Joe Biden is calling the struggle to reopen U.S. schools amid the coronavirus a “national emergency” and accusing President Donald Trump of turning his back to stoke passions instead about unrest in America's cities.
The Democratic presidential nominee's broadsides came a day ahead of his own trip to Kenosha, Wisconsin, where Biden said he wants to help “heal” a city reeling from another police shooting of a Black man. The wounding of Jacob Blake and subsequent demonstrations have made the political battleground state a focal point for debate over police and protest violence, as well as the actions of vigilante militias.
Biden assailed Trump for his vilifying of protesters as well as his handling of the pandemic that has killed nearly 190,000 Americans and crippled the national economy, leaving millions out of work, schools straining to deal with students in classrooms or at home and parents struggling to keep up. An American president, Trump's challenger declared, should be able to lead through multiple crises at the same time.
“Where is the president? Why isn’t he working on this?,” Biden asked. “We need emergency support funding for our schools — and we need it now. Mr. President, that is your job. That’s what you should be focused on — getting our kids back to school. Not whipping up fear and division — not inciting violence in our streets.”
Trump answered almost immediately with his own event in North Carolina, where he continued casting the protests generally as “violent mobs here at home” that must be met with a strong show of force. “These people know one thing: strength,” he said. If local leaders would ask for federal muscle, Trump said, “We’ll have it done in one hour.”
Trump later tweeted, “My Administration will do everything in its power to prevent weak mayors and lawless cities from taking Federal dollars while they let anarchists harm people, burn buildings, and ruin lives and businesses.” To that end, he signed a memorandum directing agencies to review federal funding sent to Seattle, New York City, Washington and Portland, Oregon.
The opposing Biden and Trump events reflected the clear fault lines of the general election campaign. Each man casts the other as a threat to Americans' day-to-day security, but Trump uses “law and order” as his rallying cry while Biden pushes a broader referendum on Trump’s competence, temperament and values.
Biden said Wednesday that he'd use existing federal disaster law to direct funding to schools to help them reopen safely, and he urged Trump to “get off Twitter” and “negotiate a deal” with Congress on more pandemic aid. He repeated his assertions that a full economic recovery isn't possible with COVID-19 still raging, and that reopening schools safely is a necessary part of both limiting the virus' spread and allowing parents to return to work.
The Trump campaign noted in reply that the president has asked Congress for $105 billion in aid for schools.
Addressing the ongoing unrest over racial injustice and policing, Biden told reporters he believes the Kenosha officer who shot Blake "needs to be charged.” Biden also called for charges in the death of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman killed in her Louisville, Kentucky, home by police in March. Biden did not name specific charges and said authorities must conduct full investigations.
Biden also called for legal action on citizens who’ve committed violence as part of civil unrest, a direct answer to Trump's continued assertions that Biden backs violent protests.
The former vice president said he plans to meet in Kenosha with civic and business leaders and law enforcement. He also will meet with members of the Blake family; he's already talked with some of them by phone. Blake remains hospitalized after he was shot seven times in the back by police as he was trying to get into a car while authorities were trying to arrest him.
“We’ve got to put things together, bring people together,” Biden said, adding that he was “not going to tell Kenosha what they have to do” but instead would encourage citizens to “talk about what has to be done.” The president, he said, “keeps throwing gasoline on the fire” and ”encouraging people to retreat to their corners.”
Trump made his own foray to Kenosha on Tuesday, underscoring his blanket support for law enforcement, while blaming “domestic terror” for looting and arson that’s taken place in the city. The violence included the burning of several buildings and the killing of two protesters by a 17-year-old, who said he went to Kenosha, armed, to help protect businesses. He is now in custody.
Before his remarks Wednesday, Biden and his wife, Jill, a longtime community college professor and former high school teacher, met with public health experts. He emerged saying Trump's inaction on school aid has left a haphazard response nationally.
Biden said he doesn't want to usurp local authorities' power to decide how to conduct classes. But he said the federal government should make local systems financially whole as they incur considerable costs from software for virtual instruction, personal protective equipment for on-site employees and reducing class sizes for social distancing at schools that bring students to campus.
As Trump and Biden dueled Wednesday, presidential debate organizers announced moderators for the fall. Chris Wallace of Fox News will lead the Sept. 29 debate, followed Oct. 15 by Steve Scully of C-SPAN and NBC's Kristin Welker on Oct. 22.
Also ahead of his Wisconsin trip, Biden’s campaign launched a $45 million advertising buy for a one-minute ad featuring his condemnations of violence during a speech Monday, along with his assertions that Trump is “fomenting” the unrest. The ad, which has English and Spanish language versions, is running on national cable networks and in local markets across Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
“Violence will not bring change. It will only bring destruction,” Biden says in the ad. Trump, he says, “shows how weak he is” by “his failure to call on his own supporters to stop acting as an armed militia.”
It's an answer to a consistent charge from Trump and his allies: “You won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America.” Indeed, when in Kenosha, Trump toured a block charred by protesters’ fire, called the destruction “anti-American” and suggested Biden’s election would ensure similar scenes in U.S. cities across the country.
The ad was launched as the Biden campaign announced a record $360 million fundraising haul for August. Biden said Wednesday the money will allow an aggressive ad campaign to counter “lies” from Trump, such as the president's erroneous claims that Biden has not denounced violent protesters and that he wants to “defund the police.”
Trump’s advisers hope his stances shift attention away from the pandemic that has all but crippled the nation during the president's fourth year in office. They also believe the tactics help Trump attract white voters in suburbs and exurbs, key slices of his 2016 coalition. Trump won Wisconsin by less than 1 percentage point in 2016, becoming the first Republican to win the state since Ronald Reagan in 1984.
Biden's trip Thursday will be the first time since 2012 that a Democratic presidential nominee campaigns in Wisconsin. Hillary Clinton did not campaign in the state after she lost the primary in 2016, one of the reasons often cited for Trump’s narrow victory.
Barrow reported from Atlanta. Associated Press reporters Jonathan Lemire in Washington, Scott Bauer in Madison, Wisconsin, and Kevin Freking in Wilmington, North Carolina, contributed.