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Trying to jumpstart a campaign that’s been suspended in time for nearly a week due to the coronavirus outbreak, former Vice President Joe Biden plans to deliver Monday the first of his own briefings on the pandemic.
On Sunday evening, the all-but-certain Democratic presidential nominee held a virtual fundraiser from his home in Wilmington, Del., and he told donors, “They put in a new high-speed line into my home, they've converted a recreation room, basically, into a television studio. So beginning tomorrow, I guess tomorrow, I'm making the first presentation.”
Biden is picking up the pace as he steps up his criticism of President Trump over what he charges was a lack of leadership from the Republican incumbent in the past two months as the coronavirus threat rose.
The former vice president also slammed the president and Senate Republican leaders over Sunday’s impasse on a nearly $2 trillion stimulus package to help workers, small businesses and large companies devastated by the economic collapse caused by the pandemic — though Democratic leaders took heat from GOP colleagues for blocking that bill.
Biden's move to essentially hold his own briefings amid the coronavirus pandemic is unusual, considering they are sure to offer a starkly different message than the daily briefings out of the White House during a time of national emergency. But they also come as the former vice president must keep a high profile, asserting himself as the presumptive nominee even as the numerous primary delays tied to the pandemic prevent him from officially locking down the nomination and beating lone remaining rival Bernie Sanders.
Biden had been on a roll – zooming past Sen. Sanders in late February and early this month to take a commanding lead in the race for convention delegates. But as he swept last Tuesday’s contests in Florida, Illinois, and Arizona – cementing his status as the likely nominee and all but closing the populist senator from Vermont’s extremely narrow path to win the nomination – the nation’s focus was squarely on the coronavirus as the death toll and number of Americans infected with the COVID-19 disease surged.
The former vice president was relegated to giving a low-quality webcast speech from his Wilmington, Del., home. Since then Biden’s mostly disappeared from the headlines while the president’s been a daily and controversial fixture at the White House briefings on the federal response to the coronavirus outbreak
“Joe Biden is reduced to being on the sideline,” veteran GOP consultant and Fox News contributor Karl Rove said on "Fox News Sunday."
“This kind of sustained nationwide lockdown is unprecedented and shows the benefit of incumbency. The president can get media attention every day. Given his erratic performance, that’s not always a good thing, but it at least keeps him in the public eye through the media in a way that no one else can,” Mo Elleithee, the founding executive director of Georgetown University's Institute of Politics and Public Service and a Fox News contributor, noted.
But Biden used those appearances by Trump to take aim at the president on Friday during a conference call with political reporters.
“President Trump, stop saying false things, will you? People are worried. They are really frightened. And when these things don’t come true, you just exacerbate their concern. Stop saying false things [you] think make you sound like a hero,” Biden said.
In a statement on Sunday, Biden charging that “President Trump’s dithering on preparing us for this global pandemic and his lies about his response to this dangerous crisis is one of the most unjustifiable failures of presidential leadership in American history.”
And Biden’s campaign is going up with a new digital video on Facebook and Instagram in crucial general election battleground states that paints a stark contrast between the president’s combative tone with a reporter at a White House briefing last week and Biden’s answer to a similar question asked at a presidential primary debate eight days ago.
The video ends with the words on screen: “This moment calls for a president. In November, you can elect one.”
Trump’s reelection campaign is firing back, accusing Biden of trying to politicize the crisis.
"By preying upon Americans’ fear amid the coronavirus outbreak, Biden isn’t just playing cheap politics. He’s making the crisis worse. It’s dangerous,” the campaign said in an email. "Biden's Monday morning quarterbacking is an effort to sow anger and division among Americans."
The video – and likelihood of near-daily on-camera briefings – are all signs the candidate and his campaign are reasserting themselves. Also likely in the works: an uptick in virtual town halls and fundraisers and other forms of digital campaigning.
“The fact that this is happening in the digital era means that Biden doesn’t need to rely on traditional tactics. He can create his own opportunities to talk with voters directly, going around the media. Ads aren’t enough. He has an opportunity to draw a contrast with the president by exhibiting leadership, and addressing people’s concerns, as opposed to dismissing them,” noted Elleithee, a senior spokesman for Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign who later served as communications director for the Democratic National Committee.
And he stressed that Biden “just needs to start seizing those opportunities more frequently.”
Biden also acknowledged he’s getting ready to begin considering the biggest decision he’ll make as his party’s standard-bearer – choosing a running mate.
“I have to start that vetting process relatively soon, meaning in a matter of weeks," Biden said Sunday during his virtual fundraiser. “I think there will be a group that is in excess of six or seven people that I look at.”
And after a brief lull, Biden is also picking up the pace on raising campaign cash, holding near-daily virtual fundraisers.
But there’s a catch — Biden’s not the nominee just yet.
Although nearly mathematically eliminated, Sanders has yet to drop out of the race. And with many of the upcoming primaries postponed as most Americans huddle in their homes as they try and ride out the pandemic, Biden won’t be reaching the 1,991 convention delegates needed to clinch the nomination any time soon.