Biden and Trump closing arguments diverge sharply on COVID-19

Biden and Trump closing arguments diverge sharply on COVID-19
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President TrumpDonald TrumpStowaway found in landing gear of plane after flight from Guatemala to Miami Kushner looking to Middle East for investors in new firm: report GOP eyes booting Democrats from seats if House flips MORE and Democratic nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenGOP eyes booting Democrats from seats if House flips Five House members meet with Taiwanese president despite Chinese objections Sunday shows preview: New COVID-19 variant emerges; supply chain issues and inflation persist MORE are digging in on their vastly different coronavirus messages in the waning days of a bruising campaign.

Even as COVID-19 cases rise to record levels across the nation, Trump repeatedly insists the country is “rounding the turn” on the pandemic.

He is pressing ahead with large-scale campaign rallies, showing no signs of backing off his plans to hold 14 major campaign gatherings in the three days leading up to the election.


Along the way, he is calling on states to lift public health restrictions in order to boost the economic recovery and raising unrealistic expectations about the development of an effective vaccine and therapeutics.

“If you get it, you’re going to get better,” Trump, who contracted the disease earlier this month, told a crowd of supporters in Waterford Township, Mich., on Friday. “Then you’re going to be immune, and it’s a whole thing, and it goes away.”

Biden, meanwhile, is laser focused on using the final days of the campaign to hammer Trump over his administration’s response to a virus that has killed more than 225,000 people in the U.S.

Seizing on comments made by White House chief of staff Mark MeadowsMark MeadowsRepublicans seem set to win the midterms — unless they defeat themselves Jan. 6 organizers used burner phones to communicate with White House: report Trump allies leaning on his executive privilege claims MORE, Biden said Trump has decided to let the coronavirus win.

“Donald Trump has given up. The White House chief of staff said it out loud last week. He said we’re not going to control the pandemic,” Biden said at a car rally in Des Moines, Iowa, on Friday. “Donald Trump has waved the white flag. He surrendered to this virus.”

Biden has stepped up his in-person events in the final stretch, but his rallies are significantly scaled back in order to adhere to public health guidelines.

Instead of massive gatherings in airport hangers with tens of thousands of people, Biden has favored “drive-in” rallies, where people stay close to their cars as a way to minimize the threat of COVID-19 infection.

For weeks, the dissonance between the two candidates has been unmistakable on an issue that has defined the campaign and remains one of the top issues for many voters.

The majority of Americans disapprove of the way Trump has handled the public health crisis. Polls show that voters trust Biden to handle the coronavirus more than they do Trump, who is lagging behind the former vice president in national and most swing state polling.

Despite that, Trump has not adjusted his rhetoric, repeatedly minimizing the threat posed by the coronavirus, questioning the efficacy of masks and disagreeing publicly with the advice of top experts.

After his own COVID-19 diagnosis, Trump insisted that Americans should not let the virus “dominate” their lives.

As part of his treatment, the president received experimental drugs that are not yet available to the public, which he now calls “cures,” and he is pressuring federal scientists to speed up their authorization.

The message from Trump that the virus is no longer a threat was echoed by the White House science office this past week when it listed “ending the COVID-19 pandemic” as one of the president’s top accomplishments, sparking widespread criticism.

Trump has also been eager for businesses and schools to resume normal operations as he tries to make the case to voters that he is the best steward for an economy that was once consistently growing but is now in recession.

“I don’t think this was a president ever who was going to stake his case on reelection on his ability to manage an international health crisis. His was a story of law and order and economic growth,” said William Howell, a political scientist and professor at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy.

“What he wants to do is change the subject, and the facts on the ground are not cooperating.”

Biden has emphasized that, unlike Trump, he will follow the advice of scientists. On Wednesday, he sat for a remote briefing with medical experts, including former Surgeon General Vivek MurthyVivek MurthyHarris announces .5B to fight shortage of doctors in underserved communities The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by ExxonMobil - Arbery case, Biden spending bill each test views of justice The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by ExxonMobil - House Democrats eye big vote on Biden measure MORE.

In a speech after his briefing, Biden acknowledged the challenges that lie ahead.


"Even if I win, it's going to take a lot of hard work to end this pandemic. I'm not running on the false promise of being to end this pandemic by flipping a switch," Biden said, adding he will "start on day one doing the right things."

"We'll let science drive our decisions," he continued.

Trump on Friday staged rallies in three battleground states —Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin — that have some of the worst COVID-19 infection rates in the country. Hospitals are at or near capacity in all three states.

The signature rallies are a cornerstone of Trump’s campaign, much like they were in 2016, and he often points to his crowd size as a measure of his popularity while mocking Biden over the low turnout for his events.

He has also accused Democratic governors of deliberately implementing stringent rules to stop him from campaigning in their states, targeting leaders in Pennsylvania and Minnesota this week.

"We're having a problem with some people in Minnesota because they have a cap," Trump said at the White House before leaving for Friday's rallies, citing a spat with local officials over the number of attendees who could attend a rally in Rochester.


"We have 25,000 people in Minnesota, and they say you can only have 250 people. So they thought I'd cancel. We're not going to cancel," Trump said.

While they draw large throngs of thousands of supporters, the rallies appear to be out of step with the sentiment of the majority of the American public.

A Suffolk University-USA Today poll released Thursday found that 60 percent of voters disapprove of Trump’s decision to hold large campaign rallies during the pandemic, while 35 percent approve. That disapproval included 15 percent of Republicans and 59 percent of independents.

Blois Olson, a political communications strategist in Minnesota who authors a daily political newsletter, said Trump’s decision to hold rallies without requiring masks or enforcing social distancing had turned off some independent-minded voters in the state.

Olson noted, for instance, that Trump appears to have lost ground with senior voters in a state he narrowly lost in 2016 and is now one of the few his campaign hopes to flip on Tuesday.

“It’s kind of the throwing caution to the wind that is giving people some pause,” Olson said.