WASHINGTON – Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and former President Barack Obama stepped up their attacks on President Donald Trump and defended their time in the White House in a new video showing their first in-person meeting since the coronavirus outbreak began.
The 15-minute video, posted online Thursday, is the latest effort to get the former president more involved in the 2020 campaign as his former vice president tries to rebuild Obama's winning coalition. Obama has promised an active role on the campaign trail this fall.
The former White House partners used an interview-style conversation to amplify Biden's arguments against Trump, with Obama emphasizing Biden's experience and personal attributes. They pointed to their administration’s 2010 health care law and blamed Trump for stoking division among Americans. They also were sharply critical of the Republican president’s efforts to combat the coronavirus, which has killed more than 140,000 Americans.
“Can you imagine standing up when you were president and saying, ‘It’s not my responsibility, I take no responsibility'?” Biden said, offering a line of attack similar to his recent campaign speeches when he asserted that Trump “quit” on the country and has “waved the white flag” in the pandemic.
“Those words didn’t come out of our mouths while we were in office,” Obama replied. Trump slammed the pair Thursday afternoon in a Tweet, accusing them of doing a “terrible job” in office and allowing his election. The Republican National Committee issued a scathing assessment of “slickly produced, substance-free love fests,” dubbing the effort “Biden and Obama’s fiction.”
The two men are shown wearing masks while arriving at an office, then sitting down well apart from each other to observe social distancing for an unmasked chat. Biden’s campaign billed it as their first in-person meeting during the pandemic.
Obama compared the nation's current economic circumstances to what he inherited in 2009 after the financial collapse that played out during his general election campaign the previous year.
“We had to move fast, not just 100 days," Obama said. “We had to move in the first month to get the recovery act passed.” Calling Obama “Mr. President,” Biden answered that he'd repeat what he learned: “We have got to sustain and keep people from going under forever.”
The former president largely stayed out of the once-crowded Democratic primary but endorsed Biden in April, when he was the last candidate standing. Obama hosted a virtual fundraiser for his former vice president last month that raised $7.6 million, the most of any Biden campaign event so far. He warned then against Democrats becoming “complacent and smug.”
In other exchanges, Obama and Biden blasted Trump's view of American society, and Obama praised Biden as possessing empathy that he said Trump lacks.
“He ran by deliberately dividing people from the moment he came down that escalator, and I think people are now going, ‘I don’t want my kid growing up that way,’” Biden said, recalling Trump's 2016 campaign launch.
Obama said he has confidence in Biden’s “heart and your character.” Governing, the former president said, “starts with being able to relate. If you can sit down with a family and see your own family in them … then you’re going to work hard for them, and that’s always what’s motivated you.”
Building on the point, Biden discussed the final months before his son Beau died of brain cancer and tied it to the 2010 health care law. Biden said he recalled thinking “what would happen if his insurance company was able to come in — which they could have done before we passed Obamacare — and said, ‘You have outrun your insurance.’"
Obama said he “couldn’t be prouder of what we got done” and alluded to the Trump administration's continued efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act through Congress and have it invalidated by the courts. “It is hard to fathom anybody wanting to take away people’s health care in the middle of a major public health crisis … and a time when unemployment is at double digits,” he said. The Republican National Committee insisted, “President Trump and Republicans will always protect pre-existing conditions.” However, when the GOP controlled Congress during Trump's first two years in office, it failed to pass a promised ACA replacement that would preserve the law's ban on insurers denying coverage based on a person's medical history.
The RNC also noted that Obama pledged repeatedly in his first term that the new law would allow anyone to keep his existing private coverage. In fact, minimum coverage standards in the law did effectively force some policyholders to obtain different plans.
Obama remains a go-to foil for Trump and the Republican base, just as he was throughout his two terms as president. But the 44th president’s two winning coalitions remain the rough model for a Biden victory in November. At the time of the 2016 election, Obama had a 53% Gallup job approval rating, with 45% disapproving, for a net positive approval of 8 percentage points. When he left office a few months later, that net positive had risen to 22 percentage points: 59% approve, 37% disapprove. In 2018, when Gallup assessed past presidents’ standing, Obama notched a retrospective approval of 63%.
For Trump, meanwhile, Gallup has measured just three net positive approval ratings during his three-plus years in office, all coming earlier this year and none of them higher than 4 percentage points.
Barrow reported from Atlanta.