(CN) — Joe Biden hit President Donald Trump on his response to the coronavirus and said his economic plans will bring a higher level of prosperity for a greater number of Americans during a televised town hall event Thursday night.
“It’s the president’s job to lead and he didn’t do that,” Biden said of Trump’s handling of the pandemic. “He kept worrying about the stock market instead of taking the pandemic seriously.”
Biden also said Trump’s refusal to promote social distancing, wearing masks and other basic public health measures directly led to a worsening outbreak.
“A president’s words matter,” Biden said.
He also hit Trump for failing to provide businesses and schools with the guidance and funding necessary to allow them to open up early and effectively, making the case that by failing to address the public health element, Trump has caused undue economic harm.
Biden did not take a position on packing the court but did not rule it out. He criticized Amy Coney Barrett, Trump’s recent nominee who has appeared before the U.S. Senate in recent days, saying her refusal to answer questions or reveal her judicial philosophy was troubling.
“My reading is that she didn’t answer any questions at all,” Biden said.
He also defended his tax plan, saying he would not raise taxes on the middle class or the working class, focusing instead on rolling back tax breaks for high-income earners and corporations.
“If we put the tax rate at 28%, which is fair, we could create $1.3 trillion in funding,” Biden told a voter who asked him about taxes. The current corporate tax rate is 21%. Trump wants to reduce it further to 20%. It was closer to 35% before Trump’s large tax-cut package made it through Congress early in his term, representing the president’s most significant legislative accomplishment.
Aside from the specific policy arguments, Biden’s main goal was to demonstrate the mental acuity that his Republican counterparts have repeatedly asserted he lacks.
But Thursday night, he deftly answered questions from attendees and dealt nimbly with interruptions by moderator George Stephanopoulos, who pressed him on a number of his assertions.
Even without the comfort of his normal teleprompter, Biden seemed well in command of the fact and able to articulate the specifics of his diverse policy proposals, setting to rest any serious claims about a steep cognitive decline.
Biden has a huge lead in the national polls and in key battleground states and is in a position to be able to run out the clock. If the goal was to avoid significant gaffes and demonstrate a basic competence to the American people, the first part of the event was a smashing success for the former vice president.
The town hall was at the Constitutional Center in Philadelphia, Penn. and featured several voters asking Biden questions about his policies. At one point, a young college-aged Black man asked Biden why Black people should vote for him.
Biden said he was committed to addressing criminal justice issues that affect the Black community while instituting programs aimed at bridging the wealth gap between the Black community and other demographic groups.
“In addition to dealing with criminal justice to make it more fair and decent, we have to allow Black Americans to generate wealth,” he said.
He admitted the crime bill was largely a mistake, but said its central problem was funding for states to build prisons, a part of the bill that he opposed at the time and still opposes.
Biden said that police can be a part of the solution as it relates to criminal justice issues and that quality policing is critical to restore public trust in the institution.
“We shouldn’t be defunding the cops but mandating things we do in police departments and mandating total transparency,” he said.
Biden also contrasted sharply with Trump in that he called for unity in America and vowed to work with Republicans on the issues of the day.
“Grudges don’t work in politics,” he said. “You can question your opponent’s judgment but not his motives.”
Biden was widely viewed as having to reassure voters already predisposed to vote for him that they were making the right choice. With a calm performance and a sharp command of the various issues and his own policy prescriptions, Biden may have convinced the few remaining undecided voters, to the extent they exist, that he is worthy of their vote as well.