WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — Joe Biden plans to hammer President Donald Trump on Wednesday for not helping the nation’s schools reopen safely during the coronavirus pandemic, as the Democratic challenger tries to keep the spotlight on the Republican incumbent’s handling of the outbreak and the nation’s overall security.
Biden and his wife, Jill, a longtime college professor and former high school teacher, will meet with public health experts to talk about school reopening options. Then the candidate will deliver remarks – his second speech in three days – outlining his ideas and accusing the president of making the country less safe.
The event in Wilmington, Delaware, is the latest in a series of dueling efforts by Trump and Biden to cast the other as a threat to Americans’ day-to-day security. It will highlight their vastly different arguments, with Trump steering debate toward “law and order” and Biden pushing a broad referendum on Trump’s competence.
“President Trump has no plan,” said Biden adviser Symone Sanders, previewing the former vice president’s remarks on schools and the pandemic. “Instead,” she continued, “he thinks that a fear-mongering campaign stoking violence is going to help him.”
Biden, she said, “is demonstrating what a safe America could look like” by talking to experts about school options in a pandemic, while Trump tries to capitalize on the fact that some racial justice protests have led to property damage or turned into violent clashes with counter-protesters.
Trump put his approach on display again Tuesday on a trip to Kenosha, Wisconsin, a city still reeling from protests and violence after another Black man, Jacob Blake, was shot by police. The president praised local law enforcement and toured a block charred by protesters’ fire. He called the destruction “anti-American” and suggested Biden’s election would ensure similar scenes in U.S. cities across the country. It was the latest rendition of a theme voiced throughout the Republican National Convention: “You won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America.”
Trump again did not condemn a 17-year-old vigilante charged in the killings of two protesters in Kenosha, and he again rejected that systemic racism plays any part in U.S. society.
Sanders previewed Biden’s retort and pivot. “To be clear, we are currently living in Donald Trump’s America, and folks have to ask themselves across the country: Are you safe?” she said. With the U.S. COVID-19 death toll nearing 190,000, Sanders declared the answer is “unequivocally” no.
Trump’s advisers argue that his stance – which includes falsely accusing Biden of championing violent protesters and wanting to “defund the police” — shifts attention away from the pandemic. They also believe the tactics help Trump attract white voters in suburbs and exurbs, key slices of his 2016 coalition.
Some Democrats have quietly worried that recent violence might boost Trump’s prospects, even as his maneuvers do nothing to quell unrest or perhaps even feed it. Biden’s team downplays such concerns, insisting the former vice president simply must counter with steady warnings that Trump is dangerously inept. They see that as an umbrella argument for any number of scenarios – including a discussion of how to reopen schools.
Trump’s cries of “law-and-order” and “radical leftists” might work, said Biden’s campaign co-chairman Cedric Richmond, “if he was the only one talking.” But the Louisiana congressman said Biden has a megaphone, too, and that Trump, even as a “p.r. master,” cannot erase Americans’ own realities on coronavirus, systemic racism or anything else.
“Look, you can’t argue that the country is so screwed up only you can fix it when you’ve been president for almost four years,” Richmond said in an interview. “His argument is basically, ‘I broke the country. Now reelect me so I can fix it.’”
Barrow reported from Atlanta.