Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has promised an economic agenda to combat long-standing racial inequalities as he draws another sharp contrast with President Donald Trump.
Mr Biden said the Republican president was exacerbating social discord across the country, including by sending federal authorities into major cities under the pretence of addressing crime.
And he said Mr Trump had little interest in addressing the racism Mr Biden said had been laid bare by Covid-19 – which disproportionately claims people of colour – or in grappling with police violence against black men in an election-year.
“He can’t turn the economy around. He’s determined to stoke division and chaos,” Mr Biden said, speaking in a community centre gymnasium in his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware.
“It’s not good for the country, but Donald Trump doesn’t care. His campaign is failing and he’s looking for a lifeline.”
Mr Biden countered with a litany of proposals to steer federal money and tax credits to small business and economic development programs for minority-owned firms and disadvantaged neighbourhoods.
He also said he’d encourage home ownership to help close wealth gaps among minority communities and push the nation’s banking system, including the Federal Reserve, to more directly address economic inequality.
Many of his proposals — and the billions in federal spending needed to pay for it — had already been promised as part of previous, larger Biden plans to jump-start the economy when the coronavirus outbreak begins to recede.
But as protests against institutional racism and police brutality have swept the country in recent months, Mr Biden is attempting to show voters he is committed to implementing specific remedies that can promote racial and economic equality should he win the White House in November.
Mr Biden’s speech and his subsequent question-and-answer session with reporters – just his third extended news conference in four months – came as he nears a decision on a running mate. He came prepared to talk about at least one of the top contenders: California senator Kamala Harris.
An Associated Press photographer captured Mr Biden’s handwritten notes with talking points on several issues. Topping the list was Ms Harris.
A recent Politico story alleged Mr Biden’s longtime friend and vetting committee leader Chris Dodd, a former Democratic senator like Mr Biden, had raised concerns about Ms Harris attacking Mr Biden last summer on the debate stage and showing “no remorse” in conversations with Mr Biden’s campaign.
On Mr Biden’s notepad, he’d written below Ms Harris’ name: “Do not hold grudges” and “Great respect for her.”
Mr Biden did not field a question specifically about Ms Harris. But he has praised her extensively, and has confirmed in recent weeks his short list for vice president includes several women of colour. His decision is expected to have unusual importance given his age, 77, and the fact he is a white man leading a diverse party.
Recent polls have shown Mr Biden leading Mr Trump nationally and in many competitive states that determine the electoral college outcome. But Mr Biden’s aides are keenly aware Hillary Clinton lost key battleground states four years ago in part because of a drop in turn-out among non-white voters from what President Barack Obama drew in 2012.
As part of his attacks on Mr Trump’s approach to race, Mr Biden blasted the president for ordering federal authorities to intervene against protesters in places like Portland, Oregon, and Chicago, while small businesses around the country continued to struggle or shut down because of the coronavirus. The president, Mr Biden said, was trying to distract and scare voters.
He said most demonstrators were “peaceful protesters” who did not require a response from the federal government.
“Arsonists and anarchists should be prosecuted,” Biden said, and “local law enforcement can do that.”
Still, Mr Biden said: “This election is not just about voting against Donald Trump. It’s about rising to this moment of crisis, understanding people’s struggle and building a future worthy of their courage and ambition to overcome.”