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Following lead of Cuomo, Newsom, Biden tries out more bipartisan tone on pandemic

Democratic governors of hard-hit New York, California quickly developed strong working relationships with President Trump to confront deadly disease outbreak.

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Biden speaks on coronavirus, March 12, 2020
Likely Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden speaks about COVID-19 in Wilmington, Del., March 12, 2020.
(Saul Loeb/Getty)
Updated: April 5, 2020 - 11:13pm

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Democratic governors like New York’s Andrew Cuomo and California’s Gavin Newsom quickly developed stro ng working relationships with President Trump to fight the coronavirus pandemic, even as likely Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden was highly critical of President Trump’s handling of the crisis. However, Biden is belatedly attempting to reach across the aisle toward Trump, leading onlookers to wonder whether Biden is leading from behind and playing catchup while quarantined and continuing his gaffes in his family’s Delaware recreational room.

Biden is now saying he’d welcome a phone call with the president about coronavirus, and on Friday he endorsed American travel restrictions on China Trump put into place on Jan. 31. Biden’s travel ban endorsement comes more than two months later, after he’d attacked the policy and after Biden characterized Trump as leading with “hysteria, xenophobia, and fear-mongering.”

Biden has also come under fire for his continued gaffes, recently telling Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon that he has five grandchildren, forgetting that he actually has seven.

Newsom recently praised Trump in a conversation with CNN's Jake Tapper

"I’d be lying to you to say that he hasn’t been responsive to our needs” Newsom said. “He has. The fact is, every time I’ve called the president he’s quickly gotten on the line … There’s just too many Americans — 40 million that live in this state — that deserve us to get together and get along.” 

Cuomo echoed Newsom in praising the president.

“His team is on it,” Cuomo said in one of his regular coronavirus briefings. “They’ve been responsive. Late at night, early in the morning, and they've thus far been doing everything that they can do, and I want to say thank you”

Rather than simply criticizing Trump, Cuomo called for a post-partisan response to coronavirus. Cuomo’s favorability rating sharply rose to 71 percent during the pandemic — an increase of 27% from the prior month. Trump even quipped that Cuomo would be a more formidable presidential opponent than Biden.

“Democrats want to criticize Republicans, and Republicans want to criticize Democrats. Not now, not now,” Cuomo said. “The virus doesn’t attack and kill red Americans or blue Americans — it attacks and kills all Americans. And keep that in mind because there is a unifying wisdom in that.”

In a press statement, Tim Murtaugh, Trump 2020 communications director, slammed Biden for suddenly reversing course after two months of opposing Trump’s China travel ban.

“Joe Biden now wants a do-over,” Murtaugh said. “Biden, meanwhile, continues his useless partisan sniping from the sidelines, offering incoherent musings during friendly interviews in his futile quest to stay relevant. His record, overseeing the slowest economic recovery since World War II as vice president and supporting job-killing trade deals like NAFTA and TPP, render him unqualified to lead in a time of economic crisis. As a response to the coronavirus outbreak, he has proposed enacting the economy-strangling Green New Deal and has even endorsed local tax increases in Wisconsin. His policies would cost the nation millions of jobs at a time when families are looking for help, not higher hurdles and heavier burdens.” 

Unsurprisingly, Democrats disagree. Antjuan Seawright, a senior advisor to the Democratic National Committee who also advised the Clinton campaign in 2016, told Just The News that Biden was respecting the democratic process by allowing Democratic governors to govern their respective jurisdictions.

“I don’t think it’s his job to reach out to the president, if anything, the president should have been reaching out to former leaders of this country, both Democrats and Republicans,” Seawright said. “I commend the vice president for extending his olive branch … When [Biden] was in the White House, when we had many crises, both abroad and domestically, he was able to show what leadership looked like. His track record of bringing Democrats and Republicans together during times of crisis is what the country needs right now.” 

 Seawright said that even though Democratic governors are working with Trump out of necessity, they are still united behind Biden to put a Democrat back in the White House. He also said the record viewership ratings for Trump’s coronavirus daily briefings won’t necessarily translate into votes come November.

“That’s making the assumption that just because they’re watching that they are agreeing with what they’re seeing,” Seawright said. “Trump’s pressers and his briefings do not necessarily offer solutions. They think he’s doing a good job of managing expectations. That doesn't mean they don't think that someone couldn’t come along and do better.”

As the Trump campaign is forging new relationships in online digital television campaigning — since Trump’s signature stadium events are nixed for now — Seawright said the Biden campaign needs to pivot to fighting a new type of battle.

“I think this moment has forced the campaign to make some adjustments, as we say in yoga, and perhaps pivot from what traditional campaigning may look like to what campaigning has to be in this moment,” Seawright said. “I would just tell him to understand that this is an opportunity for him to rise to the occasion and demonstrate what leadership looks like. What I would also say to the vice president is that you have friends. You have allies, and you have people who can help cover territory that you cannot necessarily cover in an interview or a speech or even in campaign outreach.”