(Bloomberg) -- Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders sought to deliver an antidote to President Donald Trump’s response to the coronavirus outbreak on Thursday, as the rival Democratic presidential candidates each pressed the administration to act decisively to handle the growing crisis.
Biden aimed to project steady, experienced leadership and assuage Americans’ anxiety about the impacts of the virus while criticizing the Trump administration for failing to effectively respond to the crisis. He also unveiled a new plan that he said would be the blueprint for how he would fight the pandemic.
“Protecting the health and safety of the American people is the most important job of any president and unfortunately this virus laid bare the severe shortcomings of the current administration,” Biden said, reading from a TelePrompter in Wilmington, Delaware.On Wednesday night, Trump gave a prime-time address from the Oval Office where he announced new travel restrictions and executive actions to help people and businesses affected by the rapidly spreading virus. But, after the speech, the administration was forced to correct a number of the president’s assertions after he incorrectly described the administration’s actions.
The coronavirus outbreak comes at a pivotal time in the Democratic primary race as Biden seeks to build his nearly insurmountable lead in the next contests on Tuesday. But, the outbreak has fundamentally changed the nature of presidential campaigning.
Biden and Sanders, both in their late 70s, have canceled public events and taken to delivering addresses without taking media questions as they try to mitigate their exposure and that of the public to the virus.
In his speech, Biden encouraged Trump to adopt his plan, which calls for free testing, paid sick leave, mobile test sites and the restoration of biodefense programs that Trump cut. He also called for rapid acceleration of a vaccine aimed at combating the virus.“No president can promise to prevent future outbreaks, but I can promise you this: When I’m president, we will be better prepared, respond better and recover better,” he said. “We will lead with science.”
Biden acknowledged that the virus would disrupt Americans’ everyday lives as he called for a significant stimulus package to address the economic impacts of the virus.“This crisis will hit everyone, but it will hit folks who live paycheck to paycheck the hardest, including working people and seniors,” he said. “Another tax cut to Google or Goldman or millionaires won’t get the job done. Another tax cut for these folks will not get the job done.”
Speaking in Burlington, Vermont, Sanders also described the virus in grave terms and warned about the consequences for those most at-risk, including the elderly, the homeless and the sick. He said the Trump administration’s ”incompetence and recklessness have threatened the lives” of many Americans.
“The coronavirus is on the scale of major war,” he said. “And we must act accordingly.”
Sanders also used his address to underscore the need for universal health care, pitching his signature policy proposal, Medicare for All. He said it was unacceptable that some Americans would not go in for testing or medical care because they could not afford it. The Vermont senator also called for moratorium on evictions and utility shut offs and loans for small and medium-sized businesses.
The Trump campaign immediately assailed Biden’s speech, saying the former vice president has shown “terrible judgment and incompetence” in dealing with public health issues in the past.“In times like this, America needs leadership and Biden has shown none,” Communications Director Tim Murtagh said in a statement. “President Trump acted early and decisively and has put the United States on stronger footing than other nations. His every move has been aimed at keeping Americans safe, while Joe Biden has sought to capitalize politically and stoke citizens’ fears.”
(Disclaimer: Michael Bloomberg, the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, also sought the Democratic presidential nomination. He endorsed Joe Biden on March 4.)
To contact the reporters on this story: Tyler Pager in Wilmington, Delaware at firstname.lastname@example.org;Jennifer Epstein in Washington at email@example.com
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Wendy Benjaminson at firstname.lastname@example.org, Max Berley, Magan Crane
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