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Joe Biden says the pandemic response is an opportunity for structural change

The former vice president highlighted needed changes to the voting system, as well as environmental and economic reforms.

Joe Biden participates in the 11th Democratic Party 2020 presidential debate in Washington, DC, on March 15.
Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Joe Biden said that the economic challenge presented by the coronavirus pandemic will be “the biggest challenge in modern history,” in an interview Tuesday evening with CNN’s Chris Cuomo.

Biden’s comments came in response to a question from Cuomo about what kind of economy the former vice president would face if he wins the White House in November’s general election.

“I think it’s going to, it may not dwarf, but eclipse what [Franklin Delano Roosevelt] faced,” he said. “We have an opportunity, Chris, to do so many things now to change some of the structural things that are wrong, some of the structural things we couldn’t get anyone’s attention on.”

The comments were somewhat of a departure for Biden, who has positioned his campaign as a way to return to normal after the Trump years. He was not the candidate of “big structural change,” a message more likely to be found coming from his former primary rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders, who announced Wednesday he was suspending his campaign. But the pandemic and the resulting economic collapse have become an opportunity for the Biden campaign to reset its messaging.

The combination of the pandemic and a free-falling economy has exposed several policy shortfalls that some Democrats have been speaking to for years. In the two weeks before March 28, about 10 million people in the US filed initial claims for unemployment, the most since the statistic started being tracked in 1967. “The Band-Aid’s been ripped off,” Biden said.

He highlighted potential reforms to the voting system, environmental reforms, and ensuring that people who need money to survive the economic fallout from the pandemic receive it.

He stopped short, however, of endorsing any new policy positions. Biden has opposed the types of big structural changes presented by Sanders, including Medicare-for-all and several key economic solutions. For Sanders’s part, he has used the pandemic to put forward a broad economic agenda, including a universal basic income of $2,000 per month until the economic crisis is over.

Still, it’s a shift to see Biden talking about structural change in his campaign. What’s become increasingly clear over the past several weeks is that returning to normal may not be possible, and Democrats may end up needing someone more than a normalcy candidate this fall.