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Joe Biden makes virtual campaign trail debut after several days of public absence

March 23, 2020
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WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Joe Biden, the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination, made his first video address after four days of cable news silence to discuss the coronavirus pandemic.

The address, made from his family home in Wilmington, Del., was the campaign’s first public foray into telecampaigning. Biden has participated over video in virtual fundraisers over the past few days, which were limited in access to pooled press. The campaign also held an on-the-record call with reporters and the vice president, who took a handful of questions. 

Biden’s toe dip into teleconferencing was a bit awkward. His stream was delayed by 15 minutes, and his camera seemingly accidentally turned on 20 minutes before the event was set to start and abruptly cut.

After being asked during that press call whether such addresses to the nation would happen on a frequent basis, Biden said he was “desperately” trying to figure out a way to communicate regularly. 

“Everything from providing access to where I physically live and being able to broadcast from there, as well as our HQ, is underway,” he said. “We’ve hired a professional team.”

During his absence from cable news, Twitter conspiracy theories had popped up under the hashtag #WhereIsJoeBiden coupled with memes and jokes, insinuating that something must be wrong with the former vice president.

In the meantime, Biden’s rival Sen. Bernie Sanders has appeared several times over video to speak to his supporters and the public on the coronavirus. 

Democratic U.S. presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden speaks about responses to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic at an event in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S., March 12, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos BarriaDemocratic U.S. presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden speaks about responses to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic at an event in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S., March 12, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden speaks about the coronavirus pandemic at an event in Wilmington, Del., March 12. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Tim Murtuagh, chief spokesman for President Trump’s reelection campaign, hit Biden on his “disappearance” on Twitter Monday morning before the speech.

“.@JoeBiden says he’d be quicker to respond to a pandemic but it took him a week to set up a TV camera in his house,” Murtaugh wrote.

Biden appears to be taking the criticism in stride. During his Monday appearance, he was lighter on his personal attacks against Trump than in previous addresses, instead focusing his criticism on the administration’s handling of the crisis.

“Donald Trump is not to blame for the coronavirus, but he does bear responsibility for our response,” said Biden.

One of Biden’s principal frustrations seemed to be the administration’s gun-shy attitude toward invoking the Defense Production Act. 

“As of late yesterday, we’re told that the president still has not activated the authority on the Defense Production Act, which I and others call for him to invoke immediately and act on to direct American manufacturers to make essential supplies,” said Biden. “Trump keeps saying that he’s a wartime president. Well, start to act like one.” 

He added that the Defense Production Act could help get critical supplies — like masks and ventilators — to facilities across the country.

“The president must use the Defense Production Act to radically increase the supply of critical goods needed to treat patients and protect our health care workers and first responders, including the protective gear like face masks and critical equipment like ventilators so desperately needed in our hospitals,” Biden continued.

“Is the White House actively planning for what it will take for the American people to begin to return to something resembling a normal life?” Biden asked. 

“I don’t know, just waiting to see isn’t going to cut it.”

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