WARREN, Mich. — Former Vice President Joe Biden delivered an in-person address outside of a United Auto Workers building in Michigan on Wednesday where he promised to stand alongside the auto industry should he win the presidential election in November.
But before touching on his plans to rebuild the economy, Biden issued a blistering response to the recent report that President Donald Trump knowingly misled the public about the threat of coronavirus at the start of the pandemic.
“We just learned from The Washington Post columnist Bob Woodward that the President of the United States admitted on tape in February he knew about COVID-19, that it passed through the air. He knew how deadly it was, it was much more deadly than the flu,” Biden said. “He knew, and purposefully played it down. Worse, he lied to the american people. He knowingly and willingly lied about the threat it posed to the country for months.”
“It’s beyond despicable. It's a dereliction of duty, it's a disgrace,” he later added.
In his new book “Rage,” legendary journalist Bob Woodward alleges Trump privately discussed how deadly and problematic the virus could potentially be while simultaneously downplaying the threat to the public even before the United States recorded its first case.
In early February, Trump told Woodward that the virus was contagious, airborne and far “more deadly than even your strenuous flus,” reported CNN, which obtained the book ahead of its Sept. 15 release.
The president admitted to Woodward on March 19 that he hid what he really knew about the virus.
“I wanted to always play it down,” Trump said. “I still like playing it down, because I don't want to create a panic."
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany denied Wednesday that Trump misled the public.
"The President has never lied to the American public on COVID."
Biden also used his speech to criticize the current administration’s work on bolstering the economy, saying Trump has “broken about every promise he’s made to the American worker.” The former Vice President also pitched himself as the working-people’s president, promising to be a strong ally to union members in the White House.
“Back in July I made the first plank of my agenda a plan to modernize american manufacturing and technology, to ensure that the future is made in America, by all of you. Today, I'm announcing some additional steps to make this plank even stronger,” Biden said.
“First, we're going to impose a tax penalty on companies that avoid paying U.S. taxes by offshoring jobs and manufacturing, only to sell those goods back to the American people,” Biden continued to a round of applause.
Biden’s aides believe his focus on the economy and Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic will resonate with key voters nationwide but particularly in states like Michigan, which took one of the sharpest hits nationally from the pandemic.
The unemployment rate in the state spiked at 24% in April, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The statewide rate has since recovered to 8.7%, but Michigan has nearly 414,500 fewer jobs than it did when Trump was inaugurated.
Trump supporters say he has fulfilled his promise of creating jobs and was temporarily sidetracked by the pandemic. But the jobs numbers show that hiring at factories across the Midwest — including in Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin — began to stall and then decline in the summer of 2019. The Biden campaign sees an opening there to argue that, even before the pandemic, the president failed some of his most loyal blue-collar backers.
Trump won Michigan by the narrowest margin of any state in 2016 — fewer than 11,000 votes — and Democrats made huge gains there in the midterms, winning every major statewide office and a handful of federal seats as well.
Polls conducted earlier in the summer suggested a Biden advantage there. Polls conducted in Michigan throughout the 2016 campaign showed Hillary Clinton with a lead before Trump went on to win.
President Trump is set to visit Michigan on Thursday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.