Former President Barack Obama gave a fiery speech Wednesday in Philadelphia that attacked President Donald Trump as incompetent and surrounded by "hacks", while promoting his former vice president, Joe Biden, as someone who would better deal with the pandemic and heal the economy.
Obama, in his first in-person campaign event two weeks before the end of 2020 voting, noted 220,000 Americans died from COVID-19, millions of jobs were lost and said the country’s reputation is in tatters around the world under Trump.
“He hasn’t shown any interest in doing the work or helping anybody but himself and his friends, or treating the presidency like a reality show that he can use to get attention,” Obama said. “This is not a reality show – this is reality. The rest of us have had to live with the consequences of him proving himself incapable of taking the job seriously.”
But Obama said Biden and his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, care about people and know how to build coalitions with officials who don’t always agree with him.
“I am back here tonight to ask you to deliver the White House for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris,” Obama said in the 40-minute speech.
Obama joked that if things had gone better under Trump, the audience for his speech to people in cars outside Lincoln Financial Field, where the Eagles play football, would be tailgating before a game rather than listening to him. But Pennsylvania is one of the most hotly contested states because Trump won in 2016 and Biden is trying to wrestle back.
An average of Pennsylvania polls through Wednesday suggests Biden leads Trump by 6 percentage points, according to tracking site FiveThirtyEight.com. Biden leads Trump by 7 percentage points the state, according to a USA TODAY/Suffolk University poll released Wednesday.
Trump held a rally Tuesday in Erie. Vice President Mike Pence was in New Cumberland on Monday. Besides visiting Philadelphia repeatedly, Biden traveled to Erie on Oct. 10, Gettysburg on Oct. 6 and a whistle-stop tour through New Alexandria, Latrobe and Johnstown.
Tim Murtaugh, a Trump campaign spokesman, said Biden called on Obama for reinforcement.
“Obama can’t help Biden defend his own record of putting foreign interests ahead of working Americans in bad trade policies, crushing our energy jobs under massive regulations, killing manufacturing jobs, and refusing to enforce our borders," Murtaugh said.
Much of Obama's speech was leavened with humor. Obama said his administration left a pandemic playbook for how to respond to the emergency, but with the number of cases rising again after eight months, Trump “probably used it to prop up a wobbly table somewhere.”
“Donald Trump isn’t suddenly going to protect all of us,” Obama said of the president who became infected. “He can’t even take the basic steps to protect himself.”
Obama said the pandemic would have challenged any president. But he said other countries demonstrated how to deal with it better, including South Korea with 1.3% of the per capita U.S. death toll and Canada with 39%.
“If he’d have been working the whole time, it never would have gotten this bad,” Obama said. “But this idea that somehow this White House has done anything but completely screw this up is just not true.”
While Trump promotes the recovering economy, Obama said his administration created 1.5 million more jobs in its final three years than the Trump administration during its first three years before the pandemic.
“Just like everything else he inherited, he messed it up,” Obama said.
Obama contrasted his administration’s expansion of Medicaid and insurance protection for people with preexisting conditions to Trump’s efforts in the Supreme Court to overturn the Affordable Care Act during a pandemic.
“It’s shameful,” Obama said as car horns honked and people cheered. “What is the logic of that? There is no logic.”
Obama slammed Trump’s cabinet as hacks and lobbyists. The Environmental Protection Agency that is supposed to protect air and water run by energy lobbyist, the Labor Department is run by corporate lobbyist gutting protections for workers, the Interior Department is run by an oil lobbyist determined to sell to the highest bidder and the Education Department is run by a billionaire who guts rules protecting students from for-profit colleges, Obama said.
“When Joe and Kamala are in charge, they are not going to surround themselves with hacks and lobbyists,” Obama said.
Obama recorded a video with Biden in July discussing the federal response to coronavirus and racial justice protests. Obama delivered a virtual speech for Biden at the Democratic National Convention in August. Obama recorded a message this month encouraging voters to make a plan about how to vote. Obama held several virtual fundraisers with Biden or his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris of California.
"I trust him to be a great president," Obama said of Biden in a video tweeted Tuesday. "He's different. He's on the right side of the issues. He'll get the job done."
But Wednesday's speech was Obama's first in-person campaign event for Biden, in a year when the coronavirus pandemic kept the party conventions online and prevented typical campaigning.
Before the speech, Obama met with local officials and Black community leaders to discuss the importance of voting as a way to improve their lives.
“The government is us: of, by and for the people,” said Obama, who wore a mask throughout the 40-minute roundtable. “It wasn’t always for all of us. But the way it’s designed, it works based on who is at the table. If you do not vote, you’re not at the table.”
The Biden campaign launched “Shop Talk” sessions for its surrogates to encourage voting after the Aug. 23 police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The shooting led to peaceful protests and violent rioting in the city, as part of a summer of racial justice protests about policing.
Obama’s event was at the Hank Gathers Youth Access Center in North Philadelphia, a community suffering from discriminatory lending dating to the 1930s and from high rates of poverty, unemployment and gun violence.
Tamir Harper, co-counder of UrbEd Inc., a non-profit that advocates for public schools, asked Obama how to design a curriculum to get young people involved in politics and voting.
Obama said demonstrating the power of voting – even if just on what flavor pizza to order or which book to read from a class syllabus – is a way to demonstrate results from voting.
“People are more likely to vote if they’ve participated in something like that when they were younger,” Obama said. “Giving kids a sense that they have a voice, that piques their interest.”
Isaiah Thomas, a Philadelphia City Council member, asked how to inspire voters who see problems magnified during the pandemic without any signs of change.
“All of our problems will not go away with one election,” Thomas said. “But at the same time, we have to recognize that this is a step in a direction of progress and change.”
Obama said listening to voters is a way to learn their priorities. Then, he said incremental change is possible – if people vote. He noted African American voter turnout set a record with his election in 2008 at 60%, but that the country hasn’t seen what would happen at 80%.
“What I say to young people is: give it a shot,” Obama said. “We can make things better. Better is good.”
State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta asked Obama is he still believed in “hope,” a slogan from his own campaigns.
“I’ve never lost hope over these last four years,” Obama said. “I’ve been mad. I’ve been frustrated. But I haven’t lost hope, and the reason is because I never expected progress to move in a straight line.”
After the roundtable, Obama stopped briefly at a canvassing event on Carlisle Street. He was greeted by two young children and tried to keep his stance, but gave one an elbow bump.
“At the end of the day, people connect with people,” Obama said. “And obviously this is an extraordinary election, because we’re in the midst of a pandemic, and we’ve got to make sure that we’re doing it safely, which is the only reason I’m not hugging and squeezing this cutie-pie.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Barack Obama blasts Trump in Philly speech supporting Biden