Campaigns bring dueling messages to Pa. this week
HARRISBURG - Vice President Mike Pence will make another law-and-order-themed pitch in the presidential battleground of Pennsylvania, as former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign delivered its own message of how schools should be reopened during the coronavirus pandemic.
In an online appearance with Pittsburgh-area teachers, Biden’s wife, Jill Biden, and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., stressed the need to let state and local authorities decide when it is safe to reopen schools, albeit with strong federal guidance.
That differs from the lack of guidance from President Donald Trump’s administration, coupled with a political approach by Trump that Casey summed up as “he’s going to bully school districts on when to reopen. It’s not his decision.”
The message comes as superintendents warn that fights over whether to reopen schools are tearing apart communities. They also warn that superintendents and school boards lack strong public health guidance from the state and are overwhelmed by the cost to protect health and prepare for online school.
With Pennsylvania’s largest school districts, including Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Allentown, headed toward an online opening in fall, the Biden campaign is stressing that decisions should rest on safety.
“Right now if my husband Joe were president, we would have a strategic plan,” Jill Biden said on Tuesday’s call. “He would have given emergency funding to the schools, we would have a secretary of education who could give us direction and help guide us back into the classroom, he would keep our teachers and students safe. That’s what we’re looking for as Americans.”
The teachers on the call were members of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, which has endorsed Biden for president.
For weeks, Trump has pressed for a full reopening of the nation’s schools, at one point threatening to hold back federal money if school districts don’t bring their students back in the fall.
Last week, he acknowledged that some schools may need to delay a return to in-person instruction, but he’s still asking Congress to withhold future virus relief to schools that fail to reopen.
On Tuesday, Trump’s campaign said in a statement that reopening schools is critical to reopening the economy.
“President Trump is the only one who has been working around the clock to make sure students are back in school as parents head back to work,” it said. “Meanwhile, Joe Biden wants to keep our schools and economy closed simply to hurt President Trump’s re-election.”
The campaign also said Trump is requesting $70 billion for K-12 education in the latest round of coronavirus emergency relief funding legislation, on top of $30 billion that already went to schools and universities.
On Thursday, Pence will address a “cops for Trump” campaign event at Greensburg Police Department, in Westmoreland County, where Trump beat Democrat Hillary Clinton two-to-one in 2016’s election.
After that, Pence will discuss reopening the economy at the headquarters of a maker of industrial sealants and adhesives in nearby Somerset, another Republican stronghold, in an event organized by America First Policies, a pro-Trump nonprofit associated with the America First Action super PAC supporting Trump’s reelection.
Trump won Pennsylvania in 2016 by less than 1 percentage point. His shocking victory in the state helped pave his way to the White House, and shifted Pennsylvania’s electoral votes to the Republican column for the first time since 1988.
Pence appeared earlier this month at an event with Philadelphia police, as Trump tries to win over suburbanites by promising to protect their neighborhoods from the racial unrest that has gripped some U.S. cities this summer.
In Thursday’s police event, the Trump campaign says Pence will “reaffirm the Trump administration’s commitment to always back the blue and condemn Joe Biden for his embrace of the far-left ‘defund the police’ movement.”
However, that claim is not accurate. Biden has not joined the call of protesters who demanded “defund the police” after George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis. Rather, he has proposed more money for police, conditioned to improvements in their practices.
Specifically, he is calling for a $300 million infusion into existing federal community policing grant programs, adding up to more money for police.
In a statement, the state Democratic Party accused Pence of returning to Pennsylvania “because the Trump administration is desperate to distract from its failed COVID-19 response.”
Follow Marc Levy at https://www.twitter.com/timelywriter.