Biden criticizes Trump in statement against anti-Asian coronavirus racism

"Donald Trump and his Administration have failed to show almost any moral leadership when it comes to this issue,” Biden wrote in the statement.
Image: Joe Biden speaks at a town hall in Sumter, S.C., on Feb. 28, 2020.
Joe Biden speaks at a town hall in Sumter, S.C., on Feb. 28, 2020.Jim Watson / AFP - Getty Images file

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By Kimmy Yam

Joe Biden, the apparent Democratic presidential nominee, has publicly condemned the rising violence and number of attacks directed at the Asian American community related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The former vice president released a statement Friday calling for an end to the anti-Asian sentiment that has spread alongside the coronavirus. Biden slammed President Donald Trump's lack of guidance on dealing with the uptick in racist attacks, as well as the president's previous use of rhetoric like "Chinese virus." Experts have warned that such language could put Asian Americans in harm's way by perpetuating the racist association between the virus and people of Chinese descent.

"Unfortunately, Donald Trump and his Administration have failed to show almost any moral leadership when it comes to this issue," Biden wrote in the statement. "The casual racism and regular xenophobia that we have seen from Trump and this Administration is a national scourge."

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A spokesperson for the Biden campaign told NBC News that Biden aimed to show that unity will be key to overcoming the pandemic, rather than targeting those of certain ethnic backgrounds.

"The words of a president matter, and Joe has been absolutely clear — hate would have no safe harbor in his administration," the spokesperson said. "We need a president who demonstrates the leadership to address every aspect of this pandemic."

In his statement, Biden brought up several recent instances of violence toward Asian Americans. One woman, Yuanyuan Zhu, was spit on last month on her way to the gym as the perpetrator shouted a China-related expletive at her. In a separate incident, an Asian woman was doused with a substance outside her home in Brooklyn, New York, resulting in chemical burns to her face and body.

"These disgusting and racist acts must stop. They are grounded in an impulse that is as ugly as it is dangerously ignorant," Biden said.

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Biden accused Trump of using rhetoric like "Chinese virus" to deflect from his mishandling of the virus and to "stoke feelings of hatred and anger" toward the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. While Trump used the term several times during White House news conferences, he abruptly shifted his tone in late March.

Although he told Fox News that he doesn't regret having used the terminology, he said he had "decided we shouldn't make any more of a big deal out of it." Regardless, other members of the administration, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, continued to use language that identified the virus in terms of location or ethnicity.

While the statement itself didn't address tangible actions Biden would take toward mitigating the anti-Asian racism, a spokesperson for his campaign said that the Justice Department under a Biden administration would prioritize prosecuting hate crimes.

"In this moment of national and global crisis, it's clear that we need a president who demonstrates the leadership to address every aspect of this pandemic — including the spate of racist incidents targeting Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders — with urgency and seriousness," a statement read. "Donald Trump is not that president."

Several lawmakers have taken steps to address the heightened anti-Asian racism. On Friday, Senate Democrats — led by Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Tammy Duckworth of Illinois and Mazie K. Hirono of Hawaii — called on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, or USCCR, to issue guidance to federal agencies on preventing and addressing anti-Asian racism and xenophobia.

"In order to reduce the dangerous and hateful spread of anti-Asian sentiment that is on the rise during this pandemic, we respectfully request that USCCR issue such guidance without delay, and that it take into account language accessibility for Asian Americans with limited English proficiency," read the letter.