Former Vice President Joe Biden and former Guam Governor Eddie Baza Calvo, a surrogate for President Donald Trump’s campaign, participated Saturday in a digital presidential town hall that focused on Asian and Pacific Island issues.
Biden and Calvo offered surprisingly different perspectives on the issues facing the AAPI community in the United States. Both campaigns addressed important issues for AAPI voters, including systemic racism, immigration, and economic recovery. NBC News’s Vicky Nguyen and PBS’s Amna Nawaz moderated the APIAVote non-profit forum and broadcast on NBC Asian America.
During town hall race relations across the US were front and center. Biden criticized Trump’s recent racist remarks in which he referred to the coronavirus as the “Kung Flu” and the “Chinese Flu” and said that Trump “only knows how to talk about people’s fears, not his best angels.”
“Asian Americans are being targeted for xenophobic rhetoric from the president’s own mouth,” Biden said. “This is the president who, instead of uniting our country, does everything possible to fan the flames of hatred and division in this country.”
Calvo dodged criticism of Trump’s racist comments about the coronavirus, instead of pointing to the looting incidents that occurred at the same time as the Black Lives Matter protests across the country and suggested that Biden was guilty.
“I have seen part of the impact on Korean American stores, our Vietnamese hair and nail shops, our Filipino restaurants that have been looted and people robbed as a result of the riots,” Calvo said. “I can tell you that when you look at the destruction, and whether it be for looting, theft, burning of flags, or the demolition of statues, most, if not all, of these people are not going to vote for President Trump. they are actually supporters of the Biden campaign. “
Biden also addressed the myth of Asian American model minorities, saying he would use data to highlight needy groups.
“AAPI writing at large has a higher achievement than any other group in the United States,” he said, “but that misrepresents that dozens of ethnic groups are, in fact, really being hurt and left behind.”
Calvo and Biden also discussed different positions in the two immigration campaigns. Calvo praised the Trump administration’s stance on immigration, saying the president’s “number one goal is to move toward merit-based immigration.”
Trump earlier this month signed an executive order pausing new visas for foreign workers until the end of the year in a proclamation describing workers as “a risk to the US job market after the coronavirus outbreak.” . Calvo said the order would prioritize “bringing in highly skilled workers to grow our nation.”
“It is not about immigrants, they are important,” Calvo said. “But his top priority is getting Americans back to work.”
Biden promised to send an immigration reform bill to Congress on the first day of his administration that would provide a “roadmap for citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants who contribute so much to this country, including 1.7 million AAPIs.” Biden also criticized the pause on new visas for foreign workers, saying such a pause would not occur in his administration.
PBS’s Nawaz pressured Biden during the forum to post the diversity numbers of his staff, which he ordered his campaign to post later that night. Biden reiterated his commitment to ensuring that his cabinet “would resemble the United States” if elected, “from the vice president to the cabinet members, to the main actors within the White House, and the court will be a reflection of who we are as a nation.”
In a summary of staff data obtained by NBC News, the Biden campaign said 35 percent of its full-time staff are people of color and 36 percent of senior staff are people of color. Additionally, the diversity memorandum says that several senior staff members are descendants of AAPI, including the chief financial officer and chief operating officer, among other roles.
The Trump campaign also released some diversity statistics, after the launch of Biden, announcing that 25 percent of its senior staff are people of color. The campaign refused to provide information for all full-time staff.
Biden’s presence in person at the virtual town hall was remarkable. At the 2016 APIAVote Presidential Forum, the Hillary Clinton and Trump campaigns sent substitutes instead of appearing in person. Trump did not participate in this year’s forum, but instead chose to play golf at Trump National Golf Club in Virginia, but sent Calvo as a substitute to represent the campaign.
Calvo said he represented a “microcosm of the Trump campaign” and that it was important that the Trump campaign be represented on the forum by a member of the AAPI community.