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Biden takes back seat to Pelosi, Schumer in coronavirus response

Presumptive presidential nominee Joe Biden is mostly watching from the sidelines as fellow Democrats in Congress and at the state level clash with President Trump over the federal government’s response to the coronavirus.

With the election just a little more than six months away, the Democrats making headlines almost every day are Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.), Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and governors such as Andrew Cuomo of New York.

In past presidential campaigns, the presumptive nominee — whether Democrat or Republican — has quickly become the party’s standard-bearer, taking the lead in staking out policy positions.

But Biden has taken a different approach during the pandemic.

“For the most part, he’s been silent,” said Steve Jarding, a Democratic strategist. “The burden has fallen on the Speaker and Leader Schumer.”

“My guess is the Biden folks are thinking that if he says anything it’s political and he doesn’t want to politicize the pandemic. The issue that I would take with that is that it isn’t playing politics if it’s a policy matter that’s killing Americans,” Jarding said.

A spokesperson for the Biden campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Ross Baker, a professor of political science at Rutgers University, said he’s been “very puzzled” by Biden’s “very conspicuous absence.”

“There’s not a lot of things coming out from the Biden camp,” he said. “I would contrast it with Pelosi, who has made herself available to practically every late-night show host and news program. But Biden is kind of a phantom.”

Pelosi has pitched the need for more testing and equipment on “The Late Late Show” with James Corden and called for more transparency and accountability on “The Late Show” with Stephen Colbert.

Schumer has been a regular on media shows as well. On Friday, he took the lead in responding to Trump’s suggestion that injecting disinfectant into an infected person’s body could cure the coronavirus, telling NPR the president reminded him of “a quack medicine salesman on television.” Trump later said his remarks were meant to be sarcastic.

Biden, by contrast, has kept a lower media profile, often receiving more attention about his eventual running mate. He has also occupied a separate space, mostly on social media, where he has tried to serve as a counterweight to Trump.

But the former vice president has put out detailed plans for containing the virus. His proposals include making free testing widely available, putting more resources into developing a vaccine, restoring the White House national security council directorate for global health security, and directing the Department of Defense to prepare for deployment of military resources to expand medical facilities and help with logistical support.

Schumer, Pelosi and other Democratic lawmakers have endorsed similar proposals, but they rarely invoke Biden’s name.

Brad Woodhouse, a former Democratic strategist and executive director of Protect Our Care, a group that has done polling on Trump’s handling of the coronavirus crisis, said Biden has been active but largely ignored by the media.

“I’ve seen what [Biden] has done and tried to do,” Woodhouse said. “The truth is we’re in this weird moment where it’s hard to break through, which is amazing, to think the presidential candidate for the opposition party is having trouble breaking through.”

Much of the attention recently has focused on Washington and how Congress and the White House are responding to the pandemic.

During Schumer’s marathon negotiations with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act last month and subsequent $484 billion interim coronavirus relief passed by Congress this week, the Senate leader and his staff often mentioned he was in close consultation with Pelosi, who participated in an after-midnight call to finalize the core elements of the most recent package Tuesday morning.

But there was little public mention of what role, if any, Biden had in the legislative dealmaking. Democratic aides, however, say that doesn’t mean Schumer and Pelosi aren’t coordinating with Biden behind the scenes.

“The Speaker has spoken to Biden repeatedly during the pandemic to discuss response,” said a source familiar with the interaction.

Various coronavirus proposals from Biden, however, haven’t garnered much attention.

He put out his first plan on March 12. It included health components such as broad public testing, emergency paid sick leave, and a fund to stabilize state and local governments on the front lines.

Not long after that, Congress passed a $100 billion-plus proposal to expand testing and paid sick leave, a package Pelosi negotiated with Mnuchin.

Later that month, as Congress was wrapping up action on the historic $2.2 trillion CARES Act, Biden put out his emergency action plan to save the economy. It called on the president to use all available authorities, including the Defense Production Act, to address shortages in virus tests, personal protective equipment and ventilators.

He also cited his experience overseeing the implementation of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in calling for a task force to make sure every dollar in relief appropriated by Congress gets “out the door to the people who need it — fast.”

And he called for the federal government to forgive a minimum of $10,000 in federal student debt per borrower, an idea championed earlier by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and to increase Social Security benefits by $200 a month for the duration of the crisis, a plan initially floated by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Warren and Schumer.

On April 12, Biden introduced a plan in a New York Times op-ed to reopen the nation’s economy. He said states first must reduce the number of new coronavirus cases significantly and that there must be access to widespread, easily available and prompt testing as well as a contact tracing strategy.

Polling suggests that Trump is vulnerable in battleground states when it comes to the coronavirus, something strategists argue is a case for Biden being more vocal.

Protect Our Care released polling this past week showed Democratic governors have a higher approval rating for their handling of the coronavirus crisis than Trump.

A separate survey conducted this past week in Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin by Public Policy Polling, a Democratic polling outfit, found Trump had an average approval rating of 45 percent and a disapproval rating of 50 percent for his management of the crisis.

And a Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday showed Biden leading Trump in four key swing states: Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Jarding, the Democratic strategist, warned that trying to make the election a referendum on Trump while also keeping a low profile could backfire on Biden.

“It’s a very dangerous for the Biden camp to say we can let several months fly off the calendar and we’re not in the dialogue while the president of the United States has his daily megaphone and he’s branding this horrible crisis,” he said.

“Normally, someone in Biden’s position would start to speak out on issues,” Jarding said. “I would absolutely consider holding a press conference every day after the president if I were Biden. Don’t necessarily do what Trump is doing, but let Biden have experts standing with him. And if the president says something ridiculous, he can say, ‘I think that’s wrong. I would do it different.’”

Tags 2020 campaign 2020 election Andrew Cuomo Charles Schumer Coronavirus Donald Trump Elizabeth Warren Joe Biden Nancy Pelosi Pandemic Ron Wyden Stephen Colbert Steven Mnuchin
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