Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said it is “disgusting” and “almost criminal” that President Donald Trump knew of the serious risk posed by the coronavirus in February and then downplayed its threat in March.
In an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper on Wednesday in Michigan, the former vice president said the revelations about Trump’s early understanding of how deadly the virus is and how easily it could spread – shared in recorded interviews for Bob Woodward’s forthcoming book – are “why we have no confidence in his leadership.”
“This caused people to die. And what did he do the whole time?” Biden said. “He acknowledged this – you breathe it, it’s in the air – and he won’t put on a mask. He’s talking about, ‘It’s ridiculous to put on a mask, what do you need social distancing for? Why have any of these rules?’”
Woodward’s book, for which Trump gave 18 interviews, includes Trump saying on February 7 that “this is deadly stuff” and on March 19 that “I wanted to always play it down.” The news about Trump’s handling of the virus comes less than three weeks before his first debate with Biden, who has led recent national and swing-state polls.
“It was all about making sure the stock market didn’t come down, that his wealthy friends didn’t lose any money, and that he could say anything, that in fact anything that happened had nothing to do with him,” Biden said Wednesday, speculating about Trump’s motives for downplaying the virus in the early weeks of its spread.
“He waved a white flag. He walked away. He didn’t do a damn thing,” Biden said. “Think about it. Think about what he did not do – it’s almost criminal.”
He lambasted Trump for “misleading” the public on the dangers of the virus, and said that – even if Trump was concerned about scaring Americans – he could have invoked the Defense Production Act to ramp up production of protective medical equipment before the pandemic spread to the United States.
Biden also criticized Trump for blaming the pandemic on China, saying the President should not have praised Chinese President Xi Jinping’s transparency and should have had American scientists on the ground in Wuhan in the early days of the virus.
“The virus is not his fault, but the deaths are his fault. Because he could’ve done something about it,” Biden said.
“He said there’s no need for social distancing, don’t bother wearing a mask. He actually went so far as to suggest it was a violation of American freedom to maintain you had to wear a mask. And look what’s happened. Again, 190,000 dead and climbing. And what’s he doing now? He still has not moved. Look at the schools that are not opening,” Biden said.
He added: “Think of the choice the single mom has to make, ‘am I gonna go to my $7 an hour job … or stay home with my kid? I can’t afford anybody. I can’t afford to bring anybody in.’ I mean he’s doing nothing to help. Nothing to help.”
In his book, Woodward reports that Trump’s former Defense Secretary James Mattis said Trump had “no moral compass” and floated the prospect of “collective action” with then-Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats because they saw Trump as “unfit” for the presidency.
Biden said he had “served for a long time” with Coats and considered Mattis a “fine” man.
“I think Trump has just stunned everyone around him. It’s just how corrupt his thinking is,” Biden said.