Coronavirus is emerging as a major issue in the Democratic presidential race, with former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) both hitting President Trump on the government’s response to the outbreak.
The virus is spreading just as Biden and Sanders approach a critical phase of the campaign, with six states including Michigan voting on Tuesday, followed by contests in Florida, Arizona, Illinois and Ohio on March 17.
“I wish he would just be quiet. I really mean it,” Biden told NBC News on Monday. “Just let the experts speak. And acknowledge whatever they suggest to him is what we should be doing.”
Meanwhile, Sanders hit the Trump administration over its appointment of Vice President Pence to oversee the U.S. response to the virus.
“When you appoint Vice President Pence, an individual who also doesn’t much believe in science, what you are telling the whole world is that we are politicizing this issue, rather than dealing with it from a data, research, scientific basis,” Sanders said during a Fox News town hall on Monday.
There were 700 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the U.S. as of Tuesday, according to NBC News, and medical experts predict the virus will continue to spread.
Concerns about coronavirus led to a plunge in stock markets on Monday and is creating deep economic uncertainty at a time when President Trump was looking to ride stronger growth to reelection.
Trump announced on Monday that he will ask Congress to approve a payroll tax cut and relief for hourly workers in an attempt to alleviate the economic fallout. He has also lashed out at Democrats, saying they are using the outbreak to hurt him politically, while calling it “their new hoax.”
A CNN poll conducted on March 4-7 found that 48 percent of Americans disapprove of Trump’s handling of the crisis, while 41 percent said they approved. Meanwhile, 49 percent said they thought the federal government has done a good job of preventing the spread of the virus, and 42 percent said it has done a poor job.
Beyond attacking the Trump administration’s response, the outbreak of coronavirus has also allowed Biden and Sanders to address how they would handle the issue if elected president.
Sanders has used the global health crisis to argue for his signature “Medicare for All” proposal, at a time when the administration has faced criticism over whether it is sufficiently prepared to deal with the spreading coronavirus in the country.
“When I talk about healthcare being a human right, and all people having healthcare, the coronavirus crisis makes that abundantly clear as to why it should be,” Sanders said at a Fox News town hall on Monday.
Sanders and his surrogates argue that his plan would allow every American diagnosed with a virus to have access to a doctor and a vaccine.
“Imagine a world where it didn’t take a pandemic to stage an argument that everybody deserves to have health care,” physician and former Michigan gubernatorial candidate Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, who has briefed Sanders on the situation, told The Hill.
“The thing about public health is it is political,” he said. “It’s about whether or not we’re willing to have a plan for out future.”
Meanwhile, Biden has touted his experience as vice president, citing his experience working to combat the Ebola outbreak in 2014 during the Obama administration.
“In September 2014, CDC projections warned that over 1 million people could be infected if we failed to act,” Biden wrote in a USA Today op-ed earlier this month. “By February 2015, thanks to the leadership of our administration, the number of new Ebola cases was fewer than 400. A few months later, the epidemic was essentially extinguished.”
The former vice president pledged in the same op-ed to repair public trust in the federal government’s ability to respond to crises.
“I will rebuild public trust, make sure we have dedicated resources to help us respond to crises quickly, and better harness the capabilities of the private sector to protect the American people. Our national security requires nothing less,” he wrote.
The coronavirus outbreak and its impact on the markets have led to comparisons with the global financial crisis of 2008, which erupted in the middle of a presidential campaign battle between then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and then-Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).
Many strategists credited Obama with showing leadership during the crisis, which helped ease concerns about his experience as a first-term senator.
The coronavirus could similarly influence how voters perceive Sanders and Biden, strategists said, while drawing scrutiny to how Trump handles the economic fallout.
“It is a fair chance to demonstrate a difference in leadership styles and a difference in the way you approach a crisis,” said Moe Vela, a Democratic strategist and White House adviser in the Clinton and Obama administrations who sits on the board of directors at TransparentBusiness.
“If you’re going to use the economy as a gauge for how great you’re doing, you’re also going to be held accountable when it doesn’t do well,” Vella added. “It should be a major consideration by voters when they go in and make their choice.”