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Biden Blasts Trump's Virus Response    09/18 06:20


   MOOSIC, Pa. (AP) -- Joe Biden went after President Donald Trump again and 
again over his handling of COVID-19, calling Trump's downplaying of the 
pandemic "criminal" and his administration "totally irresponsible."

   "You've got to level with the American people --- shoot from the shoulder. 
There's not been a time they've not been able to step up. The president should 
step down," the Democratic presidential nominee said to applause from a CNN 
drive-in town hall crowd Thursday night in Moosic, outside his hometown of 

   Speaking about Trump's admission that he publicly played down the impact of 
the virus while aware of its severity, Biden declared: "He knew it and did 
nothing. It's close to criminal."

   Biden decried Americans' loss of basic "freedoms" as the U.S. has struggled 
to contain the pandemic, like the ability to go to a ballgame or walk around 
their neighborhoods. "I never, ever thought I would see just such a thoroughly, 
totally irresponsible administration," he said.

   Biden faced a half-dozen questions about the coronavirus and a potential 
vaccine in the town hall from moderator Anderson Cooper and audience members. 
The pandemic was not just the main topic of the night --- it was the cause of 
the unusual format of the event: a drive-in with 35 cars outside PNC Field.

   The cars were parked around the stage, each with small groups of people 
standing outside them or leaning or sitting on the hoods to watch Cooper and 
Biden onstage. The network erected blue and red spotlights over the dirt and 
gravel parking lot to make it easier to see, and each parking space was marked 
off with white chalk in large rectangles to ensure that each group stayed more 
than 6 feet (1.8 meters) apart.

   The town hall was the first time that Biden had faced live, unscripted 
questions from voters since winning the nomination. Trump participated in a 
town hall Tuesday in an auditorium in Philadelphia.

   The appearances have been seen as tuneups before the three presidential 
debates, the first set for Sept. 29. Biden's uneven debate performances during 
the Democratic primary contributed to his initial struggles in polls and the 
early primary vote, and Trump has pushed unfounded conspiracy theories about 
Biden taking performance-enhancing drugs and has raised questions about Biden's 
mental acuity.

   Biden, meanwhile, has promised to be a "fact-checker on the stage" with 
Trump but has said he doesn't want to get drawn into a "brawl" with the 

   On Thursday, Biden said he was beginning to prepare for the upcoming debate 
by reviewing Trump's remarks and preparing his own.

   Biden was also pressed on his stance on the Green New Deal, the sweeping 
proposal from progressives in Congress that calls for achieving net-zero 
greenhouse gas emissions across the economy by 2030. Biden's proposal doesn't 
go as far, but it does aim to reduce emissions to zero by 2050 and has a goal 
of achieving an entirely carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035.

   Biden interrupted a questioner who suggested his climate plan embraces the 
Green New Deal to insist, "No, it doesn't," but when asked by the moderator if 
he supports the proposal, he said, "I don't think it's too much."

   Still, Biden added, "I have my own deal," which he noted the Democratic 
Party has incorporated as part of its platform.

   Biden also weighed in on foreign policy issues, promising to reduce 
America's military footprint abroad and saying that any attempt to interfere 
with the election by a foreign power is a "violation of our sovereignty." He 
promised that if he's elected and it becomes clear post-election that Russia 
interfered in the election, "they'll pay a price for it, and it'll be an 
economic price."

   Biden described Russia as an "opponent," but declined to use the same word 
when asked about China. He instead called the nation a "competitor" and 
pledging to improve trade policy with China.

   Trump signaled he'd been watching the town hall before he took the stage for 
a rally in Misonee, Wisconsin, on Thursday night.

   "I just see he's up there tonight getting softball questions from Anderson 
Cooper. They don't ask me questions like that," Trump told the crowd gathered 
at the airport. "They've got cars ... it's the weirdest thing I've ever seen."

   Trump's ABC town hall was held inside a half-empty auditorium, with 
attendees socially distanced and wearing masks.

   The format of Biden's event was a stark reminder of the issue that's been a 
central focus of Biden's campaign --- that the pandemic rages on, affecting 
Americans' lives in ways large and small, and that stronger leadership in White 
House could have eased the crisis. More than 195,000 Americans have died of the 
coronavirus --- by far the highest death toll in the world.

   Earlier in the day, Biden joined Senate Democrats for a conference call 
lunch and told allies that he is taking nothing for granted in the race for the 
White House and the down-ballot effort to wrest the Senate's majority control 
from Republicans. He fielded questions, particularly from senators facing 
reelection, about his strategy win back the chamber and defeat Trump.

   "He just said, 'You know what we're up against. You know why this is so 
important,'" said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.

   West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin said he encouraged Biden to remind workers 
how much he has been on their side during his many years in government.

   "I've said, 'Joe, people need to know that you recognize the dignity of the 
work, the people have built this country,'" Manchin told reporters. "They need 
to know that you fought for their pensions, you fought for their health care 
... and you're not gonna leave them behind."

   Biden's campaign team has come under scrutiny in recent days over its 
outreach efforts, particularly for what some see as short shrift with Latino 
voters. At the same time, Democrats have mixed views over the party's 
get-out-the-vote effort that largely bypasses traditional door-knocking to 
avoid health risks during the pandemic, instead relying on virtual outreach.

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