Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden accused President Donald Trump on Wednesday of betraying the American people by downplaying the threat of the deadly coronavirus, based on revelations in a new book by Bob Woodward.
“He knew and purposely played it down. Worse, he lied to the American people,” Biden said before a campaign speech in Warren, Michigan. “He knowingly and willingly lied about the threat it posed to the country for months.”
Trump spoke with Woodward, a journalist at The Washington Post and the author of multiple best-selling books, 18 times from December 5, 2019 to July 21, 2020. During the recorded interviews for the book “Rage,” Trump acknowledged COVID-19 was more deadly and contagious than the flu even as he downplayed its dangers publicly.
“I wanted to always play it down,” Trump told Woodward on March 19, according to excerpts obtained by CNN. “I still like playing it down because I don’t want to create a panic.”
Biden contrasted Trump’s leadership with that of Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who faced huge protests for shutting down the state’s economy to hinder the spread of the virus. But Biden said the revelations about Trump came on the day deaths nationwide topped 190,000.
“While this deadly disease ripped through our nation, he failed to do his job on purpose,” Biden said. “It was a life and death betrayal of the American people.”
Trump called the book “another political hit job” Wednesday, despite not having read it, and told reporters he sought to avoid national panic over the virus.
“I don’t want people to be frightened. I don’t want to create panic,” Trump said. “Certainly I’m not going to drive this country or the world into a frenzy.”
Trump said his administration did an incredible job supplying ventilators to any patients who needed them, and in spurring development of vaccines and therapeutics, and by prohibiting arrivals from China.
“If we didn’t do what we did, we would have had millions of people die,” Trump said.
Asked how the American people could trust him, Trump said he showed leadership and avoided panic.
“We have to show leadership,” Trump said.
Biden has repeatedly urged the Trump administration to take more action to combat the virus, including expanding testing and tracing the contacts of people who are infected. Biden has urged governors to require people to wear masks for three months, in an effort to hinder the spread of the virus. But Trump calls mask-wearing a recommendation and ridicules Biden for wearing one at his public events.
“Since I’m socially distanced, I’m allowed to take it off while I speak,” Biden said before his speech outside the United Auto Workers regional headquarters.
Biden’s comments came while campaigning in Michigan, a key battleground state, by proposing to raise the corporate tax rate and penalize companies that move jobs abroad. Trump fought for the 2017 tax cut that reduced the corporate rate to 21% from 35%, and he vows to continue reducing taxes and regulations if reelected.
Trump won Michigan by 10,704 votes out of nearly 4.8 million cast in 2016. But Democrats hope to flip the state in their favor Nov. 3, along with Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
Biden leads Trump by an average of 7.5 percentage points in Michigan polls through Wednesday, according to the tracking site FiveThirtyEight.com.