By JOHN VERHOVEK and MOLLY NAGLE, ABC News
(CLEVELAND) — Former Vice President Joe Biden labeled President Donald Trump’s combative debate performance in Cleveland, Ohio, last night a “national embarrassment,” during the first leg of his whistle stop train tour through the Midwest on Wednesday.
“The President of the United States conducted himself the way he did, I think it was just a national embarrassment. But look, I just hope that the American people, those undecided voters, try to determine [if] each of us has as an answer for their concerns and allows us to actually speak,” Biden told reporters standing in front of a chartered Amtrak train in Alliance, Ohio.
Biden is embarking on a roughly 200-mile whistle stop train tour on Wednesday through the battleground states of Ohio and Pennsylvania, pushing his economic agenda while hoping to appeal to voters that have strayed from the Democratic Party in recent years and delivered Donald Trump the White House in 2016.
In Alliance, Biden also blasted Trump over his “dog whistle to white supremacy,” referring to the president’s failure to disavow white supremacists in last night’s debate — a moment that has garnered intense attention following the clash between Biden and Trump on stage.
Trump was prompted to condemn the “Proud Boys,” a group involved in recent incidents of violence and unrest, but instead told the group to, “stand back and stand by.”
“My message to the Proud Boys and every other white supremacist group is cease and desist. That’s not who we are. This is not who we are as Americans,” Biden said Wednesday, adding that he believes Trump will leave office if he loses the election because he has “no alternative.”
Pressed on his participation in the next two debates, slated for next month in Miami, Florida, and Nashville, Tennessee, respectively, Biden said he is “looking forward to” them, but expressed hope that candidates will be allowed to answer questions free from the interruptions that defined last night’s conversation.
“I just hope there’s a way in which the debate commission can control the ability of us to answer the question without interruptions. I’m not going to speculate on what happens in the second or third debate,” Biden said.
Shortly after Biden’s remarks, the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) announced that it is considering changes to the debate format to allow for a more “orderly discussion.”
“Last night’s debate made clear that additional structure should be added to the format of the remaining debates to ensure a more orderly discussion of the issues. The CPD will be carefully considering the changes that it will adopt and will announce those measures shortly,” a CPD statement released Wednesday afternoon read.
The Democratic nominee, long-known for his affinity for Amtrak, also commented on Tuesday night’s debate during the tour’s kickoff event in Cleveland, Ohio.
“Last night’s debate, and this election, it’s supposed to be about…you and all the people I grew up with in Scranton, and people in Youngstown and Claymont, Delaware, and all the people who make a difference,” Biden said standing outside at a socially-distanced event just feet away from his newly-minted campaign train.
“Does your president understand at all what you’re going through? What so many other people are going through? The question is does he see you where you are and where you want to be? Does he care?” Biden asked rhetorically.
Biden also took aim at the president on the issue of taxes, after the New York Times reported Trump paid only $750 dollars in federal taxes in 2016 and 2017.
“He doesn’t pay his fair share in taxes. He says that makes him smart,” Biden said of Trump. “What does that make you…and millions of other hard-working Americans, decent people who pay our taxes? Are we the suckers? Are we stupid because we go by the rules?” Biden said.
Biden’s one-day train tour will take him across Ohio and Pennsylvania, two states that show the former vice president above 50% in recent state polling. The former vice president will target areas Democrats are hoping to maintain or win back in November, with stops in Alliance, Ohio, and Pittsburgh, Greensburg and Latrobe, Pennsylvania, along with two events in Pennsylvania: one in New Alexandria and at a drive-in in Johnstown.
Stark County, Ohio, the site of the first stop on the tour, backed former President Barack Obama by over five points in 2008, but sided with Trump by 17 points in 2016. Cambria County, Pennsylvania, where Wednesday’s tour concludes, narrowly backed Obama in 2008 but has swung significantly back to the GOP since then, siding with Trump by roughly 37 points in 2016.
Biden signaled on Wednesday morning that the tour will home in on the economic message he has sought to cultivate in recent weeks, casting the election as a choice between his hometown of Scranton, Pennsylvania, and communities like it across the country, and the monied interests of Park Avenue in New York City.
“Folks, this election is a choice between Scranton and Park Avenue values, between Cleveland and Park Avenue values, between Alliance and Park Avenue values,” Biden told a small, socially distanced crowd of supporters and reporters Wednesday morning.
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