WILMINGTON, Del. — Joe Biden is hammering President Donald Trump’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak ahead of a planned trip to Wisconsin, a pivotal swing state that’s become a focal point for political debate over protest-related violence, police treatment of people of color and the actions of vigilante militias.
The Democratic nominee said Wednesday that if he were president he’d use existing federal disaster law to direct funding to schools to help them reopen safely, and he urged Trump to “get off Twitter” and “negotiate a deal” with Congress on more pandemic aid.
Ahead of his Thursday visit to Kenosha, Wisconsin, a city still reeling from violence and protests after another police shooting of a Black man, Biden told reporters he believes the officer who shot Jacob Blake “needs to be charged.” Biden also called for charges in the death of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman killed in her Louisville, Kentucky, apartment by police in March.
Biden also called for action on citizens who’ve committed violence as part of civil unrest.
But Biden reserved his sharpest comments for Trump, asserting that the president continues to stoke racial tensions across the country for his own political gain.
“This president keeps throwing gasoline on the fire everywhere he goes,” Biden said.
Biden’s itinerary this week reflects his efforts to keep the election spotlight on the president’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and the nation’s overall security, while Trump emphasizes civil unrest in Wisconsin and elsewhere.
Biden said his trip to Kenosha is intended to help “heal” a city where there have been protests following the wounding of Blake, who was shot seven times in the back by police as he was trying to get into a car while police were trying to arrest him. Biden, who has already been in contact with Blake’s family, said he’d meet with business and civic leaders.
Trump on Tuesday used the unrest to underscore his blanket support for law enforcement, blaming “domestic terror” for looting and arson that’s taken place in the city. The violence included the burning of several buildings and the killing of two protesters by a 17-year-old, who said he went to Kenosha to help protect businesses, and is now in custody.
Before his remarks Wednesday, Biden and his wife, Jill, a longtime community college professor and former high school teacher, met with public health experts in their home town of Wilmington, Delaware, to talk about school reopening options. Biden’s public statement – his second speech in three days to excoriate Trump – was intended to outline his ideas on opening schools and to accuse the president of making the country less safe.
It’s the latest in a series of dueling efforts by Trump and Biden to cast the other as a threat to Americans’ day-to-day security. It serves to highlight their vastly different arguments, with Trump using “law and order” as his rallying cry and Biden pushing a broad referendum on Trump’s competence.
Biden said Wednesday that Trump’s inaction on school aid has left a haphazard structure in place nationwide. He said he wants local authorities to be able to decide whether to reopen with in-person instruction or virtual learning or some combination. But he said the federal government should make local systems financially whole as they make decisions with considerable costs, from software for virtual instruction to reducing class sizes for social distancing at schools that bring students to campus. Biden emphasized that getting coronavrius “under control” is necessary to bring the economy back to full function, and he said operating schools are a critical piece of that.
Ahead of his Wisconsin trip, Biden’s campaign has launched a $45 million advertising buy for a one-minute ad featuring his condemnations of violence during a speech Monday, along with his assertions that Trump is “fomenting” the unrest. The ad, which has English and Spanish language versions, is running on national cable networks and in local markets across Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.
“Violence will not bring change. It will only bring destruction,” Biden says in the ad. Trump “adds fuel to every fire,” he says, and “shows how weak he is” by “his failure to call on his own supporters to stop acting as an armed militia.”
Trump put his approach on display again Tuesday with his own trip to Kenosha. The president praised local law enforcement and toured a block charred by protesters’ fire. He called the destruction “anti-American” and suggested Biden’s election would ensure similar scenes in U.S. cities across the country. It was the latest rendition of a theme voiced throughout the Republican National Convention: “You won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America.”
Trump’s advisers argue that his stance – which includes falsely accusing Biden of championing violent protesters and wanting to “defund the police” — shifts attention away from the pandemic. They also believe the tactics help Trump attract white voters in suburbs and exurbs, key slices of his 2016 coalition. Trump won Wisconsin by less than 23,000 votes out of more than 1.9 million in 2016, the first Republican to win the state since Ronald Reagan in 1984.
This will be the first time since 2012 that a Democratic presidential candidate campaigns in Wisconsin. Hillary Clinton did not campaign in the state after she lost the primary in 2016, one of the reasons often cited for Trump’s narrow victory.
White House spokesman Brian Morgenstern said Biden is playing politics by traveling to Wisconsin; Trump himself said ahead of his Wisconsin trip that his own travel could “increase enthusiasm.”
The president, meanwhile, took to Twitter to repeat his mockery of Biden for anchoring his campaign from Delaware during the pandemic. Before Biden’s campaign confirmed his Wisconsin itinerary, Trump wrote: “Joe Biden is a Low Energy Candidate the likes of which we have never seen before. … He’s back in his basement now - no schedule!”
Trump was to campaign Wednesday in North Carlolina.
Some Democrats have quietly worried that recent violence might boost Trump’s prospects. Biden’s team insists he simply must counter with steady warnings that Trump is dangerously inept. They see that as an umbrella argument for any number of scenarios – including a discussion of how to reopen schools.
Trump’s cries of “law-and-order” and “radical leftists” might work, said Biden’s campaign co-chairman Cedric Richmond, “if he was the only one talking.” But the Louisiana congressman said Biden has a megaphone, too, and that Trump, even as a “p.r. master,” cannot erase Americans’ own realities on coronavirus, systemic racism or anything else.”
“Look, you can’t argue that the country is so screwed up only you can fix it when you’ve been president for almost four years,” Richmond said in an interview. “His argument is basically, ‘I broke the country. Now reelect me so I can fix it.’”
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