Trump, Biden go at it — from a distance — in town halls

Friday, October 16, 2020
Article Image Alt Text

President Donald Trump speaks during an NBC News Town Hall with moderator Savannah Guthrie, at Perez Art Museum Miami, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020, in Miami. AP PHOTO

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden squared off, in a way, Thursday night in dueling televised town halls that showcased striking differences in temperament, views on racial justice and approaches to a pandemic that has reshaped the nation.

Coming just two and a half weeks before Election Day, the night offered crystalizing contrasts and a national, if divided, audience. But it seemed unlikely to have produced a needed moment for a president running out of time or opportunities to appeal beyond his core base.

He was defensive about his administration’s handling of the coronavirus, which has claimed more than 215,000 American lives, and evasive when pressed about whether he took a required COVID-19 test before his first debate with Biden. Angry and combative, Trump refused to denounce the QAnon conspiracy group — and only testily did so regarding white supremacists.

The president also appeared to acknowledge revelations from a recent New York Times report that he was in debt and left open the possibility that some of it was owed to a foreign bank. But he insisted that he didn’t owe any money to Russia or any “sinister people” and suggested that $400 million in debt was a “very, very small percentage” compared to his overall assets.

Biden denounced the White House’s handling of the virus, declaring that it was at fault for closing a pandemic response office established by the Obama administration in which he served. Though vague at times, he suggested he will offer clarity on his position on expanding the Supreme Court if Trump’s nominee to the bench is seated before Election Day. After Biden’s 90-minute town hall event formally concluded, the candidate spent another half-hour taking questions from those in the audience who didn’t get an opportunity during the televised program.

Trump and Biden were supposed to spend Thursday night on the same debate stage in Miami. But that faceoff was scuttled after Trump’s coronavirus infection, which jolted the race and threatened the health of the American president.

Trump wouldn’t say whether he had tested negative on the day of his first debate with Biden on Sept. 29, allowing only, “Possibly I did, possibly I didn’t.” Debate rules required that each candidate, using the honor system, had tested negative prior to the Cleveland event, but Trump spoke in circles when asked when he last tested negative.

The presidential rivals took questions in different cities on different networks: Trump on NBC from Miami, Biden on ABC from Philadelphia. Trump backed out of plans for the presidential faceoff originally scheduled for the evening after debate organizers said it would be held virtually following his COVID-19 diagnosis.

The town halls offered a different format for the two candidates to present themselves to voters, after the pair held a chaotic and combative first debate late last month. The difference in the men’s tone was immediate and striking.

Category: