5 takeaways from Joe Biden’s CNN town hall on the coronavirus response

Joe Biden during a CNN town hall Friday night detailed how he’d respond to the coronavirus pandemic.

From a remote feed in his home in Wilmington, Delaware, Biden said he starts his mornings with back-to-back briefings on the health and economic fallout of the pandemic — and that he is regularly speaking with governors who are managing their states’ responses as the numbers of confirmed cases grow beyond 100,000 nationwide.

Biden was critical of President Donald Trump’s actions, saying his administration has moved too slowly to deploy needed resources to hospitals.

But he offered an uplifting message — one in tune with his campaign’s core theme — about the soul of the nation being on display in Americans’ reaction to the crisis.

“We are seeing the soul of America now. Take a look at what is happening. Everywhere you look, you see people reaching out to help people,” Biden said. “This is an incredible nation. The American people are generous, decent, good, fair, bright, and it makes you so proud to be an American.”

Here are five takeaways from the Biden town hall:

No evictions, no health care costs

Biden staked out two clear positions to protect Americans from the economic fallout of the pandemic: A three-month freeze on rent payments; and government coverage of all health care expenses related to coronavirus.

“Freeze it and forgive it so that you’re able to stay in that place,” the former vice president said of rent payments.

He left room for conditions, suggesting at one point that the freeze might not to apply to those whose income up to $75,000 is replaced by unemployment insurance. But he then said: “There should be a rent freeze. No one should be evicted during this period — period.”

The federal government is already covering the cost of coronavirus tests, but Biden also said the House and Senate would need to add to the $2 trillion stimulus deal approved this week to cover all health care costs related to the virus.

Biden backs temporary nationwide shutdown

Biden is with Bill Gates, not Donald Trump.

The former vice president said that he, as president, would recommend governors temporarily lock down their states for a period of time to stop the spread of coronavirus, aligning himself closer to the billionaire Microsoft founder’s suggestion that the country needs a lengthy shutdown, not the President’s hope that the country reopen in mid-April.

“For the time being, I would, yes,” Biden said. “Here is the point. … You don’t know who doesn’t have it. You don’t know who doesn’t have the virus. So, a lot of people walking around looking like they’re pretty healthy and they may very well have the virus and transmit it.”

States have moved at different paces in closing some or most businesses. Biden also said on Friday that he had talked to a group of the nation’s governors, including Washington’s Jay Inslee, Michigan’s Gretchen Whitmer and Pennsylvania’s Tom Wolf. He said he missed a call on Friday afternoon from Louisiana’s John Bel Edwards, and that he has spoken with Republicans as well.

Pitting public health against economic health is a ‘false choice’

Biden rejected Trump’s assertion that public efforts to combat the crisis could do more damage to the economy than the virus itself.

Describing Trump’s view as a “false choice,” Biden argued that the economy could only rebound once the public health emergency was brought under control.

“It’s a false choice to make, saying that you either open the economy or everything goes to hell,” Biden said. “You cannot make this economy grow until you deal with the virus.”

Trump this week repeatedly warned that “the cure” — in the form of efforts like social distancing and stay-at-home orders — could “be worse than the problem” and suggested Easter as a potential date for “opening up” the economy, well ahead of when most medical experts believe would be safe.

“They’re one and the same,” Biden said of the twin dangers. “You can’t deal with the economic crisis until you deal with the health care crisis.”

Working from home

Joe Biden: He’s just like the rest of us.

The former vice president described his days at home in Delaware, where he is observing the same “stay-at-home” orders that now apply to millions of Americans. For Biden that means calls with family and the occasional visit from a couple grandkids who live nearby and walk over to say hello.

“We sit on our back porch and they sit out on the lawn with two chairs,” Biden said. “They talk through everything that’s happened during their day now that they are home from school, who’s driving who crazy.”

But it’s not all lawn chairs and patios. Biden said he begins each day with a pair of briefings from his campaign staff — one on the health end of the crisis, and another on the economic situation.

The health briefing covers “how much has been done” and the “equipment we can get to people.” Then come the economists, some of whom who worked with him in the White House, who have discussed the stimulus package and “what the Trump administration has done, has not done.”

Biden on human suffering

Biden gave an emotional response when asked about the difficulty that comes from not being able to be with loved ones dying from coronavirus, relating the question to the significant loss he has faced in life.

“I’ve lost a couple children, I’ve lost a wife and it is incredibly difficult to go through and it’s harder to go through when you haven’t had an opportunity to be with the person while they’re dying,” Biden said. After noting that he was able to be with his mother, father and son as they died, he said he was not able to do the same with his first wife.

Coronavirus victims are unable to be surrounded by family as they die because the virus is particularly contagious, leading many people to die alone.

Biden urged people to “seek help afterwards” and “talk to people who have been through it so … they can tell you that you can get through it.”

Biden appeared to almost offer his cell phone number during the nationally televised town halls, but stopped himself and instead urged Americans who have lost loved ones to get in touch with his campaign so that he could talk with them.

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