MIAMI — In his first public campaign event in Miami since announcing his candidacy for president in April, former Vice President Joe Biden blasted President Donald Trump on Sunday in Little Havana for having “abandoned our leadership in the hemisphere.”
Biden, the frontrunner in the Democratic primary, stopped at Ball & Chain on Southwest Eighth Street for an outdoor event his campaign billed as a meet-and-greet with Miami’s “Latinx” community. Wearing aviator glasses and a white dress shirt with the sleeves slightly rolled-up, he told a standing-room only crowd that Trump has left Latin America to literally burn.
“While the Amazon is burning, we’re talking about $20 million to organize, to help [Brazil President Jair] Bolsonaro do something?” BIden said incredulously, referring to the financial aid offered last month to Brazil by the world leaders during the G-7 summit. “Were I president, we’d make it real clear. Mr. President, here’s the deal: It’s in your area but you’re causing damage to the whole world. We’ll pay all you’ll need to do worldwide to take on the responsibility of ending those fires and not taking down the rain forests. And if you don’t, here are the consequences.”
Biden also ripped Trump over his refusal to grant Venezuelans temporary protected status, and defended his comments during Thursday’s Democratic debate in Houston that he “confronted” embattled Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro.
“I do know Maduro. I did have a coming to the Lord meeting with Maduro. No matter that the press said I didn’t: Not true,” Biden said, speaking about a conversation he had with Maduro in January 2015 during then-Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s swearing-in ceremony. “I told [Maduro], we’d talk with him if he did the following things, starting with setting up elections, making sure he’d release political prisoners, a whole range of things. That kind of ended our conversation.”
By riffing on Latin America, Biden was entering territory that Trump has mostly owned in recent months, at least on the presidential campaign trail.
Presidential candidates Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar have met with Venezuelan exiles in Miami this year. But as the candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination have focused on early primary states and U.S. policy, Florida Democrats have feared that Trump has been mostly left unchecked to court Miami’s exile communities.
Trump’s administration backed Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido in January when he declared himself Venezuela’s rightfully elected president, and he declared the “twilight of socialism” under his administration during a speech in Miami early this year. Trump has also repeatedly cast Democrats as socialists as the party debates whether to socialize medicine and increase taxes on the wealthy.
The Trump campaign attacked Biden after Thursday’s debate, tweeting out a picture of him smiling while speaking with Maduro in Brazil. On Sunday, Trump Victory spokeswoman Danielle Alvarez reacted to Biden’s appearance in Miami by saying that “voters are concerned as he hugs a socialist agenda in an attempt to compete in the Democratic primary.”
But Biden spent much of the day undercutting Trump’s message to Hispanic voters in Miami, and his event lured at least two voters who told the Miami Herald they were registered without party affiliation and considering registering as a Democrat to vote for Biden.
Later in the day, during a fundraiser in the Design District, Biden also framed his candidacy as a “rational” and less-radical approach to defeating Trump than his top competitors, U.S. Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
“I truly believe we can fundamentally change our standard for middle-class people in America without going out and making sure no one can be a billionaire” he said during an appearance at the Moore Building, 191 NE 40th Street. “We don’t need that kind of stuff. The fact of the matter is just a rational policy” will suffice.
Ana Navarro, a Republican analyst for CNN and biting Trump critic, attended Biden’s event in Little Havana and said afterward that she was impressed not only with his speech but also his ability to withstand a sweltering Miami summer afternoon.
Biden’s stamina and mental acumen were questioned after his performance during Thursday’s debate. But after finishing his speech by rousing the audience to action, Biden took a photo with a half-dozen children he’d pulled up onto a pineapple-shaped stage and then hurried over to an older woman who’d fainted in the heat.
“I saw a guy stand up there in 95-degree weather, with the sun beating down and 95 percent humidity, who has the energy and the vision and the optimism and the ability to inspire,” said Navarro. “I had not seen him in action during this campaign and I thought he was impressive. I’m so glad he touched upon the Venezuela issue.”
As Navarro spoke to the Miami Herald, Biden milled about, speaking to people who lined up to take pictures with him. He filmed a quick video with Ramón Muchacho, the exiled former mayor of the Chacao District in Caracas.
“Stay strong. We’re with you. The world is with you. Things are going to get better,” Biden said as Muchacho recorded a video on his phone that he blasted out to his 1.5 million Twitter followers.
Biden has a massive lead nationally among black voters. But he is competing with the field for the Hispanic vote, with a CNN poll finalized Sept. 9 showing Sanders ahead of Biden among Hispanic voters, albeit well within a wide margin of error.
Biden continues to hold a cushion over the field nationally. And while there have been few polls in Florida, where the presidential primary falls after Super Tuesday, Biden held a massive lead over Sanders and Warren in the state during the early summer before the first of three debates.
Biden’s visit to Miami followed a stop at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Alabama, where four back girls were killed in a Sept. 15 basement bombing 56 years ago. From Miami, he was headed to South Carolina.