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.