Joe Biden pledged Friday that if elected president he will begin reaching out to state and local leaders during the transition to begin crafting a coronavirus relief bill that he could sign by the end of January.
In remarks in Wilmington, Del., after the final presidential debate, the Democratic nominee said he would look to gauge “what support they need and how much of it they need.”
“I’ll ask the new Congress to put a bill on my desk by the end of January with all the resources to see how both our public health and economic response can be seen through the end, what is needed,” he said.
Biden again skewered President Donald Trump’s handling of the virus, reprising key lines of attack he made during Thursday night’s debate. And in pledging to sign off on a relief bill within weeks of assuming office, he offered a contrast to the slow-going response of the Trump administration.
He pointed to an interview earlier this week when the president said there was “not much” he would do differently in combating the pandemic.
“As many as 210,000 avoidable deaths, but there’s not much you would do differently?” Biden asked incredulously. “The United States is 4 percent of the entire world’s population, yet we make up 20 percent of all the deaths worldwide.”
“If this is a success, what’s a failure look like?” he continued. “We’re more than eight months into this crisis, and the president still doesn’t have a plan.”
Biden’s comments came as the U.S. is seeing a spike in cases across the country, reaching record levels of both new infections and hospitalizations in some areas ahead of what the Democratic nominee has warned will be a “dark winter.”
The former vice president repeatedly emphasized that the political leanings of a particular state would not factor into his efforts to provide relief, but warned that he would work with local leaders to implement precautions like mask mandates if governors resisted such calls at the state level.
“Look, a pandemic doesn’t play favorites, nor will I. As I said, no red states, no blue states, just the United States, united in our response, united in our purpose to stop the spread of Covid-19 and beat this virus,” Biden promised.
He issued a broader plea for mask-wearing, arguing that “wearing a mask is not a political statement, it’s a scientific imperative. It’s a point of patriotic pride so we can pull our country out of this god-awful spiral we’re in.”
Biden reiterated prior calls for a nationwide testing strategy, asserting that “what we have right now isn’t anywhere near good enough” but that “this isn’t impossible to master” with a coordinated effort. He also vowed to put together a national corps of contact tracers and swiped at the Trump administration’s uneven virus messaging by promising “consistent, reliable, trusted, detailed nationwide guidance and technical support” for reopening the country.
“It will still be many months before any vaccine is widely available,” Biden noted. The former vice president added that he would work to ensure that the distribution of any coronavirus vaccine is both equitable and free while ripping Trump for cheering the potential demise of the Affordable Care Act in the Supreme Court.
“Throughout all of this, yes, Mr. President, I’ll listen to the scientists and I’ll empower them,” he said, doubling down on a promise that previously drew the president’s ire.
During his comments, which were carried live on all three major cable networks, Trump appeared to respond in real time with a swat at Biden’s oversight of the Obama administration’s swine flu response in 2009.
“Joe Biden’s response to the H1N1 Swine Flu, far less lethal than Covid 19, was one of the weakest and worst in the history of fighting epidemics and pandemics,” Trump wrote in a tweet from aboard Air Force One. “It was pathetic, those involved have said. Joe didn’t have a clue!”
But Biden urged Americans to look past the current crisis, even as he admitted that the recovery wouldn’t be quick.
“We don’t have to be held prisoner by this administration’s failures,” he contended. “We can choose a different path.”
“Imagine older Americans and people with disabilities having the peace of mind that comes with trusting that the public health system is working for them. Imagine, instead of staying locked up in their rooms, they’re able to hug their grandchildren or those who they love, and haven’t been able to see,” Biden argued.
“Imagine if you’re a member of a community that have been hit particularly hard — Black, Latino, Asian American or Native American. Imagine a public health and economic response that treats your needs as a priority, not as an afterthought. Imagine a day in the not-too-distant future when you can enjoy dinner with your friends and your family, maybe even go out to a movie. When you can celebrate your birthday, weddings, surrounded by your nearest and dearest friends. That’s the Biden-Harris agenda to beat Covid-19.”
“It’s going to take all of us working together — and that’s not hyperbole,” he added. “All of us working together, watching out for one another.”