Joe Biden’s campaign said Saturday it will now disclose the results of every coronavirus test the candidate takes, following increased pressure for more transparency after President Donald Trump recently tested positive for the virus and Vice President Mike Pence has released results for two consecutive days.
“We have adhered to strict and extensive safety practices recommended by public health experts and doctors in all of our campaigning — including social distancing, mask wearing, and additional safeguards,” campaign spokesman Andrew Bates said in a statement. “Vice President Biden is being tested regularly, and we will be releasing the results of each test.”
Bates did not say how often Biden would be undergoing such tests, beyond saying they would happen on a regular basis. Biden, who tested negative on Friday, told reporters that he had not undergone a test on Saturday but would on Sunday.
Biden’s approach has come under increased scrutiny now that Trump has been hospitalized. Unlike Trump, Biden has made a point of abiding by the recommendations of public health officials, although he has continued his travel despite his proximity to Trump on the debate stage last Tuesday.
Biden’s campaign has scrapped a partially indoor event and suspended negative ads since Trump’s diagnosis, while the candidate himself took the unusual step of wearing a mask throughout an entire speech and, on Saturday, declined to criticize the president during a town hall event with transit workers.
With Election Day now a month away, the campaign is trying to figure out how to approach an unprecedented situation with the 74-year-old incumbent hospitalized and the 77-year-old challenger himself at risk.
“I really don’t think that anybody knows how it changes the dynamics yet,” said Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., Biden’s campaign co-chairman.
Richmond did predict that Biden’s message will shift to focus less on Trump and more on Biden’s plans should he win. “I think you stick more to policy,” he said, noting that Biden has already put the need for better management of the pandemic at the center of his pitch.
On Saturday, Biden was initially reluctant to criticize Trump during a virtual event with members of the Amalgamated Transit Union when he was asked how he would handle the coronavirus pandemic differently.
“Fundamentally differently,” Biden said. Then he added, “I’m in a little bit of a spot here because I don’t want to be attacking the president and the first lady now, because they’ve now contracted the coronavirus. Jill and I pray for their quick recovery.”
But Biden went on to ridicule Trump for not providing enough personal protective equipment to workers most at risk of catching the coronavirus.
“If that’s not the president’s responsibility, what the hell — what the heck is his responsibility,” Biden said, before taking on a mocking tone. ” ‘Not my fault, I have no responsibility. Go to your mayor, your governor, your employer.’ It’s unconscionable!”
Trump’s prognosis remains uncertain, and it may be difficult for the Biden camp to formulate a longer-term strategy until it becomes clear how serious the president’s condition is. An ill president tends to evoke empathy and concern, though Trump’s situation is more complicated because he so openly flouted health recommendations and expressed contempt for those who did follow the rules, including Biden.
Instead of focusing on his critique of Trump, Biden has reiterated his commitment to mask-wearing, an implicit rebuke to the president’s reluctance to wear a face covering.
“Here’s what I’ll do as president,” Biden said in his remarks Saturday. “Number one, call on every single American to wear a mask when around other people outside their households. That includes when they ride public transportation, buses, trains, airplanes.”
Biden wore a mask for an entire 20-minute speech on Friday, a departure from his normal practice of wearing a mask as he walks to a podium and then removing it when he delivers an address.
Biden’s team decided to go ahead with a planned campaign trip to Grand Rapids, Mich., on Friday, although he had been exposed to Trump three days earlier at the debate. The decision was made on the advice of doctors who, among other factors, felt that he had not been close enough to Trump or his entourage during the debate to merit self-isolation.
“There certainly will be people who wonder if this was close contact or not,” said a medical expert advising the Biden campaign who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak frankly. “Recognizing that no rules are right 100% of the time, and not everyone will always agree, in this case the vice president was really following the best of the public health guidance.”
Bates added, “When he was not on the debate stage, he wore a mask — which he has called on all Americans to do as a patriotic duty to protect one another.”
Other Democrats are taking a different approach. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., announced Saturday that he plans to self-quarantine for two weeks after sitting near Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., who recently tested positive, during a hearing. “I’ll keep doing my job, fighting for Michiganders, by working virtually from home,” he said.
Debate moderator Chris Wallace, who was seated farther from Trump, has said he was in a “uniquely vulnerable circle” because he was on the debate stage. Wallace said that his physician recommended that he wait until Monday to take a test, since “it takes five days for the virus to load up enough and I could have a test today and it’d be a false negative.” Wallace has self-quarantined since the debate.
Richmond said that the developments underscore the importance of enforcing the health rules at the debates, adding that he does not know whether there will be another Trump-Biden debate. Two more are scheduled.
Biden also addressed the uncertainty over the debates in a local Michigan TV interview Friday night, saying he hopes that there will be more of them. If they happen, he said, “it means the president’s able — he’s healthy, he’s able to debate.”
He referred to the ongoing discussions between the presidential campaigns and the Commission on Presidential Debates, the independent body that oversees the four matchups. Biden’s team has pushed for Sen. Kamala Harris of California and Vice President Mike Pence to be further apart on the stage.
Also, before Trump’s diagnosis was revealed, Biden’s team had offered suggestions to add more structure to the debates, including the possibility of a mute button.
“I understand the debate commission is debating — no pun intended — rule changes,” Biden told WOOD-TV, an NBC affiliate in Grand Rapids, Mich., during a Friday interview. “My view is, whatever they decide is fine by me.”
Biden aides say they’re expecting the vice-presidential debate to go forward as planned on Wednesday.
The also stressed that they don’t expect any major overhaul to Biden’s schedule, which includes trips in the coming days to Arizona and Florida.