In a speech Tuesday in Wilmington, Delaware, former Vice President Joe Biden ramped up his attacks on President Donald Trump over what the presumptive Democratic nominee says is the president's "failure to protect the American people" from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Biden described how he said the pandemic response should have been dealt with month-by-month compared to how Trump did so, arguing the president has retreated from his responsibility to manage the crisis, and is continuing to cost American lives and "wreck our economy."
“Donald Trump is in retreat. Remember back in March ... we talked about the need to act like we were at war with the virus. He called himself a wartime president ...What happened?” Biden asked rhetorically.
“Now, it's almost July, and it seems like our wartime president has surrendered, waved ... the white flag and left the battlefield,” Biden said, speaking in a high school gymnasium in his Delaware hometown.
Along with his remarks, Biden also put out a new policy on the pandemic, building upon his initial plan released in mid-March. His updated plan includes a heavy focus on testing, more effectively distributing personal protective equipment (PPE), accelerating the development and distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine, a more comprehensive reopening plan that emphasizes worker safety, and a greater focus on protecting older Americans and other high-risk populations.
“It is a plan to save lives in the months ahead. Once again — I encourage him to adopt this plan in its entirety. This is too important for politics,” Biden said.
The former vice president also spoke directly to his general election opponent in his remarks, claiming the president had failed to lead by example and to take concrete steps to contain the spread of the virus.
“Mr. President, the crisis is real. The crisis is real, and it's surging, Mr. President. Your promises and predictions and wishful thinking, pulled out of thin air, are not only doing the country no good, they’re making them lose even more faith in their government,” Biden said.
Biden said there needs to be much clearer messaging from the federal government on the issue of mask-wearing, which he asserted that Trump has unnecessarily politicized.
“We absolutely need a clear message from the very top of our federal government that everyone needs to wear a mask in public. Period. Period. Wear a mask. It's not just about you. It's about your family,” Biden implored.
Asked by ABC News what he would do to get the nation on the same page in terms of its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Biden said lowering the intensity of the rhetoric coming from the White House and appealing to Americans’ sense of moral responsibility could help unify the nation.
“I think we have to start appealing to the better side of human nature by pointing out that that mask is not so much to protect me, it’s if I have an undiagnosed, I have it, it’s to protect you against me. It’s to protect other people. And it's called patriotism. It’s called responsibility,” Biden said.
In the updated plan the Biden campaign also said that the former vice president would call Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases who has been one of the nation’s leading experts on the COVID-19 response, and ask him to extend his service in a Biden administration.
“Minutes after he is declared the winner of the election, Biden will make one of his first calls to Dr. Tony Fauci and ask him to extend his unprecedented record of service to six Presidents by serving one more. Dr. Fauci will have full access to the Oval Office and an uncensored platform to speak directly to the American people — whether delivering good news or bad,” the updated plan released on Tuesday read.
“We don't need a cheerleader Mr. President, we need a president, Mr. President. A president who will level the American people. A president will tell us the unvarnished truth. A president who will take responsibility, instead of always blaming others. A president will listen to the experts, follow the science, allow them to speak,” Biden said during his remarks.
The speech comes as several states have seen significant upticks in both the number of COVID-19 cases and rates of hospitalization due to the virus.
On Sunday, Arizona saw a record 3,858 new daily COVID-19 cases, and a record 2,691 hospitalizations, and its Republican governor announced on Monday the re-closing of bars, indoor gyms, indoor movie theaters and water parks.
Florida and Texas, two of the nation’s largest states, saw increasing rates of infection and overall cases in recent days, and have slowed aspects of their respective reopening processes.
As cases began to surge, Trump defended his administration's handling of the virus, repeating a strongly criticized statement that slowing down testing would lead to a lower number of cases reported.
"We have the greatest testing program. We've developed it over a period of time. And we're up to almost 30 million tests. That means we're gonna have more cases," Trump said during remarks in Wisconsin last week. "If we didn't want to test, or if we didn't test, we wouldn't have cases. But we have cases because we test. Deaths are down. We have one of the lowest mortality rates. We've done an incredible, historic job."
Biden has been a strong critic of Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic since it took hold of the country in mid-March, when the former vice president laid out his own plan to deal with a crisis that has largely put the country -- and presidential campaign -- on pause.
Biden noted the similarities between that plan and the plan he released today in his remarks, saying the steps needing to be undertaken have not changed since the country overwhelmingly shut down more than three months ago.
“Statewide lockdowns that so many Americans lived under for months were intended to buy us time to get our act together. Instead of using that time to prepare ourselves, Donald Trump squandered it. Now, here we are, more than three months later. We're hardly better prepared than we were in March,” Biden said.
“Infections are on the rise. The threat of massive spikes that overwhelm the capacity of our healthcare system is on the horizon,” he continued.
“Mr. President, this is not about you. It's about the health and well being of the American public. The American people don't make enormous sacrifices over the past four months so they could just waste, waste their time. And you can waste all the efforts they have undertaken with your midnight...rantings and tweets.”