Joe Biden attempted to regain the narrative in the US presidential election on Wednesday, telling Donald Trump to “get off Twitter” and focus on safely reopening schools during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Democratic candidate sought to put the virus back at the heart of the campaign after two weeks that saw the president capitalise on sporadic scenes of violence in American cities, which have blighted largely peaceful protests, to push a “law and order” theme in a bid to force Biden on the back foot.
With opinion polls narrowing two months before election day, Trump and Biden gave duelling speeches on Wednesday, both in cities called Wilmington, but in different states, as they entered the final sprint to the 3 November poll.
Declaring reopening schools “a national emergency” as he spoke in his home of Wilmington in Delaware, Biden demanded: “Mr president, where are you? Where are you? Why aren’t you working on this? We need emergency support funding for our schools and we need it now. Mr president, that’s your job, that’s your job.”
He added: “That’s what you should be focused on now, getting our kids back to school safely, keeping schools safely able to remain open once they open. Not whipping up fear and division, not inciting violence in our streets.
“Get off Twitter and start talking to the congressional leaders in both parties. Invite them to the Oval Office. You always talk about your ability to negotiate. Negotiate a deal. A deal for somebody other than yourself.”
Millions of children have been unable to attend school in person this week, forcing them to undergo virtual learning as an alternative and leaving parents struggling to get out to work, more than six months into the pandemic in the US. Democrats believe the issue hits home with every parent and could prove more important than Trump’s frequent distractions.
The president has previously urged schools to fully reopen and even threatened to cut federal funding to those that refused, while he and his education secretary, Betsy DeVos, have asserted that children are virtually immune to the virus. Scott Atlas, the president’s new coronavirus adviser, has described schools as “a low-risk environment” and claimed “there is virtually zero risk of death” for children.
But the New York Times reported this week: “As some schools begin in-person classes, data compiled by the American Academy of Pediatrics from the summer show that cases, hospitalizations and deaths from the coronavirus have increased at a faster rate in children and teenagers than among the general public.”
And teachers have threatened to strike over the risk to their health.
Biden and his wife, Jill, a longtime teacher, received a briefing on Wednesday from public health and education experts about safely reopening schools. “Let me be clear: if President Trump and his administration had done their jobs America’s schools would be open,” he said. “Instead, America’s families are paying the price for his failures.”
The former vice-president criticised the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) for announcing that it will not help pay for basic sanitation supplies, cloth masks and other protective equipment. “This is an emergency, Mr president, this is an emergency, and Donald Trump and his Fema should treat it as one.”
If Biden were president, he said, he would direct Fema to guarantee full access to disaster relief and emergency assistance for schools and work with congressional leaders immediately to pass an emergency package.
America now has more than 6m coronavirus infections and 185,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. The economic fallout has left more than 16 million people out of work. Yet last month’s Republican convention hailed Trump’s response and implied the pandemic is a thing of the past, with Trump delivering his acceptance speech to an almost entirely mask-free crowd.
Leading federal public health experts continue to warn that Covid-19 is not under control in America even as Trump repeatedly asserts the virus will disappear.
On Wednesday afternoon, Trump flew into Wilmington, North Carolina, to speak from a battleship in the crucial battleground state, on the 75th anniversary of the end of the second world war. Greeting supporters, the president criticised Biden, claiming he did not mention “law and order” or “police” in remarks earlier this week.
Polls suggest that the Republican national convention, and scenes of civil unrest and burning buildings in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and Portland, Oregon, have enabled Trump to close the gap on Biden. A USA Today/Suffolk University poll shows Biden at 50%, Trump at 43% nationally. However, the Biden campaign announced it raised $364.5m in August, believed to be the highest total ever raised by a presidential candidate in a single month.
It also said Biden will travel to Kenosha on Thursday for a community meeting “to bring together Americans to heal and address the challenges we face”. The former vice-president is likely to emphasise racial injustice in stark contrast to Trump’s pro-police message in a visit to Kenosha on Tuesday.
Asked by reporters how he would curb outbreaks of violence, Biden said: “First of all, I wouldn’t incite violence. I’d condemn it when it occurred… This president keeps throwing gasoline on the fire every place he goes… I wish he’d take responsibility. As much as he’d like to be running against somebody else, he’s running against me, Joe Biden, and the fact is that he is not acting very responsibly.”
Source: The Guardian