Trump glosses over virus surge during Florida trip

President Trump on Friday traveled to Florida, the new epicenter of the coronavirus in the United States, for a trio of politically focused stops that glossed over the rising threat of the pandemic.

Trump used the trip to the Sunshine State to highlight his support for law enforcement and contrast his vision for the country with presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. He visited the U.S. Southern Command headquarters in Doral to hear about an anti-narcotics operation and participated in a roundtable on supporting Venezuelans and will cap off his visit with a fundraiser for his reelection campaign.

One topic that was rarely mentioned during his public events was the coronavirus surge in Florida, where more than 11,000 cases were added to the state’s total on Friday. The increases recently forced Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis to roll back some of the state’s reopening plans.

Florida has seen the largest spike in Miami-Dade County, where Trump attended the counternarcotics briefing Friday and touted his efforts to crack down on drug traffickers, build a wall at the southern border with Mexico and offer support for police amid nationwide protests against police violence and racism.

“As long as I am president, I will not allow your sacred mission to be undermined or attacked in any way,” Trump said during brief remarks at Southern Command headquarters. “I will not have open borders, we will not abolish the police, and we will not slash the budgets for our military, and we will not allow our country to be swamped with deadly drugs.”

Florida’s health department reported 11,433 new coronavirus cases on Friday, falling just short of the daily record the state set less than a week ago. Miami-Dade County has recorded more than 58,000 cases and more than 1,000 deaths from the virus.

While Trump did not mention the coronavirus crisis in Florida, he said the country is “going to do very well” dealing with the pandemic. He also suggested that the border wall his administration has erected helped stop people with coronavirus from entering the United States.

“Especially with COVID, that turned out to be very lucky for us that we have the wall or we would have been inundated because they do have some big problems,” Trump told the briefing participants. He also boasted about the progress on the wall, a section of which he toured last month, saying roughly 250 miles had been built and that 450 miles would be constructed by year’s end.

Trump won Florida, a key battleground state, in 2016 by roughly 113,000 votes, and the state will be critical to his reelection hopes in November. A RealClearPolitics average of polls in Florida shows Biden leading Trump by 5 percentage points in the state.

The president has attempted to appeal to Cuban American and Venezuelan American voters by taking a strong stance against socialism and by trying to tie Democrats closely to the ideology. Trump has imposed sanctions on Venezuela and backed opposition leader Juan Guaidó to replace embattled President Nicolás Maduro.

In March, the Justice Department unsealed federal charges against Maduro for participating in a narcoterrorism conspiracy, a dramatic escalation that Trump referenced Friday.

Trump said last month he would be open to meeting with Maduro, fueling questions about his commitment to Guaidó.

The president on Friday continued his efforts to paint a dystopian picture of a country led by Biden, arguing the former vice president would be controlled by the left-wing of the Democratic Party. Each participant in the roundtable event warned of the dangers of socialism, and Trump connected those dire accounts directly to Biden while mentioning other prominent progressives like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).

“Biden is a puppet of Bernie Sanders, [Ocasio-Cortez], the militant left, the people that want to rip down statues and monuments to George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Jesus. OK? Jesus. They want to rip down statues to Jesus,” Trump said during the roundtable on Venezuela.

“So we’re dealing with a group of people that — they will not win,” he added. “They will not win at all. But this election coming up is a very important one.”

Trump has made numerous trips to Florida during his presidency, in part because the state is home to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach. The president changed his residence to Florida from New York, where he had been a lifelong resident, last year.

He also relocated the main events for the 2020 GOP convention to Jacksonville after North Carolina’s Democratic governor insisted the party hold a scaled-down convention in Charlotte, the original location, due to the coronavirus.

However, the pandemic and particularly the surging cases in Florida have complicated the Jacksonville plans and many details remain in flux less than two months from Trump’s scheduled acceptance speech.

Biden issued a statement just before Trump’s arrival in Florida, hitting the president over his handling of the pandemic and Venezuela.

“Just like his response to this pandemic, the President has been unreliable and self-centered in his approach to the issues closest to the Venezuelan people,” Biden said.

Tags Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Bernie Sanders Donald Trump Joe Biden Ron DeSantis
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