Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris says President Trump's admission that he intentionally downplayed the severity of the coronavirus in the weeks before the pandemic swept the nation a key reason why Joe Biden needs to be elected president.
“This is an individual who is not concerned about the health, safety and well-being of the American people and is frankly engaged in a reckless disregard of the lives and the health and well-being of our country. I find it so outrageous,” the senator from California and Biden’s running mate said Thursday at a campaign event in the crucial battleground state of Florida.
The comments from Harris come a day after reporter Bob Woodward's new book – which includes audio recordings of the president telling the longtime Washington Post journalist in February that he knew the coronavirus was “deadly” but went to great lengths to downplay the virus in public – went viral.
The president defended comments he made earlier this year about the coronavirus in interviews with Woodward, saying on Fox News' "Hannity" Wednesday night that he wanted to "show a calmness."
"I'm the leader of the country, I can't be jumping up and down and scaring people," Trump told host Sean Hannity. "I don't want to scare people. I want people not to panic, and that's exactly what I did."
The president repeated those comments Thursday as he took questions from reporters at the White House. Trump pushed back on a reporter’s question that he had lied, stating that “I didn’t lie. What I said was we have to be calm, we can be panicked.” And he accused Biden of “using the pandemic for political gain.”
Harris spoke a day after Biden charged that the president “knew how dangerous it was. And while this deadly disease ripped through the nation, he failed to do his job on purpose. It was a life-and-death betrayal of the American people. … It’s beyond despicable. It’s a dereliction of duty. It’s a disgrace.”
Harris, holding a community conversation with African-American leaders at an event at Florida Memorial University in Miami on a day when the former vice president was off the campaign trail, noted that “here we are in this community talking about the number of deaths, talking about the number of people who have contracted the virus, talking about the number of people who have become unemployed, or standing in food lines, who are begging of their government that we will extend unemployment benefits because of a pandemic that resulted in economic disaster of a measure compared to the Great Depression.”
And Harris, who wore a mask throughout the event, emphasized that “there are so many reasons why Joe Biden needs to be elected president of the United States – and if those reasons did not make it clear why, this certainly does.”
Biden, in an interview recorded with CNN on Wednesday and released on Thursday, slammed Trump’s national security credentials.
"You wonder why people in the intelligence community wondered from the very beginning whether you could share data with him, 'cause they don't trust him. They don't trust what he'll say or do," Biden said. "He seems to have no conception of what constitutes national security, no conception of anything other than, what can he do to promote himself?
The trip by Harris to Florida came as the latest polling in the nation’s largest traditional general election battleground state indicates a virtual tie between the president and his Democratic challenger.
The former vice president has a slight 1.2 point edge over the GOP White House incumbent, according to an average of all of the latest public opinion polls in Florida compiled by Real Clear Politics. Biden’s advantage over Trump stood at 6.2 points in the Real Clear Politics average at the start of August.
With 29 electoral votes, Florida is the biggest of the battleground states that will likely decide who wins the November election. Trump narrowly edged out 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton to carry the state four years ago. Then-President Barack Obama also won the state by razor-thin margins in 2008 and 2012.
Harris was accompanied on her trip by her husband – Doug Emhoff – who held a community conversation with rabbis from South Florida at an event at the Jewish Center in Aventura, Fla.
The president was last in Florida on Tuesday, as he announced a decadelong ban on oil drilling in the Atlantic Ocean off the coasts of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. The move reverses the Trump administration’s earlier pledge to keep those waters open to oil exploration. Vice President Mike Pence has made a series of stops in Florida this summer.
Biden’s campaign announced on Wednesday that the former vice president will travel to Florida next Tuesday, Sept.15. It will be Biden’s first visit to the Sunshine State since he became his party’s presidential nominee.
While the November election is still more than a month and a half away, millions of Floridians will begin receiving mail-in ballots in less than three weeks.