Joe Biden, the 2020 Democratic front-runner, slammed President Donald Trump over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic Friday, accusing him of being “behind the curve through his whole response.”
Biden, speaking on a conference call with reporters, offered a series of blunt missives for Trump, and criticized him for repeatedly providing the American people with misinformation about the virus.
“Step up and do your job, Mr. President,” Biden said.
“In times of crisis, the American people deserve a president who tells them the truth,” Biden said. “Unfortunately, President Trump has not been that president.”
“People are scared. They’re worried. They don’t know quite what to do," he added. “He has been behind the curve throughout this whole response."
Listing off what he felt were the administration’s shortcomings on its broad response to the pandemic, Biden took aim at Trump for the way he authorized the Defense Production Act — a 1950 law that allows the president to force American businesses to produce materials in the national defense, such as ventilators and medical supplies for health care workers.
Trump said Wednesday he was invoking the Defense Production Act, but later in the day tweeted that, even though he’d signed the law, he’d only use it in a "worst case scenario." On Friday morning, he formally acknowledged that he’d put the law “into gear.”
Biden said that Trump’s actions regarding the law were not “straightforward and reliable.”
The former vice president also criticized Trump for having directed governors to acquire critical medical supplies on their own, before relying on the federal government.
“Don’t tell the governors to fend for themselves,” Biden said. “Step up and do your job.”
“He said the federal government is not a shipping clerk. Where the hell did that come from,” Biden said.
On Thursday, Trump urged governors to purchase critical medical supplies needed to help combat the coronavirus pandemic — like face masks — themselves, instead of only relying on the federal government to supply them.
“We’re not a shipping clerk,” Trump said Thursday.
Biden also called on Trump to immediately get coronavirus tests “to all who need them, now,” to direct the Defense Department to help with hospital capacity, and to “expand and mobilize” the Medical Reserve Corps.
Biden, who has held several briefings over the past week about the coronavirus and whose campaign created its own coronavirus public health advisory committee, also said he had been in personal contact with Democratic leaders in the House and Senate, as well as a number of Democratic governors to help them “coordinate” their responses to the pandemic.
The Trump campaign hit back later Friday, levying a misleading accusation against him.
"The only thing Joe Biden knows about handling a public health crisis is that the Obama White House had to apologize for his remarks that set off a panic during the swine flu outbreak in 2009," Tim Murtaugh, the Trump campaign's communication director, said in a statement.
That comment is misleading. According to fact-checking website PolitiFact, Biden, during the 2009 swine flu outbreak, said he'd advise his family to not travel in confined places like planes and that when a person on a plane sneezes, "it goes all the way through an aircraft." The comments were roundly criticized, but there is no evidence that they sparked anything resembling a panic.