Skip to content

Presidential candidates argue over coronavirus response

Both criticized the Trump administration's response but had different ideas on what they'd do

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks at a rally at University of Nevada, Las Vegas on Feb. 18, 2020. He and opponent former Vice President Joe Biden were critical of the Trump administration's handling of the coronavirus response.
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks at a rally at University of Nevada, Las Vegas on Feb. 18, 2020. He and opponent former Vice President Joe Biden were critical of the Trump administration's handling of the coronavirus response. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

The two leading Democratic presidential candidates and President Donald Trump traded barbs Thursday over the administration’s handling of the coronavirus-based pandemic, opening an election-year fight over a public health issue with deep economic and personal consequences for American voters.

Two days after former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders canceled campaign events as they vie for the Democratic nomination, both criticized the Trump administration’s response. 

[With top of ticket essentially set, here’s how 2020 elections look]

Biden called the Trump administration’s failure to make testing widely available “colossal” and called for free testing at drive-through testing centers.

And he said travel restrictions might delay the spread but won’t stop it, especially restrictions based on political favoritism rather than science.

Biden said the Defense Department should be planning to set up medical facilities and providing logistical support for cities hit by outbreaks because hospitals will be overwhelmed.

“We have to help the world to drive coordinated global strategy, not shut ourselves off from the world,” Biden said. “Unfortunately, this virus laid bare the severe shortcomings of the current administration.”

In a separate speech, Sanders called for “emergency unemployment assistance to anyone in this country who loses their job through no fault of their own” because of the virus. He said the benefit should be 100 percent of salary up to $1,150 a week, or $60,000 a year, and singled out people in restaurants who work for tips and those in the gig economy, independent contractors and domestic help as deserving assistance. 

The government’s response to the pandemic should focus on the elderly and disabled who may be isolated and especially vulnerable, he said. Sanders called on Americans to recognize they all must work together to combat the virus, which he said could lead to more casualties than United States forces experienced in World War II.

“In other words, we have a major, major crisis, and we must act,” he said. He called on Congress in a bipartisan way to “take responsibility for addressing this unparalleled crisis,” and urged the creation of state and national hotlines staffed with people with accurate information.

Sanders also accused the Trump administration of not providing needed transparency. “If there was ever a time for transparency and honesty and being straightforward, this is that moment,” Sanders said.

An outspoken critic of the pharmaceutical industry, Sanders said companies that develop vaccines or treatments should provide them at cost to the public.

“This is not the time for price gouging or profiteering,” he said.

Trump’s response

Trump’s campaign immediately hit back.

“Bernie Sanders is the wrong prescription for fighting an outbreak like the coronavirus.  Like Joe Biden, Sanders advocates a government takeover of healthcare, which would close hundreds of rural hospitals,” said Tim Murtaugh, a Trump campaign communications director. “His plan would drive doctors and other medical workers away from the profession, leaving America woefully unprepared for public health emergencies. Further, he’s said he would not even consider closing our borders to protect our people, even if it were necessary to control the spread of the virus. He’s just another Democrat candidate for president trying to score political points by recklessly provoking anxiety and fear.” 

Interest group ad

The jockeying among presidential candidates was echoed in a new ad by an interest group highlighting COVID-19 concerns as part of a strategy to attack Republicans on health care policy. 

Protect Our Care, a group that supports the 2010 health care law, launched the ad Thursday that attacked Montana Republican Sen. Steve Daines’ health care record.

“Too many Montana families go to sleep at night worried about health care coverage, costs, now the fear of coronavirus,” the ad says. “That doesn’t worry Steve Daines.”

Republicans argued the ad, which says Daines voted to roll back the health care law’s protections for pre-existing conditions and Medicaid expansion, politicizes the virus.

“Steve Bullock must call for this false dark money television ad to come down immediately, since it politicizes an ongoing public health risk. Failure to do so makes Governor Bullock complicit in its message, and unmasks his campaign finance virtue signaling as abject hypocrisy,” the Senate Leadership Fund said in a statement. 

Recent Stories

Judge denies Menendez bid to toss searches in bribery case

US asks Supreme Court to stop Texas immigration law

Capitol Lens | Before sunset

Responding to US, France enshrines abortion access in constitution

‘One existential threat’: In shift, Biden gives Trump a tongue-lashing

Supreme Court tosses Colorado’s decision to bar Trump from ballot