WARREN, Mich. (Reuters) - Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden accused President Donald Trump on Wednesday of betraying the American people, saying he knowingly lied about the deadliness of the novel coronavirus in what amounted to a “dereliction” of duty.
According to newly released recordings of interviews done in February for a book by journalist Bob Woodward, Trump acknowledged he knew how deadly and contagious the coronavirus was but played it down because he did not want to create a panic.
With weeks remaining until the Nov. 3 presidential election, the news about Trump’s comments again focused attention on the Republican president’s efforts to battle COVID-19, which Democrats say have been too little, too late.
“He knew, and purposefully played it down. Worse, he lied to the American people,” Biden said in a speech in Michigan. He was visiting the battleground state, home to the U.S. auto industry, to promote a proposal to tax companies that move U.S. jobs overseas.
“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,” Biden said.
“It’s a dereliction of duty, a disgrace,” he said.
Biden and Trump are ramping up travel in the final sprint to the election during a coronavirus pandemic that has made waging a traditional campaign all but impossible. The president is expected to visit Michigan and Pennsylvania later in the week.
The United States has suffered the highest number of coronavirus deaths in the world. Deaths topped 190,000 on Wednesday along with a spike in new cases in the Midwest and states like Iowa and South Dakota emerging as the new hot spots in the past few weeks.
Trump on Wednesday defended his handling of the virus, saying at the White House: “The fact is I’m a cheerleader for this country. I love our country and I don’t want people to be frightened.”
‘A BETTER WAY’
Biden also accused Trump of failing to fulfill his campaign vow, delivered in Michigan in the waning days of the 2016 race, to protect American jobs and prevent plants from closing. Trump’s victory in the state, by less than 11,000 votes, helped propel him to the presidency.
About a dozen United Auto Workers officials listened to Biden from folding chairs spaced out for safety in the Detroit suburb of Warren in the crucial Republican-leaning Macomb County.
Biden, who has already proposed raising the corporate tax rate to 28% from 21%, said he would impose a 30.8% rate on profits from products made overseas and sold in the United States.
His plan envisions a companion 10% tax credit for companies that reopen closed facilities, bring jobs back to the United States or expand their manufacturing payroll.
While that would require congressional approval, Biden outlined several executive orders he would sign as president, unilateral measures ensuring the government purchases primarily American-made goods.
“Make it in Michigan, make it in America, invest in our communities and our workers in places like Warren. That’s what this is about,” he said.
After his speech, Biden made a quick stop at a Black-owned clothing store in Detroit before sitting in the backyard of a house with four steelworkers to discuss economic and labor issues.
“It just drives me crazy that the country is going to hell in a handbasket economically and politically and in terms of our health, and we’re doing nothing about it,” Biden said.
The former vice president is trying to convince voters that he would be the best choice to revive the coronavirus-hobbled U.S. economy. Although Biden has led Trump in virtually every national poll for months, that issue has been a sticking point, and a Reuters/Ipsos poll on Wednesday showed the two candidates were dead even on the economy at 45% each.
The poll showed Biden with an overall lead of 12 percentage points among likely voters.
Factory jobs grew in number after Trump took office, but the gains were wiped out during the pandemic.
Biden’s plan calls for a multitrillion-dollar investment in manufacturing, infrastructure, environmental advances and caregiving. He has argued that Trump has focused on corporate welfare and tax cuts for the wealthy instead of aiding working families.
Trump has touted the stock market’s gains in recent months and has said his administration’s tax cuts and deregulation helped create a powerful economy before the pandemic. He has accused Biden of supporting the offshoring of U.S. jobs.
Terry Bowman, co-chairman of the Michigan Republican Party and a Ford Motor Co F.N worker, said on a call for reporters that Biden was "coming after our jobs." "I can tell you working right on the assembly line - I can tell you the support for Trump has just skyrocketed and is sky-high," Bowman said.
Reporting by Joseph Ax in Warren and Michael Martina in Detroit; Additional reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt; Editing by Alistair Bell and Peter Cooney
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