For weeks, President Donald Trump and his campaign have attacked former Vice President Joe Biden for “hiding in a basement” as new coronavirus cases have skyrocketed across the country. In public remarks on Tuesday, Biden responded to those attacks by challenging Trump to focus on the deadly pandemic that has killed at least 125,000 Americans under his watch—and laid out his own plan to address the crisis.
“It’s almost July, and it seems like our ‘wartime president’ has surrendered,” Biden told reporters inside a gym at the Alexis L. DuPont High School in Wilmington, Delaware, calling his proposed roadmap to safely reopening America “a plan to save lives in the months ahead.”
Biden’s plan, which lashes together various economic, public health, and social policies that his campaign has released since January, calls for a massive increase in testing funding and capacity, rigorous contact tracing and quarantining of people who have been exposed to the virus, a coordinated global approach to finding treatments and a potential vaccine, and a uniform national standard for reopening businesses and services that have been shuttered under state lockdowns.
“If you suspect that a lot of these steps are the same sorts of things I was talking about in March when I released my first COVID-19 response plan, you’re right. If it feels like you’ve been hearing the experts talk about these same issues for months, you’re right,” Biden said, saying that his plan would have “saved lives” if the president had listened to it. “Whatever we’ve been doing now is not working.”
The plan also implicitly—and explicitly—called out the failures of the Trump administration to halt the spread of a disease that has been under control in most Western democracies for weeks.
“Americans, anxious and out of work, are fearful for their lives and their livelihoods,” Biden said. “Donald Trump is doing next to nothing about it.”
The address, Biden’s second major speech devoted to the coronavirus pandemic, comes as cases of COVID-19 have surged in various states, including Arizona, California, and Florida, and as Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the government’s response to the pandemic, told senators on Capitol Hill on Tuesday that he would “not be surprised” if the nation’s daily case count rises above 100,000 new infections.
The “fairly straightforward steps” for responding to the crisis, Biden said, come after Trump has “squandered” the nationwide closure of bars, restaurants, venues, and schools to stem the virus’ spread.
Unmentioned in Biden’s plan, which included federal support for childcare to allow parents to return to work and certificates for stores to demonstrate that they are operating safely: any mention of how to safely conduct a national election in the midst of a pandemic. For months, the Biden campaign has avoided outlining a specific plan for expanding access to mail-in ballots to avoid overcrowding at polling locations in November, despite fears that primary elections held in Wisconsin helped spread the virus there.
Biden was most forceful when exhorting the president—who has refused to wear a mask despite the urging of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—to set a positive example for Americans who have refused to wear face coverings 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. Period,” Biden said. “It’s not just about you—it’s about your family, your neighbors, your colleagues. It’s about keeping other people safe.”
Biden himself committed to a major change in his campaign strategy in the name of public health, telling reporters in a question-and-answer session that he planned to forego in-person rallies, apparently for the remainder of the campaign.
“This is the most unusual campaign, I think, in modern history,” Biden said. “I’m gonna follow the docs’ orders—not just for me, but for the country. And that means that I am not going to be holding rallies.”
The Trump campaign responded to Biden’s criticism mid-speech, emailing reporters with a hyperlinked list of various malapropisms Biden has said in the past few months—accidentally saying that there were 120 million deaths from the pandemic nationwide, instead of a mere 120,000, for example, before immediately correcting himself off camera.
Such responses, Biden said, “politicize” the outbreak, and make the job of public health professionals more difficult.
“We have to start appealing to the better side of human nature,” Biden said. “All those things change the atmosphere.”