(CNN)With less than three days to go in a campaign that’s been dominated by the pandemic, President Donald Trump is still making baseless statements about the pandemic, including the politically perilous claim that American doctors are profiting from Covid-19 deaths during a visit to the critical electoral region of the Midwest, where former Vice President Biden offered a contrasting message about unity and promised a more forceful response to defeat the virus.
Trump’s appalling attack on doctors on Friday came on a day when the US marked a new global record for daily coronavirus cases and 17 states were seeing record hospitalizations. Instead of addressing those challenges, the President tried to explain the mounting US case count by making the false claim in Michigan that US doctors are inflating coronavirus case numbers because they “get more money if someone dies from Covid.”
“Our doctors are very smart people. So what they do is they say, ‘I’m sorry but everybody dies of Covid,’ ” Trump said at a rally in Waterford Township, Michigan, on Friday. Unearthing conspiracy theories from the bowels of the Internet, the President claimed with no evidence that doctors from other countries list underlying diseases as the cause of death, while US doctors choose coronavirus.
“With us, when in doubt — choose Covid,” Trump said. “Now they’ll say ‘Oh that’s terrible what he said,’ but that’s true. It’s like $2,000 more, so you get more money.”
Campaigning with Biden in Michigan Saturday, former President Barack Obama was sharply critical of Trump’s comments about doctors — and incredulous that attack was part of the President’s closing argument.
“He’s jealous of Covid’s media coverage and now he’s accusing doctors of profiting off this pandemic—think about that,” Obama said. “He cannot fathom, he does not understand the notion that somebody would risk their life to save others without trying to make a buck.”
“If Trump were focused on Covid from the beginning, cases wouldn’t be reaching new record highs across the country,” Obama added, noting that some areas where Trump has held rallies have seen spikes in cases “after he leaves town” and mocking Trump’s “obsession” with crowd size in the midst of a pandemic.
“You know when a country is going through a pandemic that’s not what you’re supposed to be worrying about,” Obama said. “And that’s the difference between Joe Biden and Trump right there. Trump cares about feeding his ego. Joe cares about keeping you and your family safe. And he’s less interested in feeding his ego with having big crowds than he is making sure he’s not going around making more and more people sick. That’s what you should expect from a president.”
During his first Pennsylvania stop Saturday, Trump continued to downplay the impact of the coronavirus on the nation, noting that he and first lady Melania Trump recovered — without acknowledging that they received the highest caliber of medical care in the country and that he had access to experimental treatments that are not available to most Americans.
Underplaying the grave risk of the virus to Americans with pre-existing conditions, Trump falsely claimed that “because of our relentless efforts, the recovery rate right now on Covid, or China virus, or the China plague, is 99.7%,” Trump said using a racist term to describe the virus.
Not only did Trump ignore the thousands of Americans who have died from the virus, but there is not enough data yet to understand the long-term consequences on patients who have contracted the disease. Trump, who pledged to “terminate” the virus with “science, medicine and groundbreaking therapies,” was also critical of Biden’s relentless focus on Covid-19 during his visit to Pennsylvania Saturday.
“All he does is talk about Covid, Covid,” Trump said of Biden in Bucks County. “He has nothing else to talk about…. We agree it’s serious and we’ve done an incredible job. And at some point they are going to recognize that.”
Trump’s claims about profiteering doctors sparked a backlash beyond the campaign trail. Susan Bailey, the president of the American Medical Association, said in a statement that the claim that doctors are overcounting Covid-19 patients or “lying to line their pockets is a malicious, outrageous, and completely misguided charge.”
“Covid-19 cases are at record highs today,” Bailey said as Friday marked the highest single day of cases in the United States since the pandemic began. “Rather than attacking us and lobbing baseless charges at physicians, our leaders should be following the science and urging adherence to the public health steps we know work — wearing a mask, washing hands and practicing physical distancing.”
Emergency physician and former Baltimore Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Friday night that doctors are risking their lives at a time when one person is now being diagnosed with Covid-19 every second.
“We have one American dying of coronavirus every two minutes, and that number is increasing,” Wen said on “The Situation Room.” “In some states, one in two people who are getting tested are testing positive. That means that we’re not doing nearly enough testing, and that every person who tests positive is a canary in a coal mine.”
Wen added that there are likely to be “many more dozens of other cases that we’re not detecting, and that escalation is going to increase in the weeks to come.”
Trump rails against nation’s Covid-19 focus
The angry tone of Trump’s rallies and his attacks on doctors stem in part from his frustration that the country is so focused on the pandemic in the closing days of the election. Poll after poll has shown that coronavirus is the top issue on the minds of American voters and a broad majority of the electorate disapproves of Trump’s handling of the virus.
While Trump has gotten away with holding large rallies in other states, Minnesota has been particularly vigilant both with enforcement and contact tracing, and Trump lashed out on Friday at Minnesota officials who curtailed the size of his rally due to safety concerns.
The Minnesota Department of Health reported three Covid-19 outbreaks related to Trump campaign events held in the state in September. The state’s health department has linked at least 23 cases to Trump campaign rallies with the President in Bemidji and Duluth and a rally with Vice President Mike Pence in Minneapolis, according to information the department provided to CNN in an email last week.
But dismissing safety concerns as irrelevant, Trump argued that state officials, including Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, a Democrat, have created two sets of standards — one for the protesters who demonstrated against police brutality after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May and a different set for his supporters.
“Keith Ellison sided with flag burning extremists over law-abiding Americans. He treats you like second-class citizens,” Trump said in Rochester, Minnesota, on Friday night where state officials limited the crowd to 250 people. “He believes that the pro-American voters have fewer rights than anti-American demonstrators.”
As part of that argument, Trump once again conflated Black Lives Matter demonstrations, which were largely peaceful across the country this year, with the far smaller number of protests that turned violent and have served as a helpful foil as he tries to argue that Biden would coddle criminals while fomenting what he described as “vile anti-police rhetoric.”
Speaking in Falcon Heights, a suburb of St. Paul, Biden refuted that argument by zeroing in on the difference between peaceful protesters and violent agitators who took advantage of this year’s movement for racial justice.
“Burning and looting is not protesting, it’s violence clear and simple — and will not be tolerated,” Biden said at his event, which he said was seven miles from where Floyd was killed by a police officer. “But these protests are a cry for justice.”
The former vice president argued that Trump’s divisive language about the protests and his effort to pit Americans “against one another based on race, gender, ethnicity and national origin” are part of an effort to distract from his handling of the pandemic.
During his final event of the day in Milwaukee, Biden noted that the state is now experiencing a record level of coronavirus hospitalizations.
“This week, Wisconsin, like other states, set a new record for daily cases. Hospitals are running short on beds, just had to open a field hospital. That’s what we’re facing. We’ve now hit 9 million cases,” Biden said Friday night. “Millions of people out of work; on the edge and they can’t see the light. They’re not sure how dark it’s going to remain … and the thing that bothers me the most was a President who gave up.”