Joe Biden and other top Democrats on Wednesday slammed President Donald Trump over comments he made about the coronavirus to journalist Bob Woodward for an upcoming book, including the president's acknowledgment that he "wanted to always play it down," even though he knew it was "deadly."
"It was a life-and-death betrayal of the American people," Biden said about the revelations during a campaign event in Warren, Michigan. "It’s beyond despicable. It’s a dereliction of duty, a disgrace."
"He knew how deadly it was. He knew and purposely played it down," Biden added. "Worse, he lied."
“This caused people to die," Biden told CNN in an interview set to air Thursday. "And what’d he do the whole time? He acknowledges you breathe it, it's in the air and he won't put on a mask."
"Think about what he did not do," Biden said, "and it's almost criminal."
Trump acknowledged the dangers of the coronavirus pandemic in a February interview with Woodward and acknowledged his public downplaying of the threat in a March interview, according to an account of Woodward's new book.
"I wanted to always play it down. I don't want to create a panic," Trump said in a March 19 call with Woodward, according to an audio clip posted on The Washington Post's website. The newspaper obtained a copy of the book, "Rage," which is scheduled to be released next week. Trump was briefed about the virus in January, according to Woodward.
"This is deadly stuff," Trump told Woodward in a Feb. 7 phone call.
Saying Trump "knowingly and willingly lied" about the threat the pandemic posed, Biden said Trump's remarks show that he "is unfit for this job."
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., assessed the potential political fallout even more bluntly.
“I don’t know how the president can survive this," he told NBC News. "I don't know how you can survive an election when you’re basically asking the people to give you another four years of anything, when you’re taking an oath and pledge to protect and defend the Constitution, but also each and every citizen of this country. And you wouldn't take something and we know you wouldn't take something as that, as serious as it is?"
Earlier, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell that those, and other, revelations suggested that Trump "was not on the level" and urged his own family, as well as the Republican Party, to stage "some kind of intervention" with him.
"The fact is that the coronavirus and the threat that it was is a reality. A president should face that reality. The way to avoid a panic is to show leadership, to say, 'This is what the challenge is, we're going to use the best scientific evidence that is available to us to contain it, we are going to make sure that we can stop the spread of it.' That is what stops a panic, not ignoring it," Pelosi said.
Pelosi said the revelation shows that Trump "didn't know how to cope with a challenge to our country" and proved that he had "disdain and denial for science, which has the answers. He could have contained this early on."
"What he said about the virus early on, he understood better than he let on, when he was calling it a hoax. His delay, distortion and denial about the threat is responsible for many of the deaths and infections that we have today, not all of them, but many of them, could have been prevented," Pelosi said.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called the revelations "damning proof that Donald Trump lied, and people died."
"We all know President Trump puts himself first, but this time the consequences were deadly. And when I think about how many people in my state died in February and March and April, it just makes me angry. I cannot believe he deceived the American people the way he did. How many people would still be alive today if he just told Americans the truth?" Schumer said at a news conference.
Several other Democrats in Congress fumed over the president's remarks later Wednesday.
Rep. Ted Lieu of California said Trump's actions amounted to a "dereliction of duty" and "reckless homicide."
Trump "knew that COVID-19 was a deadly virus and misled the American people," tweeted Rep. Veronica Escobar of Texas, adding that "he is literally killing us."
Rep. Frederica Wilson of Florida, said in a tweet: "The president intentionally chose to downplay #COVID19 and how deadly it would be. The damage this caused to millions of lives, particularly those who lost loved ones or their lives, is colossal and for so many, irreparable."
Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington tweeted: "As Trump played it down, cases went UP, deaths went UP, unemployment went UP, evictions went UP, the number of uninsured went UP, the number of families at food banks went UP, and the number of businesses closing permanently went UP. His inaction led to devastation."
Dr. Zeke Emanuel, a member of the Biden campaign’s coronavirus pandemic task force, also ripped Trump, telling MSNBC that "keeping America great is not ignoring catastrophic threats."
According to The Post, the book also quotes James Mattis, Trump’s former defense secretary, and Dan Coats, his former director of national intelligence, as being harshly critical of the president.
"That's very interesting, especially in light of the fact that the Republicans in Congress do nothing, do nothing to temper the bad policy that springs from that person," Pelosi said about the reported remarks. "You would think that the family or the Republicans would have some kind of intervention. Clearly the behavior of the president is not on the level."
The Democratic National Committee also weighed in.
“Donald Trump admitted in his own words that he lied to the American people from the very start of the pandemic for his own political gain — a decision that has cost an untold number of lives and caused devastating economic harm," said DNC War Room spokesperson Lily Adams. "In November, the American people will hold him accountable.”