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Former U.S. President Barack Obama. (REUTERS)
Former U.S. President Barack Obama. (REUTERS)

Obama hitting trail for Biden, setting up clash with Trump

  • The current president has repeatedly criticized his predecessor and sought to undo many of his policies

Former President Barack Obama returned to the campaign trail Wednesday with a blistering critique of President Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the economic repercussions, while the president barnstormed battleground states as he seeks a boost in the closing days of the race.

Mr. Obama made his first fall campaign appearances in Philadelphia, in the heart of one of the nation’s top battleground states, where he urged voters to support Democratic nominee Joe Biden, his former vice president. Mr. Obama said the president had failed to deliver on the most basic responsibilities of the presidency: The health and safety of the nation.

“I get that this president wants full credit for the economy he inherited and zero blame for the pandemic that he ignored. But you know what, the job doesn’t work that way," the former president said at a drive-in rally outside Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park. “Tweeting at the television doesn’t fix things. Making stuff up doesn’t make people’s lives better. You’ve got to have a plan."

Referencing Mr. Trump’s contraction of the coronavirus earlier this month, Mr. Obama said: “Donald Trump isn’t suddenly going to protect all of us. He can’t even take the basic steps to protect himself."

Mr. Trump, who has repeatedly criticized his predecessor and sought to undo his major policies, dismissed Mr. Obama’s criticism during an evening rally in North Carolina, one of about a dozen key competitive states for both campaigns.

Before a massive outdoor crowd in Gastonia, Mr. Trump said that “There was nobody that campaigned harder for crooked Hillary Clinton," returning to a nickname he frequently used for his 2016 rival.

“He said, ‘He will not be our president,’ but before that he said, ‘He will not run.’ Then I ran," Mr. Trump said. “And he said, ‘He will not get the nomination.’ I got the nomination. And he said, ‘He will not be our president,’ and I won."

“The only one more unhappy than Crooked Hillary that night was Barack Hussein Obama," Mr. Trump said, emphasizing his predecessor’s full name. Mr. Trump has previously suggested that Mr. Obama, who is Christian, might be Muslim.

During his more than hourlong remarks, he framed the race as a choice “between a Trump super recovery or a Biden super depression. It’s between a Trump boom and a Biden lockdown."

Mr. Trump declared the coronavirus pandemic was “rounding a corner," as new cases are rising in the United States. He said that under Mr. Biden “rioters and MS 13 killers" would roam free, referring to the criminal gang. And he said Mr. Biden would raise people’s taxes. Mr. Biden’s tax hike plan would affect those making $400,000 and above.

Mr. Trump also continued his attacks on Mr. Biden’s son Hunter and his international business dealings. And seeking to win support from women, he appealed to “America’s incredible moms," promising to open schools.

The dueling appearances by current and former White House occupants came on the eve of Thursday’s final debate and with less than two weeks remaining before the November election. Mr. Biden was off the campaign trail for a third straight day at his Delaware home, preparing for the debate. His running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, was also in North Carolina Wednesday.

Polls show Mr. Biden with an edge over the president nationally and in a number of battleground states, but Mr. Biden’s campaign has warned against complacency and sought to galvanize a large turnout of early voters. More than 40 million people have already voted, according to data compiled by the U.S. Elections Project at the University of Florida.

During an earlier appearance, Mr. Obama stressed the need to vote, telling a group of Black lawmakers and community leaders that only a large turnout would bring the changes they demand.

Pennsylvania was among a group of key states, along with Michigan and Wisconsin, that saw a drop-off in Black support for Democrats in the 2016 election compared with Mr. Obama’s two victories.

The former president sought to galvanize support among young and Black voters for Mr. Biden in the campaign’s closing weeks.

Mr. Obama criticized the president for his handling of the pandemic, prompting supporters to honk their horns in parked cars. He said the pandemic, which has killed more than 220,000 Americans, would have tested any president, “but this idea that somehow this White House has done anything but completely screw this up is just not true."

He noted a rise in cases in the U.S. and said other nations, such as South Korea and Canada, had handled the virus more adeptly. “When asked if he would do anything differently, Trump said, ‘Not much.’ Really? Not much?" Mr. Obama asked. “Nothing you can think of that could have helped some people keep their loved ones alive?"

Mr. Trump captured Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes in 2016, the first Republican candidate to do so since 1988, and Mr. Biden’s campaign has made returning his birth state to the Democratic column a central part of his strategy.

Mr. Obama delivered his Democratic National Convention address from Philadelphia in August and is expected to be deployed during the campaign’s final days to early voting states with the aim of mobilizing Black, Latino and young voters on behalf of Mr. Biden.

Mr. Trump, who is seeking to avoid becoming the first White House incumbent to lose re-election since 1992, has blitzed a series of battleground states, including Arizona on Monday and Pennsylvania on Tuesday.

The president’s advisers view his aggressive travel schedule as a key counterbalance to Mr. Biden, who has done fewer in-person events because of the pandemic but has been outspending the president on television advertising.

Ahead of his rally in Gastonia, N.C., Mr. Trump warned his supporters on Twitter Wednesday that Mr. Biden would “raise your taxes at a level never seen before," and “destroy our economy, which is coming back very rapidly."

Mr. Biden has proposed maintaining Mr. Trump’s tax cuts for what he calls middle-class households but has proposed a sharp increase in taxes on corporations and households making more than $400,000 a year.

Ms. Harris said during an event in Asheville, N.C., that the president had been “rejecting science from Day One," adding that he was “rejecting science on the issue of this virus."

“And on the other hand you have a Joe Biden, who embraces science, who will be a leader who says that the public-health experts must guide the policy decisions we make on all of these issues," she said.

In recent days, Mr. Trump has renewed his criticism of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert. He cut off an interview Tuesday with CBS’s “60 Minutes" and threatened to post the interview before next weekend’s airtime.

And he has slammed a decision by debate organizers to mute microphones for portions of Thursday night’s debate in Nashville. The president said he would participate in the debate despite his complaints over the format.

White House aides said Wednesday that Mr. Trump planned to press Mr. Biden during the debate about the international business dealings of his son Hunter Biden. The president has asserted that the Biden family personally benefited from the former vice president’s office.

Hunter Biden has denied any wrongdoing but said he exercised poor judgment by joining the board of an Ukrainian energy company while his father’s vice presidential duties included Ukraine. A recent investigation by Republican senators didn’t demonstrate that the former vice president sought the removal of Ukraine’s top prosecutor in 2016 to protect the company, Burisma Holdings, from investigation.

White House communications director Alyssah Farah said if the moderator doesn’t raise the topic, Mr. Trump will. “The president’s ready to pose those questions directly to him because the American people deserve to know, especially on this Hunter issue," Ms. Farah said on Fox Business.

Dr. Jill Biden, Mr. Biden’s wife, said in an interview Wednesday with ABC’s “The View" that the criticism of her family was meant to be a diversion.

“The American people don’t want to hear these smears against my family. The American people are struggling right now," she said.

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text

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