US election: Joe Biden gets angry during CNN town hall
Donald Trump’s election opponent, Joe Biden, suddenly erupted with anger during a grilling from ordinary American voters today.
Earlier this week, US President Donald Trump faced a rare grilling from ordinary Americans in a televised town hall.
Today it was Joe Biden is turn.
The former vice president popped up for his own town hall on CNN, having largely avoided such events since he wrapped up the Democratic Party is presidential nomination months ago.
The coronavirus pandemic dominated the discussion, just as it did during Mr Trump is appearance on Tuesday.
Moderator Anderson Cooper brought up the President is explanation for why he “played down” the threat of the virus in its early months. Mr Trump told journalist Bob Woodward he did not want to “create a panic”.
“Could you see a scenario where you downplay critical information so as not to cause panic?” Cooper asked Mr Biden.
“Not at all. The idea that you’re going to not tell people what you’ve been told – that this virus is incredibly contagious, seven times more contagious than the flu!” he replied.
“If he had just acted one month – one week – earlier, it would have saved 37,000 lives.
“He knew it. He knew it and did nothing. It’s close to criminal.”
Mr Biden was referring to an estimete published by Colubmia University, which concluded 36,000 fewer people would have died by May 3 if the US had imposed social distancing measures a week sooner than it did.
Doing it a fortnight sooner would have saved 54,000 lives.
Mr Trump waited until March 16 to unveil federal social distancing guidelines. But he was not the only politician to delay for so long.
New York was the early epicentre of coronavirus infections and deaths in the US. The state’s Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, did not order a full lockdown until March 20, when there were already 7000 cases there.
“What presidents say matters. People listen,” he argued.
“I will make it clear what needs to be done. I cannot mandate wearing masks, but we’ve just been told we should expect another 215,000 dead by January. But if we wore a mask, we’d save 100,000 of those lives, doing nothing but that.
“We need to make sure we lay out to the American people the truth. Tell them the truth.
“Look, this is all about one thing, the stock market. He doesn’t want to see anything happen. It’s all about his re-election. It should be about the American people.”
Mr Trump has been accusing Mr Biden of spreading “anti-vaccine conspiracy theories” in recent days.
The President is promising a vaccine will be available to the general public before the end of the year. In response, Mr Biden has suggested Mr Trump might pressure health officials to approve a vaccine prematurely, before it has been proven safe.
He further explained his position on the matter when one of the voters asked whether he would make it mandatory for children to be vaccinated for the coronavirus before they could attend school.
“I don’t trust the President on vaccines. I trust Dr (Anthony) Fauci. If Fauci says a vaccine is safe, I would take the vaccine,” Mr Biden said.
“We should listen to the scientists, not to the President.
“The idea that there’s going to be a vaccine, and everything is going to be fine tomorrow, is just not rational. Just not reasonable.”
He never directly answered the question.
Cooper asked him to address remarks made yesterday by US Attorney-General William Barr, who said calls for a nationwide lockdown in response to the virus were the “greatest intrusion on civil liberties” in American history “other than slavery”.
“Quite frankly, they’re sick. Think about it,” said Mr Biden.
“Did you ever, ever think, any of you, you’d hear an Attorney-General say that following the recommendations of the scientific community to save your and other people’s lives is equivalent to slavery? People being put in chains?”
To be clear here, Mr Barr did not say lockdown rules were “equivalent” to slavery. He said slavery was the only worse intrusion on civil liberties in US history.
“You lost your freedom because he didn’t act,” Mr Biden continued, speaking loudly and clearly quite fired up.
“The freedom to go to that ball game. The freedom of your kid to go to school. The freedom to see your mum or dad in the hospital. The freedom just to walk around your neighbourhood. Because of failure to act responsibly.
“I’ve been doing this a long time. I never, ever thought I would see such a thoroughly, totally irresponsible administration.”
There was another flash of anger a couple of minutes later, as Mr Biden spoke about his late son Beau, who died in 2015.
Beau was a military veteran who served in Iraq. Mr Biden brought up a recent article in The Atlantic, which cited unnamed sources saying Mr Trump had called dead soldiers “losers” and “suckers”.
The President strongly denies that allegation. Several current and former members of his administration have stated publicly that they never heard him say anything of the sort.
On the other hand, journalists from The Associated Press, CNN and Fox News all say they have confirmed elements of The Atlantic’s story.
“I don’t want to get too personal,” said Mr Biden.
“My son died of cancer. He came home from Iraq, and I have to say, it really, really offended me – when he volunteered to go there for a year, and he came home with stage four glioblastoma – and the President referred to guys like my son, (who) won the Bronze Star, he referred to them as ‘losers’.
“Losers! Talk about losers!” he erupted.
You can watch the moment in question in the video below.
It came in the middle of a meandering response to a voter who had asked Mr Biden whether he had a plan to make healthcare more affordable.
“My point is this. The idea that healthcare is debated as whether or not it’s a right or a privilege. It’s an absolute right,” Mr Biden said when he finished speaking about Beau.
Another voter, Joseph Farley, fought back tears as he told the Democratic candidate about his financial and mental struggles amid the pandemic. Mr Farley works at a cancer centre.
“I make under $15 an hour. During these COVID times, unfortunately, I had to open a credit card with 25 per cent interest just to cover my groceries,” he said.
“I’m barely making ends meet. (I’ve) received no hazard pay, no raise. I’m struggling, not only mentally but financially.
“I look up to you, and as a middle class healthcare worker – do you have any plans to stand up for us healthcare workers?”
“Absolutely. And the idea you’re not making, at minimum, $15 an hour is just wrong. Wrong. No one should have to work two jobs to be able to get out of poverty,” Mr Biden told him.
“You’re busting your neck, and what you’re doing is you’re saving people’s lives. You’re helping them. And you’re risking your own in this moment of COVID.
“So first of all, thank you.”
He then pivoted into an argument that the election campaign was a choice “between Scranton and Park Avenue”.
Scranton, a manufacturing city in Pennsylvania, is where CNN held the town hall. Mr Biden was born there. Park Avenue is a boulevard in New York City, where Mr Trump lived for most of his life before he became President.
“The way we were raised up here, in this area, awful lot of hardworking people bust their neck. All they ask for is a shot,” said Mr Biden.
“All that Trump can see from Park Avenue is Wall Street. All he thinks about is the stock market. Telling (you), ‘We’re going to do all right, everybody owns stock.’
“In my neighbourhood in Scranton, not a whole hell of a lot of people own stock. And so we have to make sure that healthcare workers are paid, and paid a decent wage, and $15 an hour isn’t enough for a healthcare worker.
“Guys like me, the first in my family to go to college – we are as good as anybody else, and guys like Trump, who inherited everything and squandered what they inherited, are the people I’ve always had a problem with.”
Generally speaking, the questioning Mr Biden faced was significantly less hostile than the grilling Mr Trump received during his own town hall this week. That crowd, selected by ABC News, contained only undecided voters, whereas CNN included a number of Democrats.
The President held another political rally today, this time in Mosinee, Wisconsin.
He said Mr Biden’s supporters were no more enthusiastic about voting for the former vice president than they would be about voting for a “piece of wood”.
“It’s the biggest enthusiasm gap ever polled. I’m not a believer in polls but I believe that one,” Mr Trump told his supporters.
“It’s the biggest enthusiasm gap. He’s got no enthusiasm. The only enthusiasm is for the people that want to beat us, they want to beat me. That’s the only thing he’s got.
“They couldn’t care less about him. He could be that piece of wood that was left on the ground.”