Biden Makes 1st Campaign Appearance Since Pandemic, to Honor Vets, as Maskless Trump Jabs Him for His Mask
"It feels good to be out of my house," the former vice president told reporters
It was a study in contrasts: Former Vice President Joe Biden and President Donald Trump, some five months before they will likely face-off in November's general election, attended separate commemorative Memorial Day events.
Biden, 77, made a previously unannounced stop at the Veteran's Memorial Park at the Delaware Memorial Bridge in New Castle, not far from his home in Wilmington.
It was the first physical campaign appearance for the vice president in more than two months. In accordance with public health guidelines, he has remained almost entirely at home since mid-March — instead hosting virtual rallies, roundtables, fundraisers and the like, to avoid contracting or spreading the novel coronavirus.
"It feels good to be out of my house," he told reporters on Monday. (He has reportedly left his home occasionally for exercise.)
At the veteran's park, he and wife Dr. Jill Biden, both in black face masks, placed a wreath of white flowers before a memorial wall bearing the names of some 15,000 lives lost to World War II and the Korean War.
The Bidens arrived at the park just before 11:30 a.m. and were back home within 30 minutes. In addition to the observance, they also spoke briefly with reporters and some other assembled attendees, including retired Gen. Francis D. Vavala of the Delaware National Guard and county politician Matt Meyer.
"Never forget the sacrifices that these men and women made," the vice president said at the park. "Never, ever forget."
This week will mark the five-year anniversary of his oldest son's death from brain cancer. Beau Biden, a former Delaware attorney general, had served in the Delaware National Guard and was deployed to the Middle East.
President Trump, 73, made two Memorial Day appearances of his own: on Monday morning for a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery and, around noon, at the Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine in Baltimore for another observance.
"I stand before you at this noble fortress of American liberty to pay tribute to the immortal souls who fought and died to keep us free," Trump said. "Earlier today, the first lady and I laid a wreath in their sacred honor at Arlington National Cemetery. Now we come together to salute the flag they gave their lives to so boldly and brilliantly defend. And we pledge, in their cherished memories, that this majestic flag will proudly fly forever."
Neither he nor First Lady Melania Trump wore masks at the Memorial Day events. Vice President Mike Pence — who previously wore a mask during some travel after facing widespread backlash for skipping a mask during a Mayo Clinic visit in late April — on Monday also skipped a face covering.
Since early April, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has urged people to wear masks or face coverings in public where social distancing was difficult, such as in stores or more crowded areas. The novel coronavirus is spread by respiratory droplets such as those from breathing, coughing and sneezing.
The president has never bought into the mask advice, though the first lady has also endorsed it.
During a visit last week to a Ford factory producing medical supplies and personal protective equipment, the president wore a face mask in private but he did not wear one during the public portion of his tour, where he could be seen by cameras.
"I did not want to give the press the pleasure of seeing it,” he said then.
On Monday he took a jab at the vice president for wearing a mask, as recommended by health officials: Trump retweeted a post from Fox News analyst Brit Hume that implied Biden's choice of a mask was unbecoming.
"This might help explain why Trump doesn’t like to wear a mask in public. Biden today," Hume wrote along with a close-up photo of Biden's face, with the black mask and wearing dark sunglasses.
President Trump, like Biden, largely remained indoors in the early weeks of the coronavirus pandemic and he has canceled the in-person events — like the large rallies of supporters — that had been his signature campaign tactic. But in recent weeks he has begun to travel more and his campaign has repeatedly attacked Biden for choosing to still campaign from home — "hid[ing] in his basement."
Biden's choices have drawn the concern of some Democratic strategists as well, according to the Associated Press.
“Voters don’t give a s--- about where he’s filming from,” Biden's campaign manager previously told the AP. “What they care about is what he’s saying and how we connect with them.”
Last weekend, Trump played golf at his Virginia property. The Biden campaign immediately seized on that for a new attack ad, contrasting the choice with the death toll from the coronavirus and hoping to amplify the heavy scrutiny of the Trump administration's virus strategy, tracing back to issues with rolling out testing kits in March.
Trump defended himself, tweeting that his golf was a form of exercise. "The Fake & Totally Corrupt News makes it sound like a mortal sin," he wrote.
The president has openly waffled between the shutdowns and preventative measures that health officials believe are needed to slow the coronavirus versus the economic damage they cause, with businesses and schools closed.
Trump sees a robust economy as key to his re-election pitch. Against the recommendations of some health officials, he has pushed for states to move more quickly in returning to life as normal, despite their number of coronavirus cases.
As of Tuesday morning, more than 1.6 million people had contracted the virus in the U.S. and more than 98,000 people had died, according to a New York Times tracker.