Biden challenges Trump's sunny picture of the U.S. economy as coronavirus cases surge

Key Points
  • Former Vice President Joe Biden appeared on camera Thursday morning to push back on what President Donald Trump called a "spectacular" jobs report.
  • "For the people in states where Covid-19 is spiking, and we're seeing record high numbers of infections, do you feel like this crisis is under control? Of course not," said Biden.
  • Trump on Thursday described the record-setting number of new coronavirus cases as merely "temporary hot spots in certain cities and counties." 
Biden: Our economy remains at risk as coronavirus cases rise

WASHINGTON — In a sign that the 2020 presidential campaign is finally getting underway in earnest, former Vice President Joe Biden appeared on camera Thursday morning to offer an alternative picture of what President Donald Trump had, just hours before, called a "spectacular" and "record-setting" jobs report

"Make no mistake, we're still in a deep, deep job hole because Donald Trump has so badly bungled the response to coronavirus," said Biden in prepared remarks that were carried live across cable news channels.

"For everyone whose job hasn't come back, for everyone who doesn't own stock, who can't get a sweetheart loan through connections, does this feel like a victory?" said the presumptive Democratic nominee.

"For parents who are worried that kids can't go back to school in the fall, do you feel like this is mission accomplished? For the people in states where Covid-19 is spiking, and we're seeing record high numbers of infections, do you feel like this crisis is under control? Of course not. People are scared. They're worried about their families and about their future."

"Just like last month, President Trump has spiked the ball and made this about him," said Biden, referring to a traditional touchdown celebration. "He doesn't seem to realize he's not even on the 50-yard line." 

Thursday's June jobs report was unquestionably good news for the president, showing that 4.8 million jobs were added to the economy last month, a significant increase over analyst expectations.

Trump took that topline figure and ran with it, hastily arranging an appearance in the White House briefing room to tout what he called his administration's achievement in both managing the coronavirus pandemic and "rescuing" the U.S. economy.  

"So these are numbers that are not numbers that other presidents would have. They won't have it," Trump said after reading several of the statistics from Thursday's report, and sprinkling them with other economic and market statistics from both before and after the start of the pandemic.

"The only thing that can kill it is a bad president or a president that wants to raise taxes. You want to raise taxes, this whole thing, your 401(k)s will drop down to nothing and your stock market will drop down to nothing," Trump said. "This is not just luck, what's happening. This is a lot of talent. All of this incredible news is the result of historic actions my administration has taken working with our partners in Congress to rescue the U.S. economy from a horrible event." 

But analysts were quick to point out that the figures reported today were two weeks old. Since mid-June, coronavirus infection rates have skyrocketed in states that started reopening. This week, governors in several of the nation's most populous states announced plans to roll back previous reopenings.

In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday ordered businesses with indoor operations to close effective immediately in 19 counties. The order applies to some of the state's biggest counties: Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino and Santa Barbara. Indoor businesses required to close include restaurants, wineries and tasting rooms, movie theaters, family entertainment centers, zoos, museums and cardrooms, Newsom said at a press briefing. 

Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey rolled back the state's reopening plan Monday, closing bars, gyms, movie theaters and water parks. The state has since reported a surge in its positivity rate, or the percentage of total tests that are positive, from a low of 4.9% in May to 20.1% in June, he said when announcing the rollback. 

"We can't be under any illusion that this virus is going to go away on its own. Our expectation is that next week our numbers will be worse. It will take several weeks for the mitigation that we have put in place and are putting in place to take effect," Ducey said. 

On Wednesday, the United States saw the highest-ever recorded number of new cases: 50,600. Within that figure, the grim reality is that most of the states currently experiencing the largest spike in new cases, such as Florida, Arizona and Texas, are Republican-led states that followed Trump's advice earlier this year to reopen their economies as soon as possible. 

Nonetheless, Trump lauded his own administration for implementing what he called "an aggressive strategy to vanquish and kill the virus and protect Americans at the highest risk, while allowing those at lower risk to return safely to work."

"That's what's happening," Trump said, adding, "Our health experts continue to address the temporary hot spots in certain cities and counties, and we are working very hard on that." 

But with record-setting new infection rates in dozens of states, "temporary hot spots in certain cities and counties" does not accurately describe what's happening. 

"It didn't have to be like this," said Biden on Thursday. "America has more reported deaths and infections than anywhere else in the world. Our health-care workers are still rationing personal protective equipment. They still don't have sufficient testing to allow people to return to work with confidence," he said.

"President Trump has turned wearing a mask into a political statement. And yesterday, yesterday, he was once more claiming the coronavirus would, quote, just disappear, I hope," said Biden, accurately quoting Trump's interview a day before.

Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have also said they don't believe a nationwide mask mandate would be necessary. Pence also said Thursday that the administration would keep pushing for the economy to reopen even as it supported governors' decisions to pause their plans.

"Quit hoping for the best, Mr. President. Quit claiming victory with almost 15 million Americans still out of work because of the crisis. Quit ignoring the reality of this pandemic and the horrifying loss of American life. Act. Lead. Lead or get out of the way so others can," Biden concluded.

Biden's remarks were the second time this week that he hammered the president over the administration's failure to respond to the resurgence of coronavirus. On Tuesday, Biden laid out his own five-point plan to address the pandemic, one of several contrasts he drew between Trump and himself.

The former vice president said he would provide free nationwide coronavirus testing, deploy 100,000 contact tracers, establish national standards for reopening, use the Defense Production Act to further increase protective equipment manufacturing, and provide additional federal support to the elderly and people of color, who have been especially hard-hit by the virus.