Joe Biden hopes to soon get on the phone with President Donald Trump to discuss the federal government’s response to the novel coronavirus pandemic, telling reporters Thursday his team is working with the White House to set up a call between the two.
Biden said Thursday he was “happy to hear” that Trump, at a White House briefing earlier this week, said he was willing to take a call with him and “would love to speak with him, sure.”
Biden, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, is calling on Trump to expand use of the Defense Production Act to not just spur the manufacturing of ventilators, but also to supply personal protective equipment for frontline health workers and to install personnel specifically tasked with allocating available tests and medical equipment to states.
States have been consistently reporting testing and equipment shortages, despite Trump’s assurances at his press briefings that no such issues are occurring.
“Use your full authority,” Biden said during a live-streamed video press conference, directing his comments to Trump. “This is a war. Act like a commander in chief. Use it all.”
Trump issued an order Thursday under the Defense Production Act, which allows the president to require companies to prioritize manufacturing materials necessary for national defense, to “facilitate the supply of materials” for ventilators for six companies. His administration has been slow to enact and enforce the war-time powers after first invoking the act for General Motors last week.
Biden has been arguing that Trump is still not doing enough. He also is supporting calls by Democratic congressional leaders for a followup to coronavirus relief legislation to further address growing unemployment numbers. Congress passed a $2 trillion emergency bill last week that expanded unemployment insurance, approved direct payments to individuals, and allocated $500 billion for loans to businesses.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has already provided an outline for another bill that would address infrastructure needs, in addition to expanding medical and family leave, giving more money for hospitals and providing free treatment for coronavirus treatment and protections for front line workers. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) dismissed talk on any new legislation “premature.”
McConnell ”was wrong and slow the first time around and he’s wrong and slow this time around,” Biden said Thursday. “There’s no possibility that the money provided to try and just get this under control [is] going to be enough to deal with the aftermath, both economically and in terms of the health of the country.”
Biden has been holding regular live stream video calls about the coronavirus crisis from his Delaware home, where his campaign renovated his basement to function as a television studio. Both Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), his remaining rival in the Democratic race, have suspended all in-person campaigning. Trump’s presidential campaign has used Biden’s stumbles during the video appearances to attack the former vice president’s candidacy.
Biden has been reluctant to directly criticize the president’s handling of the crisis when asked, but of late he has repeatedly ripped into the administration’s response to the pandemic. His campaign has been releasing questions they’d like to see Trump answer at his daily briefings, like, “A new report today shows that the U.S. Army was projecting as early as the beginning of February that 150,000 Americans could be killed by the coronavirus. So why did you continue to waste precious weeks downplaying the threat it posed?”
But if his phone call with Trump were to happen, Biden said Thursday he wouldn’t be critical during the conversation.
“I’m not doing this to criticize,” Biden said. “I understand if he doesn’t want to take my advice, but it won’t be a, ‘I told you so Mr. President.’… This is beyond politics right now. Projections I get in the morning when I talk with the docs that I talk with could be really dire. We are talking about a lot of people potentially dying.”
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