Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden wanted to talk about the economy in must-win Michigan. Instead, he started with an announcement about the status of his health.
“I got two COVID tests this morning,” said Biden, who was wearing a mask while speaking outdoors in Grand Rapids on Friday afternoon. “One in Delaware and one by the former White House doc who came up, and everything’s cleared.”
“We wanted to make sure everything was cleared before I came,” he said.
Biden’s speech was the first time the public had heard from him in person and at length since President Donald Trump announced, just before 1 a.m., that he had tested positive for COVID-19. The former vice president addressed that new reality early into his remarks, sharing “prayers for the health and safety” of the president and first lady Melania Trump, who also received a positive test.
“This is not a matter of politics,” Biden said. “It’s a bracing reminder to all of us that we have to take this virus seriously. It’s not going away automatically. We have to do our part to be responsible.”
After Biden finished talking, The New York Times reported that the Biden campaign would take “negative” campaign advertising against Trump off the air. That decision was reportedly made before the announcement that the president would be transferred from the White House to Walter Reed Medical Center. A campaign aide confirmed the Times’ reporting to The Daily Beast.
Biden’s message in his speech Friday afternoon—equal parts hope for a quick return to health and emphasis on the deadly seriousness of the pandemic—reiterated what he and key allies in the party had said through statements, after remaining initially silent in the early hours after the news broke.
Around mid-day, Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, shared through their personal doctor that they had each been tested for the virus earlier in the morning and that the results were negative. In order to adhere to advice by doctors who urged against gathering in a crowd, Biden said that he had canceled another campaign stop scheduled for later in the afternoon.
The former vice president used part of his roughly 20 minutes of speaking time to address national issues he’s visited in official remarks in the past like bolstering rights for union members, guarding against proposed cuts to Social Security, and helping to stabilize middle income households.
“There are now an additional 781,000 Americans who have been trying to find work for at least six months,” Biden said. “They’ve been looking for work for at least six months and haven’t found it. And in the past, that’s a sign [of] permanency for them. We’re still down 647,000 manufacturing jobs nationwide since the crisis started. All told, we are now 30 million workers who have either lost hours, lost paychecks, or lost their jobs entirely.”
While delivered in Michigan, that message could resonate with voters in neighboring Ohio, the location of last week’s presidential debate. Leading up to Biden’s speech, Democrats applauded their nominee’s decision to resume campaigning in a safe way, emphasizing the precautions his campaign has taken to ease the spread of the virus for months.
“There is no reason for him to pause his activities,” Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), a Biden ally and member of the Congressional Black Caucus, told The Daily Beast on Friday morning.
Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH), who represents Youngstown, said he believes the contrast between Biden’s approach to the pandemic and Trump’s is self-evident, and that he “absolutely” wants him to get out on the campaign trail with just 32 days until Election Day.
“It just kind of highlights itself at this point,” Ryan told The Daily Beast. “All of the tough guy stuff with Trump, making fun of Biden with the mask and making fun of him for isolating and blah, blah, blah. It’s unfortunate that he got it, but of course he got it.”
“He’s messed it up so bad that he got it,” Ryan added. “He should be the easiest person to keep it away from.”
— Sam Stein contributed reporting