WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - Former vice president Joe Biden on Thursday (June 25) laced into President Donald Trump, condemning him for saying he ordered a slowdown of coronavirus testing and comparing the sitting president to a whiny child.
"He admitted telling people, and I quote, 'You have to slow the testing down. Slow it down, please'," said Mr Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.
"He thinks that finding out that more Americans are sick will make him look bad. That's what he's worried about: He's worried about looking bad."
Mr Biden's speech, delivered at a gymnasium in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, was intended to focus attention on his call to expand protections under the Affordable Care Act.
Mr Biden warned that insurance companies, if freed from the federal mandate to cover preexisting conditions, could deny people coverage if they had suffered from the coronavirus. And he called the Trump administration's legal efforts to overturn the 2010 health care law "cruel".
"If Donald Trump has his way, complications from Covid-19 could become a new preexisting condition," Mr Biden said.
The Trump administration has fought for years to undermine and repeal the Affordable Care Act, the signature legislative achievement of former president Barack Obama's administration, for which Mr Biden was vice president. In May, the Trump administration argued to a federal appeals court that the entire law was unconstitutional and should be struck down.
The emotional thrust of Mr Biden's 18-minute remarks came in his denunciation of Mr Trump's halting response to the pandemic. Without a capable leader in the White House, Mr Biden said, it will be up to the American people to care for themselves during the crisis.
The number of coronavirus cases has spiked across much of the United States, particularly in the Sun Belt states that were among the first to reopen large parts of public life. In Texas, where governor Greg Abbott encouraged a quick reopening and forbade local governments from mandating masks be worn, Mr Abbott on Thursday paused the reopening process in an effort to free up hospital rooms for people suffering from the virus.
"The number of cases is increasing in 29 states," Mr Biden said. "We are going to be dealing with this for a long time. Trump can't wish it away. He can't bend it to meet his political wishes. There are no miracles coming."
Mr Biden's Lancaster event came as the former vice president has been under harsh criticism from Mr Trump's reelection campaign for conducing his campaign primarily from his home in Wilmington, Delaware, 80km away, because of coronavirus concerns.
But there is little evidence so far that American voters are punishing Mr Biden for his caution. A suite of polls from The New York Times and Siena College released this week show Mr Biden leading Mr Trump by 14 percentage points nationwide and with healthy leads in the battleground states of Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
On Thursday, Mr Biden called on Americans to wear masks in public to protect themselves and others. He began his remarks wearing what has become his signature black face mask, which hung from his left ear for the opening minutes of his speech. As he finished and walked offstage, Mr Biden reattached the mask.
"I know as Americans, it's not something we're used to, but it matters," he said. "All the evidence from all over the world tells us it might be the single most effective thing we can do."
Mr Trump, who has refused to wear a mask in public and has appeared at political events at which most of his supporters have gone maskless as well, first said he ordered a slowdown in coronavirus testing during a speech he gave to a half-full arena on Saturday in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He said that more testing had led to more evidence of infection, which he said reflected poorly on the US.
"So I said to my people, 'Slow the testing down'," Mr Trump said.
Almost immediately, White House aides said the president was joking. But later this week Mr Trump told reporters "I don't kid", and reiterated his opposition to increased testing.
Mr Biden called Mr Trump's response self-centred and compared him to a child who constantly complains about being unable to get what he wants.
"The president wants you to believe this is a choice between the economy and the public's health. He still hasn't grasped the most basic fact of this crisis: To fix our economy, we have to get control of the virus," Mr Biden said.
"He's like a child who just can't believe this has happened to him. It's all whining and self-pity," he added. "This pandemic didn't happen to him. It happened to all of us."