Biden CNN town hall in Pa.: 3 takeaways from a battle between Scranton and Park Avenue
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden says while he trusts what scientists say about a potential coronavirus vaccine, he doesn't trust President Donald Trump. Biden spelled out his views on a coronavirus vaccine Wednesday. (September 16) AP Domestic
Former Vice President Joe Biden is setting up the rest of the 2020 presidential race as a battle between "Scranton and Park Avenue."
Speaking during a CNN drive-in town hall in Moosic, about 10 miles south of his hometown, Biden drew a contrast between his blue-collar roots and President Donald J. Trump's family wealth and focus on the stock market.
He was appealing to the nurses, teachers and other working-class voters who were asking him questions, as well as those watching live — especially in Rust Belt states like battleground Pennsylvania, which Trump narrowly won by 44,000 votes in 2016.
Biden said he would raise wages, expand health care and take seriously the ongoing pandemic that has claimed nearly 200,000 American lives and sickened about 7 million people in the United States.
Trump during a "20/20" town hall Tuesday at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia took questions on the coronavirus, the military and what he will do about racial injustice.
Trump town hall in Pa.: 3 takeaways from the president on covid, racism and the military
The questions for Biden at the CNN town hall Thursday night, hosted by anchor Anderson Cooper, also focused on the coronavirus and racial injustice.
Both town halls this week further emphasize the importance of battleground Pennsylvania in this year's election.
FiveThirtyEight said Pennsylvania "looks like the single most important state of the 2020 election" and is "by far the likeliest state to provide either President Trump or Joe Biden with the decisive vote in the Electoral College: It has a 31 percent chance of being the tipping-point state."
Here are some key moments from Biden's town hall that ended at 9 p.m. Tuesday:
Wages and workers
Biden used a question from a patient advocate at a nearby cancer treatment center to explain that he would increase wages for health care workers and draw a contrast to his political rival.
“I view this campaign as a campaign between Scranton and Park Avenue,” Biden said. “All Trump can see from Park Avenue is Wall Street. All he thinks about is the stock market.”
Biden said Trump’s decision to downplay the pandemic, which the president said he did to prevent panic, was actually to protect the stock market and his re-election bid.
In his neighborhood of Scranton, there weren't many people who owned stock, he said.
The cancer center worker said he had to get a credit card with 25 percent interest just to buy food during the current economic downturn because he is making less than $15 an hour.
"No one should have to work two jobs to be able to get out of poverty," Biden said.
In a later exchange with a nurse who voted for Trump in 2016, Biden praised frontline workers like her.
“If there’s any angels in Heaven, they’re all nurses — male and female,” he said. “Docs let you live, nurses make you want to live.”
The former vice-president repeatedly punched up his connection to blue-collar workers and northeastern Pennsylvania, which was built on steel and coal.
But even with humble Irish Catholic beginnings, Biden said he still benefited from White privilege.
“I don’t have to go through what my Black brothers and sisters go through," he said.
Yet he said he could relate to the feeling of being looked down on and has also encountered that as a three-time presidential candidate without an Ivy League degree.
“We’re used to guys looking down their nose at us, or people who look at us and think that we’re suckers,” Biden said. “You didn’t have a college degree, you must be stupid, if in fact you didn’t get to go to an ivy school.”
When Trump campaigns in Pennsylvania, he frequently mentions that he went to the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, an Ivy League school.
"Guys like Trump are the people that I’ve always had a problem with, not the people busting their necks," he said.
It's about the coronavirus
Biden used the town hall to draw contrast to Trump's handling of the coronavirus.
Biden said he would trusts scientists, not Trump, on a vaccine and coronavirus recommendations. That includes the advice of Dr. Tony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert and director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
"I don't trust the president on vaccines. I trust Dr. Fauci," Biden said. "If Fauci says a vaccine is safe, I would take the vaccine. We should listen to the scientists, not to the president."
Biden also criticized Trump's approach to masks.
"The president continues to think that masks don't matter very much, although he says it and has these large gatherings with everybody around with no masks on," Biden said. "And it's extremely dangerous. And so there's a lot of people, a lot of people hurt. A lot of people not being able to see their families."
Biden said the way Trump has "downplayed" the virus is "close to criminal."
"He knew it. He knew it, and did nothing," he said.
Biden said he would never downplay the virus.
"We have to make sure we lay out to the American people, the truth. Tell them the truth," he said.
Candy Woodall is a reporter for the USA Today Network. She can be reached at 717-480-1783 or on Twitter at @candynotcandace.