Biden lays out coronavirus plan, faulting Trump administration for “colossal” failure

Washington — Former Vice President Joe Biden slammed the Trump administration’s response to the growing coronavirus outbreak, calling the lack of available testing a “colossal” failure while laying out his own plan to combat the virus.

Biden delivered a speech Thursday afternoon in Wilmington, Delaware, as President Trump and Congress scramble to address the crisis, which has roiled financial markets and forced the cancellation of dozens of public events nationwide. Mr. Trump announced new restrictions on travelers from Europe during an address to the nation on Wednesday night that failed to calm nerves on Wall Street.

In his speech, Biden said he had created an advisory council to advise him on how to respond to the crisis. His campaign released a lengthy two-pronged plan to address the public health aspect of the virus as well as its economic impact.

“The core principle is simple: public health professionals must be the ones making our public health decisions and communicating with the American people,” Biden said.

The former vice president’s proposal would establish mobile testing sites and make tests available for all Americans at no charge. “The administration’s failure on testing is colossal, and it’s a failure of planning, leadership and execution,” Biden said.

Election 2020 Joe Biden
Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks about the coronavirus on Thursday, March 12, 2020, in Wilmington, Delaware.


He said the White House should provide a daily report of how many tests have been done and direct more resources to vaccine research. Biden also said it was a “national disgrace” that millions of Americans do not have paid sick leave, saying that his plan would ensure workers get paid time off.

“No president can promise to prevent future outbreaks. But I can promise you this: When I’m president, we will be better prepared, respond better and recover better,” Biden said. “We’ll lead with science. We’ll listen to the experts. We’ll heed their advice. And we’ll build American leadership, and rebuild it, to rally the world to meet the global threats we’re likely to face again.”

Biden criticized Mr. Trump for his characterization of the coronavirus as a “foreign virus,” saying the U.S. “should not fall back on xenophobia” in its response.

“The coronavirus does not have a political affiliation,” Biden said. “Downplaying it, being overly dismissive, or spreading misinformation is only going to hurt us.” 

He said the U.S. should be working with other countries to address the outbreak and leading a “coordinated, global response,” in a shot against the president’s decision to restrict travel.

Senator Bernie Sanders, Biden’s rival in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, planned to deliver his own speech on the coronavirus later Thursday. The dueling remarks come just days before Sunday’s Democratic debate, which has been moved from Arizona to Washington, D.C., because of concerns over the virus. 

The pandemic continued to batter financial markets on Thursday as stocks plunged again and trading was forced to a halt over the president’s decision to impose restrictions on European travelers. At the White House, Mr. Trump nonetheless told reporters that “the markets are gonna be just fine.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi introduced a legislative package to respond to the spread of the coronavirus, with measures including free testing, paid emergency sick leave and increasing funds for food security programs and Medicaid. It is unclear when this legislation will face a vote in the House, as Pelosi remains in touch with the administration and is continuing to hash out details with Republicans.

Several senators have also closed their Washington offices. Republican Senator Rick Scott announced Thursday that he is in self-quarantine, as he was in contact last week with a member of the Brazilian delegation who tested positive for the virus. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced Thursday that a planned recess for next week would be canceled in order to address the coronavirus crisis.

Alan He contributed to this report.

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