Biden, Sanders seek to show contrast with Trump on coronavirus

Bonnie Cash and Greg Nash

Former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) are seeking to contrast their leadership styles and crisis management skills with President Trump’s amid increasing fallout over the government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak. 

Both campaigns have picked apart Trump’s response to the pandemic, including over the lack of testing, while also showcasing what a response from their administrations would look like if faced with a similar health crisis. 

Biden, striving to look more like a shadow president, has leaned into his experience as former vice president, frequently mentioning  his work in the Obama administration to contain the Ebola outbreak in 2014. 

The former vice president, who has built a substantial lead in the Democratic race over Sanders, rolled out his plan to deal with the coronavirus a day after Trump’s prime time address, in what was one of the most consequential speeches of his campaign to date.

The plan calls for the launch of an effective national response to the virus by making testing free and widely available, as well as the establishment of 10 mobile sites and drive-thru facilities per state, in addition to greater transparency from the White House on testing.

“We lead by science,” Biden said in a televised speech from Wilmington, Del. “Downplaying it, being overly dismissive, or spreading misinformation is only going to hurt us and further advantage the spread of the disease.”

Coronavirus has claimed the lives of at least 40 Americans, while over 1,700 have been diagnosed with the virus as of Friday morning, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

“Biden came across as more calm, cool, and collected, more than Trump did,” Democratic strategist Brad Bannon said. “Americans can look for reassurance we can get through this, and that’s what Biden did with not only what he said, but with the way he said it.” 

The president has faced widespread criticism for his response to the outbreak. The president came under fire on Wednesday for what many called his stiff delivery of his primetime address, as well as for a number statements that needed to be corrected or clarified later. Stock markets plunged on Thursday, posting their worst day since the 1987 crash.

“Wednesday was the anniversary of FDR’s first fireside chat,” Bannon said. “Roosevelt did a great job of calming the American public faced with the banking crisis.”

“Then Wednesday night, Trump gives his speech,” he continued. “Trump seemed very nervous, fidgety, unsure of themselves and didn’t come across as presidential at all.” 

Trump followed up with a news conference on Friday in which he declared a national emergency over the coronavirus on Friday, allowing the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to access billions of dollars and mobilize personnel more quickly to aid state and local agencies and leaders respond. 

The president also announced a handful of new measures, including promising to increase the availability of testing through a partnership with private companies, helping spark a rally in stock markets.

Meanwhile, Sanders has used the outbreak as an opportunity to push his progressive agenda, specifically his “Medicare for All” proposal. The senator argues his plan would ensure free vaccines and treatment to those with such a virus. 

“Obviously, when a vaccine or other effective treatment is developed, it must be free of charge,” Sanders said. “We cannot live in a nation where if you have the money you get the treatment you need to survive, but if you’re working-class or poor, you get to the end of the line.” 

Sanders addressed the outbreak in a separate speech on Friday, reiterating his call for free vaccines and treatment.

“In my view, the most cost effective way to reform our dysfunctional and cruel system is to move to a Medicare for All, single-payer healthcare system,” Sanders said. “And I think in the midst of this crisis, more and more Americans understand the truth of that.”

“What this crisis is starting to teach us is we are only as safe as the least insured person,” he added. 

Progressives argue that Sanders’s liberal stance on healthcare puts him more in touch with Americans fearful of their lack of coverage amid the pandemic. 

“In this debate, this new talking point of free testing for all who need it is such a giant caveat that puts so many conditions on people that those like Bernie Sanders actually have the upper hand when saying no, everyone should be able to get it, period,” said Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. “Those who are putting caveats on testing, just look very out of touch while Bernie Sanders is calling for a universal test, along with others who are progressive.” 

The Trump campaign is hitting back against Biden and Sanders, accusing Biden of politicizing the outbreak and calling Sanders’s approach “the wrong prescription.”

“President Trump acted early and decisively and has put the United States on stronger footing than other nations,” Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh said in a statement on Thursday. “His every move has been aimed at keeping Americans safe, while Joe Biden has sought to capitalize politically and stoke citizens’ fears.”

“Like Joe Biden, Sanders advocates a government takeover of healthcare, which would close hundreds of rural hospitals. His plan would drive doctors and other medical workers away from the profession, leaving America woefully unprepared for public health emergencies,” Murtaugh said in a separate statement. 

The back-and-forth over the government’s coronavirus response comes as Trump is widely seen as facing a key political test, with actions he takes over the next weeks to contain the pandemic and stabilize the economy seen as potentially determining whether voters give him a second term in office.


Sanders called the impact of the coronavirus outbreak “on the scale of a major war.” 

Both Democrats have also pushed for sweeping economic reforms to respond to the virus including paid family and sick leave, as well as economic assistance for those who lose their jobs amid the outbreak. 

“If this crisis undermines people’s confidence in the economy, which is pretty fragile as it is, that basically undermines a lot of Trump’s rationale for a second term,” Bannon said. 

Tags Bernie Sanders Donald Trump Joe Biden
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