Biden’s Covid Response Plan Draws From F.D.R.’s New Deal

Mr. Biden has staked his campaign on a more muscular federal role in fighting the coronavirus pandemic. But some of his big government proposals may be difficult to put into effect.



By Abby Goodnough and Sheryl Gay Stolberg

WASHINGTON — Joseph R. Biden Jr. is preparing for the biggest challenge he would face if elected president — ending the coronavirus pandemic — by reaching back nearly a century to draw on the ideas of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose big-government policies lifted the country out of the Great Depression and changed the shape of America.

With infection rates ticking back up in much of the country as the weather cools and social distancing becomes tougher, addressing the public health crisis could reach new levels of urgency by Inauguration Day. If current trends hold, as many as 400,000 Americans may have died from Covid-19 by then, recent projections show.

On Thursday, Mr. Biden will face voters in a televised town hall style meeting, offering him a chance to lay out his plan to bring the surging pandemic under control. Mr. Biden has staked his campaign on promising a more muscular federal role than Mr. Trump’s leave-it-to-the-states approach. His health advisers have been working on a set of plans that he would push out as soon as he took office, including ramping up testing, ensuring a steady supply of protective equipment, distributing a vaccine and securing money from Congress for schools and hospitals.

Many of his ideas carry echoes of Roosevelt’s New Deal vision of the robust role the U.S. government should play in helping the nation recover from a crisis. He would quickly appoint a national “supply chain commander” to coordinate the logistics of manufacturing and distributing protective gear and test kits, invoking the Defense Production Act more aggressively than Mr. Trump has to build up supplies.

Mr. Biden wants to mobilize at least 100,000 Americans for a “public health jobs corps” of contact tracers to help track and curb outbreaks And he has even called for a “Pandemic Testing Board” to swell the supply of coronavirus tests — a play on Roosevelt’s War Production Board.

“I’m kind of in a position that F.D.R. was,” Mr. Biden told Evan Osnos of The New Yorker in a recent interview, speaking about the challenges of the pandemic and the broader problems it has brought on, though he quickly added he was not comparing himself to Roosevelt.

“If you think about it, what in fact, F.D.R. did was not ideological, it was completely practical,” he added.

But the country Mr. Biden would lead is very different from Roosevelt’s America, and his coronavirus response proposals may not be all that easy to put into place. The pandemic has been caught up in partisan politics, and the public has lost faith in government institutions. And there will be no fireside chats in today’s fractious social media environment.

“It’s certainly going to be one of the biggest challenges he faces, given the amount of misinformation and undermining of public health authority that has occurred,” said Dr. Ingrid Katz, an infectious disease specialist at the Harvard Global Health Institute, who recently briefed Mr. Biden on school safety during the pandemic. “The seeds of discontent have been sown.”

As the campaign moves into its weeks, some of Mr. Biden’s plans might leave him vulnerable to the charge that Mr. Trump has leveled against all Democrats: that they are practitioners of “socialism” who would use the federal government to supersede individual and state rights.

Exhibit A is the debate over Mr. Biden’s seesawing call for a national mask mandate. Mr. Biden first raised it at the Democratic National Convention, then walked it back, before again characterizing it as a strong priority. Mr. Biden acknowledged that his team was still exploring whether he had the power to require Americans to wear masks outside their homes — or whether he would have to leave it to governors, as Mr. Trump has done.

“The question is whether I would have the legal authority as president to sign an executive order,” he recently told reporters. “We think we do, but I can’t guarantee that yet.”

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