Seeking contrast with Trump, Democrat Biden to give ‘presidential’ speech on coronavirus

The speech clear-eyed about the challenges we face and offer thoughtful ideas on the path forward, a Biden adviser said

March 12, 2020 09:36 pm | Updated March 13, 2020 09:34 pm IST - Wilmington

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden.

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden.

Democratic presidential front-runner Joe Biden will deliver a speech on the coronavirus pandemic on Thursday, 16 hours after the man he hopes to beat in November’s election, Republican President Donald Trump, addressed the nation from the White House.

The former vice president’s speech, slated for 1 p.m. EDT (1700 GMT) will give Mr. Biden, who has criticized Mr. Trump’s response to COVID-19, a chance to portray himself as a steady, experienced hand in the face of a public health crisis.

“Today’s speech will be presidential, not political,” a Biden adviser said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the upcoming remarks. “It will be clear-eyed about the challenges we face and offer thoughtful ideas on the path forward. It will offer a view into how Biden will lead in times of crisis as president.”

Mr. Biden, who has taken control of the two-way nominating battle between him and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, will speak in his home state of Delaware.

Mr. Trump on Wednesday announced a 30-day ban on travel to the United States from Europe and promised economic stimulus measures, vowing to contain the pandemic.

But already battered global financial markets plunged again on Thursday. U.S. stock indexes were down up to 7.4% in morning trading as the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq cratered into a bear market.

Mr. Biden and Mr. Sanders have been forced to re-evaluate their approach to campaigning in the face of warnings about the health dangers inherent in big crowds and handshakes, two staples of traditional political races.

Both candidates cancelled events in Ohio and dropped off the campaign trail after Mr. Biden rolled to big wins over Mr. Sanders in four of the six states that voted on Tuesday.

Mr. Biden’s campaign on Wednesday converted planned rallies in Florida and Illinois into “virtual” campaign events as the coronavirus outbreak officially became a global pandemic.

The Biden campaign created a committee composed mostly of doctors to advise on how to keep the candidate, staff and voters safe. Mr. Sanders’ campaign has said it will address plans on a day-to-day basis.

COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, is a highly contagious respiratory illness. The number of U.S. coronavirus cases has risen steadily to 1,311, with 38 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

Mr. Sanders, a democratic socialist, said on Wednesday he would stay in the race despite his primary losses to Mr. Biden and would keep pushing for his economic and social justice agenda.

Mr. Biden, 77, and Mr. Sanders, 78, will debate in Phoenix on Sunday ahead of next week’s nominating contests in Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Ohio. The debate will not have an in-person audience because of health concerns over the coronavirus outbreak.

Despite his recent losses, Mr. Sanders said his anti-corporate economic agenda was gaining support from young people, who he called the future of the country. But he acknowledged that many Democratic voters still believe Mr. Biden has the best chance of beating Mr. Trump, 73. “While our campaign has won the ideological debate, we are losing the debate over electability,” he told reporters on Wednesday in his hometown of Burlington, Vermont.

Mr. Sanders’ losses on Tuesday, coming after a series of Mr. Biden wins in last week’s Super Tuesday contests, put him in a deeper hole in the delegate count. Mr. Biden leads Sanders 786-645 in the race for the 1,991 delegates needed to clinch the nomination at July’s Democratic convention.

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