Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden attacked President Donald Trump's "law and order" message toward violent protests and asked voters whether they really felt safer with the 180,000 deaths from COVID-19 and a rising homicide rate this year.
“Do I look like a radical socialist with a soft spot for rioters?” Biden asked in a 24-minute speech in Pittsburgh. “I want a safe America – safe from COVID, safe from crime and looting, safe from racially motivated violence, safe from bad cops.”
During the Republican National Convention last week, Trump and his supporters repeatedly argued protests and unrest would grow if Biden wins the Nov. 3 election and falsely claimed Biden had not condemned violent demonstrators.
In his closing RNC speech Thursday, Trump said, "No one will be safe in Biden’s America."
Biden countered that the violent crime fell 15% while he was vice president in the Obama administration but that the homicide rate is up 26% this year under Trump. COVID-19 has killed 180,000 Americans. And the Social Security actuary projected that the program would be permanently depleted by 2023 if the country abandoned the payroll tax that funds it, as Trump has proposed.
“Do you really feel safer under Donald Trump?” Biden asked.
Biden condemned violence Sunday at racial justice protests in Portland, as he has for months for other demonstrations.
“Rioting is not protesting. Looting is not protesting. Setting fires is not protesting,” Biden said Monday. "None of this is protesting. It’s lawlessness, plain and simple. Those who do it should be prosecuted.”
But he said Trump stokes the flames rather than seeking to extinguish them. Biden said that if he is elected, he would seek to negotiate police reforms with victims of racial violence and the police.
“Fires are burning and we have a president who fans the flames rather than fighting the flames,” Biden said. “Donald Trump looks at this violence and he sees a political lifeline.”
Kenosha, Wisconsin, has become the latest flashpoint in violent protests after the police shooting Aug. 23 of Jacob Blake, a Black father who was left paralyzed from the waist down. Seventeen-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse was charged with shooting to death two people during the ensuing protests.
Trump plans to visit Kenosha on Tuesday, but Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, has asked him to reconsider. Kayleigh McEnany, a White House spokeswoman, said Monday that Trump planned to meet with law enforcement officers and business owners to survey the damage from protests.
Trump tweeted Monday that he watched Biden's speech and said he sounded like he blamed police more than "Rioters, Anarchists, Agitators, and Looters." He suggested the Democratic nominee was afraid of losing "radical left" supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.
Under Trump, the Department of Homeland Security deployed federal officers to Portland in July, despite opposition from the governor and mayor, to bolster the defense of the federal courthouse against vandalism and arson.
The Pittsburgh speech marks the start of what Biden said would be more travel in the final nine weeks of the campaign, after Biden remained relatively cloistered in his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware, and Philadelphia because of the pandemic. Trump and his surrogates have ridiculed Biden as hiding in his basement rather than heading out to campaign.
Biden said at a virtual fundraiser Thursday that he planned to visit states such as Wisconsin, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Arizona after Labor Day – so long as the events could be held responsibly with social distancing.
"I’m going to be traveling throughout the country where I can do it consistent with the state rules about how many people can be assembled," Biden said.
Biden made an unannounced stop after the speech to deliver a few pizzas to Pittsburgh Firefighters Local 1. Biden spoke briefly with the firefighters and posed for a group photo. He wore a mask the entire time.
“I was worried my staff was going to keep them,” Biden said of the food from Mineo’s Pizza House.
Civilians at the scene were a mixed bag. A lone protester stood atop a white truck shouting from a megaphone that Pennsylvania wouldn’t vote for Biden.
“Don’t jump!” Biden said to the man, but otherwise ignored him.
As Biden walked back to his car, a woman in a wheelchair called to him from the sidewalk and identified herself as a supporter of his campaign. He asked her name, but apologized for not being able to shake hands because of health guidelines.
“It’s good to meet you, Kimberly,” Biden said, and thanked her for her support.
Contributing: William Cummings
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Joe Biden hits back on Trump: 'Do I look like a radical socialist?'