Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris took aim at President Trump over the coronavirus pandemic on Thursday, hours before the president was scheduled to deliver his prime time acceptance address on the final night of the Republican National Convention.
In a speech in the nation’s capital, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s running mate charged that Trump “failed miserably” in steering the federal response against the coronavirus. And she claimed that “Donald Trump froze – he was scared” as the pandemic swept the nation earlier this year.
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The speech by Harris – and interviews by Biden on two of the three major national cable news networks — served as a prebuttal to the president’s address, which will be held on the South Lawn of White House – just a few blocks from George Washington University where the senator from California delivered her speech.
“Donald Trump has failed at the most basic and most important job of a president of the United States – he failed to protect the American people. Plain and simple,” Harris charged.
The former California attorney general and San Francisco district attorney argued that “Trump showed what we in the legal profession would call a reckless disregard for the wellbeing of the American people, a reckless disregard for the danger a pandemic would pose to American lives.”
Listing what she described as the president’s missteps early in the coronavirus crisis, Harris claimed that “Donald Trump froze. He was scared. And he was petty and vindictive.”
“And here’s what you have to understand about the nature of a pandemic: It’s relentless. You can’t stop it with a tweet. You can’t create a distraction and hope it’ll go away. It doesn’t go away,” she said.
Trump re-election campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh – responding to Harris’ comments – told Fox News that “Americans have seen President Trump out front and leading the nation in the fight against the coronavirus.”
He argued that “we would be in far worse position today if Joe Biden had been president in January” and accused Biden of doing “nothing but criticize, oppose, and suggest things the president has already been doing.”
Biden, in an interview with MSNBC, also targeted Trump. Pointing to the daily national death toll from the virus, the former vice president emphasized “all the people dying from COVID, over 1,000 yesterday again.” And he said that “we’re worse off than any other country in the world right now.”
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Biden for months has heavily criticized Trump’s response to the pandemic – arguing the president initially downplayed the severity of the crisis and then botched the federal government’s response. The president has pushed back, pointing to his early banning of flights from China – where the virus originated – and his administration’s handling of testing and supplying ventilators and personal protective equipment to those on the front lines.
The coronavirus has taken the lives of more than 180,000 people across the country, with the number of COVID-19 cases closing in on 6 million people. Tens of millions remain unemployed after much of the economy was initially shut down in the spring to prevent the spread of the virus. The U.S. has recorded more cases and deaths than any other nation.
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Following last week’s Democratic convention, where Trump’s handling of the coronavirus was pilloried, the president’s efforts have been repeatedly praised during the first two nights of the GOP convention. A campaign-style video hailed Trump as the “one leader” who stood up to the virus. A nurse from West Virginia who spoke at the convention stressed that “as a health care professional, I can tell you without hesitation, Donald Trump’s quick action and leadership saved thousands of lives during COVID-19.”
And in an appearance Monday night with doctors, nurses and other front-line workers, the president emphasized that “we just have to make this China virus go away, and it’s happening.”
On Tuesday, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow made it sound like the pandemic was over.
“It was awful,” Kudlow said during his convention appearance, using the past tense to describe a pandemic that is still killing over 1,000 Americans per day. “Health and economic impacts were tragic. Hardship and heartbreak were everywhere. But presidential leadership came swiftly and effectively with an extraordinary rescue for health and safety to successfully fight the COVID virus.”
Vice President Mike Pence – who has led the White House coronavirus task force – in his acceptance speech Wednesday night touted Trump’s efforts as “the greatest national mobilization since World War II…. We built hospitals, we surged military medical personnel and enacted an economic rescue package that saved 50 million American jobs.”
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On Thursday, Harris pushed back, claiming that the current state of the pandemic in the U.S. is a reality completely absent from this week’s Republican National Convention. Because unlike the Democratic convention, which was very clear eyed about the challengers we are facing and how we will tackle them, the Republican convention is designed for one purpose, to sooth Donald Trump’s ego, to make him feel good.”
And Biden, in his interview, described the president as “a fiction writer in the extreme.”
In another move to prebut the president’s GOP convention closing address, the Biden campaign released a two minute long TV commercial that will air ahead of convention programming Thursday night on Fox News, ABC, CBS, and NBC. The campaign said the ad would also air in key general battleground state throughout the weekend.
“We’re a nation that’s been hit hard by this virus. But Joe Biden knows when you get knocked down, you get up off the mat,” the narrator says in the spot.
And pointing to the former vice president, the narrator emphasizes that “we won’t have to wait to deal with COVID-19, he’s already got a plan.”
Fox News’ Allie Raffa and Madeleine Rivera contributed to this story