Joe Biden on Thursday went after President Donald Trump again and again over his handling of COVID-19, calling Trump's downplaying of the pandemic "criminal" and his administration "totally irresponsible."
"You've got to level with the American people - shoot from the shoulder. There's not been a time they've not been able to step up. The president should step down," the Democratic presidential nominee said to applause from a CNN drive-in town hall crowd in Moosic, outside his hometown of Scranton.
Speaking about Trump's admission that he publicly played down the impact of the virus while aware of its severity, Biden declared: "He knew it and did nothing. It's close to criminal."
Later, Biden decried Americans' loss of basic "freedoms" as the U.S. has struggled to contain the pandemic, like the ability to go to a ballgame or walk around their neighborhoods. "I never, ever thought I would see just such a thoroughly, totally irresponsible administration," he said.
Biden faced a half-dozen questions about the coronavirus and a potential vaccine in the town hall from moderator Anderson Cooper and audience members. The pandemic was not just the main topic of the night - it was the cause of the unusual format of the event: a drive-in with 35 cars outside PNC Field.
The cars were parked around the stage, each with small groups of people standing outside them or leaning or sitting on the hoods to watch Cooper and Biden onstage. The network erected blue and red spotlights over the dirt and gravel parking lot to make it easier to see, and each parking space was marked off with white chalk in large rectangles to ensure that each group stayed more than 6 feet (1.8 meters) apart.
The town hall marked the first time that Biden had faced live, unscripted questions from voters since winning the nomination. Trump participated in a town hall Tuesday in an auditorium in Philadelphia.
The appearances have been seen as tuneups before the three presidential debates, the first set for Sept. 29. Biden's uneven debate performances during the Democratic primary contributed to his initial struggles in polls and the early primary vote, and Trump has pushed unfounded conspiracy theories about Biden taking performance-enhancing drugs and has raised questions about Biden's mental acuity.
Biden, meanwhile, has promised to be a "fact-checker on the stage" with Trump but has said he doesn't want to get drawn into a "brawl" with the Republican.
On Thursday, Biden said he was beginning to prepare for the upcoming debate by reviewing Trump's remarks and preparing his own.