Joe Biden cast the United States as unsafe under President Donald Trump and claimed he could unite the country Thursday night in a CNN town hall less than two weeks before their first debate.
The town hall was held as a drive-in, underscoring the unprecedented final months of campaigning after the coronavirus pandemic led Biden’s campaign to call off public rallies where supporters gathered indoors. Biden and CNN’s moderator, Anderson Cooper, stood onstage and questioners parked their cars around them, and approached microphones near the stage to ask questions.
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During the event, the Democratic presidential nominee mocked Trump’s claims that electing Biden would lead to widespread violence and chaos in the streets of America – and particularly the suburbs. And he touted his own ability to unify the country, pointing to his record as a senator and saying he never questions his political opponents’ motives.
“I’m not going to be a Democratic president. I’m going to be America’s president,” Biden said.
Here are five takeaways from Biden’s CNN town hall Thursday night in Scranton, Pennsylvania:
Scranton vs. Park Ave.
Biden sought to frame voters’ choice around a new shorthand: his hometown of Scranton, representing wage-earning, blue-collar Americans, and Park Avenue, home of a wealthy few who profit from the work of others.
“I view this campaign as a campaign between Scranton and Park Avenue,” Biden said. “All Trump can see from Park Avenue is Wall Street. All he thinks about is the stock market.”
It was an attack aimed at Trump’s handling of the economy – one area on which polls have shown the President outperforming his overall numbers. Biden characterized Trump’s economic record as one that has benefited the wealthy but ignored the working class.
“In my neighborhood in Scranton, not a lot of people (owned stock). We have to make sure that health care workers are paid, and paid a decent wage. At $15 an hour? It’s not enough for a health care worker,” Biden said.
Biden resists progressive priorities
Biden fended off more progressive rivals in the Democratic primary, and showed Thursday night thathe is resisting being pressured into embracing some of the left’s priorities that could damage him politically.
He insisted he would not end fracking for natural gas – a major industry in the swing states of Pennsylvania and Ohio. And when a questioner who had voted for Trump in 2016 said Biden had embraced the Green New Deal as part of his climate change platform, the former vice president said she was wrong.
“I’ve got my own deal,” he told Cooper in response to a question about the Green New Deal, pointing to a climate agenda his campaign negotiated with allies of Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and then the Democratic National Committee adopted as its platform.
Challenging Barr’s incendiary comments
The former vice president brought up Attorney General William Barr’s recent comment as he addressed a Constitution Day celebration hosted by Hillsdale College that lockdowns to combat the coronavirus were the “greatest intrusion on civil liberties” in history “other than slavery.”
“What Bill Barr recently said is outrageous,” Biden said, echoing other Democrats who had condemned Barr’s comment on Thursday. “I will tell you what takes away your freedom: not being able to see your kid, not being able to go to the football game or baseball game, not seeing your mom or dad sick in the hospital, not being able to do the things, that’s what is costing us our freedom.”
It was part of Biden’s effort to keep the electorate focused on Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic – and the costs that have amassed in the wake of revelations in Bob Woodward’s new book that Trump had known in February about the dangers of the virus but downplayed them publicly.
“It’s been the failure of this President to deal with this virus, and he knew about it,” Biden said. “He knew the detail of it. He knew it in clear terms.”
A stark contrast with Trump
The most glaring differences between Biden and Trump are often stylistic. Biden on Thursday night displayed empathy and – in comments about cancer and his son Beau Biden – humanity.
Trump, in an ABC town hall earlier in the week, had often disputed the premises of voters’ questions.
Biden’s sharpest moment Thursday night might have come when he condemned Trump’s characterization, reported by The Atlantic, of those killed and injured at war as “losers” and “suckers.”
Biden said he was offended by Trump’s comment, which he said applied to “guys like my son,” referring to Beau Biden, who served a tour in Iraq in the Delaware National Guard while he was the state’s attorney general.
“Talk about losers,” an angry Biden added.
“I don’t trust the President on vaccines. I trust Dr. Fauci”
Biden continued to cast doubt on Trump’s claims that a coronavirus vaccine will be ready – or close to it – in time for the November 3 general election. But, he said, he would believe timelines and steps detailed by Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
“I don’t trust the President on vaccines. I trust Dr. Fauci,” Biden said. “If Fauci says a vaccine is safe, I would take the vaccine. We should listen to the scientists, not the President.”
His comment comes as Trump’s campaign and allies have alleged that, by casting doubt on the President’s vaccine claims, Biden is undermining trust in a potential vaccine. Biden, meanwhile, says Trump is trying to claim a panacea is just around the corner in order to blunt the political fallout of his handling of the virus enough to win a second term.