(CN) – Former Vice President Joe Biden – the front-runner for the Democratic nomination for president – gave a speech Thursday that castigated the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus outbreak while attempting to project a steadier and calmer leadership style.
“The response to this virus has laid bare the shortcomings of this administration,” Biden said on Thursday from Wilmington, Delaware, his home state. “Public fears are being compounded by the pervasive lack of trust in this president fueled by his adversarial relationship with the truth.”
Biden criticized Trump’s plan to cut off travel from Europe at this point in the outbreak, saying there needs to be more coordination with global leaders. He also lambasted the Trump administration’s bungling of the rollout of test kits, which are critical to assessing the current extent of the outbreak.
“The administration’s failure on testing has been colossal,” Biden said. “By next week the testing kits should be in the millions, not the thousands.”
Biden also accused Trump of attempting to cover up the severity and extent of the outbreak for political gain.
“We shouldn’t hide the true number of infections for political gain or to protect the stock market,” Biden said. “The markets will respond to strong, steady and capable leadership that addresses the root of the problem, not efforts to cover it up.”
Biden’s speech came in the wake of Trump’s televised speech Wednesday evening, which was widely panned in political circles. In it, the president attempted to recast the novel coronavirus as a foreign problem while talking in glowing terms about his administration’s response.
The lack of a clear plan particularly as it relates to economic stimulus sent the stock market into a tailspin, plunging the Dow Jones further into bear market territory early Thursday.
The Trump campaign hit back at Biden immediately, saying his own record of managing public health crises is marred by gaffes and inadequacies.
“Joe Biden has shown terrible judgment and incompetence in the face of public health issues,” said Tim Murtaugh, Trump 2020 communications director. “The Obama White House had to publicly apologize for and clean up after Biden when his irresponsible remarks caused panic during the swine flu outbreak in 2009.”
The campaign also reiterated the importance of Trump’s decision to shut down flights from China early in the outbreak, saying the move bought the federal government and the country critical time.
“President Trump acted early and decisively and has put the United States on stronger footing than other nations,” the Trump campaign said. “His every move has been aimed at keeping Americans safe, while Joe Biden has sought to capitalize politically and stoke citizens’ fears.”
Senator Bernie Sanders, one of the three Democrats still vying for the Oval Office, also gave a speech Thursday in which he questioned the competency of the Trump administration response while arguing the pandemic has demonstrated the need for universal health care.
“Our country is at a severe disadvantage compared to all other major countries on Earth, because we do guarantee health care to all people as a right,” Sanders said during a speech given from Burlington, Vermont, his home state.
He said the nearly 87 million individuals categorized as uninsured or underinsured will likely avoid getting necessary tests for financial reasons, thereby putting the greater community at risk.
Sanders’ speech functioned as a way to distinguish himself from Biden, whose health care proposals are more modest and hew closely to the Obamacare model, while also lashing out at Trump and his administration.
“Unfortunately, in this time of international crisis, it has become increasingly clear that we have an administration that is largely incompetent,” he said. “That incompetence and recklessness have threatened the lives of many people in this country.”
Trump’s campaign also hit back at Sanders as the speech was being given, saying the senator is stoking fears about the virus to promote a government takeover of the health care system.
“His plan would drive doctors and other medical workers away from the profession, leaving America woefully unprepared for public health emergencies,” said Murtaugh.
During a press conference Thursday, Trump returned to downplaying the severity of the outbreak, even as infections are increasing across America, schools are closing, professional and amateur sports leagues are suspending operations and the disruptions to everyday life in America and around the world are at a scale not seen in generations.
As of Thursday afternoon, there are 1,300 infections in 44 states and the District of Columbia, according to a tracker run by The New York Times. At least 38 patients have died.
The fact that many news organizations have created their own trackers rather than relying on information provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention speaks to a general sense of mistrust about how the federal government is responding to the outbreak.
“We will lead by science,” Biden said, criticizing Trump for letting politics and spin dictate too much of the response.
Biden also pointed to a plan for tackling the epidemic and cautioned that Americans are going to have to alter ingrained habits and prepare for difficult days in the short term.
Part of that difficulty will likely be economic. Biden said the most important short-term measure should focus on working people in America.
“Indiscriminate tax subsidies for corporations will not help people who are struggling now,” he said. “Those in the gig economy or are in industries particularly affected by the virulent disease should be given unemployment insurance.”
Biden did say he was confident the American people would rise to the occasion and overcome the present crisis.
“We will meet this challenge together,” he said.
Whether Biden’s words – and Trump’s call for unity and a bipartisan approach to tackling the largest public health crisis in the United States in several generations in his speech Wednesday – will bear fruit remains to be seen: The spirit quickly dissolved as members of both parties have engaged in the polarized bickering that has characterized American politics for the better part of the past decade.