Joe Biden promises to build the 'economy of the future' as he attacks Trump

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PHILADELPHIA — Speaking to a group of ironworkers just outside his hometown of Scranton on Thursday, Joe Biden promised to be a true champion of the working class as he laid out a plan to reverse the country’s devastating economic decline.

“This is our moment to imagine and to build a new American economy for our families and for our communities. An economy where every American, every American has a chance to get a fair return for the work they put in,” Biden said, describing a $700 billion recovery plan aimed at the middle class and accusing President Donald Trump of favoring the wealthy, despite promises to help everyday workers.

“Everyone will be cut in on the deal this time as we rebuild the middle class,” said Biden, the former vice president and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.

His speech came as Vice President Mike Pence made his own three-stop swing through Pennsylvania, including a visit with business leaders in Chester County on one of the first days of split-screen campaigning since the coronavirus pandemic curtailed public events.

Pence said in Malvern that Trump’s tax cuts and regulatory rollbacks “unleashed American energy and ended the war on coal” and argued that the economy is already starting to recover. We see “this country coming back because of the solid foundation that was put in place” by Trump, the vice president said.

Biden spoke in a region that delivered a shocking blow to Democrats in 2016, helping deliver Pennsylvania, and the presidency, to Trump. Mirroring postindustrial areas across the upper Midwest that have been hit hard by economic change, Northeast Pennsylvania broke from its Democratic roots in the last election, swinging toward Trump’s promises to stand up for “forgotten” middle-class workers and bring back manufacturing jobs.

Such shifts were key factors in Trump’s narrow victories in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, the states that sealed his victory.

But now the entire country is facing the economic wreckage of the coronavirus, with tens of millions unemployed and few signs of normalcy on the horizon.

Biden blamed Trump, saying the president was “singularly focused” on the stock market, despite his pledges to revive coal plants and factories.

In a clear sign of where his policy pitch is aimed, top Biden surrogates will follow his Pennsylvania speech with virtual events Friday touting the plan in Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio, similarly situated swing states that could also play a pivotal role in the election.

“Donald Trump loves to talk and talk and talk, but after 3 1/2 years of big promises, what do the American people have to show for all the talk?” Biden asked, standing outside McGregor Industries, a Dunmore company that fabricates and installs steel stairways and rails.

The Trump campaign fired back, saying Biden was part of an administration that led an anemic recovery from a deep recession, and pointing to his support in the 1990s for the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, the trade agreement that many Americans blame for taking their jobs overseas.

Biden sharply contrasted his approach — and upbringing — with Trump’s, frequently mentioning his ties to Scranton.

“You see, growing up rich and looking down on people is a bit different than how I grew up here,” Biden said. And while Trump has touted a nostalgic vision of bringing back old values and jobs, Biden said his plan, with an emphasis on clean energy, technology and research and development, is “focused on building an economy for the future, not for the past.”

With Pence set to meet with the Philadelphia police union later in the day, and Trump deriding protesters demonstrating against racism, Biden also swerved into the debate on inequality.

“He’s exactly the wrong person to lead at this moment,” Biden said of Trump. “He’ll not bring this country together. He’s determined to drive us apart to keep his base in place. He’ll not be president for all the American people.”

Biden aims to reverse the economic crash with $700 billion in investments in the government buying American goods and fueling research and development to create 5 million jobs, the campaign said. It also includes plans to strengthen labor unions, tighten the government’s “buy American” provisions, pass a manufacturing tax credit, and build on a program to ensure that businesses owned by people of color apply for federal contracts.

Trump has promised to lead a revival if voters give him a second term, arguing that he led one economic boom and can do so again.

Biden’s event Thursday also attempted to eat into Trump’s advantage on the economy — one of the few major issues on which polling shows more voters still trust the president.

And it was a step toward answering a broader question from critics and some progressive skeptics: If elected, what would he do, other than not be Trump?

The Biden campaign said his manufacturing and innovation plan was the first of four planks of a “Build Back Better” platform he will roll out, with promises for a recovery that would reach all corners of the country.

His proposal includes $400 billion in government procurement of items such as clean vehicles, building materials and medical supplies, along with a $300 billion investment in research and development in areas ranging from health to defense to artificial intelligence and biotechnology. The investment would also include money for training programs for digital and technological skills.

It would be partially paid for by repealing some of the tax cuts enacted under Trump, the campaign said.

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©2020 The Philadelphia Inquirer

Spencer Platt/Getty Images North America/TNS