Former President Barack Obama criticized the federal government's coronavirus response in a thinly veiled swipe at the Trump administration during a virtual commencement address delivered to historically black colleges and universities on Saturday.
"More than anything, this pandemic has fully, finally torn back the curtain on the idea that so many of the folks in charge know what they're doing," Obama said in his speech. "A lot of them aren't even pretending to be in charge."
These latest comments could ignite further tension between Obama and President Donald Trump. Obama previously criticized the Trump administration last week, when he called its Covid-19 response "an absolute chaotic disaster" during a private call with supporters who formerly worked for him.
Back in March, Trump blamed the country's lack of coronavirus tests on the previous administration. He has also tried to blame the Obama administration for the lack of a vaccine.
"I don't take responsibility at all," Trump said at a press briefing. "Because we were given a — a set of circumstances, and we were given rules, regulations and specifications from a different time."
One of Trump's own top health advisors, Dr. Anthony Fauci, dismissed the idea that Obama was responsible for the lack of a vaccine during a Senate hearing this week.
The White House responded to Obama's speech with a statement defending Trump's coronavirus response, claiming it had "saved lives." At least 88,437 Americans have died from coronavirus and more than 1.4 million have been infected, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Streamed online, Obama's speech mentioned the difficult circumstances facing graduates that stem from the pandemic, including the current economic recession. In addressing the country's 78 HBCUs, he also made reference to enduring racial inequality in the U.S., which he said can be viewed in how the pandemic is disproportionately affecting people of color as well as the recent death of Ahmaud Arbery, a black man who was allegedly shot by two white men in Georgia while jogging. Though Arbery died in February, the two men allegedly responsible were not arrested until May after a video that is said to depict the shooting went viral.
"We see it in the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on our communities, just as we see it when a black man goes for a jog, and some folks feel like they can stop and question and shoot him if he doesn't submit to their questioning," Obama said during the speech. "Injustice like this isn't new. What is new is that so much of your generation has woken up to the fact that the status quo needs fixing."
Obama ended the speech on a note of optimism for the class of 2020, saying that the graduates were all "role models" now.
"Your participation in this democracy, your courage to stand up for what's right, your willingness to forge coalitions — these actions will speak volumes," he said.