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Joe Biden begins media blitz as he tries to break into the coronavirus conversation

Joe Biden appeared in his first major interview Tuesday in the two weeks his campaign has been sidelined by the coronavirus pandemic. But in major cities across the United States, no one saw him.

Local news networks in New York City, Washington and elsewhere had broken into “The View” for live coverage of governors’ and mayors’ daily press briefing on the crisis.

As the former vice president begins a media blitz aimed at forcing himself into the national conversation, the episode demonstrated how hard it has been for Biden to break through amid the focus on the actions of the federal, state and local governments.

It’s an irony of the moment Biden is in: Over five decades in the Senate and as vice president, Biden had an official role in every major crisis the nation faced. Now, on the verge of clinching the Democratic presidential nomination, he’s on the sidelines — stuck at home with no votes to cast or decisions to make.

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Instead, Biden is offering shadow briefings, critiquing Trump’s handling of health and economic matters and detailing what he’d do differently.

Biden told hosts of “The View” that he plans to do interviews regularly from a new studio set up in a recreation room at his home in Wilmington, Delaware.

Later Tuesday, he was interviewed by CNN’s Jake Tapper. He chided Trump for suggesting earlier in the day that Americans could return to work by Easter, April 12, and said Trump should use the Defense Production Act to force companies to produce needed supplies like masks and respirators.

“He says he’s a war-time president — well God, act like one. Move. Fast,” Biden said.

Biden also appeared on MSNBC Tuesday, and his campaign scheduled a press briefing for Wednesday.

On Monday, Biden made an on-camera public appearance for the first time in nearly a week with a speech focused on the coronavirus response.

The speech showed Biden’s team is still working out how to manage its new reality as it grappled with technical miscues. By Tuesday’s appearance on “The View,” those had been smoothed out.

In his speech, he praised New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s handling of the pandemic. Cuomo, meanwhile, was midway through his own briefing — which cable news networks were airing live, ignoring Biden. It was another illustration of Biden’s struggle to break through in an environment in which most media and public focus is on concrete steps being taken in response to the crisis.

Aides have said they are looking for new channels for Biden and his campaign to communicate with the public. Rob Flaherty, Biden’s digital director, said among the options being considered are podcasts and long-form videos.

Ron Klain, a top Biden adviser who led former President Barack Obama’s Ebola response, did a whiteboard explanation of Trump’s coronavirus response and Biden’s plan that has been viewed 4.3 million times on Twitter, nearly 400,000 times on Instagram and 235,000 times on Facebook.

Biden said Tuesday he is beginning his days with back-to-back 90-minute briefings — one from a team of health experts his campaign assembled; another on the economic fallout of the pandemic.

The changes coronavirus has forced Biden to make extend beyond the campaign trail. He said on CNN that everyone who enters his house — including the Secret Service — has to wear a mask and gloves. His grandchildren, who live a mile away, visit daily, but Biden and his wife Jill sit on their back porch while his grandchildren sit in the backyard, Biden said. He said he hasn’t experienced any symptoms or been tested for coronavirus, but is following the recommendations of health experts.

Adding to the awkwardness of the political moment is that Biden — while dominant in recent primaries — hasn’t yet cemented the Democratic presidential nomination, and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders remains in the race.

With states pushing their primaries back to June, it could take that long for Biden to accumulate the 1,991 delegates necessary to become the nominee. CNN’s estimates show Biden at 1,139 delegates to date — a 316-delegate lead over Sanders’ 823, but not enough to end the race with 42% of delegates yet to be awarded in states that haven’t yet voted.

Biden on Tuesday wouldn’t pressure Sanders to drop out, saying that their staffs have had “discussions.”

“I think it’s up to Bernie,” Biden said. “As I’ve said, I was asked this question about every other person that had been in the race. It’s not for me to tell them to drop out.”

Meanwhile, Sanders’ campaign appears set to drift on for the foreseeable future despite the absence of any clear path to the nomination.

He has remained active and engaged with supporters through his robust social media channels, but he has largely gone missing from the national political stage, which has shifted to the states at the front lines of the crisis.

Sanders returned to Capitol Hill this week, but spent the period before at home in Burlington, Vermont, where he livestreamed a “fireside chat,” joined in-person by campaign manager Faiz Shakir. Since then, he’s hosted digital roundtables focused on the coronavirus response, tying its shortcomings into his calls for “Medicare for All” and debt forgiveness, with progressive allies like New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. He also held an online rally.

On Saturday, the campaign announced that it had raised more than $2 million over two days for five charities on the front lines of the crisis. Sanders has also hired staffers for New York’s late April primary.

But Sanders’ absence from Washington over the weekend raised eyebrows, especially when he became the only senator not under quarantine to miss a procedural vote on the still-unresolved congressional stimulus package.

“His absence was effectively a no vote, so he was engaging on policy remotely,” said Keane Bhatt, Sanders’ communication director in the Senate.

Sanders acknowledge that the campaign was in a “bizarre moment” during an interview with MSNBC on Monday night.

“What we are doing is transitioning our campaign to a virtual campaign. We had a wonderful town meeting last night with several of the leading members of Congress, which I thought was very productive, had a large viewing audience,” Sanders said. “So we’re kind of moving day by day.”

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