As death toll climbs, Biden warns against becoming 'numb' to COVID-19

Brittany Shepherd
·National Politics Reporter

During a speech Monday in Wisconsin, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden implored Americans to resist the urge to become numb to COVID-19’s escalating death toll, and once again blamed President Trump’s “lies and incompetence” for the devastation caused by the disease.

“What worries me now is we’ve been living with this pandemic for so long, we’re at risk of becoming numb to the toll it’s taken on us and our country,” said Biden in Manitowoc. “You can’t lose the ability to feel the sorrow and the loss and the anger for so many lives lost. You can’t let the numbers become just statistics, background noise, just a blur.”

The coronavirus has now killed almost 200,000 Americans, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. In late March, Trump said that if deaths from the virus stayed under 200,000, his administration would have done “a very good job” at curtailing its spread.

“Due to Donald Trump’s lies and incompetence over the last six months we have seen one of the greatest losses in American history,” Biden said. He said Trump “panicked” and “froze” as the pandemic spiraled out of control, and that “the virus was just too big for him.”

Biden’s Monday remarks are the latest addition to his string of speeches that criticize the Trump administration’s pandemic response. The former vice president has sharpened his attacks in recent weeks, becoming visibly angered by Trump’s alleged disparagement of fallen U.S. soldiers and the president’s interviews with veteran journalist Bob Woodward, in which he admitted to downplaying the severity of COVID-19.

“He loves his rallies. The next time he holds one, look closely. Trump keeps his distance from anyone at the rally. The folks who come are packed in tight as they can be, risking disease, mostly without masks, but not Trump. He safely keeps his distance,” Biden said.

In keeping with his other recent speeches, Biden cast the upcoming election as a fight between Scranton, his middle-class Pennsylvania hometown, and Park Avenue, an upper-class stretch of Manhattan. The phrasing is part of Biden’s attempt to reframe the election along populist lines, with Democrats fighting for everyday people against wealthy Republican interests.

Joe Biden speaks at Wisconsin Aluminum Foundry in Manitowoc, Wis., Monday, Sept. 21, 2020. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)
Joe Biden in Manitowoc, Wis., on Monday. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

The Biden campaign hopes the message will prove attractive to Republican-leaning suburban and rural voters who may have soured on Trump.

“I want to spend just a few moments talking to those who voted for Donald Trump last time,” Biden said Monday. “I know many of you were frustrated. Angry. You believed you weren’t being seen or respected or heard. I get it. It has to change. I promise you this: It will change with me.”

Biden also portrayed Trump as a wealthy elitist who is out of touch with the concerns of working Americans.

“Frankly, I’ve dealt with guys like Trump my whole life. Guys who look down on you because they’ve got a lot of money. Guys who think they’re better than you. Guys who inherited everything they ever got in life. And then squandered it.”

Joe Biden's teleprompter refers to the death toll from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in the United States exceeding 200,000 people as he speaks during a campaign event at the Wisconsin Aluminum Foundry in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, U.S., September 21, 2020.  (Mark Makela/Reuters)
Joe Biden’s teleprompter refers to the U.S. coronavirus death toll as he speaks at a campaign event Monday. (Mark Makela/Reuters)

Biden made no mention of the passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died Friday at age 87. Democrats are looking to do anything they can to prevent Trump and the Republican-controlled Senate from nominating and confirming a conservative justice before Inauguration Day.

Instead, Biden kept his remarks mostly focused on swaying Trump voters. Trump won Wisconsin by less than 1 percentage point in 2016, and the state is one of the Biden campaign’s top targets this time around.

“The simple truth is that Donald Trump ran for office saying he would represent the forgotten men and women of this country — and then once in office, he forgot us,” said Biden.

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