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Biden, Trump stage rare dueling events in pandemic era

WILL WEISSERT and MARC LEVY
The Associated Press
Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden touches his face as he speaks to members of the clergy and community leaders at Bethel AME Church in Wilmington, Del., Monday, June 1, 2020. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

LANCASTER — Both President Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger, Joe Biden, are swinging through key battleground states on Thursday, presenting dueling events that haven’t happened much in the age of coronavirus and showcasing their contrasting styles in response to the pandemic.

The former vice president wore a black face mask as he sat in an outdoor community center courtyard with three mothers and two children who told of benefiting from the Obama administration’s signature health care law in Lancaster. Beyond the police cordon, a small group of Trump supporters nearby could be heard chanting “four more years” and “USA.”

“I’m supposedly an expert in foreign policy,” Biden said of his lengthy career in the Senate and as vice president. “Well, health care is more complicated than foreign policy. It really is.”

He said that he’s worried the Supreme Court may eventually side with a challenge of the health care law and that overturning it in the middle of a pandemic “just seems to me to be close to cruel. Yeah, well, it is unconscionable.”

Biden was giving a speech later on how he would improve broader access to health insurance. He has spent weeks arguing that the pandemic remains a clear and present danger that Trump is trying to wish away amid a desire to jump-start a crippled economy.

The president is visiting Marinette in rural Wisconsin for a private tour of a shipyard and participating in a town hall to be broadcast by Fox News Channel from an airport in Green Bay. Vice President Mike Pence is also traveling in another potential swing state, Ohio.

Biden is planning to use his latest speech to argue that Trump’s opposition to the health care law, coupled with a response to the pandemic that he calls inadequate, ensures that even people who contract the coronavirus and survive will “live their lives caught in a vise between Donald Trump’s twin legacies.”

Those are “his failure to protect the American people from the coronavirus and his heartless crusade to take health care protections away from American families,” the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee will say in his speech, according to excerpts released by his campaign.

Biden also plans to scoff at Trump’s comment that more testing for the virus is “a double-edged sword.”

“Testing unequivocally saves lives, and widespread testing is the key to opening up our economy again — so that’s one edge of the sword,” Biden will say. “The other edge: that he thinks finding out that more Americans are sick will make him look bad. And that’s what he’s worried about. He’s worried about looking bad.”

President Donald Trump arrives on stage to speak at a campaign rally at the BOK Center, Saturday, June 20, 2020, in Tulsa, Okla. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

That’s a reference to Trump saying on Saturday that he’d instructed aides to “slow down testing” because more screening was turning up too many positive tests. The White House first said Trump was joking, but the president later insisted that he was not.

Narrow 2016 victories in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania were pivotal in sending Trump to the White House. That he’d build his travel around trying to do that again — and that Biden would respond with trips meant to flip the states back to Democratic — wouldn’t usually be a surprise with the presidential election now less than five months away. But the coronavirus has so upended the presidential campaign that normal schedules and travel have been virtually frozen since March.

After long focusing on staging virtual rallies and other online appearances from his Delaware home, Biden has in recent weeks begun making frequent trips to Pennsylvania, allowing him to focus on a key swing state without venturing far. Lancaster is about an hour and 15 minutes by car from Biden’s house, and yet it is the farthest he’s gone since March, except when he went to Houston to meet with the family of George Floyd, whose death in police custody sparked protests around the nation.

Trump, by contrast, staged a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, last weekend and spoke at a megachurch in Arizona on Tuesday after touring a section of that state’s border with Mexico. Biden’s team has been careful to organize very small events and enforce social distancing while its members and its candidate wear masks. Trump’s campaign says Biden is using that cautious approach to hide the fact that he can’t draw large, enthusiastic crowds.

The president has promoted reopening the economy and refused to wear a mask in public — prompting many of his supporters to follow suit. His Thursday stop will feature an address to about 500 to 600 people inside the shipyard who will be required to wear masks, even as the president is not.

Polls in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania show Biden ahead of Trump, but nearly every poll showed Trump trailing in 2016 before his base came together in the final weeks of the campaign to secure his victory.

Trump plans to promote a contract won in April by Fincantieri Marinette Marine in Wisconsin to build as many as 10 Navy frigates. The company employs about 2,500 people now, and the deal could add 1,000 jobs. It’s the first new major shipbuilding program for the Navy in more than a decade.