President Trump attacked former Vice President Joe Biden's handling of the H1N1 (swine flu) pandemic in 2009, after the now-candidate for president called the Trump administration's response to the coronavirus pandemic "overly dismissive" and filled with "misjudgments."
"Labeling COVID-19 a foreign virus does not displace accountability for the misjudgments that have been taken thus far by the Trump administration,” Biden said Thursday, critiquing Trump for labeling the coronavirus, which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan, a "foreign virus" in Wednesday night's address from the Oval Office. The president's address has been criticized for a number of misstatements. In his Thursday comments, Biden also laid out his plan to fight the disease which has been declared the first pandemic since the swine flu by the World Health Organization.
Trump shot back Thursday night: "Sleepy Joe Biden was in charge of the H1N1 Swine Flu epidemic which killed thousands of people. The response was one of the worst on record. Our response is one of the best, with fast action of border closings & a 78% Approval Rating, the highest on record. His was lowest!"
The president continued defending his response to the coronavirus while drawing contrasts with Biden's record Friday morning, retweeting a post from his campaign showing former Obama Press Secretary Robert Gibbs walking back comments Biden made at the time about the swine flu.
"I think what the vice president meant to say was the same thing that again many members have said in the last few days," Gibbs said in a press briefing, vaguely defending Biden after a question from a reporter about accusations that the former vice president came "close to fearmongering" in televised comments.
"I understand what he said, I'm telling you what he meant to say," Gibbs continued to laughter from the press corps after he was pushed further. "Obviously, if anybody was unduly alarmed for whatever reason we would apologize for that and I hope that my remarks and remarks of people at the CDC and [Obama Homeland Security] Secretary [Janet] Napolitano have appropriately cleared up what he meant to say."
The president also blamed red tape at the CDC and the Obama administration for complicating what his administration has been able to do in response to the novel coronavirus.
"For decades the @CDCgov looked at, and studied, its testing system, but did nothing about it. It would always be inadequate and slow for a large scale pandemic, but a pandemic would never happen, they hoped. President Obama made changes that only complicated things further," Trump tweeted. "Their response to H1N1 Swine Flu was a full scale disaster, with thousands dying, and nothing meaningful done to fix the testing problem, until now. The changes have been made and testing will soon happen on a very large scale basis. All Red Tape has been cut, ready to go!"
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, admitted in testimony on Thursday that the ability of Americans to get tested for coronavirus is not up to the standard of other countries, adding the U.S. should be better equipped.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., asked about people’s ability to get tested while pointing out that even health care workers have been denied access to testing.
“The system is not really geared to what we need right now — what you’re asking for,” Fauci said. “That is a failing.”
As cases spread around the globe, the extent of infections in the U.S. remains to be seen. So far, over 1,600 cases have been reported. That number is sure to rise in the near future, but a historic wave of decisions in the public and private sectors meant to limit exposure and transmission could help curb the spread of the virus -- with major sporting events and schools and other venues being closed, and many businesses moving to telework policies for now.
According to the CDC, between 2009 and 2010, swine flu resulted in over 60 million U.S. cases, and more than 12,000 deaths. It remains unclear at this stage how the novel coronavirus will compare.
Biden's plan to fight the coronavirus, he said Thursday, includes emergency paid leave for people sick because of the virus, assistance to small businesses, free testing, the development of a vaccine and the mobilization of government supplies and workers to combat the disease.
Biden said, "protecting the health and safety of the American people is the most important job of any president. Unfortunately, this virus laid bare the severe shortcomings of the current administration. Public fears are being compounded by pervasive lack of trust in this president, fueled by an adversarial relationship with truth that he continues to have. Our government’s ability to respond effectively has been undermined by hollowing out our agencies and disparagement of science."
One of the main faults Biden flagged with the administration's response to the coronavirus is the delays in rolling out tests for the disease caused by the coronavirus, known officially as COVID-19.
"The administration's failure on testing is colossal. And it's a failure of planning, leadership and execution," he said, "By next week, the number of tests should be in the millions, not the thousands."
Fox News' Paul Steinhauser, Ronn Blitzer and Allie Raffa contributed to this report.