WASHINGTON - Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, the likely Democratic presidential nominee in the November national election, accused Republican President Donald Trump on Sunday of being slow to react to the coronavirus threat and still lacking the drive now to deal with the pandemic.
“It’s about urgency and I don’t think there’s been enough of it,” Biden said on ABC’s “This Week” show. He said Trump needs to “move swiftly, more rapidly” in dealing with the crisis.
Trump, while leveling his own attacks on Biden’s competence in recent news conferences, has said he appreciated his praise for Trump’s action in January blocking flights from China to the U.S. after the coronavirus first broke out in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
But Biden retorted, “We started off slow. Forty-five countries had acted before he did” to cut off flights from China.
Trump routinely refers to Biden as “Sleepy Joe,” while his reelection campaign last week told political surrogates to characterize Biden and other Democrats as "the opposition" in Trump's effort to combat the outbreak.
Biden, making his third run for the presidency over three decades, said the U.S. could need two more coronavirus rescue packages beyond the $2 trillion package Trump signed into law more than a week ago. Trump and some Democratic congressional leaders have suggested that more aid may be needed, but currently the dominant sentiment in Washington seems to be to see how effective the initial assistance is before passing new legislation.
Biden said he would wear a face mask when venturing out in public, but so far has not left his home in the eastern state of Delaware. U.S. health officials are now recommending, but not requiring, that people wear masks when they leave home.
But Trump said Saturday he would not adhere to the face mask recommendation.
“He may not like how he looks in a mask,” Biden said of Trump. “My point is you should follow the science.”
He said Trump should “fully implement” the Defense Protection Act to order U.S. corporations to ramp up production of medical supplies, masks, gloves and other equipment, beyond Trump’s order directing automakers to manufacture ventilators.
He attacked Trump for refusing to reopen enrollment in the Affordable Care Act, the national health insurance program popularly known as Obamacare, that was adopted in 2010 during the administration of former President Barack Obama, when Biden was his second in command.
“It will leave people naked to this problem,” Biden claimed.
Trump said the government would pay for Americans’ coronavirus health care costs, but rejected expanding Obamacare, which he has long sought to undermine.
Biden said that as the Obama administration left office in early 2017, it briefed incoming Trump officials about the possibility of a pandemic and laid out the shape of government agencies to deal with such a threat.
But Biden said, “The president dismantled almost all of it. He didn’t follow through with almost anything. We said there would be a problem.”
The former vice president also assailed the Trump administration’s removal of the commander of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, Capt. Brett Crozier, after the Pentagon claimed he showed “poor judgment” in copying a letter to 20 or 30 people that he had written to his superiors about a widespread outbreak of coronavirus on his ship.
“I think it’s close to criminal the way they’re dealing with this guy,” Biden said.
Navy Secretary Thomas Modly dismissed Crozier, with both Trump and Defense Secretary Mark Esper supporting Crozier’s firing.
Esper told the ABC show, “This was Secretary Modly’s call and I told him I’d support him.”
Esper called Crozier’s actions “an issue of trust and confidence.”
As Crozier left his ship, his crew of about 5,000 sailors cheered him wildly.
As of late last week, 114 of the sailors had tested positive for the coronavirus, as has Crozier, according to The New York Times.