Biden calls on Trump to step down over his coronavirus response as he holds first town hall

Democrat describes his opponent as someone who ‘inherited everything – and squandered it’

John T. Bennett
Washington Bureau Chief
Friday 18 September 2020 04:00 BST
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Joe Biden calls for Trump to step down as president at CNN Town Hall

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Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden called Attorney General William Barr’s remarks equating mask-wearing to slavery “sick” and called on Donald Trump to “step down” over his coronavirus response during his first town hall of the general election.

“You lost your freedom” to go to baseball games or visit family members “because he didn’t act,” the former vice president said of the man who occupies the office he hopes is his come 20 January.

“This president should step down,” a visibly animated Mr Biden told one voter, adding that a commander in chief should “shoot from the shoulder” when addressing the American people about life-threatening crises.

“He continues to think that mask don’t matter that much,” Mr Biden said, criticising Mr Trump for holding large rallies with unmasked supporters and calling covering one’s face to prevent others from contracting the respiratory disease a “patriotic duty.”

“The idea that you’re not going to tell people what you’ve been told … what has he done?” the former VP asked, citing an expert claiming that the president would have saved over 30,000 lives if he had acted sooner. “What presidents say matters. … He knew about it.”

In a notable break from Mr Trump, who this week has shunned mask-wearing and dressed down Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield for telling senators masks are the most effective thing right now to combat the virus, the vice president issued a warning about the coming drug.

“There’s no vaccine that’s 100 per cent” effective for everyone who takes it, he told a teacher who has a pre-existing condition and has worries about returning to the classroom. He also took a shot at Mr Trump for saying during his own town hall on Tuesday in Philadelphia that Mr Biden should follow through immediately on his call for a national mask mandate, even though Mr Biden is a civilian with no such power.

'He may be really losing it," Mr Biden said, flipping the age and mental prowess question on the 74-year-old Trump.

Mr Biden appealed directly to working-class and suburban voters, saying he views the presidential race as “Scranton versus Park Avenue,” saying few people in his home town owned stock, something the wealthy president cannot understand. While the president contends Mr Biden wants to raise middle-class Americans’ taxes to the tune of $4trn, the former vice president said, if elected, he would make sure “the super-wealthy pay their fair share.”

In less than two weeks, Mr Biden and Mr Trump will square off in their first debate. Asked by CNN’s Anderson Cooper about that first session, Mr Biden said with a wide grin: “I’m looking forward to it.”

‘Scranton roots’

On other topics, Mr Biden time and again broke with Mr Trump and talked up his own “Scranton roots,” portraying himself as a working-class guy whose father “busted his neck” working blue-collar jobs.

“We are as good as anybody else,” he said, adding “people like Trump who inherited everything … and squandered it” cannot relate to working-class voters.

The president has accused his foe of being dead set on outlawing fracking, but Mr Biden told a voter worried he would do just that he wouldn’t. “It’s an important business,” he said, though he would prefer moving away from the pollution-causing practice eventually.

“Fracking has to continue because we need a transition” to “net-zero” emissions," he told Cooper. “What I’m proposing is, when Trump thinks global warming, he thinks hoax. When I think global warming, I think jobs.” 

On another hot-button environmental issue, a voter asked if he supports the “Green New Deal” crafted by progressive lawmakers in his party. Mr Trump regularly warns the former VP is a big believer in the pricey proposal that amounts to a major blueprint to overhaul the entire American economy.

“No, I don’t think it’s too much,” Mr Biden said before quickly adding: “I have my own plan. … There’s no reason we can’t transition in a responsible way.”

‘Radical movement’

The vice president held the town hall in Moosic, near Scranton, his hometown. But the lighting on the CNN set in the parking lot of a minor league baseball stadium was less-than-flattering with cars as a background on a night when the president used Air Force One has a backdrop at his own campaign event.

Though the 77-year-old Mr Biden has been criticised by the president and others for not straying too far from his Wilmington, Delaware home during the Covid-19 pandemic, the selection of the Scranton area was strategic. That’s because the Keystone State’s importance in helping select the next president cannot be understated.

The Independent contacted several political pollsters and strategists this week, asking which six or seven states political watchers should study the closest from now until 3 November. One Democratic pollster said he has put, for now at least, Florida and its 29 electoral votes in the president’s column. That means, according to him and others, Mr Biden has to take Pennsylvania and its 20 Electoral College votes if he wants any shot at being the 46th president.

Mr Biden held the uniquely formatted town hall two days after a Washington Post-ABC News survey showed Mr Trump, with his law-and-order message and warnings of an economic collapse under a Biden administration, has significantly cut into the former VP’s in Wisconsin, shrinking it by half.

That poll put the Democratic nominee’s lead among registered voters at just 4 percentage points (50 per cent to 46 per cent), and at 6 points among likely voters (52-46). RealClearPolitics’ average of several polls had Mr Biden up by 8 points on June 27. As the Post noted, neither margin is insurmountable for this president as the survey’s margin of error is 4.5 per cent. That suggests Wisconsin and other Rust Belt battlegrounds are suddenly winnable for the president.

Mr Biden’s lead in Pennsylvania, however, is now just 4.3 percentage points. It was at nearly 8 points on July 24. Both figures are according to an average of a handful of polls tabulated by RealClearPolitics.

Mr Biden took questions from voters for over about 75 minutes a few hours after Mr Trump, without directly naming his general election opponent, delivered grim remarks at the National Archives Museum in Washington that warned of “tyranny” and a new kind of “segregation” if a “radical movement” – presumably led by or with Mr Biden as its figurehead leader – take power.  

“We will never,” the president said ominously, “submit to tyranny.”

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