ERIE, Pa. — Returning to a county that helped put him in the White House in 2016, President Donald Trump on Tuesday, defended his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic that’s claimed more than 200,000 American lives, promising a free vaccine by year’s end.
“It could have been 2.1 million [deaths from the pandemic], but I took rapid action to ban travel from China and Europe. Joe opposed those. We reduced the fatality rate 85 percent and I’m working on making the antibody treatment available soon, and free 100 million vaccine doses before the end of the year.”
Trump’s claims came despite the fact that Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention testified to the Senate in September that a vaccine would not be ready until the middle of next year.
In an appearance at Erie International Airport, Trump hammered familiar campaign themes, including his push to shut down the border and to build a wall along the nation’s southern border, the economy and job growth, and his commitment to ending lock-downs and getting America, “back to normal.”
“A vote for me, and for the Republican Party is a vote for the American dream,” Trump said.
While rally attendees were encouraged to wear masks, the majority did. Other social distancing requirements were not in effect, with the attendees standing shoulder to shoulder as the venue was packed to capacity.
Lines of Trump supporters gathered in rainy, 40-degree weather nearly a mile out from the airport, and continued to gather even as doors were closed due to capacity. A handful of opposition supporters stood across the street waving “Biden 2020” signs, otherwise the event remained orderly.
In his address, which lasted a little over 45 minutes and mostly tore into Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s policy plans, Trump told supporters that his administration is finally rounding the “COVID curve,” by increasing the number of jobs and decreasing unemployment.
“This is an election between the Trump super recovery and a Biden depression,” Trump said. “If Biden wins this you will experience a depression the likes of which you have never seen. You know what? He’s going to double, triple, quadruple your taxes. I think I know the people of Erie pretty well. They don’t want that.”
He encouraged supporters to pressure Gov. Tom Wolf to reopen Pennsylvania, saying, “Pennsylvania’s been shut-down for too long.” The state has been mostly reopen for months, with some gathering restrictions still in place.
According to Spotlight PA, a digital news outlet, new coronavirus cases have been on the rise for the past month. The state is now averaging more than 1,400 new cases a day, a total not seen since April.
On Monday, Wolf and state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine appealed to Pennsylvanians to wear masks and practice social distancing as they warned of a fall resurgence of the virus.
In direct criticism of Biden’s statements two-weeks ago in Erie, Trump said, “Joe repeatedly said he was going to ban fracking, that is until he got the nomination. It’s always what they say first.”
“Joe Biden’s plan will kill the American dream, delay your therapies, postpone the vaccine, prolong the pandemic and close your schools, and shut down our country. He will raise your taxes, dismantle your police departments, take your guns and eliminate private healthcare, end religious liberty, destroy the suburbs and ban fracking and abolish Pennsylvania energy…only by voting for me will you be able to save your fracking. He wiped out your steel industry, and I brought it back,” Trump said.
In a visit to Erie two weeks ago, Biden pledged to not increase taxes on families making less than $400,000 a year, and to maintain fracking in Pennsylvania.
Focusing on police brutality Trump drew chants of “Protect our Blue,” from the crowd, saying, “I will always stand with our law-enforcement heroes.”
On healthcare he said, “I will always protect your Medicare and your Social Security. Here in Pennsylvania your premiums have fallen 43 percent in my time in office.” Trump and Republicans are in court now trying to overturn the Affordable Care Act. The GOP has no replacement plan.
He mentioned an upcoming “60 Minutes” interview with anchor Lesley Stahl that he reportedly walked out on, saying, “Wait until you see what we have for 60 Minutes.”
Trump brought up his narrow win of Erie County in 2016, saying, “In 2016 you voted in an outsider, it’s time to get out and vote and deliver a sleepy Joe thundering loss. If we win Pennsylvania we win the whole thing.” Trump defeated Hillary Clinton 49-46 percent in Erie County in 2016.
In a response statement to Trump’s visit, Biden said, “When candidate Donald Trump visited Erie four years ago, he promised to bring back jobs. President Trump’s visit to Erie today is a desperate attempt to distract from the fact that he broke that promise and has repeatedly failed Pennsylvania’s families over the last four years.”
As the Trump campaign departed from Erie, Biden holds a 10.3 percent lead over Trump nationally, and a 6.3 percent lead over Trump in Pennsylvania, according to polling tracker FiveThirtyEight.
Local resident Kimberly Beers told the Capital-Star that, “Erie has a lot to say and it’s an honor that political candidates from the highest office in the land choose to stop here and wave their flags. I hope everyone from Erie County and the region will vote in this election and local elections to come.”
Correspondent Shayma Musa covers Erie and northwestern Pennsylvania for the Capital-Star. Staff Reporter Stephen Caruso contributed to this story.