Day After Debate, Biden and Trump Amplify Attacks, Seeking an Edge

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Joseph Biden continued to hammer President Trump over his denial of the coronavirus threat, while the president sought to exploit what he viewed as a new opening — Mr. Biden’s comments on oil.

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Sydney EmberMaggie Haberman

Oct. 23, 2020, 7:05 p.m. ET

President Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr. sought to amplify their closing arguments on Friday, with Mr. Biden returning to his core message that the president had botched the federal response to the coronavirus pandemic while Mr. Trump seized on a new opening, hammering Mr. Biden on his energy policy.

With just 11 days until Election Day, Mr. Trump unleashed a fusillade of attacks against Mr. Biden, who said during the debate in Nashville on Thursday that he would push the country to “transition away from the oil industry” and end federal subsidies.

“One of the most stunning moments last night was when Joe Biden admitted that he wants to abolish the oil industry,” Mr. Trump said, exaggerating Mr. Biden’s position, during a rally at The Villages retirement community in Central Florida. “That could be one of the worst mistakes made in presidential debate history.”

At one point, Mr. Trump misleadingly presented voters with “a choice between optimism, patriotic vision for American success” and what he described as Mr. Biden’s “gloomy vision.”

“All he talks about is Covid, Covid, Covid. Because they want to scare people,” Mr. Trump said, before declaring, “We’ve done so well with it.”

Earlier in the day during a speech near his home in Wilmington, Del., Mr. Biden focused his attention on the coronavirus, vowing more aggressive federal action for the “dark winter” ahead — a phrase he also used during the debate. He also denounced Mr. Trump’s familiar assertion that the pandemic was “rounding the corner” and “going away” even as cases surge across the country.

Arguing that the coronavirus “isn’t showing any signs of slowing down,” Mr. Biden placed blame for the rising death toll squarely at Mr. Trump’s feet, repeating with a tone of incredulity Mr. Trump’s comments earlier in the week that he would do “not much” differently regarding the pandemic if he were given the opportunity for a do-over.

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“As many as 210,000 avoidable deaths, and there’s not much he would do differently?” Mr. Biden said. “If this is a success, what’s a failure look like?”

During his speech, Mr. Biden did not address his debate-stage remarks about the oil industry. But his campaign spent the hours following the debate performing cleanup after Mr. Trump — sensing the chance to gain an edge in swing states with energy-heavy industries — pounced on the former vice president’s comments and invoked a series of electoral battlegrounds, including Texas and Pennsylvania.

Speaking to reporters late on Thursday night at the Nashville airport, Mr. Biden himself tried to clarify his remarks, saying, “We’re getting rid of the subsidies for fossil fuels, but we’re not getting rid of fossil fuels for a long time.”

Senator Kamala Harris, Mr. Biden’s running mate, picked up the baton on Friday and also insisted that Mr. Biden was referring to his pledge to eliminate oil subsidies.

“The president likes to put everything out of context,” she said. “But let’s be clear: What Joe was talking about was banning subsidies, but he will not ban fracking.”

Advisers to Mr. Trump were thrilled with the president’s debate performance, and they hoped that he would be able to sustain something approximating discipline into the remaining days. But they conceded that even with that, there may simply not be enough time for Mr. Trump to change his fortunes.

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With the presidential race hurtling into the final stretch, the dueling events underscored how Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden have doubled down on their campaign themes and approaches as they press sharply divergent visions for the country.

At his rally at The Villages, Mr. Trump hurled insults at Mr. Biden, played a video of the former vice president debating Senator Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary, and said that the country did not want a socialist president — “especially a female socialist president,” he said. That was a reference to Mr. Biden’s running mate, Ms. Harris, whom Mr. Trump and Republicans have falsely portrayed as a far-left radical who will dominate a Biden presidency.

Mr. Trump also returned to some of his favorite grievances, mocking the media and complaining that he is not treated fairly.

During an Oval Office event earlier in the day announcing a peace deal between Israel and Sudan, with the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, on the phone, the president asked Mr. Netanyahu if he thought “Sleepy Joe” could have accomplished such a deal. Mr. Netanyahu paused before saying his country welcomes help from any American, moving cautiously so as not to risk insulting Mr. Biden.

The dueling campaign events came one day after the two men met on the debate stage for the second and final time in a clash that was on the whole more restrained than their chaotic debate three weeks ago.

Aiming to build momentum, both candidates have campaign stops scheduled for the weekend in key battleground states, with Mr. Biden heading to two counties in Pennsylvania on Saturday, and Mr. Trump holding a flurry of rallies in North Carolina, Ohio, Wisconsin and New Hampshire over the weekend.

At his own event, Mr. Biden, lobbed familiar barbs at Mr. Trump regarding the coronavirus, but also articulated the values underpinning the central argument of his campaign. In a particularly pointed moment, he vowed not to “let four years of Donald Trump rob us of the most fundamental American qualities: our hope in the future and our faith in ourselves.”

And in a clear departure from Mr. Trump, who reiterated at his rally that the country was “rounding the corner” on the pandemic, Mr. Biden laid out the immediate steps he would take to rein in the coronavirus if elected.

They included reaching out to every governor, as well as mayors and local officials, during the transition period, to “find out what support they need and how much of it they need.” He said he would ask Congress to put a bill on his desk by the end of January outlining the resources needed for the country’s public health and economic response to the virus.

Mr. Biden also said he would ask every governor to institute a mask mandate in their states; if they refused, he said, he would work with local officials to get mandates in place. And he said he would impose a national mask mandate in federal buildings and on interstate transportation.

Once again connecting the future of the Affordable Care Act to the Supreme Court battle, Mr. Biden warned that overturning the health law would mean people would have to pay for a potential coronavirus vaccine and vowed to make it free for everyone.

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