Biden says Trump downplaying threat of coronavirus is ‘almost criminal’
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said late Wednesday that President Trump’s decision to publicly downplay the threat posed by the coronavirus while privately acknowledging its seriousness to journalist Bob Woodward is “almost criminal.”
In an interview with CNN, the former vice president called it “disgusting” that Trump was voicing concerns about the virus to Woodward while declaring that it was no worse than the seasonal flu.
“It was all about making sure the stock market didn’t come down, that his wealthy friends didn’t lose any money and that he could say … anything that happened had nothing to do with him,” Biden said, noting that news of Trump’s early comments on the virus were published the same day the U.S. death toll from the disease surpassed 190,000.
“He waved a white flag,” he added. “He walked away. He didn’t do a damn thing. Think about it. Think about what he did not do — it’s almost criminal.”
Biden’s comments came just hours after The Washington Post published a report on Wednesday about revelations in Woodward’s new book on the Trump White House. Among other things, Trump is recorded telling Woodward on Feb. 7 that the coronavirus is “more deadly than even your strenuous flu.”
In an interview on March 19, Trump also acknowledged wanting to downplay the threat despite knowing the severity of the virus, saying, “I wanted to always play it down.”
“I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic,” Trump said.
The remarks offered a sharp contrast to the president’s rhetoric in the early months of 2020 as the virus began spreading throughout the world and causing a mass shuttering of businesses and schools. In February, Trump said the U.S. had the virus under control and predicted that the country would have “close to zero” cases.
He also said in March that COVID-19 had similar effects as the seasonal flu.
Biden said in campaign appearance in Michigan earlier Wednesday that the revelations from Woodward’s book amounted to a “a life-and-death betrayal of the American people.”
“He knew how deadly it was,” he said. “He knew and purposely played it down. Worse, he lied to the American people.”
Speaking with CNN, Biden also raised issues with Trump’s refusal to publicly wear a mask during the first part of the year. He suggested it influenced some supporters to not follow health guidelines.
“That’s why we have no confidence in his leadership,” Biden said.
The U.S. has reported more than 6.3 million cases of COVID-19 and roughly 190,000 deaths caused by it, according to a Johns Hopkins University database.
Trump has repeatedly dismissed criticism of his response to the pandemic, often placing blame on China for not being transparent when the virus first began spreading. Asked on Wednesday whether he downplayed the virus or misled the public about it, Trump said, “If you said in order to reduce panic, perhaps that’s so.”
“The fact is I’m a cheerleader for this country. I love our country,” Trump added. “I don’t want people to be frightened. I don’t want to create panic, as you say, and certainly I’m not going to drive this country or the world into a frenzy.”