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Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden on Thursday blasted President Trump's response to the COVID-19 pandemic and said he would only trust a coronavirus vaccine's safety if it were supported by the Trump administration's top disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci.
"I don’t trust the president on vaccines," Biden said. "I trust Dr. Fauci," who has served as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984.
Biden's remarks came at a "drive-in" town hall televised by CNN in Moosic, Pa., where about 100 attendees sat by their cars, socially distanced, a symbol of the nation's failure to control a virus that has killed almost 200,000 Americans this year.
The former vice president criticized the administration's continued downplaying of the virus' deadliness and said it was "next to criminal" that Trump withheld information about the virus early this year when deaths first started rising, as revealed in a new book by journalist Bob Woodward.
“We have to be honest with the American people. They’re tough," Biden said of giving the public potentially alarming information. "As Franklin Roosevelt said, things get worse and worse before they get better and better, but you’ve got to level with the American people. Shoot from the shoulder.”
Biden warned that a vaccine would not be 100% effective and might not be quickly available to all Americans or even children once developed, and he urged the audience to wear masks as a stopgap measure.
“It’s to make sure you don’t infect someone else. ... I call that a patriotic requirement," Biden said, adding that he would not have the power as president to mandate universal mask-wearing, but that he would use the bully pulpit to push governors and mayors to adopt such policies.
Asked about Atty. Gen. William Barr's remarks this week comparing pandemic shutdown measures to an infringement of freedom akin to slavery, Biden called the comments "outrageous."
Barr on Wednesday had likened stay-at-home orders to "house arrest," adding, "Other than slavery, which was a different kind of restraint, it’s the greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history.”
Biden told the audience that it was the Trump administration's failure to act that had deprived Americans of their ability to safely gather, go to sports games and visit family members without fear of catching the virus.
"You lost your freedom because he didn’t act," Biden said, adding that many COVID-19 victims would still be alive if Trump had more effectively handled the outbreak.
Biden called Russia a geopolitical "opponent" and promised economic penalties if its government interfered with this year's election as it did in 2016. Asked if he also viewed China as an "opponent," Biden called it "a serious competitor."
But Biden said America's strength in relation to both nations globally had been undermined by the Trump administration's handling of the pandemic, citing a new Pew Research Center poll showing Trump as less trusted around the world than Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
"Guess what? Russia, Putin, China, Xi Jinping, are trusted by more of the people in the world than the president of the United States of America," Biden said. "And one of the reasons they cite is how he handled COVID.”
Pressed by CNN host Anderson Cooper, Biden committed to accepting the results of the election "if it’s the full results and you count the votes." Trump has already cast doubt on the election's outcome, spreading misinformation about mail-in ballots and leaving experts and Democrats concerned that he is undermining the legitimacy of the nation's democratic process.
“If the president had even remote confidence he was likely to win the election, he wouldn’t be doing this," Biden said, also accusing slowdowns in the U.S. Postal Service as being "all about trying to delegitimize" the election. (Times reporting has found that the most severe slowdowns in the Postal Service have resulted from U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy trying to make delivery trucks run precisely on time, which instead resulted in chaos and significant delays.)
Biden once again condemned violence and property damage associated with recent left-wing protests over racial injustice, saying that "violence of any kind, no matter who it is coming from, is wrong, and people should be held accountable," contrasting his own position with Trump's past reluctance to criticize white nationalists on the far right.
“The idea is it’s wrong no matter what the source is," Biden said. “Folks, I’m waiting for the day he says, 'I condemn all those white supremacists.'"
Biden said he had benefited from white privilege "because I haven't had to go through what my Black brothers and sisters had to go through," citing "the talk" Black parents often give their children about being careful around police officers.
But Biden also expressed sympathy for officers, saying that "the vast majority of police are decent, honorable people." He said he hoped to convene a summit of police chiefs, officers, unions and activists at the White House as president to set new national standards for policing.
"When you put that badge on and walk out that door, you have a right to come home safely to your family, period," Biden said. The remarks came as a search continues in Los Angeles County for the assailant who shot and seriously wounded two deputies sitting in their cruiser in an ambush attack before running away.
Biden appeared most passionate when he condemned Trump for reportedly calling U.S. soldiers "losers" and "suckers," citing the military service of his son Beau Biden, who died of cancer.
"The president referred to guys like my son ... as 'losers.' 'Losers.'
"Talk about 'losers'!” Biden said angrily, clutching a dark face mask in his hand.