WASHINGTON (AP) — Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden said Wednesday that the congressional aid package addressing the coronavirus outbreak “goes a long way,” but he said it requires “meticulous oversight” and isn’t all-encompassing.
“We’re going to need to make sure the money gets out quickly into peoples' pockets and to keep a close watch on how corporations are using the taxpayers funds that they receive, to make sure it goes to help workers, not rich CEOs or shareholders,” the former vice president said during a video news briefing from his Delaware home. “And we have to figure out what to do to help the folks that this bill leaves out, including young people."
But Biden said the agreement could have gone beyond what the government is doing in some instances. While students have been granted a short-term suspension of loan payments and interest accrual, Biden proposed “forgiving at least $10,000 of student loan debt now," and he took issue with the deal for not making coronavirus treatment free.
He also criticized President Donald Trump, who he said has “downplayed the seriousness of this crisis for weeks" and delayed mobilizing U.S. industry to help provide overstretched medical workers with needed supply.
“And as a result, this virus will hit all of us harder than it otherwise might have hit us, and it's going to take us longer to recover,” he said.
Reacting to Trump's call to lift stay-at-home orders by Easter, Biden said that would end endanger lives and do economic damage over the long term.
“I’d like to say, ‘Let’s get back to work next Friday.' That’d be wonderful. But it can’t be arbitrary," he said, repeating his call for the president to heed medical expertise. "If we don’t do that, we’re going to find ourselves … worse off economically.”
As Biden continued his criticism of Trump, he also dismissed any concerns over the president's uptick in Gallup's job approval tracking.
"Faster is better than slower," he said, arguing that he's concerned with the merits of Trump's performance. "My main focus is not a political focus ... but to make sure we handle this crisis well."
He emphasized his difference with Trump on the Defense Production Act, which the president can use to direct private businesses practices toward a national emergency need. Biden added a new wrinkle to how he'd use the law, saying he'd direct U.S. banks to prioritize small businesses. He said banks often don't have the personnel to handle the volume of small business owners seeking help.
Biden has previously focused his discussion of the Defense Production Act on increasing the manufacture of key medical supplies: ventilators, gloves and masks.
"He says he's a wartime president. Well, act like one," Biden said, in what has become a go-to jab at Trump.
Biden's remarks came during his first ever videoconference news briefing as Biden has moved his campaign largely online in response to the national move toward social distancing to slow the pandemic’s spread. Last week, Biden held a teleconference with the media. Since then, he has set up a home studio with a high-speed internet line and been more aggressive in getting out on-camera.
On Tuesday, he appeared on ABC’s “The View,” CNN and MSNBC to speak on Trump’s coronavirus response. The day before, Biden delivered a live address online outlining his own proposals to deal with the pandemic.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.
Barrow reported from Atlanta.
This story has been corrected to reflect that Biden took issue with the deal for not making coronavirus treatment free, rather than testing; an earlier aid bill made testing free.