Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden speaks about his plans to combat racial inequality at a campaign event in Wilmington, Delaware, July 28, 2020.
Jonathan Ernst | Reuters
Joe Biden came out swinging against President Donald Trump’s record on the economy Thursday, hours after new data showed the U.S. suffered its worst quarterly downturn in history in the midst of the spreading coronavirus pandemic.
“The depth of economic devastation our nation is experiencing is not an act of God, it’s a failure of presidential leadership,” the presumptive Democratic nominee for president said in a statement released by his campaign. “Had President Trump taken immediate and decisive action, tens of thousands of lives and millions of jobs would never have been lost.”
Data released by the Department of Commerce earlier in the day showed that U.S. gross domestic product plunged 32.9% between April and June on an annualized basis, the sharpest drop on record. GDP is a broad measure of all the goods and services produced in a country.
A separate Labor Department report showed that more than 1.4 million Americans filed initial jobless claims last week, rising for a second week and marking the 19th consecutive week with initial claims greater than 1 million.
The bleak economic numbers, which turned out to be slightly better than forecast, reflected the fact that much of the U.S. was put under lockdown beginning in March in order to slow the spread of Covid-19. The disease has so far killed more than 150,000 people in the United States.
The Trump campaign has said that annualized data is not a proper measurement and that the economy was “essentially closed down to save millions of American lives.”
“President Trump built the world’s best economy once before it was interrupted by the global pandemic and he will do it a second time,” campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh said.
As a rule, a weak economy tends to hurt incumbent presidents seeking reelection. For Trump, the strength of the economy prior to the pandemic was especially important, given his low overall approval numbers.
Since the start of the year, the president has seen his approval on the economy deteriorate. As late as March, polls regularly showed the president with a net approval on the economy in the double digits.
A RealClearPolitics average of polling data shows his net approval on the economy is now hovering around 0%, with 48.1% approving and 48% disapproving. In national general election polls, Biden leads Trump by about 8 percentage points.
The jockeying over the state of the economy comes as Congress debates its next Covid-19 rescue package.
While Democrats have pushed to sustain federal unemployment benefits at $600 per week, Republicans in the Senate have proposed cutting them to $200, suggesting, contrary to the views of many economists, that the enhanced benefits have increased unemployment.
Biden cited the congressional dispute, accusing Trump of “failing to effectively manage our recovery” and saying that Republicans in Congress “are refusing to give working families the help they need today.”
“We won’t get our small businesses and our workers back to full strength on denials and magical thinking — it’s going to take concerned, thoughtful, and sustained leadership,” Biden said.
Murtaugh said Trump would supply that leadership. “In November, voters will know that President Trump is the one to trust on bringing the economy back to greatness,” he said.
Earlier on Thursday, Trump tweeted that the election should be delayed, claiming without evidence that mail-in voting would lead to widespread fraud. Congress, not the president, sets the date of U.S. presidential elections, and none has ever been delayed.