U.S. Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) accepts the Democratic vice presidential nomination during an acceptance speech delivered for the largely virtual 2020 Democratic National Convention from the Chase Center in Wilmington, Delaware, August 19, 2020.

Kevin Lemarque | Reuters

Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris blasted President Donald Trump on Thursday for failing to protect Americans from the coronavirus pandemic.

She charged that he “caved” when he needed “to be tough” with the Chinese government over its refusal to share information about the virus months ago.

“Donald Trump stood idly by and, folks, it was a deadly decision,” Harris said in a blistering speech in advance of Trump’s own address to the Republican National Convention on Thursday evening. 

“All we needed was a competent president. One who was willing to listen, willing to lead, take responsibility, have a plan, do their job,” the California senator said.

But “Donald Trump has failed at the most basic and important job of a president of the United States,” Harris said. “It’s his obligation to protect us. Yet, he has failed miserably.”

There have been nearly 5.9 million officially reported cases of Covid-19 in the United States as of Thursday, with at least 180,380 Americans dead of the virus.

The U.S. has accounted for more than 25% of all coronavirus cases worldwide and more than 20% of deaths from the virus.

Harris, who previously served as California’s attorney general and as district attorney of San Francisco, said, “Trump showed what we in the legal profession would call a reckless disregard for the well-being of the American people.”

“A reckless disregard for the danger a pandemic would pose to American lives,” she said.

“For the devastation it would do to our economy, for the damage it would do to communities of color who have been subjected to structural racism for generations. For the chaos that would upend our daily lives, make it impossible for many of our children to go to school, make it impossible to live normally and with a sense of certainty.”

Harris said, “Trump’s incompetence is nothing new … but in January of this year it became deadly.”

She said that that month, when the risk to the United States and the rest of the world from the virus, which first broke out around Wuhan, China, became more obvious, “Trump dismissed the threat.”

In contrast, Harris said former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, “sounded the alarm” about Covid-19.

Harris said that in what would soon become a pattern that persists until now, Trump was “telling us not to worry, that the virus will, quote, ‘disappear,’ a, quote, ‘miracle is coming.'”

She accused Trump of failing to have a plan to address the outbreak in the United States at the same time Biden was calling for a national strategy.

“Here’s what you have to understand about the nature of a pandemic: It’s relentless,” Harris said.

“You can’t stop it with a tweet. You can’t create a distraction and hope it will go away. It doesn’t go away. By its nature, a pandemic is unforgiving. If you get it wrong at the beginning, the consequences are catastrophic. It’s very hard to catch up. You don’t get a second chance at getting it right.”

“Well, President Trump, he got it wrong from the beginning and then he got it wrong again and again,” Harris said. “The consequences have been catastrophic.”

Harris said that Trump was unable and unwilling to deal with the looming pandemic because “he was fixated on the stock market over fixing the problem.”

She said that Trump was convinced that if he underscored the true threat of the virus to the public “it would hurt the market and hurt his chances of being re-elected.”

“That mattered to him more than saving American lives,” she said.

Harris hits Trump on China

And “right at the moment that we needed Donald Trump to be tough on the Chinese government, he caved,” Harris said.

She noted that on Jan. 24, Trump “praised the transparency of the Chinese government.”

“He said, quote, ‘China has been working hard to contain the coronavirus. The United States greatly appreciated their efforts and transparency. It will all work out well,'” Harris said.

But, she added, the Chinese leaders “weren’t being transparent.”

Harris said that the Chinese government blocked officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “from getting access and information that they needed to protect American lives.”

“Instead of rising to meet the most difficult moment of his presidency, Donald Trump froze. He was scared and he was petty and vindictive.”

She pointed out that on a March 16 call with U.S. governors, Trump “told them it wasn’t his job to get personal protective equipment to frontline workers.”

“He said ‘respirators, ventilators, all the equipment, try getting it yourselves,'” Harris said.

“On that day we had about 5,000 cases as a nation. Today we have nearly 6 million. Even now, some eight months into the crisis, Donald Trump still won’t take responsibility,” she said.

“He still won’t act. The tragedy in all of this is that it didn’t have to be this bad. Just look around. It’s not like this in the rest of the world.”

Tim Murtaugh, Trump’s presidential campaign spokesman, in an email said, “Americans have seen President Trump out front and leading the nation in the fight against the coronavirus.”

“The President’s task force began meeting in January and he restricted travel from China, and then Europe, early on. At the time, Joe Biden criticized the decision, calling it ‘hysterical xenophobia’ and ‘fear-mongering,’ so we know Biden would not have done it. We would be in far worse position today if Joe Biden had been president in January,” Murtaugh said.

The spokesman also said that Trump had “launched an unprecedented national effort, engaging both the government and private sector, in order to produce the equipment necessary to protect Americans and enable healthcare workers to do their jobs.”

“We heard a lot about projected ventilator shortages in the early days, but the President was strategic about deploying our existing supplies and ramped up the production of new ventilators,” Murtaugh said. “As a result, no American who needed a ventilator was denied one. The President also built up an unprecedented testing strategy and the United States leads the world in tests performed. This is in contrast to Joe Biden’s approach, which has been to do nothing but criticize, oppose, and suggest things the President has already been doing.”

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