Biden signaled that he shared the questioner’s concern that Trump frequently refers to the pandemic as the “China virus,” saying, “the way he deals with people based on the color of their skin, their national origin, where they’re from, is absolutely sickening.”
“No sitting president has ever done this,” Biden said. “Never, never, never. No Republican president has done this. No Democratic president. We’ve had racists, and they’ve existed, they’ve tried to get elected president. He’s the first one that has.”
Trump and other White House officials have routinely referred to the coronavirus as the “China virus,” or the “Wuhan virus,” and even, “the Kung Flu.” Many have accused the president of stoking xenophobia against Asians.
“And the way he pits people against one another is all designed to divide the country, divide people, not pull them together,” Biden continued. “Look what he’s doing now. He’s blaming everything on China. . . . He’s using it as a wedge.”
Trump was asked about Biden’s comment during a White House news briefing, and did not address it or Biden directly. Instead, the president touted his record and said, as he has many times in the past, that he’d “done more for black Americans than anybody with the possible exception of Abraham Lincoln. Nobody has even been close.”
Katrina Pierson, a Trump campaign senior adviser, did directly address Biden’s comments, calling them “an insult to the intelligence of black voters” and pointed to remarks Biden has made in the past. Biden last year faced criticism from his Democratic primary opponents when he spoke favorably of his ability to work with segregationist senators, and he once had to apologize for calling Barack Obama “the first mainstream African American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.”
“President Trump loves all people, works hard to empower all Americans, and is supported by more black voters than any Republican presidential candidate in modern history,” Pierson said. “No one should take lectures on racial justice from Joe Biden.”
Though Biden calls Trump the first racist to be president, history shows the United States has had leaders who either were openly racist, such as enslavers, used racist language, expressed racist views or enacted racist policies.
Symone Sanders, a Biden campaign senior adviser, acknowledged that although Trump isn’t the first racist president, he’s unique in modern history.
“There have been a number of racist American presidents, but Trump stands out — especially in modern history — because he made running on racism and division his calling card and won,” Sanders said.
Biden has repeatedly accused the president of stoking racism, or using words as a “dog whistle” to racists, but this appears to be the first time he has actually labeled Trump himself that way.
When Biden announced that he was running for president a third time, he said the catalyst was Trump’s response in 2017 to the protests in Charlottesville that resulted in the death of a counterprotester. In the immediate aftermath, Trump said there were some “very fine people on both sides” of the protests.
Last year, Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart asked Biden whether it was wrong to describe Trump as “a racist with a white supremacist policy agenda.”
Biden answered, “No,” but said he did not want to wade into labeling whether Trump is personally racist, but said Trump was promoting “racist policies.”
“The way he talks about Muslims, the way he talks about them as if they’re pariah. The way he talks about immigrants as if they are, they’re corrupting America, as if they’re all terrorists. I mean, it’s just bizarre,” Biden said.
Also last year, when Trump said four Democratic congresswomen of color should “go back . . . to the places from which they came,” Biden called it “a flat racist attack.”
Matt Viser contributed to this report.