Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden lambasted Donald Trump over what the president told a journalist about the coronavirus at a time he was downplaying it in public, saying he “failed to do his job on purpose” and “lied to the American people.”
Mr Biden led an event on labor and jobs by slamming Mr Trump for conversations he had with Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward for a new book in which the president is on tape admitting as early as February that he knew the virus was, as the former vice president paraphrased the recorded comment, “much more deadly than the flu.”
“He lied to the American people,” Mr Biden said.
“For months, he knew how dangerous it was. He failed to do his job on purpose,” he said, calling what the president said privately and his different public description of Covid-19 “a life-and-death betrayal of the American people.”
Mr Biden spoke after White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany held a contentious briefing that followed reports about Mr Woodward’s coming book, “Rage.”
“The president has never lied to the American public on Covid,” she claimed, saying the president downplayed the virus publicly because “he doesn’t want to see chaos.”
“His actions reflect that,” Ms McEnany claimed, repeatedly using the word “calm” to describe Mr Trump’s goals for his public comments.
But he also told Mr Woodward this: "I wanted to always play it down. … I still like playing it down, because I don't want to create a panic."
As his administration in early spring struggled to explain to people how the virus spreads, Mr Trump was clear in one conversation with Mr Woodward.
"This is deadly stuff," Mr Trump told the Washington Post journalist on 7 February.
“You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed,” the president added during the phone call. “And so that’s a very tricky one. That’s a very delicate one. It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flu.”
Mr Trump did say at the White House podium earlier this year that up to 200,000 Americans could die.
But he also repeatedly said it would “disappear” and “go away” – one time saying the warming spring and summer temperatures would eradicate it – while pushing states to reopen their economy and schools.
During a campaign stop Tuesday night in Winston-Salem, the president, without offering evidence, suggested the country is in its final stage of dealing with the pandemic.
Trend data does show the number of cases decreasing in states that had seen a resurgence of cases since his push to reopen the economy.