A day after President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden had a "warm" phone call about the coronavirus crisis, the likely Democratic nominee on Tuesday blasted the president's handling of the pandemic.
"Coronavirus is not Donald Trump's fault. But he does bear responsibility for our response and taking his duties seriously," Biden said. "His failings and his delays (are) causing real pain for so many Americans."
The president should use his powers under federal law to ensure the production of protective gear for health workers, offer health care coverage to those who have lost it and coordinate states' efforts to procure supplies, Biden said. The United States ought to be leading a coordinated global response to the immediate public health crisis as well as to long-term economic implications, he said.
"Trump likes to say he's a wartime president," Biden said. "Well, he needs to step up and act like it."
A day prior, Biden and Trump spoke on the phone about COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, which has caused the deaths of more than 12,000 people in the U.S. While both sides agreed not to disclose the details of the calls, both sides described it as a friendly conversation.
The president has faced withering criticism for downplaying the seriousness of the threat in its early days, at one point saying he expected church pews to be full at Easter before backing away from that timeline. Trump has since cast himself as take-charge leader but also speaks frequently of the long-term consequences of effectively shutting down part of the American economy.
Biden made his remarks Tuesday as voters in Wisconsin headed to the polls. Democrats and health officials sought to delay voting because of the pandemic. The move was blocked by the state's Republican lawmakers and a conservative majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Biden was well ahead of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in state polling for the Democratic primary. The real contested prize on Tuesday was a seat on the state Supreme Court.
Biden, who has turned to general election mode since amassing enough delegates to all but guarantee him the nomination, spoke about Trump as he addressed the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO convention, via videoconference. Normally a boisterous gathering of hundreds of union leaders, the convention was held over Zoom. It was also streamed live on Facebook, where about 140 people watched the former vice president's 20-minute remarks.
Biden acknowledged the odd circumstances, which have put a halt to physical campaigning and made it difficult to get attention because of the onslaught of news coverage of the pandemic.
"This is a strange way to for us to be meeting. It's great to be with you all, although we're doing it virtually," he said. "I'd certainly prefer to be able to be with all of you in person there. Being with Pennsylvania AFL-CIO is like going home, and I suspect you all feel the same way."
Biden warned that the coming days would be grim, but said union members have helped guide the nation through the crisis and would be key to rebuilding the economy once the pandemic wanes.
"All of us are going to be pushed to our limits, none more than those on the front line, our health care workers, our first responders, our essential workers who literally are carrying our nation on their backs," he said.
Shortly after Biden's remarks, he was endorsed by Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown. Earlier in the day, the campaign announced that the former vice president had been endorsed by Rep. John Lewis of Georgia. The civil rights era icon encouraged Biden to consider choosing a woman of color as his running mate.
"The time is long passed to make the White House look like the whole of America," Lewis said.
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