Joe Biden on Monday criticized President Donald Trump as having "long ago forfeited any moral leadership in this country" and argued the president "can’t stop the violence" that has arisen in cities across the United States "because for years he has fomented it."
In a speech in Pittsburgh — his first in months outside the area near his Wilmington, Delaware, home — Biden responded to Trump's accusations that he would be soft on crime and said the president has been "incapable of telling us the truth, incapable of facing the facts. Incapable of healing."
"He may believe mouthing the words law and order makes him strong, but his failure to call on his own supporters to stop acting as an armed militia in this country shows you how weak he is," the Democratic presidential nominee said. "Does anyone believe there will be less violence in America if Donald Trump is re-elected?"
Biden accused Trump of "sowing chaos" and "stoking violence," before strongly condemning a spate of recent violence in multiple U.S. cities.
"Rioting is not protesting. Looting is not protesting. Setting fires is not protesting," Biden said,
“It’s lawlessness,” he added. “Violence will not bring change, it will only bring destruction.”
“It’s wrong in every way,” he said.
Biden also explicitly addressed some of the criticisms that Trump and other Republicans leveled against him at the Republican National Convention last week.
“You know me. You know my heart, and you know my story, my family’s story. Ask yourself: Do I look to you like a radical socialist with a soft spot for rioters? Really?" Biden said.
Until this week, Biden, citing the public health threats of the COVID-19 pandemic, had refrained from any campaign travel at all, switching to a virtual campaign in mid-March.
The speech, in front of a small audience of socially-distanced reporters, also came after weeks of criticism from Trump and other Republicans — and amid some grumblings from fellow Democrats — that he hadn't traveled far from home during the campaign.
The decision to remain in Pennsylvania, however, makes sense. The state is among the most critical battlegrounds in the 2020 race.
Biden, in fact, addressed a key issue in Pennsylvania — fracking — pledging not to issue a federal ban on the practice.
“I am not banning fracking. Let me say that again. I am not banning fracking. No matter how many times Donald Trump lies about me," he said.
Hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, is a practice used to tap into natural gas reserves deep below the earth's surface. The practice has brought economic prosperity to several once-impoverished areas in Pennsylvania, but is controversial because many of the chemicals used in the process are toxic to humans and have been known to cause serious health problems in populations near fracking fields.
Later, Biden pivoted to attacking Trump on the issue of safety, using the topic to lambaste the president over his response to the pandemic and pointing out that the images of violence that were unfolding on television and computer screens across the U.S. were happening on Trump's watch — not on his own.
"The simple truth is Donald Trump failed to protect America, so now he's trying to scare America," he said.
"Since they have no agenda or vision for a second term Trump and Pence are running on this. 'You won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America.' And what’s their proof? The violence you’re seeing in Donald Trump’s America. These are not images from some imagined 'Joe Biden’s America' in the future. These are images from Donald Trump’s America today," Biden said.
“Mr. Trump, you want to talk about fear? Do you know what people are afraid of in America? Afraid they're going to get COVID. They're afraid they're going to get sick and die — and that is in no small part because of you," he added.
Biden, a practicing Roman Catholic who has been outspoken about the role faith has played in his life, also at one point quoted scripture and referred to Pope John Paul II — both of which may have been an implicit rebuttal to attacks from Trump and speakers at the RNC that questioned his faith.
He went on to address a smattering of "crises" that he said "under Donald Trump, keep multiplying."
"COVID. Economic devastation. Unwarranted police violence. Emboldened white nationalists. A reckoning on race. Declining faith in a bright American future," Biden said. "The common thread? An incumbent president who makes things worse, not better. An incumbent president who sows chaos rather than providing order."
Biden's address came after three people died in recent days around protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and Portland, Oregon. The Kenosha protests were triggered by the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, seven times in the back while protests in Portland have been ongoing since late spring after the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
Kyle Rittenhouse, 17, is accused of having opened fire Tuesday during a Black Lives Matter protest in Kenosha, killing two people. Rittenhouse attended the protests armed with a long gun as militiamen descended upon the town in the name of protecting businesses from damage. Rittenhouse was arrested and charged with two counts of homicide, among other charges, in connection with the shooting at the protest.
In Portland, a man was shot and killed amid clashes between Black Lives Matter protesters and a pro-Trump caravan Saturday.
Portland police are investigating the shooting and it was not immediately clear whether that death was in direct connection to the protests. Video showed protesters hurling projectiles like water bottles at the Trump caravan while Trump supporters sprayed protesters with paintballs and what appeared to be pepper spray as lifted four-wheel-drive trucks were filmed driving through downtown Portland intersections filled with protesters.
Trump, as well as his campaign, immediately hit back. Moments after Biden's speech ended, the president accused him of "blaming the Police far more than he’s blaming the Rioters, Anarchists, Agitators, and Looters."
In a briefing at the White House, Trump complained that Biden's repudiation hadn't been forceful enough, and complained that he hadn't explicitly used the word "antifa" in his speech.
"If he cannot name the problem, there is no way that he will solve the problem," Trump said.
Trump also defended his paintball-shooting supporters, and said "that was a peaceful protest." "Paint is not bullets," he added.
As for Rittenhouse, the president said, "that was an interesting situation" and suggested the armed teen had acted in self defense because he was scared of protesters.
"He was trying to get away from them I guess it looks like. And he fell, and then they very violently attacked him. And it was something that we're looking at right now and it's under investigation but I guess he was in very big trouble he would have been, he probably would have been killed."
Biden blasted those statements on Monday night.
"Tonight, the President declined to rebuke violence. He wouldn't even repudiate one of his supporters who is charged with murder because of his attacks on others. He is too weak, too scared of the hatred he has stirred to put an end to it. So once again, I urge the President to join me in saying that while peaceful protest is a right — a necessity — violence is wrong, period. No matter who does it, no matter what political affiliation they have. Period. If Donald Trump can't say that, then he is unfit to be President, and his preference for more violence — not less — is clear," Biden said.
Earlier in the day, the Trump campaign slammed Biden as having "failed to condemn the left-wing mobs burning, looting, and terrorizing American cities."
“These left-wing rioters are Joe Biden supporters trashing cities run by Democrats who support his candidacy," Trump 2020 communications director Tim Murtaugh said in a statement.
Biden issued a lengthy statement Sunday following the clashes in Portland, saying, "As a country, we must condemn the incitement of hate and resentment that led to this deadly clash."
"What does President Trump think will happen when he continues to insist on fanning the flames of hate and division in our society and using the politics of fear to whip up his supporters?" Biden added, as Trump earlier Sunday posted a video of the pro-Trump truck parade and said they were "GREAT PATRIOTS!"
Biden's speech follows Trump and his surrogates at the RNC promoting the idea that Americans won't be safe under a Biden presidency. In turn, Biden and his supporters countered that Americans aren't safe under Trump right now.