Trump, Biden appeal to Catholics at virtual charity dinner

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Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden stops to speak to members of the media as he walks out of the Queen Theater in Wilmington, Del., Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020, after pre-taping his speech for the Al Smith dinner. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden appealed to the nation's Roman Catholic voters on Thursday during a charity dinner that traditionally has been used to promote collegiality and good humor.

But in the face of a pandemic and economic woes for millions of Americans, there was no joking at this year's Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner, which went virtual because of the coronavirus. The event comes as Biden and Trump make fierce plays for Catholic voters, a large swath of the electorate that spans the U.S. political spectrum, including a significant slice of swing voters in battleground states.

Trump’s appearance at the dinner four years ago along with Democratic rival Hillary Clinton produced some laughs, but several cringe-worthy moments, too. When Trump described Clinton as corrupt, he crossed the line for many of those in attendance and was booed loudly.

On Thursday, Trump sought to highlight his administration's accomplishments benefiting Catholic voters. He noted that hundreds of millions of dollars in federal pandemic relief funds went to parishes around the country through forgivable Paycheck Protection Program loans. “I hope you remember that on Nov. 3," Trump said. “But I got it for them."

For his part, Biden, who is Catholic, said his time in politics has been guided by the tenets of Catholic social doctrine: “What you do to the least among us, you do unto me.”

“We have a responsibility to future generations, and that’s the charge before us today,” Biden said.

Trump also emphasized his nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. He noted that she graduated from the University of Notre Dame Law School and was praised by one of her professors as his top student.

“We will not stand for any attacks against Judge Barrett’s faith. Anti-Catholic bigotry has absolutely no place in the United States of America. It predominates in the Democratic Party," Trump said. “And we must do something immediately about it, like a Republican win, and let's make it a really big one."