Former Vice President Joe Biden and President Donald Trump agreed Monday on the need for a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible.
But the two presidential contenders clashed during dueling Labor Day events over just how much Trump can be trusted to deliver.
Reporters asked Biden at a campaign stop in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, whether he would take a COVID-19 vaccine if the Trump administration offered one before Election Day. On Sunday, his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., had said she would not solely trust Trump's word about the safety of any vaccine that was rolled out to the public before the election — comments Biden echoed.
"I would want to see what the scientists said," Biden said, insisting that he would want "full transparency" from the administration about any potential vaccine. He said he is "worried if we do have a really good vaccine people are going to be reluctant to take it," because Trump "is undermining public confidence" in the process.
"If I could get a vaccine tomorrow, I'd do it," Biden added. "If it cost me the election, I'd do it. We need a vaccine, and we need it now. As quickly as we can get it. We have to listen to the scientists."
Trump, speaking at a news conference from the North Portico of the White House, demanded that Biden and Harris apologize for their remarks and again pledged to "produce a vaccine in record time."
Biden and Harris "should immediately apologize for the reckless anti-vaccine rhetoric that they are talking right now, talking about endangering lives, and it undermines science, and what's happening is all of the sudden you'll have this incredible vaccine, and because of that fake rhetoric — it's a political rhetoric, that's all it is, just for politics," Trump said.
"This could have taken two or three years, and instead, it's going to be, going to be done in a very short period of time," Trump said. "Could even have it during the month of October."
He added, "The vaccine will be very safe and very effective, and it will be delivered very soon."
Speaking Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union," Harris was asked whether she would trust a vaccine Trump said was ready before the election.
"I think that we have learned since this pandemic started, but really before that, that there's very little that we can trust that comes out of Donald Trump's mouth," she said, adding that Trump "has created false expectations for the American people and American families."
The president, she said, has prioritized what is "politically expedient" over public health.
"And so, no, I would not trust his word," she said. "I would trust the word of public health experts and scientists, but not Donald Trump."
But she said she thinks public health experts won't have the final word.
"If past is prologue, that they will not, that will be muzzled, they will be suppressed, they will be sidelined, because he's looking at an election coming up in less than 60 days, and he's grasping for whatever he can get to pretend that he has been a leader on this issue, when he has not," she said.
Trump has promoted his administration's Operation Warp Speed program, which is designed to help get a vaccine candidate across the finish line more quickly. But his predictions for when a vaccine could be widely available run counter to when most scientists and medical experts believe a vaccine will be ready for widespread use. In addition, as Biden and Harris have pointed out, Trump has made a litany of false statements and assertions about the coronavirus and treatments for the disease it causes, limiting his credibility on such matters.
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Speaking with NPR last week, Moncef Slaoui, Operation Warp Speed's chief scientific adviser, said that he believes a vaccine will be available by the end of the year for some high-risk groups and that it is "extremely unlikely" that a vaccine will be ready by late October — although even a small chance is worth properly preparing for. Immunizing the entire U.S. population would take until the middle of next year, Slaoui projected.
Biden and Harris participated in Labor Day events, and the president's White House news conference dominated his holiday schedule. Biden spoke at a roundtable of union workers in Lancaster before appearing at an event alongside AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka at the union's headquarters in Harrisburg. Harris visited Milwaukee, where she toured an International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers facility and took part in a roundtable with Black business owners.
During his Harrisburg event, Biden again slammed Trump over remarks attributed to him last week in The Atlantic, which reported that he called dead U.S. service members "losers" and "suckers" in 2018.
Biden called the remarks "downright un-American," saying his late son, Beau Biden, a veteran, "wasn't a loser or a sucker."
"If that's how you talk about our veterans, you have no business being our president," he said, adding that organized labor would "never have a better friend" in the White House should he be elected.
Trump and both current and former administration officials have denied the report's accuracy, with Trump saying Monday that only an "animal" would say such things. But Trump also suggested at his news conference that military leadership was loyal only to the military-industrial complex, while service members "loved" him.