Biden holds press conference for first time in months

Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden took questions from reporters at a press conference for the first time in almost three months on Tuesday, giving new insight into his views on the fast-moving political and cultural debates around race in the U.S.

Biden took 15 questions over the course of 30 minutes inside a gymnasium in Wilmington, Del., where a small group of socially distanced reporters were given access to his speech on how to address the coronavirus pandemic.

The former vice president has given scores of interviews to individual media outlets since the coronavirus lockdown began in late March, many of them with local broadcast affiliates. He recently started keeping a light travel schedule with speeches and roundtable events in Texas and Pennsylvania.

But Tuesday’s press conference marked the first time Biden has responded to questions from the campaign’s traveling press corps in 89 days. CBS News correspondent Ed O’Keefe told Biden that “we all hope that you continue to do this through November as often as possible.”

The lack of press conferences has become a point of tension with the Trump campaign, which has been blasting out emails demanding Biden take questions from the press and suggesting topics the media should be asking.

President Trump and his allies have grown frustrated as Biden has opened up a wide lead in the polls over the past three months while keeping a relatively low profile.  

Biden did not face many difficult questions on Tuesday. He was primarily asked to respond to controversies involving Trump, allowing him to pivot to criticism of the president over his handling of the coronavirus and reports that the president did not act on intelligence showing that Russia offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants targeting U.S. troops.

However, Biden’s response to how the government should handle protesters seeking to topple statues was revealing and could open a rift with the activist base.

Biden said the federal government has a responsibility to protect statues and monuments of historical figures such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Christopher Columbus.

The former vice president made the case that public monuments to past presidents, even if they owned slaves or held “distasteful” views, should be defended. The monuments to Confederate leaders should be removed peacefully by local officials, Biden said.

“I think with regard to those statues and monuments, like the Jefferson Memorial, there’s an obligation that the government protect those monuments because they’re different,” Biden said. “That’s a remembrance. It’s not dealing with revering somebody who had that view. They had much broader views. They may have had things in their past that were now and then distasteful, but that’s a judgment.”

Trump last week signed an executive order aimed at protecting statues from protesters who have targeted them in demonstrations over the death of George Floyd.

The statues glorifying Confederate leaders were early targets of protesters, but statues commemorating leaders such as Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln also have been targeted in recent days.

Biden on Tuesday seemed to be finding his footing on an issue that is evolving at a dizzying rate.

The former vice president was firm in stating that monuments to Confederate soldiers should be removed from public view and placed in museums. But he expressed discomfort with protesters pulling them down.

“It’s always better to do it peacefully,” Biden said.

“The elected officials where those statues are have a responsibility to remove, put them in museums,” he added. “Get them down … and don’t be surprised if someone pulls down the statue of Jefferson Davis. It’s better that they do not, but it’s fundamentally different than … grabbing Jefferson off his chair.”

Aside possibly from that last remark, Biden did not have any obvious gaffes in his exchanges with reporters.

However, his answers were not always clear, and there were some awkward moments that drew attention to his age.

At the close of the press conference, a reporter asked Biden if he has been tested for cognitive decline.

“I’ve been tested, and I’m constantly tested,” Biden responded. “Look, all you gotta do is watch me, and I can hardly wait to compare my cognitive capability to the cognitive capability of the man I’m running against.”

The Trump campaign has been questioning Biden’s mental fitness and leaning into the idea that he has lost a step.

Biden is 77 and would be the oldest president ever sworn in for a first term in office if he wins in November. Trump is currently the oldest president to have been sworn in. He was 70 years old on Inauguration Day in 2016.

But perhaps Biden’s greatest strength in the fight is that voters like him and view him as compassionate and empathetic — qualities that even some of the president’s staunchest defenders acknowledge are lacking from his message.

Biden’s strongest moments on Tuesday came when he pivoted to personal stories about his family.

Biden said he was struck by his wife, Jill Biden, asking him how he would feel if he had found out that the president had ignored a Russian bounty on U.S. soldiers at a time when their son Beau Biden was in the Army. Beau Biden, a former Army officer, died of brain cancer in 2015.

“I don’t see [Jill] get outraged very often,” Joe Biden said. “She said, what would you do Joe? What are those parents thinking out there? What are those sons and daughters, husbands and wives? It’s an absolute dereliction of duty.”

Later, he talked about how his daughter had been tested twice for the coronavirus after leaving Florida, where she had been doing social work.

The former vice president on Tuesday also reiterated his commitment to putting Black women in positions of power.

He said he is putting together a list of Black, female candidates to be on the Supreme Court.

“We are putting together a list of a group of African American women who are qualified and have the experience to be in the court,” he said. “I am not going to release that until we go further down the line of vetting them as well.”

He also said the campaign is vetting Black, Latino and Asian women as part of its search for a running mate. The vice presidential announcement will come sometime before the Democratic presidential convention in mid-August.

Tags Afghanistan Confederate statues Coronavirus COVID-19 Donald Trump Joe Biden Russia russian bounties

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