'Bleach,' shorthand for Trump's confused response to COVID, comes back to haunt him in debate

Alexander Nazaryan
·National Correspondent
·3 min read

WASHINGTON — Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee for president, harshly criticized President Trump’s handling of the coronavirus at Tuesday night’s debate, attempting to channel the frustration of the 56 percent of Americans who disapprove of Trump’s response to the coronavirus,

At one point, Biden sought to discredit Trump with his infamous suggestion, offered during an April press conference, that bleach might be used to kill the coronavirus inside the human body. That recommendation was quickly shot down by medical authorities as not only ill-advised but potentially fatal. “Maybe you can inject some bleach into your arm,” Biden quipped.

Trump tried to maintain that he had not been serious, saying, “That was said sarcastically.” The exchange was one of several in which the president was forced onto the defensive in discussing the coronavirus, which has killed more than 200,000 Americans and left millions unemployed.

Biden, who was vice president during the H1N1 and Ebola outbreaks, depicted Trump as a neophyte who was not up to the task of leading the country through the current pandemic.

President Donald Trump and Joe Biden during their first Presidential Debate in Ohio on Sept. 29, 2020.  (photos: Patrick Semansky/AP)
President Trump and Joe Biden at their first presidential debate in Cleveland on Tuesday. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

“He panicked, or he just looked at the stock market,” Biden said, alluding to Trump’s frequent invocations of the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

The two candidates, who were facing off in their first debate at the Cleveland Clinic, sparred over every aspect of Trump’s attempts to contain the virus while keeping the economy alive. That forced the president to try to justify positions that are at odds both with science and with popular sentiment.

“I think masks are OK,” Trump said at one point, pulling a face mask from the inside pocket of his suit coat. A moment later, the inveterate critic of face coverings was mocking Biden for his adherence to mask guidelines. “Every time you see him, he’s got a mask,” Trump said, adding that Biden typically “shows up with the biggest mask I’ve ever seen.”

Trump also claimed that a coronavirus vaccine is only “weeks away,” an over-optimistic timeline contradicting the estimates of virtually every prominent scientist in his administration about when a vaccine is likely to be ready. The president said he “disagreed” with them.

Biden has been a critic of the rush to develop a vaccine, maintaining that while he trusts scientists, he does not trust Trump. He maintained that position during Tuesday evening’s debate. “Do you believe for a moment what he’s telling you?” the former vice president asked.

In one counterattack, Trump began to criticize Biden’s record as vice president in handling the 2009 outbreak of H1N1, known colloquially as the swine flu.

“You didn’t do very well on swine flu,” Trump said.

Biden was ready with a retort. “Fourteen thousand people died, not 200,000,” he said. “There was no economic recession. We didn’t shut down the economy.”

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