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Biden lashes Trump in economic speech tinged with populist rhetoric

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Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden on Thursday laid out an economic vision for the country rooted in racial and power equity, striking a populist tone as he slammed President Donald Trump as divisive and lacking empathy for working families.

“Donald Trump loves to talk and talk and talk, but after three and a half years of big promises, what do the American people have to show for all of the talk?” Biden asked during a speech in Dunmore, Pa., asserting that the president’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic had only exacerbated economic inequality in the country.

“He promised health care, a health care plan, but never even offered his own bill as he continues to try to wipe out Obamacare in the middle of a pandemic,” he said, offering up infrastructure and offshoring jobs as other promises Trump failed to deliver on.

Biden sought to draw a sharp contrast with Trump throughout Thursday’s speech, even as he focused heavily on a plan to “Buy American” that builds on the “America First” doctrine popularized by Trump throughout his time in office. "Throughout this crisis Donald Trump has been almost singularly focused on the stock market,” the former vice president said. “If I am fortunate enough to be elected president, I will be laser focused on working families.”

The Biden campaign says the plan he laid out Thursday would create at least 5 million jobs in manufacturing and innovation.

It would tighten restrictions on what qualifies as a U.S.-made good and invest $400 billion in government procurement, both of which the Democratic presidential candidate's campaign says will help power demand for American products and services.

Biden is also pledging to invest $300 billion in research and development over four years that would be spread across the U.S. to a diverse array of businesses and entrepreneurs, including women and minorities. The spending would spark what campaign officials called “high-quality job creation” around the country. "America can't sit on the sidelines in the race of the future," Biden said in a speech delivered from a covered loading dock at McGregor Industries, a metal works plant near his hometown of Scranton, Pennsylvania. "The Chinese are spending multiple billions of dollars trying to own the technology of the future while we sit with our thumb in our ear," he added. He said his investment would help "sharpen America's competitive edge in the new industries where global leadership is up for grabs," including clean energy, biotechnology and artificial intelligence.

The speech touted segments of a four-part “Build Back Better” economic plan, which was released Thursday morning and which focuses on clean energy, the caregiving workforce and racial equity as well as trade and manufacturing. But both Biden and senior campaign officials sharing details of the plan Wednesday night focused on the latter subject, saying information on the other “pillars” will be released later.

On trade, Biden is calling for a pro-worker strategy in which the U.S. will work with its global allies and within World Trade Organization rules to get tough on China, which he blames for harming American workers and contributing to a decline in U.S. manufacturing.

Vowing to “make sure” workers have “power and a voice,” Biden added that, “It is way past time to put an end to the era of shareholder capitalism — the idea that the only responsibility that a corporation has is the shareholders,” calling the notion an “absolute farce.”

The former vice president also ripped Trump for failing to deliver on his promises to stand up for the working class, as he reiterated his support for labor unions, whom he argued were the only group strong enough to confront abuses of power. His campaign officials sought to draw contrasts with the current administration, saying “the Trump trade strategy has simply failed.”

But when asked whether Biden would reverse any of President Donald Trump’s major trade policy moves — including withdrawing from the preliminary trade deal signed with China or lifting tariffs on steel and aluminum imports — an official declined to commit, saying the former vice president would have to review each of those issues once in office.

The campaign also emphasized that Biden's primary focus will be on domestic investment and job creation rather than negotiating or joining major trade deals, including the massive Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) he championed as a member of the Obama administration.

"Negotiations over big trade deals is something that will in sequence follow a dramatic set of domestic investments," a senior official said. Trump, himself, won the presidency in 2016 pledging to cut down on outsourcing, revive American manufacturing and take on Beijing, and he withdrew the U.S. from the TPP on his third day in office.

Biden's speech on Thursday came after he toured the metal works plant, talking with workers who donned blue face coverings matching their blue hard hats, as well as with company owner Robert McGregor, Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), and Iron Workers President Eric Dean.

Dean applauded McGregor as an example of a responsible business leader. “He believes in good pay, good retirement, dignity.” Biden, donning a mask as he took the tour, said later: “It’s all about dignity.”

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