WILMINGTON, Delaware— It was the speech Joe Biden needed to deliver.
Lining up over an hour, a pack of reporters stood in close proximity waiting to enter an ornate room at Hotel Du Pont in Wilmington to hear the former vice president attempt to do the opposite of what President Donald Trump offered the night before: an image of “strong, steady, and capable leadership” to address the coronavirus pandemic.
The venue befitted a presidential hopeful: panels of thick navy-blue velour curtains hung, neatly pressed, behind five large American flags, each with a tiny gold eagle perched on the mast. Shiny six-bulb candelabras outfitted the walls next to more drapery. In a certain light, it could have been the White House.
Just 30 minutes after he was scheduled to appear (due to technical sound problems at the location), Biden emerged serious in tone, getting straight to the topic at hand. The day after Trump detailed his administration’s response to coronavirus—which, in the immediate aftermath, led to public confusion about travel restrictions from Europe—Biden stood still, using Covid-19, the name of the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, throughout his remarks.
“Downplaying it, being overly dismissive, or spreading misinformation is only going to hurt us,” Biden said, mentioning Trump by name about 3 minutes into his speech. “Let me be crystal clear: the coronavirus does not have a political affiliation.”
Then he gave a sweeping statement about the future: “No president can promise to prevent future outbreaks but I can promise you this: when I’m president, we will be better prepared, respond better and recover better. We will lead with science,” he added at another juncture.
The address, largely non-political in nature, provided Biden’s strongest contrast to a general election matchup against Trump to date. Having secured frontrunner status in the Democratic primary after a series of wins across the map, Biden sought to position himself as the most capable executive to address a public health crisis of global magnitute. Only occasionally mentioning the president (“unfortunately, this virus laid bare the severe shortcomings of the current administration,” he said at one point), and generally talking up the merits of science, global partnerships, and “bold, compassionate leadership,” the former vice president reverted his familiar role of consoler in chief, weighing heavily on uniting the country against the virus.
“It will touch people in positions of power, as well as the most vulnerable in our society,” Biden said.
The Democratic frontrunner took a considerable portion of his speech to unveil his new plan to address the growing coronavirus threat. The proposal calls for an “effective” national emergency response to minimize its spread, and proposes eliminating cost barriers for prevention of and care. It also calls for pursuing options to help “hard-hit workers, families, and small businesses and to stabilize the American economy.”
Speaking for just under 30 minutes, Biden, a former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also called for America to lead a global response, again pivoting only occasionally to point out the need to “rebuild American leadership” that he contended has deteriorated under Trump’s administration.
“Labelling Covid-19 a ‘foreign virus’ does not displace accountability for the misjudgments that have been taken thus far by the Trump administration,” he said.
On Wednesday, Biden’s campaign announced it was forming a public health advisory committee to “minimize health risks for the candidate, staff, and supporters,” composed of doctors and a former Food and Drug Administration commissioner, among other experts. It also said that it will hold virtual events in lieu of physical ones out of an abundance of caution to minimize risk. On Friday, he will hold a virtual town hall with community members in Illinois.