Joe Biden has taken aggressive aim at Donald Trump’s fitness for the Oval Office, suggesting he had abdicated his duty to protect both US troops abroad and American citizens facing a pandemic and economic calamity.
Mr Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, told reporters the president had “a lot to answer for” concerning news reports he was advised as early as March 2019 of intelligence suggesting Russia was offering bounties to the Taliban for the deaths of Americans.
And, in prepared remarks, Mr Biden accused Mr Trump of “waving the white flag” as coronavirus cases surged nationwide and the death toll surpasses 125,000.
The dual assault reflects the core of Mr Biden’s candidacy, built on the argument that Mr Trump is morally and temperamentally unfit to lead the nation.
Mr Biden sought again on Tuesday to draw sharp contrasts with his own experience and style as a former vice president and long-time senator.
He stopped short of saying Mr Trump had violated his oath of office or should face consequences from Congress based on any inaction on potential Russian bounties.
But he called it “an absolute dereliction of duty if any of this is even remotely true” and added, in that case, that the public should “unrelated to my running, conclude that this man is unfit to be president of the United States of America”.
The Associated Press has reported at least one of Mr Trump’s daily intelligence briefings included evidence of Russian bounties.
Mr Trump has insisted he was never briefed on such details because they weren’t credible.
Mr Biden said on Tuesday he had not had a classified briefing on the material or on Mr Trump’s handling of it, but said he may request one soon.
Major-party nominees receive daily intelligence briefings, but Mr Biden is not yet the official nominee.
Throughout this election campaign, Mr Biden has hammered Mr Trump for “cosying up” to Russian President Vladimir Putin and other autocrats.
He has also warned Mr Putin’s long-term goal is to destabilise NATO and Western alliances in place since World War II.
Mr Biden said Mr Trump should have called his military and national security team together to reconcile any intelligence discrepancies on the Russian bounty reports.
“He should have, at a minimum, picked up the phone and said, ‘Vladimir, old buddy, if any of this is true … you’ve got a big problem,” Mr Biden said.
The 77-year-old Biden also used Mr Trump’s explanations – that he was unaware of any such intelligence reports – to turn the tables on the president’s frequent mockery of Mr Biden’s mental acuity.
Mr Biden said his 74-year-old rival “doesn’t seem to be cognitively aware,” and he embraced the possibility of general election debates.
“I can hardly wait to compare my cognitive capability to the cognitive capability of the man I’m running against,” Mr Biden said.
On the coronavirus, Mr Biden lambasted the president for not harnessing the power of the federal government.
“He called himself a wartime president,” Mr Biden said. “What happened? Now it’s almost July, and it seems like our wartime president has surrendered, waved the white flag and left the battlefield.”
Mr Biden said he would implement a national system of testing for the virus and tracing the exposure path of those diagnosed, but warned Covid-19 “will likely worsen” during the coming flu season.
“We can’t continue half recovering, half getting worse,” Mr Biden said. “We can’t continue half with a plan and half just hoping for the best. We can’t defeat this virus with a piecemeal approach.”
He cast Mr Trump as wanting to be a national “cheerleader” without backing it up with hard truths and action, saying: “We need a president, Mr President,” Biden said.
Mr Trump’s re-election campaign countered that the president had been at the forefront of the nation’s coronavirus response.
Mr Biden said one of his first actions if elected would be asking the federal government’s leading infectious-disease expert Anthony Fauci to continue serving.
Mr Trump has often contradicted Dr Fauci’s guidelines on the coronavirus. Dr Fauci warned at a Senate hearing Tuesday he would not be surprised if the daily count of new cases reached 100,000 without further intervention.