Updated at 2:20 p.m. ET
Democratic presidential front-runner Joe Biden on Thursday took direct aim at the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, saying “the administration’s failure on testing [potential cases] is colossal.”
“We must know the true extent of this outbreak,” Biden added in prepared remarks. The United States’ coronavirus testing capacity has been widely criticized by public health experts.
The former vice president also said Trump risks acerbating the spread of the virus by downplaying its severity and being “dismissive” of science.
“Our government’s ability to respond effectively has been undermined by hollowing out our agencies and disparagement of science,” Biden said. “Our ability to drive a global response is dramatically undercut by the damage Trump has done to our credibility and relationships around the world.”
The novel coronavirus has rapidly and dramatically shifted the mood and the political reality in the presidential race.
Biden’s Democratic rival, Bernie Sanders, is set deliver his own remarks responding to the virus later Thursday.
In a roundtable convened in Detroit on Monday, the Vermont senator said Trump’s response up until that point was making the epidemic worse. Both Biden and Sanders have called for guaranteed paid sick leave for workers.
Trump has strenuously defended his administration’s handling of the crisis.
But Biden said the Trump administration cutting investment in global health initiatives has left the country “woefully unprepared for the exact crisis we now face.”
“No president can promise to prevent future outbreaks,” said Biden, who is trying to present himself as a calm, experienced alternative to Trump. “But I can promise you this: When I’m president, we will be better prepared, respond better and recover better. We will lead by science.”
The dual statements from the Democratic presidential contenders come hours after Trump addressed the nation about his administration’s response to the pandemic, though it also brought additional confusion when he announced a 30-day ban on travel for foreign nationals coming to America from many European nations.
Stocks plunged Thursday in the aftermath of the president’s announcement.
On Wednesday, Biden announced the formation of a public health advisory committee to provide “science-based expert advice” the campaign should take to minimize risk to both Biden and his supporters.
“We know the number of cases are going to go up,” said Zeke Emanuel, a member of Biden’s advisory committee. “It changes the nature of campaigning seriously.” Both Sanders and Biden canceled rallies in Ohio earlier this week. Emanuel said that given the nature of the crisis, he can’t advise when campaign rallies should begin again.
Biden’s campaign has decided that in lieu of rallies, it will be holding “virtual events” in Illinois and Florida. Those states, along with Ohio and Arizona, vote next Tuesday.
Additionally, the Democratic National Committee announced Thursday that Sunday’s Biden-Sanders debate will be held in Washington, D.C., rather than Phoenix, to minimize travel. The DNC had already announced that the debate would happen without a live audience.
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