DEMS WORRY: Biden Struggles to Break Through w/ Virus Response

‘We need to be holding this administration accountable, and there’s no way to do that if you’re not speaking out…’

DEMS WORRY: Biden Struggles to Break Through w/ Virus Response

Joe Biden/IMAGE: YouTube

(Liberty Headlines) Joe Biden is struggling to reassert himself in national politics three weeks after taking command of the Democratic presidential primary.

Like most Americans, Biden has stayed close to home recently to prevent the spread of the Wuhan virus. That — and a slow shift to the new online-only reality of the campaign — has left him with a lower profile as much of the nation has focused on the pandemic and President Donald Trump’s response to it.

But from a newly constructed television studio in his Wilmington, Delaware, home, Biden sat for a series of high-profile interviews on Tuesday. The appearances were a preview of a more public role he hopes to assume in the coming weeks as he emerges as the Democratic counter to Trump.

In an interview with CNN, Biden took an increasingly aggressive stance against the president’s Wuhan virus response, urging him to “stop talking and start listening to the medical experts.”

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He sounded similar themes in an afternoon interview on MSNBC, and during an earlier appearance on ABC’s “The View,” where Biden said he’s trying to balance his critiques of Trump against anything that would seem to undermine the president during a crisis.

“I’ve not been criticizing the president, but I’ve been pointing out where there’s disagreements on how to proceed,” Biden said. “When the president says things that aren’t accurate, we should not say, ‘You’re lying.’ We should say, ‘Those aren’t the facts.’”

Biden has faced growing pressure from allies to speak out more about the Wuhan virus. In two fundraisers this past week, supporters asked how they could see more of Biden as Trump blankets the airwaves with daily, freewheeling briefings that drive each day’s news cycle.

Trump, for his part Tuesday, summoned his favorite nickname for his likely fall opponent, dismissing any critiques from “Sleepy Joe Biden.”

The former vice president laughed on CNN when shown clips of Trump’s barbs. “What a piece of work,” Biden said.

Guy Cecil, chairman of Priorities USA, the major Democratic super PAC, said he’s glad to see a commitment from Biden to take on a more robust schedule of public and media appearances.

“We need to be holding this administration accountable, and there’s no way to do that if you’re not speaking out,” he said.

But with the major networks focused daily on crisis and controversy, Biden’s more measured tone has sometimes struggled to break through.

On Monday, Biden broadcast an address on the outbreak, but his remarks, which came at the same time as a briefing by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, weren’t picked up live by any of the major networks. On Tuesday, when Biden appeared on “The View,” some stations cut away to briefings from local leaders on the virus.

Cecil acknowledged the difficulty Biden and the broader Democratic Party face getting coverage for their message and said it’s one of the reasons his group recently launched a multimillion-dollar advertising blitz around Trump’s virus response.

“In order for people to break through, in order to really hold the president accountable, sometimes the best way you can do that is simply by making sure you’re on people’s TV screens, and paying for it,” he said.

Further complicating Biden’s effort to mount a response is the fact that his virtual campaign remains a work in progress.

While he delivered remarks Monday for the first time from his new at-home television studio, he lost his place on his telestrator. Biden stumbled for a few seconds and gestured to staff standing out of the frame before getting back on track with his list of suggested policy ideas to combat the pandemic.

The town halls, meanwhile, cannot fully replicate the campaign trail. Aides tout Biden’s affinity for retail politics and his personal connections in one-on-ones, and they say they’re trying to find ways to bring that out. But they also agree that a call-in session is not the same as asking a would-be president a question in person or standing on the rope line and sharing a personal moment after an event.

Another challenge for Biden: remaining relevant and engaged in the conversation and response from a notably peripheral position as the likely-but-not-quite-official nominee of the Democratic Party, and one who is no longer serving in public office.

While Bernie Sanders’s path to the Democratic presidential nomination is increasingly improbable, the Vermont senator isn’t exiting the race and has done his own online events and media appearances emphasizing his efforts in the Senate to respond to the virus.

Sanders’s campaign announced that millions watched a series of virtual town halls he’s held in recent days with musical acts and high-profile supporters, including New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The senator also urged his army of online donors nationwide to forgo giving to his campaign and instead donate to five charities he said were on the front lines of the response to the virus. He later announced the effort had raised more than $2 million for the groups, which included Meals on Wheels.

Sanders was criticized in the conservative media for staying in Vermont on Sunday night to make an online appearance with Ocasio-Cortez rather than being in the Senate for key procedural votes on the virus response package.

He was in the Senate on Monday, and, rather than addressing supporters online, he appeared on MSNBC, conceding that a 2020 race upended by the coronavirus meant “we are in a bizarre moment.” He has another online town hall on coronavirus later Tuesday.

The Democratic National Committee had planned to hold a debate next month but has yet to schedule one. Sanders spokesman Mike Casca said Tuesday of his candidate, “If there is a debate in April, he plans to be there.”

On balance, Biden aides say, the pandemic and grounded campaign don’t change Biden’s core message — that Trump isn’t up to the job and that Biden’s experience proves he is.

It was his message again Monday in talking about Trump’s response to COVID-19: “Donald Trump is not to blame for the coronavirus. But he does bear responsibility for our response.”

Adapted from reporting by Associated Press.