By Susana Samhan
Washington, Sep 10 (efe-epa).- Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden called President Donald Trump’s underestimation of the risk posed to the nation by Covid-19, even though the president has admitted knowing of the highly contagious disease’s danger, “despicable” amid a controversy that arose when iconic journalist Bob Woodward released portions of his upcoming book “Rage,” for which Trump gave him 18 interviews.
In an interview taped on Wednesday during a campaign stop in Michigan and broadcast on Thursday by CNN, the former vice president under ex-President Barack Obama said that Trump’s attitude and behavior in downplaying the seriousness of the coronavirus had been a “disgrace” and “almost criminal.”
“(President Trump) knew and purposely 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,” Biden said on Wednesday in Warren, Michigan, early on in a speech that otherwise was focused on the economy.
“He had the information. He knew how dangerous it was and while this deadly disease ripped through our nation he failed to do his job on purpose. It was a life and death betrayal of the American people,” the former VP added.
Woodward’s new book is due to go on sale next Tuesday in the US, and it contains blockbuster revelations that Trump admitted to the journalist on Feb. 7 that he knew about the Covid-19 danger but “downplayed” it publicly – which he is still doing – so as not to create “panic” and “frenzy” among the public.
Biden, however, said that “His failure has not only cost lives, he’s sent our economy in a tailspin, and cost millions more in American livelihoods,” adding that “It’s beyond despicable. It’s a dereliction of duty. It’s a disgrace.”
The US is the country that has been hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic with more than 6.3 million confirmed cases and more than 191,500 deaths, according to the ongoing independent tally being kept by The Johns Hopkins University.
Trump, on the other hand, has defended his stance and remarks on the coronavirus, saying at a White House press conference on Wednesday that he did not want to cause panic after learning how deadly Covid-19 could be.
In response to a reporter’s question about whether Trump had misled the country about the virus, the president said: “If you said ‘in order to reduce panic,’ perhaps that’s so.”
“I’m a cheerleader for this country,” Trump continued. “I don’t want people to be frightened. I don’t want to create panic.”
The president also called Woodward’s reporting “just another political hit job” and claiming that his own upbeat remarks on the coronavirus were designed to reassure Americans.
“We had to show calm. The last thing we can show is panic or excitement or fear or anything else. We had to take care of the situation we were given,” Trump told reporters, going on to say that “leadership is all about confidence, and confidence is confidence in our country.”
And, on Thursday morning, Trump – attempting to fend off the harsh criticism of his comments, as related by Woodward, on the coronavirus that erupted once the revelations were made public – fired off a Twitter message that the journalist “had my quotes for many months. If he thought they were so bad or dangerous, why didn’t he immediately report them in an effort to save lives? Didn’t he have an obligation to do so? No, because he knew they were good and proper answers. Calm, no panic!”
When a reporter asked the president why he had lied to the US public about the severity, contagiousness and possible consequences of Covid-19, Trump called the question “disgraceful,” adding “Such a terrible question and the phraseology. I didn’t lie.”
Biden, however, in his Michigan remarks that were broadcast on CNN, said that Trump had “failed our economy and our country. But look, did you really expect anything different from this guy? From someone who called those of you and those who are serving in uniform, who have given their lives to the country losers and suckers?”
The vice president was referring to a report in The Atlantic magazine last week that said Trump, on a trip to Europe, had made disparaging remarks about members of the military, calling those who had died in World War One and are buried in a French cemetery “losers” and “suckers,” comments that the president has strongly denied ever making.
“Donald Trump doesn’t understand what it means to serve something bigger than yourself,” said Biden. “He doesn’t understand duty, honor, country. He lives by different code: lies, selfishness, greed.”
“Yes, Donald Trump and I have a pretty different philosophy when it comes to giving our word. Mine means something. When I tell the American people I’m going to do something I follow through,” the former vice president added.
In the meantime, Woodward – who helped break the Watergate coverup story that ultimately drove President Richard Nixon from office in 1974 – said in an interview with the Associated Press that Trump had telephoned him “out of the blue” in early February to “unburden himself” about the coronavirus, which had only infected a few people in the US at that time.