The day after President Trump sent the markets into a panic with a bumbling and xenophobic Oval Office speech on the novel coronavirus, former Vice President Joe Biden sought to show America what it might be like to have a competent president.
Biden slammed Trump for stirring racism after downplaying the public health crisis for weeks.
“Downplaying it, being overly dismissive or spreading misinformation is only going to hurt us and further advantage the spread of the disease,” Biden said in a Thursday afternoon speech. “But neither should we panic or fall back on xenophobia. Labeling COVID-19 a foreign virus does not displace accountability for the misjudgments that have been taken thus far by the Trump administration.”
Biden’s comments came as Trump and other Republicans have taken to trying to pin the disease’s spread on China. Trump retweeted a tweet calling the pandemic disease the “China virus” on Tuesday, and in his White House speech Wednesday night called it a “foreign virus.” In that speech, he misstated four key details about his administration’s new ban on travel from Europe, claiming falsely that it would extend to shipped goods, suggesting incorrectly that the ban would include American citizens returning home, and saying it applied to all of Europe except the United Kingdom (it only applies to the European Union countries that don’t have travel restrictions between them).
That’s a departure from Trump’s weeks of minimizing the risk of the disease — at one point he called it a “hoax” by Democrats hell-bent on undermining his administration.
Biden sought to draw a contrast with that erratic behavior by projecting competence and a steady hand.
“Unfortunately, this virus laid bare the severe shortcomings of the current administration,” Biden said. “Public fears are being compounded by a pervasive lack of trust in this president fueled by adversarial relationship with the truth that he continues to have. Our government’s ability to respond effectively has been undermined by hollowing out our agencies and a disparagement of science.”
Biden called for the U.S. to radically ramp up testing for coronavirus, guarantees people wouldn’t be charged for the test, legislation to give all Americans sick leave, and economic support for people who are being hurt by the coronavirus. He called for “some radical changes in our personal behaviors” to help slow the spread of the disease. And he said that the U.S. must rush to ramp up hospital capacity for the potential coming wave of patients with coronavirus.
“We are not ready yet,” he warned. “And the clock is ticking.”
Cover: Former Vice President Joe Biden, 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, speaks during a news conference in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S., on Thursday, March 12, 2020. Photographer: Ryan Collerd/Bloomberg via Getty Images