Joe Biden to join Senate Democrats for virtual lunch

Joe Biden to join Senate Democrats for virtual lunch
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden (Patrick Semansky/AP)

Joe Biden is to join Democrat senators for an online lunch, during which he will field questions from allies on the race for the White House and the effort to wrest the US Senate’s majority control from Republicans.

The presidential candidate will travel later in the day to Scranton, Pennsylvania, his boyhood hometown, for a CNN town hall forum.

It comes after Donald Trump’s own town hall earlier this week on ABC.

The events have been considered practice runs ahead of three presidential debates, the first of which is scheduled for September 29.

Mr Biden is on the offensive this week over the incumbent president’s handling of the coronavirus crisis.

Late on Wednesday, Mr Biden seized on Mr Trump openly contradicting the nation’s top health officials to claim a vaccine will be ready as early as next month, just before the election.

“When I said I trust vaccines, and I trust the scientists, but I don’t trust Donald Trump – this is what I meant,” Mr Biden said.

Typically, politicians in Congress welcome the party leaders to Capitol Hill and the weekly closed-door Senate lunches are a long tradition.

Mr Trump occasionally stops by to meet with GOP senators and Mr Biden, as vice-president, similarly joined his party for the private caucus lunches on the Hill.

While Republicans still lunch in person, Democrats have shifted their meetings almost exclusively online due to the coronavirus crisis.

(PA Graphics)

It is believed Mr Biden’s call with the Democratic senators will focus on the autumn campaign and voter turnout efforts intended to benefit both his presidential campaign, Senate Democrats and other candidates.

He has taken questions in similar meetings previously and is likely to do so again on Thursday.

Mr 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, which largely forgoes traditional door knocking to avoid health risks during the pandemic and instead relies on virtual contact.

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

Looking ahead, senators are also eager to discuss a potential Biden White House – what the transition and presidency might look like, especially if Democrats control the Senate.

Republicans have a narrow three-seat hold on the chamber, putting the Democrats within reach of a flip.

Delaware Senator Chris Coons, a confidant of Mr Biden, described the former vice-president as careful not to talk too explicitly about the opening months of an administration.

“He is very focused on winning the presidential election,” Mr Coons said.

“A lot of good work is going into thinking how to actually tackle the challenge in this moment of crisis that the Trump administration has failed to address.”

Mr 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 attorney Bob Bauer, a White House counsel to President Barack Obama, also are playing key roles.

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