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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Against a strange COVID-19 backdrop, Biden-Trump crossfire intensifies

Former Vice President Joe Biden on March 12.

Former Vice President Joe Biden on March 12. Credit: AP / Matt Rourke

For both ex-Vice President Joe Biden and President Donald Trump, party nominations remain months away. The same goes for deciding how and when there will be face-to-face debates. Yet the verbal dueling already is ramping up amid the biggest national crisis of its kind.

On Thursday, the presumed Democratic challenger, Biden, accused Trump of framing a "false choice" on coronavirus, between protecting public health and resuming economic activities. In an NBC interview, he said widespread testing — a weak link in the White House response — will be key to deciding when and where Americans return to work.

“We have to ensure that hospitals are ready for a flare-up,” Biden said of COVID-19. “The idea this isn’t going to flare up is just preposterous. It’s going to come back in some form or another.”

Deprived of his rallies, Trump campaigns during daily coronavirus task-force briefings, where he spins and blames others for delayed actions on testing, lockdowns and other logistical problems. He takes credit for Congress-crafted relief programs, but on Wednesday, he targeted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as a "weak and pathetic puppet" who is "totally incompetent."

For campaign purposes, Trump shows an effort to cut things both ways. Reading an address to the nation last month, he said: "We must put politics aside, stop the partisanship and unify together as one nation and one family."

Biden surely would agree with Pelosi when she said: "Sadly, as he has since Day One, the president is ignoring global health experts, disregarding science and undermining the heroes fighting on the front line, at great risk to the lives and livelihoods of Americans and people around the world.”

A classic Democratic vs. Republican White House clash is on display over how hands-on the federal response should be. Biden has been urging Trump to use the Defense Production Act and appoint someone with a military background to oversee distribution of supplies produced under that authority.

Trump touts big businesses at briefings, sometimes telethon-style as if they are charitable donors. The president did invoke the DPA to push makers of face masks and ventilators, though his order hasn't solved equipment shortages.

The politics of the relief packages have shown shades of party difference over who to help and how. Trump is now taking a passive stance on how and when states revise social restrictions.

After failing to knock Biden out of the Democratic race with unsupported smears involving Ukrainian natural gas business, the Trump camp is trying to paint him as an ally of China with the moniker "Beijing Biden." “Now more than ever, America must stop China,” a narrator says in a pro-Trump ad over eerie music as a Chinese flag waves on screen. “And to stop China, you have to stop Joe Biden.”

The Biden camp replied eagerly with a statement: “Trump spent vital weeks praising China’s [coronavirus] response as successful and transparent while deceiving the American people about the extreme threat we faced and failing to prepare our country. China played Donald Trump for a sucker, and now all of us are paying an atrocious price for his malpractice.”

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