WASHINGTON – Joe Biden scolded United States President Donald Trump on Friday (June 5) for declaring “mission accomplished” after a better-than-expected May jobs report while millions of Americans are still suffering from the recession brought on by the coronavirus lockdowns.
Former vice-president Biden, speaking at Delaware State University, a historically black college in Dover, chided the president for a morning Rose Garden speech in which he took credit for slowing the pandemic – which public health experts say is still a threat to many – ending the economic downturn and for quelling protests that arose over the last week after Mr George Floyd, a black man, was killed by a white Minneapolis police officer.
“I was disturbed, however, to see the president crowing this morning – basically hanging a ‘mission accomplished’ banner when there is so much work to be done – and so many Americans are still hurting,” Mr Biden said. Then President George W. Bush was widely criticised for hanging a banner that read “mission accomplished” on an aircraft carrier, declaring the Iraq war over when fighting continued.
Mr Biden scheduled his speech in anticipation of the jobs report, which was rosier than forecasts, which predicted even more Americans would be out of work.
Instead, the country’s labour market unexpectedly improved back in May, with non-farm payrolls rising 2.5 million after losing 20.5 million in April, the largest drop on record. The jobless rate fell from 14.7 per cent to 13.3 per cent, defying economists’ expectations it would reach 19 per cent. But the black unemployment rate rose to its highest level in more than a decade, 16.8 per cent. The Latino jobless rate was nearly a point higher. And many of the jobs that returned belonged to people who had been temporarily laid off and could return now that businesses were reopening.
Mr Biden said he knew millions of families were heaving “a sigh of relief”.
“To those Americans, I’m so proud of you, and so happy for you and your families.”
But he said it was inappropriate for the president to declare that a strong economy had returned.
“Let’s be clear: a president who takes no responsibility in costing millions and millions of American their jobs deserves no credit when a fraction of them return,” he said, referring to the president’s suggestion for months that he was not to blame for the damage done by the coronavirus pandemic.
Mr Biden said that the continued job losses for non-white workers were a sign of deeper structural inequalities and promised to announce an economic plan of his own soon, including proposals to address the disproportionate negative effects that the coronavirus epidemic has had on minorities.
Earlier on Friday, Mr Trump celebrated the numbers, which he argued could be slowed if Democrats win in November. He urged states that still have stay-at-home orders, many with Democratic governors, to end them.
He did not address the still-rising unemployment rates for people of colour. Instead, he suggested that Mr Floyd would be proud to see the economic developments.
Mr Trump said Mr Floyd “is looking down right now and saying, ‘This is a great thing happening for our country’”.
Mr Biden said it was “despicable” of Mr Trump to put words into Mr Floyd’s mouth after his dying words of “I can’t breathe” become a rallying cry for protesters.
“The fact that he did so, on the day when black unemployment rose, Hispanic unemployment rose, black youth unemployment skyrocketed, tells you everything you need to know about this man and what he really cares about,” he said of Mr Trump.
Before Mr Biden’s speech, Mr Trump’s campaign manager criticised what he expected the former vice-president to say.
“Incredibly, Joe Biden is counting on more economic pain for Americans so he can capitalise on it politically,” Mr Brad Parscale said in a statement. “It is disgusting and sad that Biden and the Democrats are openly worrying that America will get back to work because it would be bad news for them.”