Biden shares 'several suggestions' with Trump on pandemic response

It's not enough for the president to have taken Biden's phone call; it's also important for Trump to consider Biden's advice.
President Donald Trump and Joe Biden.
President Donald Trump and Joe Biden.Reuters; AFP - Getty Images
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By Steve Benen

Last week, Joe Biden's campaign noted that the former vice president would be willing to reach out to Donald Trump directly to discuss the federal response to the coronavirus crisis. When a reporter brought this up during a White House briefing, the Republican incumbent seemed quite amenable to the idea.

"Oh, absolutely," the president said when asked if he'd take the Democrat's call. "I'd like to speak to him. Sure.... I always found him to be a nice guy. I don't know him very well, frankly, but I think he's probably a nice guy. No, if he'd like to call, I'd absolutely take his call. Okay? You could tell him."

For whatever reason, the two did not connect in the days that followed, though the possibility apparently remained on Trump's mind. "[W]hat ever happened to that phone call he told the Fake News he wanted to make to me?" he wrote on Twitter mid-morning yesterday.

The two apparently spoke soon after. The Associated Press reported:

President Donald Trump said he had a "really wonderful, warm conversation" with Joe Biden on Monday about the coronavirus outbreak. "He gave me his point of view, and I fully understood that, and we just had a very friendly conversation," Trump said at his daily press briefing.

The president seemed uncharacteristically gracious when describing the 15-minute conversation, adding that it was "really good, it was really good, really nice." The president went on to say, "I appreciate his calling."

The two agreed not to publicly discuss the details of their chat, but the Democrat's campaign said that Biden "shared several suggestions for actions the administration can take now to address the ongoing coronavirus pandemic."

At face value, there's something quite remarkable about these circumstances. It's one thing for a former national officeholder to exchange pleasantries with a president from the other party at an official event, but it's something else for a president to receive policy recommendations from a former vice president -- who happens to be his principal rival in an election year.

This is not a political dynamic that happens often.

What's more, it's also worth appreciating the fact that Biden has some credibility on the issue. Indeed, on January 27, when COVID-19 was still a relatively obscure issue in the United States, the Delaware Democrat wrote a USA Today op-ed, warning about an outbreak and raising the alarm about the administration's preparedness.

On March 12, the day before Trump declared a national emergency, Biden unveiled a detailed policy blueprint on how the federal response should take shape.

This context matters because it's not enough for the president to have taken Biden's phone call; it's also important for Trump to consider Biden's advice.

That's probably not going to happen. "He had suggestions," the president told reporters yesterday, referring to his 2020 rival. "It doesn't mean that I agree with those suggestions, but certainly he had suggestions."