BOSTON (CN) — Two days out from his first election rally since Covid-19 ground such events to a halt, President Donald Trump got a reminder Wednesday from his Democratic challenger that the pandemic will not be so easily put aside.
“Research has shown than tens of thousands of Americans have died needlessly because Donald Trump was slow to respond to the crisis, and then when he did he bungled the response,” former Vice President Joe Biden said this afternoon, delivering an 18-minute address in a small town near Philadelphia.
The U.S. death toll from the coronavirus officially eclipsed that of World War I this week, according to tracking data from Johns Hopkins University, but Biden said Trump has lost interest.
Trump “has just basically waved the white flag and retreated,” Biden claimed. “He’s not up to the task, or doesn’t care, and now he’s seemingly decided he doesn’t want to try.”
As the economy sputters from the virus racking up wartime-level casualties each month, Biden said, “our public health response is still woefully, woefully lacking.”
“Because of the depths of Donald Trump’s failure, this pandemic will continue to be worse for all Americans and much worse for black and brown Americans,” Biden said.
The former vice president announced a plan just a week earlier for a massive expansion of U.S. government programs to reopen the country safely.
Biden proposed having the government pay to test every employee called back to work for Covid-19, expand sick-leave benefits, while also deploying a contact-tracing team staffed by at least 100,000 new federal employees (“and many more, if necessary”). Saying public schools and child care facilities will need significant help to adapt, Biden also proposed new grants to state and local public health agencies and a program that would pay employees’ salaries so that small businesses can rehire them even if they can’t afford to do so.
The federal government would also guarantee personal protective equipment to every worker, provide family leave for workers who have a relative with Covid-19, help minority-owned businesses qualify for federal aid, and impose tough new OSHA requirements related to the virus.
Biden did not provide any estimate of what all this would cost.
Given that the country has already approved trillions of dollars in bailouts, Robert Field, a professor of health management and policy at Drexel University, said even a “a big-ticket item” like Biden’s plan is not far-fetched.
The plan is “consistent with the spending we’re already committed to,” Field said.
“If it succeeds, it would eliminate the need for new rounds of bailouts, so it would result in a positive return on investment,” Field added.
Biden on Wednesday criticized Trump for providing $500 billion in funding to businesses without sufficient transparency about where they money was going. “What are you trying to hide?” he asked, implying that Trump was improperly directing the money to cronies and campaign donors.
The Democrat’s audience was a small one: Less than 25 miles from his home in Wilmington, Delaware, the blue-collar town of Darby, Pennsylvania, is home to about 10,000 people.
Biden was in self-quarantine from March 10 until May 25, when he attended a Memorial Day service. Since then all of his public events have been in the nearby Philadelphia area.
Biden offered no explanation for why he spoke today in Darby, but Pennsylvania is a critical swing state in the upcoming election that Trump won in 2016 by only 44,292 votes out of more than 6 million cast.
At least some Democrats believe that Biden’s strategy of limited public appearances before very small groups is working.
“People say all the time, ‘Oh, we got to get the vice president out of the basement,’” complained former Virginia Governor and Biden surrogate Terry McAuliffe in footage obtained by Fox News. But “he’s fine in the basement.”
“Two people see him a day: his two body people,” McAuliffe added. “That’s it. Let Trump keep doing what Trump’s doing.”
The Trump campaign, meanwhile, says it would like to see Biden make more unscripted public appearances.
“The failure to expose the American people to these rambling displays of incoherence, ineptitude, and forgetfulness is depriving voters of a clear picture of Biden’s inability to execute the duties of the office he seeks,” Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale said in a statement.
Biden did not take any questions from reporters after speaking Wednesday.