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Joe Biden Speaks About The Pandemic And The Government's Coronavirus Response

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

In a speech about the coronavirus today, Joe Biden ripped into President Trump for his response to the pandemic.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOE BIDEN: He called himself a wartime president. Remember when he extorted the nation to sacrifice together and, quote, "in the face of this inevitable and invisible enemy"? What happened? Now it's almost July, and it seems like our wartime president has surrendered.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Asma Khalid went to hear the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee in Biden's hometown of Wilmington, Del., and she joins us now.

Hi, Asma.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Hi there.

SHAPIRO: What was Biden's main message today?

KHALID: Well, he ran through a timeline of his own warnings and his own ideas around what the country ought to be doing to handle the coronavirus pandemic. He outlined, you know, as far back as January some of the things that he thought ought to be done and compared that to how President Trump handled the situation. You know, and as we heard, and as you can expect, he blasted President Trump, saying the country can't continue half with a plan and half just hoping for the best. He said that Trump has abdicated his role in leading the nation through this crisis. Let's take more of a listen.

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BIDEN: You called yourself a cheerleader. We don't need a cheerleader, Mr. President. We need a president, Mr. President.

KHALID: And, Ari, then he went on to outline a plan that he feels that President Trump should take up rather quickly.

SHAPIRO: What is in Biden's proposal?

KHALID: So it's five parts, many of which, you know, as he acknowledges, he has outlined before. But these are things that he feels that President Trump has not fully listened to. Number one, he suggests scaling up testing. Number two, he feels like we need to have a plan where PPE, this protective equipment, is available for any health care worker who needs one. Third, he suggests that we accelerate vaccine plans. And fourth, he feels like we need to have a consistent message on mask wearing. And fifth, he talks about, you know, boosting Social Security and SNAP payments to help those people who are at high risk.

Now, I should point out, Ari, that, you know, the Trump administration is taking on some of these steps. You know, it has this Operation Warp Speed, this plan to expedite the vaccine process. But, you know, Biden and other Democrats feel like that's not enough. They feel like it's not coordinated well enough. And also, frankly, they say that regardless of what the president might want to do, you have to actually look at his own behavior, and they feel like he's not modeling good behavior. You know, just look at the big indoor rally he held recently in Tulsa, Okla.

So Biden, you know, outlined all of this and then said that he intends to detail in more depth what he would do as a day-one COVID-19 agenda. But what struck me is he says, you know, if elected, he's not going to wait until Inauguration Day to take on all of this. He intends to start working on this the day that he is elected, which, you know, really is quite clearly an acknowledgement that we would likely still be in a crisis in some form by Election Day.

SHAPIRO: So after Biden unloaded all of this on President Trump, was there any response from the White House?

KHALID: Well, the Trump campaign actually held a prebuttal to Joe Biden's remarks. One of his campaign spokespeople said that Joe Biden has attempted to use the coronavirus pandemic as a campaign issue and that he has been trying to undermine confidence in the federal government. They feel that this is all, you know, political underneath and that in reality, in their view, they feel that Joe Biden would prefer to keep (inaudible) and that President Trump has been focusing on, you know, reopening, as we all know, the economy.

SHAPIRO: To go back to masks for a second, this has become a partisan issue, but more recently, we see Republicans and members of the administration kind of advocating for the use of masks. What's Biden saying about that?

KHALID: So Biden took some questions, which was rather unusual. He hasn't taken questions from the press in quite a while. But he took some questions after his remarks, and he was asked about this issue of masks given the fact that not all Americans are on the same page, and here's what he said.

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BIDEN: I think we have to start appealing to the better side of human nature by pointing out that that mask is not so much to protect me. It's if I have an undiagnosed - I have it - it's to protect you against me. It's to protect other people. And it's called patriotism.

KHALID: So, Ari, what's notable is, you know, you hear this sort of optimism from Joe Biden here, his idea that you can kind of tamp down the rhetoric and appeal to people's better angels. And I think there are still some Americans who question, regardless of who is in charge, if you can really fundamentally change American public attitude on this issue.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Asma Khalid, thank you.

KHALID: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.