Democratic nominee Joe Biden called new evidence that President Donald Trump publicly downplayed the severity of coronavirus early this year while admitting to a journalist he knew the risks “beyond despicable” in remarks made at a UAW hall in Warren on Wednesday.
“His failure (to respond appropriately) has not only cost lives, it sent our economy into a tailspin,” said Biden, the former vice president, who was making his first in-person visit to Michigan as the nominee. “It’s a dereliction of duty. It’s a disgrace.”
Biden’s remarks at the UAW Region 1 headquarters in Warren came a short time after media reports of a new book by journalist Bob Woodward, “Rage,” and recordings released by Woodward in which Trump acknowledged early this year the deadly seriousness of coronavirus even at a time when he was publicly downplaying the risks it posed.
Biden noted in his remarks – which concentrated on his plan to use the tax code to punish businesses that move jobs overseas and give tax credits to those that create jobs in the U.S. – that the nation was expected to top 190,000 dead from the virus on Wednesday.
At the White House, Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Trump responded appropriately to the pandemic. But there is no doubt, especially early on, the president downplayed the risk at a time when, if the public had been urged to act more quickly, some experts believe it could have resulted in fewer deaths.
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Trump later acknowledged the severity but then reversed course again, urging schools and businesses to reopen quickly to restart the economy. At one point, he even criticized Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s order to keep people at home to stop the spread of the virus, tweeting
“Liberate Michigan” at a time when protesters – some not wearing masks or practicing social distancing – were organizing against that order in Lansing.
As early as February, however, Trump was telling Woodward he knew the virus, also known as COVID-19, was “deadly stuff,” and “more deadly than your – even your strenuous flus.” By March, Woodward’s recordings indicate the president knew that it wasn’t just older Americans being hurt by the virus, but younger people as well.
At various times in February and March, Trump said publicly that there were few people with the virus and downplayed the risk. In March – as well as at other times – he said it was going to “disappear” and compared it to the flu.
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“He knew how deadly it was. … He knew and purposely played it down,” Biden said. “Worse he lied to the American people. He knowingly and willingly lied about the threat it posed to the country for months. He had the information. He knew how dangerous it was. And while this deadly disease ripped through our nation, he failed to do his job on purpose. It was a life and death betrayal of the American people.”
Biden’s visit came a day before Trump was scheduled to hold a 7 p.m. rally on Thursday at an airport hangar near Saginaw as the campaign for Michigan – a state Trump won four years ago by about two-tenths of 1% of the vote – heats up. Polls indicate Biden has a small lead in the state.
Before criticizing the president’s downplaying of the pandemic, Biden thanked Whitmer, who was on hand, for her leadership on efforts to combat coronavirus in Michigan.
“Governor, you’ve done an incredible job steering the people of Michigan through a turbulent time – much of it is brought on by Donald Trump’s lack of leadership,” Biden said. “You’ve been rock solid. … You’ve listened to the experts, and you’ve led with science. And you’ve put the needs of the people who were hurting first, helping them get through this crisis.”
Taking his mask off to speak, Biden said he had been told it was OK to do so since no one was within 6 feet of him and the event was being held outside. “I promise I’ll put it back on (when finished),” he told Whitmer, who on Tuesday told CNN she found the possibility of unmasked, closely conc…