Christopher Columbus, Washington and Jefferson should be protected, even though “they may have things in their past that are now, and then, distasteful.”
This story has been updated.