Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said he would follow public health advisers' advice if they called for a national shutdown should he take office and the coronavirus had not abated.
"I would be prepared to do whatever it takes to save lives. We cannot get the country moving until we control the virus," Biden said in an interview broadcast Sunday night on ABC News.
Asked specifically whether he'd push a national shutdown if scientists said it was necessary, Biden replied: "I would shut it down." The former vice president has previously called for the nation's governors to impose mask mandates in their states, effectively a national mask mandate. But when he made that call, Biden avoided saying he'd attempt to use a nationally applicable executive order himself.
The former vice president's remarks came as part of his first joint interview with vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris. The pair accepted their party's nominations during a virtual convention last week. On Monday, Republicans begin their convention to nominate Trump and Vice President Mike Pence for a second term.
Biden laughed when asked about Trump's recent assertion that the only way he'd lose was if the election were rigged, and the Democratic challenger dismissed any notions that Trump wouldn't leave the White House voluntarily if he loses.
"The American people will not let that happen," he said. "No one's going to allow that to happen." Both Biden and Harris downplayed their bitter debate encounter last summer during the Democratic primary. Harris, a California senator, leveled deeply personal criticism against Biden for his opposition in the 1970s to federally mandated busing to desegregate public schools and remarks he'd made about having worked amicably alongside racist senators when he first came to Washington.
The first Black woman on a major party national ticket, Harris said she and Biden are on the same page on race amid the nation's ongoing reckoning with systemic racism.
"There are real racial disparities that are rooted in systemic racism," Harris said, noting wealth gaps and the disproportionate effects of COVID-19 on Black and Hispanic communities. Biden, she said, "is addressing these truths, he speaks these truths." Biden said, looking back, he understands how Harris, who was among the minority students bused in the 1970s, would criticize him so harshly. But he also said she and others may not have known his full record on civil rights. He said he, as a 77-year-old white man, cannot understand her lived experiences and that she, a 55-year-old daughter of Indian and Jamaican immigrants, can't understand his.
But, he said, they "have the same value set" and are "on same exact page about what the possibilities are right now." Likewise, they downplayed policy differences that emerged when they were primary rivals, especially on health care. Biden has consistently backed adding a "public option" to existing private insurance markets. Harris signed on to Sen. Bernie Sanders' bill that would create a single-payer government insurance system to replace private insurance.
"I signed on to bills that were about great ideas to fix the problem," Harris told ABC, arguing that she and Biden "are completely aligned on . making sure everyone has health care." Biden called any differences "tactical" but said, "We both believe that health care is a right, not a privilege."