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Obama Railed Against Trump’s Coronavirus Response In His First Campaign Trail Speech

The president has done nothing but “completely screw this up,” Obama said in Philadelphia.

Posted on October 21, 2020, at 8:15 p.m. ET

Michael M. Santiago / Getty Images

Barack Obama speaks at a drive-in rally for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in Philadelphia, Oct. 21.

Former president Barack Obama criticized President Donald Trump with unusual intensity on Wednesday — attacking him for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, his tax returns, and his embrace of the mass delusions and conspiracy theories that have spread across the country — during his first public campaign event for Joe Biden.

“We literally left this White House a pandemic playbook that would have shown them how to respond before the virus reached our shores,” Obama said to a crowd of people parked in cars in Philadelphia. “They probably used it to — I don’t know — prop up a wobbly table somewhere. We don’t know where that playbook went.”

He told the audience that Trump wouldn’t be able to protect the country during the country's most recent spike in coronavirus cases. “He can’t even take the basic steps to protect himself,” he said, mentioning Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination event at the White House, where many people in attendance did not wear masks and tested positive for the virus in the days after.

“This pandemic would have been challenging for any president, but this idea that somehow this White House has done anything but completely screw this up is just not true,” Obama said before pointing to how countries like South Korea and Canada have handled the pandemic.

“Other countries are still struggling with the pandemic, but they're not doing as bad as we are, because they've got a government that's actually been paying attention,” he said.

He later added, “When the daily intelligence briefings flash warning signs about a virus, a president can't ignore them. He can't be AWOL.”

The speech was a more intense version of the argument that he and Michelle Obama delivered during the Democratic National Convention in August. The speech at a drive-in rally in Pennsylvania hammered away at an argument that Democrats have made for months against the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

He urged voters to support Biden’s campaign and to turn out to the polls in higher numbers than they did in the 2016 election, warning them that the polls then predicted a different outcome and that similar polls now shouldn’t make them complacent. Pennsylvania is one of the most critical states in the election; Trump won it with a slim margin in 2016.

The speech comes as the Democratic National Committee rolled out a seven-figure ad campaign featuring the former president in five battleground states urging voters to make a plan to vote early or in person in their states.

Obama also attacked the president on taxes, saying Trump shouldn’t owe money to people in foreign countries. “He may be sending more to foreign governments than he pays in the United States,” he said before comparing Biden’s plans to the current situation in the White House. And he made a particular pitch for the relative boredom of a Biden White House: “With Joe and Kamala at the helm, you're not going to have to think about the crazy things they said every day.

"You'll be able to go about your lives knowing that the president is not going to retweet conspiracy theories about secret cabals running the world or that Navy SEALS didn't actually kill bin Laden," he soon after added. "Think about that. The president of the United States retweeted that."

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