04:06 - Source: CNN
Biden: If Trump opened the Bible, he'd learn something
CNN  — 

Joe Biden is seeking to become America’s healer-in-chief, offering himself as a steady and compassionate leader as his methodical return to the campaign trail took the former vice president to Houston to meet with George Floyd’s family on Monday.

In two major speeches last week, the presumptive Democratic nominee hammered President Donald Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and the protests across the nation in response to police brutality and the killing of Floyd. Trump, he said, should be held accountable for the record-breaking health and economic costs.

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But Biden is also demonstrating an awareness – as a white man whose political life began at the end of the civil rights movement – of the perils of making this moment about himself. He has spent the last week in listening mode, calling African American scholars and meeting with black organizers, faith leaders and local officials.

“I’m a white man. I think I understand, but I can’t feel it,” Biden said in a virtual town hall Thursday. “I don’t know what it’s like to be a black man walking down the street and be accosted; to be a black man walking down the street and be arrested; to be a black man walking down the street and, God forbid, something worse happen to me.”

Biden on Monday traveled to Houston to meet privately with Floyd’s family the day before his funeral. The Floyd family’s attorney, Benjamin Crump, tweeted that the meeting had lasted more than an hour.

“He listened, heard their pain, and shared in their woe. That compassion meant the world to this grieving family,” Crump tweeted.

Biden and the Floyd family met at Lucille’s, a restaurant in Houston, the Houston Chronicle reported. Biden “expressed his sympathies and promised to push for changes in policing,” Chris Stewart, the attorney for Roxie Washington, the mother of Floyd’s 6-year-old daughter, said in an Instagram post that includes a picture of Biden meeting with the group.

Throughout his campaign, Biden has sought to console those experiencing loss, sharing his own experiences with grief when he lost his wife and young daughter in a car accident and later his eldest son, Beau, to brain cancer.

It all comes amid questions about whether the massive protests will evolve into a sustained political force headed into a general election that has already been upended by a global pandemic.

Biden’s win in the Democratic primary was fueled by the older black voters who have long made up the base of the party and suburban moderates who have abandoned Trump in droves in recent years.

He now needs to convince young voters, especially African Americans, that he can fix a system they are protesting.

“This is a time to be in deep reflection – and then also have really bold language,” said Angela Lang, a progressive organizer in Milwaukee who participated in a virtual event hosted by the Biden campaign last week.

She said Biden needs to draw clear lines – using terms like murder rather than euphemistic references to police misconduct, for example. And she said he needs to have conversations with leaders of groups like Black Lives Matter and Movement for Black Lives, as well as organizers in Minneapolis, the site of Floyd’s death.

“Being able to use his platform to really amplify the needs of this moment, to amplify the black and brown voices that are leading in this moment – that’s what people are really looking for,” Lang said.

Biden’s listening sessions

Biden has tried to seize the moment with major speeches taking on Trump. But he has also been careful to show that he is in listening mode.

He visited the site of a protest in Wilmington, where he was photographed kneeling while in conversation. Then, at an event in a Wilmington church, he sat, listening and taking notes, for more than an hour as African American faith and non-profit leaders and local politicians spoke.

“Leadership doesn’t have to be boastful or boisterous, but it does need to be compassionate. It does need to really listen to people so that they are heard and then it takes that information and provides this leadership in action,” said Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, a national co-chair of Biden’s campaign who joined Biden at two of his outings.

On May 31, Logan Herring and his three-year-old son LJ visited the site of a protest in Wilmington and were on hand when the former vice president stopped to survey the scene. Herring, the CEO of REACH Riverside, a major revitalization effort in a Wilmington neighborhood, also shared his thoughts with Biden at a meeting with community leaders the next day.

“He just listened. It’s not about him. He’s one person. This country has 300 million people. This is about the people of this country and you have a particular segment of this country, a demographic that has been literally oppressed for 400 plus years and he’s willing to listen,” said Herring, who also serves as executive director of Kingswood Community Center.

Last Monday, Biden held a virtual meeting with the mayors of Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, and St. Paul, Minnesota – all cities where leaders were grappling with the dual crises of the coronavirus pandemic and unrest in the wake of Floyd’s death.

Following his speech Tuesday in Philadelphia, Biden and eight black local Pennsylvania elected officials gathered around a table in the office of a staffer to Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney to discuss the problems underpinning the civil unrest sweeping the nation. There, Biden also sought advice on how to talk about these issues publicly.

Pennsylvania Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, who was present for the meeting , told CNN that the presumptive Democratic nominee opted mostly to listen and ask questions.

