Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential candidate, warned President Vladimir Putin that Russia would pay an “economic price” for continuing to interfere in US elections if he wins the White House in November.
Speaking at a CNN town hall on Thursday evening, Mr Biden said Russia would be punished for once again meddling in US democracy, four years after Mr Putin orchestrated a campaign to interfere with the 2016 election.
“There’ll be a price to pay,” Mr Biden said, adding that he viewed Russia as an “opponent” of the US. “Putin knows me. The reason he doesn’t want me as president is that he knows me and knows I mean it.”
His comments came after Christopher Wray, the FBI director, earlier on Thursday told Congress that Russia was still trying to tamper with the election in an attempt to “denigrate” Mr Biden.
Addressing a wide range of issues from foreign policy to racial justice, Mr Biden slammed Mr Trump for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Citing a recent poll from Pew, he said Mr Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping were more trusted around the world than Mr Trump — partly because of the US president’s response to Covid-19.
“This is not only causing us life lost here, it’s causing us to lose our influence in ways that are profound,” Mr Biden said.
Appearing at a drive-in town hall in Scranton, Pennsylvania, where grew up, Mr Biden was asked dozens of questions by Democratic and Republican voters who parked their cars in front of the outdoor stage.
It was one of the few campaign events where Mr Biden has fielded lots of questions from an audience, after spending most of the past seven months locked down at his home in Wilmington, Delaware, due to the spread of Covid-19.
Mr Trump has repeatedly said that Mr Biden was afraid to take questions due to concerns about his mental acuity, but the 77-year-old former vice-president delivered coherent answers on a wide range of subjects from the climate to the economy.
In an attack on Mr Trump that highlighted Mr Biden’s working class roots, he portrayed the election as a choice between a candidate who would fight for regular Americans, and the president, who wanted to help the wealthy and big companies.
Mr Biden has pledged to raise taxes on Americans who earn more than $400,000 and to reverse some of the tax cuts that Mr Trump signed into law in 2017.
“I really do view this campaign as . . . between Scranton and Park Avenue. Up here in this area, an awful lot of hardworking people busted their neck and all they asked for is a shot,” Mr Biden said. “All that Trump could see from Park Avenue is Wall Street.”
With traditional campaigning curtailed because of the pandemic, Mr Biden is hoping that the town hall will boost support for his candidacy in Pennsylvania, a battleground state that Mr Trump won in an unexpected victory over Hillary Clinton.
Mr Biden leads Mr Biden by 4.3 points in the state, according to an average of recent polls by Real Clear Politics, a slight decline from his edge in the state during the summer when Mr Trump was hammered over his handling of Covid-19.
The former vice-president also took Mr Trump to task over the revelation in Rage, a new book by Bob Woodward, in which the veteran Washington Post reporter said Mr Trump was told in January about the severe threat from the virus but continued to claim in public that it would just “disappear”.
Mr Biden said earlier action by the president could have saved as many as 37,000 lives. “He knew it and did nothing. It is close to criminal,” he added.
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Asked whether he would accept the election result, Mr Biden said he would once the final count was complete, in contrast to Mr Trump, who has repeatedly refused to say he will respect the outcome.
Mr Trump on Thursday tweeted that the result of the November 3 election may “never be accurately determined”, but Mr Biden said his rival was undermining confidence in democracy because he was concerned he would lose.
“If the president had even remote confidence that he was likely to win the election, he wouldn’t be doing this,” Mr Biden said. “This is all about trying to delegitimise the election.”
Follow Demetri Sevastopulo on Twitter: @dimi