Joe Biden brought his ideas for reopening the economy to the Philadelphia suburbs on Wednesday, casting President Donald Trump as a reckless leader without a plan for containing the coronavirus or safely managing an economic recovery.
“Donald Trump wants to style himself a wartime president against an invisible enemy, the coronavirus,” Biden said during a speech in Darby Borough, Delaware County. “But unlike any other wartime leader, he takes no responsibility, he exercises no leadership, and now he’s surrendering the fight.”
As coronavirus restrictions begin to loosen and campaigning resumes for the November election, Trump has looked to shift attention away from the crisis and toward a return to normalcy. Biden has tried to keep the devastation of the pandemic — and Trump’s response to it — front and center.
Biden has laid out detailed plans for reopening, which he laid out in a speech in Darby after meeting with business owners at Carlette’s Hideaway, a soul food restaurant and bar in Yeadon.
Standing in front of an American flag in a Darby municipal building, Biden accused Trump of ignoring science and declaring victory over the virus when cases are spiking in some states. Vice President Mike Pence on Monday wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal saying the administration’s handling of the virus is cause for celebration. That’s despite hundreds of people still dying because of it every day, Biden noted.
“That’s greater than World War II-level casualties each month,” Biden said. “That’s more than five 9/11s each month. And this administration is self-congratulating? That may be good enough for Donald Trump, but it will never, ever be acceptable if I am president.”
His speech was carried live on cable news channels, including Fox News, which broke away from remarks Trump was giving at the same time. Biden has struggled to gain media attention during the pandemic, with traditional campaigning largely shut down. That appears to be changing ever so slightly as Biden ramps up his public appearances, with the campaign increasingly playing out in the medium of daily TV news coverage.
Wednesday was Biden’s third visit to the Philadelphia region in three weeks and his first to Delaware County since declaring his candidacy. The county, in a critical swing state, has shifted more Democratic in recent years. The party took all five County Council seats last year in a Democratic wave that spread across Philadelphia’s collar counties. Just how blue the suburbs vote is could have a big impact on who wins the state in November.
Biden noted Wednesday that Trump has scaled back coronavirus task force meetings, pushed “dangerous disproven drugs,” and refused to wear a face mask, which Biden said amounted to “failing the most basic test of leadership.”
Businesses, Biden said, have little federal guidance on how to reopen safely, and there’s been little transparency over how recovery funds are spent.
“Why won’t you disclose the names of the businesses who received ... taxpayer funding?” Biden asked, his voice rising. “Why are they being hidden? How many cronies got bailouts? How many donors?”
Biden and Trump have had near-opposing reactions to the crisis. Biden wears a mask at public events and has an eight-part plan for reopening that involves guaranteed paid sick leave, federally funded testing, and personal protective equipment for employees who must go back to work, along with a public health corps of civil servants dedicated to contact tracing. Staff measured the distance between seats at events and later spaced reporters and a few attendees far apart around the gymnasium where he spoke.
Trump, whose standing in the polls has eroded during the crisis, has pledged that the country will not close again even if there is a resurgence of the virus. He’s pushing to speed up the timeline for a vaccine in hopes that an economic recovery takes place sooner. Pence has twice told Americans there will be no second wave of infections, though Anthony Fauci, the administration’s top infectious disease official, told the Journal this week that the United States is “still in a first wave.”
A CNBC poll released Wednesday of voters in six battleground states, including Pennsylvania, found 54% of voters said Trump was “pushing states to reopen their economies too quickly in order to boost his own reelection chances.” All six states showed an increase from two weeks ago in voters’ concern that their states had opened up too quickly.
As both candidates jockey for political airspace, Trump’s campaign has been blasting Biden for what it calls a light schedule. The former vice president resumed in-person campaigning several weeks ago, with small events in which attendees wear masks and practice social distancing, with only a small group of journalists allowed inside.
“This is obviously a tactic to help him avoid errors and embarrassing, lost trains of thought while also conveniently preventing the press corps from asking him any questions in person,” Tim Murtaugh, a Trump campaign spokesperson, said in a statement.
Trump, meanwhile, is returning to campaigning on a much larger scale. A rally is set for an indoor arena Saturday in Tulsa, Okla., and attendees have to agree not to sue if they contract the virus.
The Trump campaign used the name of the bar Biden visited in Yeadon — the Hideaway — to crack jokes about “Hidin’ Biden.”
Sitting at a table on the Hideaway’s outdoor patio, Biden listened to business owners talk about how they’ve struggled during the pandemic. Scott Richardson, who owns a catering business in Swarthmore, Occasionally Yours, told Biden he voted for Trump in 2016 but has lost faith in the president. Richardson said he’s found Trump’s response to the coronavirus particularly troubling as a small business owner who wants more guidance from the federal government.
“At some point, instead of being a day trader, if our president had stood up and told the American public exactly what they knew when they knew it,” the virus might not have hit the country so hard, Richardson said, referring to Trump’s focus on the stock market. His business lost $13,000 in just one weekend when things shut down suddenly in March.
“I felt he didn’t do any long-range planning,” Richardson said. “Anything we’ve done has been reactive.”
Carlette Brooks, who owns the Hideaway with her husband, Kenny, told Biden that her mother, whom she hadn’t seen since March, died of coronavirus complications in the spring. Only 10 people could attend the service. On top of that, she said, her business was hit hard.
“My mother would have never, ever thought that I would be where I am right now, and she would have been so proud of me,” Brooks said through tears. “It’s just still early, and I don’t know how to mourn. I don’t know what to do. It’s really hard.”
Biden told Brooks he knew the pain of losing a mother.
“My mom was my heart, and you know I can tell you one thing,” he said. “In time, when you think about it, you’ll smile before you cry, that’s when you know you’re going to make it.”