“He did a lot more listening than he did talking,” he said.

Biden’s posture in the meeting was described as “genuine, patient and warm” by Pennsylvania state Rep. Joanna McClinton. While the meeting, which lasted about a half hour, did not provide time to get into the minutia of policy details, ultimately McClinton said she felt very satisfied with the exchange of ideas.

“He took the time to listen,” she said of Biden, “and he has a real plan to bring healing to the nation.”

She praised, specifically, that as the only woman of color at the table, she felt Biden really heard what she’d shared about women in her district, who are the heads of their households and may be struggling financially. Biden threw out several federal-level solutions, reiterating his promise to work with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to pass legislation that would raise the minimum wage nationwide.

McClinton was also in the room to hear Biden’s speech, which she thought was “encouraging.”

She was so moved in hearing the speech that she quickly grabbed her phone, activating the data settings to launch Facebook live and stream Biden’s speech to her friends because “there are a lot of people who are like myself that just want to see our nation steered in a better direction.”

Polls show Biden’s lead growing

A simple reality that Biden has at times alluded to as a frustration is that in this moment, he can’t act in any official capacity. Trump for years has demonstrated his endless ability to command media attention, and governors and mayors have played prominent roles in recent weeks because they’ve guided public health responses to the coronavirus pandemic and police and National Guard actions amid the protests and the looting and property damage that occurred in its first nights.

Biden, meanwhile, is the standard-bearer of the Democratic Party – but he is limited to offering details about what he would do if he’s elected and what Congress should do now, rather than casting votes and making decisions in real time.

Still, in an election that Biden’s campaign and his allies insist will be a referendum on Trump, he might not need to battle Trump for the daily spotlight.

Polling shows the coronavirus pandemic and the unrest over police violence has catapulted Biden to a clear lead nationally over President Donald Trump less than five months before the general election. A new CNN poll out Monday showed Biden with a clear lead over Trump, with 55% support to the President’s 41% nationally. A previous averaging of national polls also had Biden ahead of the president.

Biden’s recent return to public outings – which began with a wreath-laying ceremony on Memorial Day – comes after the former vice president spent nearly three months at his home in Wilmington, Delaware, as the pandemic halted in-person campaign events.

His aides were already preparing for a careful return to campaigning outside his home, where he has broadcast livestreams and television interviews from a basement studio.

But this moment – the death of Floyd at the hands of police, the subsequent protests and a nation reckoning with police brutality and systemic racism – quickly thrust Biden back into the public sphere as he presents himself as a healer and a uniter in meetings and major speeches.

“Look, the presidency is a big job. Nobody will get everything right. And I won’t either,” Biden said during his speech in Philadelphia. “But I promise you this. I won’t traffic in fear and division. I won’t fan the flames of hate. I will seek to heal the racial wounds that have long plagued this country – not use them for political gain.”

Biden will continue to face the same political challenges that plagued him during the Democratic primary – now with the added pressure of Trump’s campaign spending tens of millions of dollars to attack him.

Biden’s role in passing the 1994 crime bill emerged as a topic of discussion at a community meeting last week when a participant noted some young black Americans are concerned about his work on the legislation.

Over the course of his campaign, Biden introduced extensive criminal justice reform plans to undo some of the causes of mass incarceration in black communities, including ending mandatory minimum sentences and retroactively eliminating the disparity between sentences for crack and powder cocaine. An adviser to Biden said he’s prepared to further discuss criminal justice reform and policing over the coming weeks.

How Biden will return to the trail

The events have offered a window into how Biden will campaign as he cautiously returns to the campaign trail in the new reality that events with large, densely packed crowds won’t be possible in the near future.

He forecasted a series of speeches in the coming weeks, while laying out an agenda he said he’d like to see Congress address immediately – before he would become president.

In his appearances last week, Biden urged Congress to act on police reform and addressing systemic racism. He threw his support behind a bill that would ban police chokeholds and said he would re-establish a Justice Department oversight panel that investigated police practices established during the Obama administration.

Biden has also promised the coming weeks will bring a series of major speeches and policy initiatives focusing on housing, education and economic opportunity, including a “comprehensive plan not just to build back the economy to the way it was before Covid-19, but to build it back better.”

“That plan is anchored in job creating investments in small businesses, trillions of dollars in infrastructure, investing in innovation, manufacturing, caregiving and rewiring the faulty structures of our economy to ensure that dignity and equality for all American workers,” he said in an economic speech Friday.