Trump says what he wants to do if re-elected; Biden provides more info on Supreme Court
The presidential candidates had dueling town hall events Thursday evening. Democratic candidate Joe Biden's session was led by ABC’s George Stephanopoulos in Philadelphia amid Pennsylvania voters. President Donald Trump’s was in Miami and moderated by NBC’s Savannah Guthrie.
Covid-19. The key topic as expected was the pandemic amid rising coronavirus cases. Trump was pressed on his handling of the matter, while Biden was asked what he would do differently.
Trump received several questions from voters about why he hadn’t acted earlier to respond to the pandemic, which has claimed more than 217,000 lives across the U.S. Trump pointed to his decision to restrict travel from China in January and said he didn’t want to “panic” the country by raising alarms early in the year. “We have done an amazing job, and it’s rounding the corner,” he said.
Biden said the president had “panicked” in the face of crisis and was directly responsible for the rising death toll and spread of the virus, bringing the nation’s total to more than 7.9 million confirmed cases. “He missed enormous opportunities and kept saying things that weren’t true,” Biden said. “It is the presidential responsibility to lead.”
Regarding wearing masks, Trump said that he supported mask-wearing but questioned whether they were always effective. When a voter asked whether his contraction of Covid-19 has changed his mind on wearing masks, the president said it hadn’t. Biden criticized Trump for sending mixed messages about public health guidelines and for rarely wearing a mask. “The words of a president matter,” Biden said. “When a president doesn’t wear a mask…people say, ‘Well it mustn’t be that important.’”
Pressed on when he last received a negative Covid-19 test before contracting the virus earlier this month, Trump said he didn’t recall. “Possibly I did, possibly I didn’t,” he said, when asked if he had been given a test the day of the first presidential debate against Biden, for which all guests were required to test negative. The president said he is tested regularly but not daily.
Supreme Court. Biden dodged questions about whether he would try to add justices to the Supreme Court, saying he wanted to keep the focus on Republicans’ attempt to jam through a nominee. Biden added that he would clarify his position after the Senate votes on Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination. Although he said he had “not been a fan of court packing,” Biden reiterated his view that Trump’s Supreme Court nominee shouldn’t be confirmed before the election. Biden signaled his position on adding to the court was contingent upon how Republicans proceeded with the nomination. “I’m open to considering what happens from that point on,” he said. Challenged on whether voters had a right to know his stance before the election, Biden said Americans will know “before they vote” but again said he was waiting to see how Judge Barrett’s confirmation process played out on Capitol Hill.
Trump said he didn’t discuss Roe v. Wade with Barrett at any time, nor did he discuss how she might view or rule on a challenge to the Nov. 3 election. Judge Barrett’s confirmation hearings were underway this week. The Senate is expected to vote on her nomination Oct. 22.
Trump disavowed white supremacists, but refused to denounce the QAnon conspiracy theory, which claims that prominent Democrats are running child sex-trafficking rings. Trump said, “I know nothing about QAnon,” but added, “I do know they are very much against pedophelia."
Biden defended his role in crafting a sweeping 1994 crime bill that critics said led to mass incarceration of Black men. Biden said he disagreed with aspects of the law, such as a three-strikes provision that paved the way for mandatory minimum sentences. “It had a lot of other things in it that turned out to be both bad and good,” Biden said, pointing to the Violence Against Women Act measure he helped write that provided more resources to combat domestic violence. He nonetheless acknowledged the law, as implemented, was “a mistake... the mistake came in terms of what the states did locally,” Biden said.
Foreign policy. Biden said the president deserved “a little” credit for an accord between Israel and Arab nations, but accused Trump of abandoning American allies, emboldening autocrats and having “no coherent plan for foreign policy.” Biden brought up the letters Trump has exchanged with North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un and his relationship with Russian President Vladamir Putin as evidence that Trump's foreign policy was on the wrong track. "He's pulled out of almost every international organization," he said. "He gets laughed at when he goes to — literally not figuratively — when he goes to the United Nations."
Trump shrugged off a question about his recent retweet spreading a false story about Biden’s record on military policy, saying he was simply trying to “put it out there.” Guthrie replied: “You’re the president. You’re not like someone’s crazy uncle who can retweet whatever.”
Biden was blunt about the prospects of increasing taxes on corporations and the wealthiest Americans: “I gotta get the votes.”
Trump didn't dispute a report that he is liable for more than $400 million in debt, calling it “a tiny percentage of my net worth.” He said he didn't owe money to Russia or “any of these sinister people.” “Four hundred million is a peanut,” he said, adding his debt is “extremely [under-leveraged].”
Biden reiterated that he doesn't support a ban on fracking but said “it has to be managed very, very well.” Biden has championed a $2 trillion climate proposal that would touch many aspects of the U.S. economy. Fracking, which involves blasting water, sand and chemicals into rock to extract oil and gas, is in use in Pennsylvania, a key battleground state where the town hall took place. He said the Green New Deal, a proposal for $16 trillion over a decade from his primary opponent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, would be difficult to achieve.
Biden, asked what it would say about the country if he loses, said: “It could say that I’m a lousy candidate, that I didn’t do a good job. But I think, I hope, that it doesn’t say that we are as racially, ethnically and religiously at odds as it appears the president wants us to be.” Biden closed out his answer by talking about his hope of uniting the country if he wins the election, saying he would be “an American president” who would look out for voters of both parties.
Trump said he would like to see a peaceful transition of power but declined to commit to one. He followed with claims about voter fraud, including that “thousands of ballots” cast for him had been “dumped in a garbage can.”
Why should voters give Trump another term? The final question for Trump came from NBC host Savannah Guthrie: “There are people who want to know why they should give you a second chance and how you might improve in a second term. What would you say to them?” Trump's response: “Because I've done a great job. We had the strongest economy in the world. We closed it up. We're coming around the corner. The vaccines are coming out soon, and our economy is strong. We are at a level with jobs like we've never been before. We've rebuilt our military. We've rebuilt our borders. We had no borders. We had no nothing. We've rebuilt so much. We've given you the greatest tax cut in the history of our country, greatest regulation cut, equally as important. And we created new levels of jobs that nobody thought was possible. And next year is going to be better than ever before.”