(Reuters) – President Donald Trump is insisting that schools reopen so he can save his re-election bid, his Democratic challenger, Joe Biden, said on Wednesday.
School districts across the country are taking a cautious approach to reopening after the summer break as U.S. COVID-19 cases near 3.5 million, unnerving parents struggling to balance their duties to employers and their families.
Trump demanded last week that schools reopen, in contravention of the guidelines set forth by government public-health experts. The Republican president threatened to strip schools of federal funds if they fail to comply.
“We’ve got to do the hard work of getting the virus under control now,” Biden told children who asked about the subject at an event with 25 donors that raised $3.8 million for his campaign.
“But Trump doesn’t want that to do that hard work. He just wants schools to open because he’s afraid if they don’t, it will hurt his re-election chances,” the former vice president said.
Biden has been gaining in opinion polls, which show him with a lead nationally ahead of the Nov. 3 presidential election as some voters sour on Trump’s response to the pandemic. The United States leads the world in cases and deaths.
Biden has called for the federal government to replenish state and local government coffers depleted by the coronavirus response to pay teacher salaries. He has also urged funding to help schools buy protective equipment and make changes to support social distancing and technology for remote learning.
A representative for Trump’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The president and his supporters have cited children’s educational needs and the economy among reasons for his insistence that schools open.
But the push is also part of an emerging re-election strategy seeking to resuscitate his flagging support in the nation’s suburbs, people close to his campaign say.
More than 136,000 people in the United States have died from the highly contagious respiratory illness.
A mortality model developed by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) projected late on Tuesday that the U.S. death toll from COVID-19 would surpass 224,000 by Election Day.
(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt in New York; Editing by Peter Cooney)