Oct 16, 2020 11:30 AM

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

Posted Oct 16, 2020 11:30 AM
President Trump on NBC from Miami and Former Vice President Biden on ABC from Philadelphia-image courtesy CSPAN
President Trump on NBC from Miami and Former Vice President Biden on ABC from Philadelphia-image courtesy CSPAN

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.

Trump was Trump. He was loud and argumentative, rebuking his FBI director, fighting with the host, Savannah Guthrie, complaining about the questioning — and eventually saying for the first time that he would honor the results of a fair election, but only after casting an extraordinary amount of doubt on the likeliness of fairness.

“And then they talk, ’Will you accept a peaceful transfer?’” Trump said. “And the answer is, ‘Yes, I will.’ But I want it to be an honest election, and so does everybody else.”

He again sought to minimize revelations from a New York Times investigation that he has more than $400 million in debt and suggested that reports are wrong that he paid little or no federal income taxes in most years over the past two decades.

Biden, meanwhile, took a far different, softer approach with audience questions. The former vice president, who struggled growing up with a stutter, stuttered slightly at the start of the program and at one point squeezed his eyes shut and slowed down his response to clearly enunciate his words. At times his answers droned on.

Holding a white cloth mask in one hand, the Democratic nominee brought a small card of notes onstage and referred to it while promising to roll back tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. He said doing so would save, as he consulted his notes, “let me see ... $92 billion.”

Biden vowed to say before Election Day whether he will support expanding the number of justices on the Supreme Court if Democrats win the presidency and the Senate and hold the House after November.

He has for weeks refused to answer the question but went further Thursday night. He said, “I’m still not a fan” of expanding the court, but said his ultimate decision depended on how the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court “is handled” and “how much they rush this.”

Biden also blasted Trump’s foreign policy, declaring that “‘America first’ has made ‘America alone’” and “This president embraces all the thugs in the world.” He turned introspective when asked what it would say if he lost.

“It could say that I’m a lousy candidate, that I didn’t do a good job,” Biden said. “But I think, I hope that it doesn’t say that we’re as racially, ethnically and religiously at odds as it appears the president wants us to be.”

Biden said he plans to participate in next week’s debate but he would ask Trump to take a COVID-19 test before arriving. “It’s just decency” for everyone around him, including non-candidates like camera operators, Biden said.

The two men are still scheduled to occupy the same space for a debate for a second and final time next week in Nashville.

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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump was evasive Thursday night when pressed if he took a COVID-19 test before his first debate with Democrat Joe Biden as the two men squared off again, in a way, after their scuttled second showdown was replaced by dueling televised town halls several channels apart.

Biden, appearing nearly 1,200 miles away, denounced the White House’s handling of the virus that has claimed more than 215,000 American lives, declaring that it was at fault for closing a pandemic response office established by the Obama administration. Trump, meanwhile, was defensive and insisted that the nation was turning the corner on the virus, even as his own battle with the disease took center stage.

Trump, less than two weeks after being diagnosed with COVID-19, dodged directly answering whether he took a test the day of the Sept. 29 debate, only saying “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.

It was his positive test two days later that created Thursday’s odd spectacle, which deprived most viewers of a simultaneous look at the candidates just 19 days before Election Day. The moment seemed fitting for a race unlike any other, as yet another campaign ritual was changed by the pandemic that has rewritten the norms of society.

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 Trump’s 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.

Trump was Trump. He was loud and argumentative, fighting with the host, Savannah Guthrie, refusing to outright condemn the QAnon conspiracy group, testily declaring he would denounce white supremacy but complaining about the questioning — and eventually saying for the first time that he would honor the results of a fair election, but only after casting an extraordinary amount doubt on the likeliness of fairness.

“And then they talk ’Will you accept a peaceful transfer,’” Trump said. “And the answer is, ‘Yes, I will.’ But I want it to be an honest election, and so does everybody else.”

Biden meanwhile, took a far different, softer, approach with audience questions. The former vice president, who struggled growing up with a stutter, stuttered slightly at the start of the show and at one point squeezed his eyes shut and slowed down his response to clearly enunciate his words. At times his answers droned on.

Dressed in a blue suit and holding a white cloth mask in one hand, the Democratic nominee also brought a small card of notes on stage and referred to it while promising to roll back tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.

He said doing so would save “let me see... $92 billion.”

The two men are still scheduled to occupy the same space for a debate for a second and final time next week in Nashville. But the cancellation of Thursday’s debate still reverberated for both campaigns.

Trump and Biden battled on Sept. 29 in Cleveland in a debate defined both by the president’s constant hectoring of his opponent, which sent his support lower, and by its place on the calendar: just two days before Trump announced he had tested positive for coronavirus.

Trump was hospitalized for three days, and while he later convalesced at the White House the debate commission moved to make their second debate remote — which the president immediately rejected.

