WASHINGTON – Joe Biden and Kamala Harris stepped up their criticism of President Donald Trump on Thursday, saying he’s rooting for violence amid unrest in Wisconsin and blasting him for a lack of leadership on the coronavirus pandemic, hours before Trump’s planned address on the final night of the Republican National Convention.
“He views this as a political benefit,” Democratic presidential nominee Biden said on MSNBC about protests in Wisconsin after police shot a Black man earlier this week. “He’s rooting for more violence, not less. And it’s clear about that.”
Harris, the vice presidential nominee, said Trump has showed “a reckless disregard for the well-being of the American people” in failing to contain the coronavirus. It was her first major Trump-focused speech since she joined the Democratic ticket.
The two had been largely silent during the first three days of the GOP convention, during which Republicans have tried to link them to protesters, warning a Biden presidency would make America less safe and erroneously saying he wants to defund the police.
Meanwhile, the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, has once again sparked protests against racial injustice and police brutality. Days later, a 17-year-old white gunman was arrested in connection with the shooting deaths of two protesters in clashes between vigilante militias and protesters.
White House adviser Kellyanne Conway suggested on “Fox & Friends” that the Wisconsin unrest could help Trump’s reelection chances.
“The more chaos and anarchy and vandalism and violence reigns,” Conway said, “the better it is for the very clear choice on who’s best on public safety and law and order.”
Biden does not support defunding the police but has advocated for overhauling U.S. police practices after years of high-profile killings of Black Americans by officers. Harris, meanwhile, sponsored a bill in Congress to ban certain police practices like chokeholds and no-knock warrants and would create a national registry for police misconduct, among other things.
In Washington Thursday, Harris offered her support for protesters.
“It’s no wonder people are taking to the streets — and I support them,” she said. “Make no mistake: We will not let these vigilantes and extremists derail the path to justice.”
Her comments are likely to fuel Republican criticism on the convention's final night and mark a stark contrast with Republican Vice President Mike Pence's remarks Wednesday, when he praised police and slammed protesters he deemed violent. He did not mention Blake or other Black Americans killed by police this year, nor directly reference the teenager arrested in connection to the killing of two protesters.
“Let me be clear: The violence must stop — whether in Minneapolis, Portland or Kenosha,” Pence said, after warning people they would not be safe in Biden's America.
Meanwhile Biden, who has largely limited travel to near his home in Wilmington, Delaware, during the pandemic said he’d consider traveling to Kenosha himself.
“If I were president I’d be going,” Biden said. “But it’s hard to tell now what the circumstance on the ground is.”
Should he make the trip, Biden said, he would attempt to “pull together the Black community as well as the white community and sit down and talk about how we get through this.”
Of Trump, he said: “This is his America now. And, if you want to end where we are now, we’ve got to end his tenure as president.”
Harris focused her speech on Trump’s handling of the coronavirus, which has shuttered much of the U.S. economy for months and killed more than 170,000 Americans. She accused Trump of incompetence that has “become deadly” while painting Biden as a president who would address the pandemic seriously. She criticized Republicans for not painting a clearer picture of the pandemic’s toll during their convention, saying Trump has failed to protect the well-being and safety of Americans.
It's typical for a vice presidential running mate to serve as the primary critic of the opponent, and Harris's speech demonstrated how she'll handle that role. A former prosecutor, her standout moments that have energized Democrats during the Trump presidency have come during her pointed questioning of his administration nominees. Now, she's likely to turn that fire on Trump.
“Before this virus hit, Trump made our country vulnerable," she said. “After it struck, he failed to do what was necessary. As it continues he’s making it worse everyday.”
Associated Press Writers Darlene Superville in Washington and Bill Barrow in Atlanta contributed to this report. Ronayne reported from Sacramento, Calif.