WHITE HOUSE - Democratic Party challenger Joe Biden is accusing the incumbent president of giving up the fight against the coronavirus, while President Donald Trump pushed back against the former vice president during dueling campaign events in a battleground state.
"Donald Trump is the worst possible president, the worst possible person to try to lead us through this pandemic," Biden said in Chester, Pennsylvania, during a quick campaign stop Monday afternoon.
A few hours earlier, Trump termed his opponent in the Nov. 3 election "a pathetic candidate" and denies his administration has waved "the white flag of defeat" in the war on the coronavirus, as Biden's campaign asserts.
Speaking to reporters on the tarmac at an airport in Allentown just before the first of three rallies Monday in the battleground state of Pennsylvania, Trump said Biden is "waving the white flag on life. He has to leave his basement. This guy doesn't leave his basement."
Biden on Saturday held two drive-in rallies in Pennsylvania, adhering to social distancing restrictions and said on Monday that he will appear at similar events in the days ahead in such states as Iowa, Wisconsin, Georgia and Florida.
The former vice president also criticized Trump for denying that the number of COVID-19 cases in the United States is going up and claiming it is leveling out, noting the president suggested doctors are inflating the numbers because they will earn more money.
"What the hell's the matter with this man?" Biden asked.
On Sunday, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said on CNN's "State of the Union" that the United States is "not going to control" the coronavirus pandemic, defending the decision by the Trump administration and campaign to hold packed rallies, where mask use is sparse, and other events despite an increase in cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Meadows added, "We are going to control the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics and other mitigations, because it is a contagious virus - just like the flu."
"This wasn't a slip by Meadows, it was a candid acknowledgement of what President Trump's strategy has clearly been from the beginning of this crisis: to wave the white flag of defeat and hope that by ignoring it, the virus would simply go away. It hasn't, and it won't," a statement released Sunday by Biden said.
Trump is "not going to give up until all Americans are safe and we've defeated this virus," Meadows clarified to reporters at the White House on Monday, saying his comment of the previous day needs to be taken in full context and that therapeutic drugs and an eventual vaccine will be effective.
Meanwhile, five of Vice President Mike Pence's closest aides, including his chief of staff, Marc Short, have tested positive for COVID-19 in recent days.
Despite the close contact with Short and others who have been infected, Pence has said he plans on continuing with his schedule, deeming his work "essential."
Pence spoke on Monday afternoon to several hundred people outdoors in subfreezing weather at an airport in the Iron Range region of Minnesota. He is to hold events on Tuesday in both North Carolina and South Carolina.
Pence, in Hibbing, Minnesota, said he was returning to Washington in case he was needed as a tiebreaker for the Senate confirmation vote for Judge Amy Coney Barrett's nomination to the Supreme Court. But he did not clarify whether he intends to preside over the vote as had been originally scheduled.
Members of Senate Democratic leadership, in a letter to Pence, had said his attendance would "be a clear violation of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, it would also be a violation of common decency and courtesy."
The United States has reported more confirmed COVID-19 cases - more than 8.6 million - than any other country, with 225,000 deaths attributed to the virus.