Earlier Thursday, Trump appeared at a rally in North Carolina, underscoring the challenge confronting him in the final weeks as multiple polls have shown him trailing Biden nationally and in many swing states. Trump has spent much of the week on defense, campaigning in states he won in 2016, such as North Carolina and Iowa, where he campaigned Wednesday.

But despite the polling, Trump predicted a “big, beautiful red wave” on Election Night, before referencing another one of his major challenges: A cash disadvantage to the Biden campaign, which just announced raising a record-breaking $383 million in September.

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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump and challenger Joe Biden will compete for TV audiences in dueling town halls on Thursday night instead of meeting face-to-face for their second debate as originally planned.

The two will take 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 Trump’s coronavirus diagnosis.

The town halls offer a different format for the two candidates to present themselves to voters, after the two held a chaotic and combative first debate late last month. But Trump, speaking on Fox Business on Thursday morning, launched early attacks on Biden, calling him “mentally shot,” a “liar” and a “corrupt politician.” He also said he had no plans to change his tone going forward.

“Many people said I won it, but some people said I was rude. But you have to be rude,” Trump said of the last debate. “The guy’s a liar.”

He also preemptively attacked NBC, charging that it went easy on Biden in a recent interview and asked questions geared for a child. Trump said NBC asked him to do the town hall.

“It’s a different audience and it’s good for me to have a different audience,” he said.

As the pace of the campaign speeds up in its final weeks, the two candidates first are taking care of other electoral necessities Thursday: Trump has a midday rally in battleground North Carolina, and Biden is raising campaign cash at a virtual event.

During his fundraiser, Biden warned supporters that Trump is “going to throw everything but the kitchen sink at me” and will deliver “an overwhelming torrent of lies.” Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, came under scrutiny this week following a New York Post report outlining an email Hunter allegedly received from a Ukrainian businessman discussing a meeting with the elder Biden. Biden’s campaign has said the meeting never happened, and experts have raised questions about the veracity of the emails.

Indeed, with just 19 days until Election Day, there remains ample time for unexpected developments to throw off the candidates’ plans — like they did Thursday, when Biden campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon announced the campaign was canceling running mate Sen. Kamala Harris’ in-person campaign events through Sunday “out of an abundance of caution” after two staffers tied to the campaign tested positive for the coronavirus.

The campaign told reporters Thursday morning that Harris’ communications director and a flight crew member tested positive after a campaign trip to Arizona last week, during which Harris and Biden campaigned together throughout the state. Biden and Harris both have tested negative multiple times since then, and the campaign said Harris was never in close contact with the staffers. But in an effort to draw a contrast with Trump, the campaign has emphasized its strict protocols in dealing with the virus and said it’d be moving Harris’ campaign events online whenever possible in the next few days.

Meanwhile Trump, after recovering from his own bout with the coronavirus, has been trying to shore up support from constituencies that not so long ago he thought he had in the bag: big business and voters in the red state of Iowa.

In a Wednesday morning address to business leaders, he expressed puzzlement that they would even consider supporting Biden, arguing that his own leadership was a better bet for a strong economy. Later, the president held his third campaign rally in three nights, this time in Iowa, a state he won handily in 2016 but where Biden is making a late push.

“I know I’m speaking to some Democrats, and some of you are friends of mine,” Trump said in a virtual address to the Economic Clubs of New York, Florida, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Pittsburgh and Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Should Biden be elected, he continued, “you will see things happen that will not make you happy. I don’t understand your thinking.”

During his decades in the Senate representing Delaware, a center for the credit card and banking industries, Biden built relationships and a voting record in the business sector that has raised suspicion on the left but provides Wall Street with a measure of ease at the prospect of a Biden administration.

After being sidelined by the coronavirus, Trump resumed a breakneck schedule this week, with aides saying he is expected to travel and host campaign rallies every day through Nov. 3. Trump has appeared hale in his public appearances since reemerging from quarantine, though at moments during his economic address on Wednesday his voice was raspy.

In Iowa, Trump tossed away his tie and donned a red hat to fight off the stiff breeze on the airport tarmac. He made a direct appeal to the state’s farmers, saying that he was responsible for $28 billion in aid designed to help offset damage stemming from his trade war with China. “I hope you remember that on Nov. 3,” Trump said.

But after years of farmers supporting him despite the trade war, some Republicans say Trump’s renewable fuel policy has sown some doubt.

Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency granted dozens of waivers to petroleum companies seeking to bypass congressional rules requiring the level of the corn-based fuel additive ethanol that gasoline must contain. He has recently denied more waiver requests, but the EPA’s previous action removed about 4 billion gallons of ethanol demand, resulting in the closure — at least temporarily — of more than a dozen ethanol plants in Iowa.

While mostly laying low on Wednesday, Biden has stepped up campaign travel in the past week, with visits to Arizona, Nevada, Florida and Pennsylvania, where he drove his consistent campaign message focused on Trump’s mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic.

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