WARREN, Mich. (Reuters) – Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden accused President Donald Trump of betraying the American people on Wednesday, saying he knowingly lied about the deadliness of the novel coronavirus in what amounted to a “dereliction” of his duty.
According to newly released recordings of interviews done in February for a book by journalist Bob Woodward, Trump acknowledged he knew how deadly and contagious the coronavirus was but played it down because he did not want to create a panic.
With weeks remaining until the Nov. 3 presidential election, the news about Trump’s comments again focused attention on the Republican president’s efforts to battle COVID-19 which Democrats say have been too little too late.
“He knew, and purposefully played it down. Worse, he lied to the American people,” Biden said in a speech in Michigan. He was visiting the battleground state, home to the U.S. auto industry, to promote a new proposal to tax companies that move U.S. jobs overseas.
“And while this deadly disease ripped through our nation, he failed to do his job — on purpose. It was a life-and-death betrayal of the American people,” Biden said.
“It’s a dereliction of duty, a disgrace,” he said.
Biden and Trump are ramping up travel in the final sprint to the election during a coronavirus pandemic that has made waging a traditional campaign all but impossible.
The United States has suffered the highest number of coronavirus deaths in the world. Deaths topped 190,000 on Wednesday along with a spike in new cases in the Midwest with states like Iowa and South Dakota emerging as the new hotspots in the past few weeks.
The White House on Wednesday denied Trump intentionally misled Americans about the virus. “The president never downplayed the virus,” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters.
‘A BETTER WAY’
Biden also accused Trump of failing to fulfill his campaign vow, delivered in Michigan in the waning days of the 2016 race, to protect American jobs and prevent plants from closing.
About a dozen United Auto Workers (UAW) officials in red shirts listened to Biden from folding chairs spaced out for safety in the Detroit suburb of Warren in the crucial Republican-leaning Macomb county.
The crowd included Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, but UAW President Rory Gamble did not speak as scheduled because he was in precautionary quarantine over virus concerns.
Biden, who has already proposed raising the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%, said he would impose a 30.8% rate on profits from products made overseas and sold in the United States.
His plan envisions a companion 10% tax credit for companies that reopen closed facilities, bring jobs back to the United States or expand their manufacturing payroll.
While that would require congressional approval, Biden outlined several executive orders he would sign as president, unilateral measures ensuring the government purchases primarily American-made goods.
“I’m not looking to punish American business, but there’s a better way,” Biden said from a lectern in front of a backdrop of American cars: a Chevy Bolt, a Jeep and pickups from Ford, Chevy and Dodge.
“Make it in Michigan, make it in America, invest in our communities and our workers in places like Warren. That’s what this is about,” he said.
The remarks come as the former vice president tries to persuade voters that he would be the best choice to revive the coronavirus-hobbled U.S. economy. Though Biden has led Trump in virtually every national poll for months, that issue has been a sticking point, and a Reuters/Ipsos poll on Wednesday showed the two candidates were dead even on the economy at 45% each.
The poll showed Biden with an overall lead of 12 percentage points among likely voters.
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