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VOL. 44 | NO. 38 | Friday, September 18, 2020

`Fired up' Biden discusses strategy with Senate Democrats

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WASHINGTON (AP) — A "fired up" Joe Biden joined Senate Democrats for an online lunch Thursday and told allies that he is taking nothing for granted in the race for the White House  and the down-ballot effort to wrest the Senate's majority control from Republicans.

The 30-minute event was a homecoming of sorts for the former Delaware senator who now is his party's presidential nominee. Yet it took place at a grave moment, with the COVID-19  crisis and economic distress hanging over an election like no other. Biden fielded questions, particularly from senators facing reelection, about his strategy win back the chamber and defeat President Donald Trump.

"You could tell he's really fired up and he's working hard and is going to be be out there and be much as he possibly can," said Michigan Sen. Gary Peters, who is seeking for a new term.

Biden is on offense this week  over the president's handling of the coronavirus crisis. He planned to be near Scranton, Pennsylvania, his boyhood hometown, later Thursday for a CNN town hall, following Trump's on ABC this week. The appearances have been considered tuneups before the three presidential debates; the first is Sept. 29.

As Trump prepared for an evening rally in Wisconsin, Biden seized on the president openly contradicting  the nation's top health officials to claim a vaccine would be ready as early as next month, just before the Nov. 3 election.

"Mark my words — if I'm president, I'll always level with the American people, and I'll always tell the truth," Biden said in a statement..

On the private call, Biden did not take on Trump directly, but outlined what's at stake, senators said.

"He just said, 'You know what we're up against. You know why this is so important,'" said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., a party leader who organized the event.

Biden's message, said, Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., was clear: "They're ready."

Biden's campaign team has come under scrutiny  in recent days over its outreach efforts, particularly for what some see as short shrift with Latino voters. At the same time, Democrats have mixed views over the party's get-out-the-vote effort that largely bypasses traditional door knocking to avoid health risks during the pandemic, instead relying on virtual outreach. Vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris scheduled an event in Philadelphia on Thursday with Latino leaders and elected officials.

Concerns run high among senators over Russian election interference, stalled funding to shore up state election systems and Trump's attempts to starve the U.S. Postal Service  of needed money just as many Americans will be mailing in their ballots to avoid crowds at polling stations during the virus crisis.

Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., a Biden confidant, said the former vice president generally has been careful not to talk too explicitly about the opening months of a new administration.

"He must have said this three times, 'I take nothing for granted,'" Coons told reporters afterward.

Yet looking ahead, senators were eager to discuss a potential Biden White House — especially if Democrats control the Senate. Republicans have a narrow three-seat hold on the chamber, putting Democrats within reach of a flip.

Biden's longest-serving adviser, Ted Kaufman, who succeeded him in the Senate when he became vice president in 2009, is leading that process. Dana Remus, the campaign's general counsel, and lawyer Bob Bauer, a White House counsel to President Barack Obama, also are playing key roles.

Tops on any 2021 agenda would surely be a COVID-19 plan and economic rescue package. Whoever is president will also likely confront a battle over funding for the government, with Congress now compiling legislation to avert a shutdown for the coming months.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York joined House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., at the Capitol as Democrats highlighted their proposed national COVID-19 strategy to test and trace caseloads to try to "crush" the pandemic crisis.

The Democratic approach is outlined with $75 billion in the House-passed Heroes Act, which was a nonstarter in the Senate. Senate Republicans countered with $16 billion for testing in their bill as the two sides reached an impasse.

___

Barrow reported from Atlanta.

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