With Drastically Different Tones, Biden and Trump Appear in Dueling Town Halls

Courtesy of Gage Skidmore / CC BY-SA 2.0 / Shealah Craighead / The White House

President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden faced off against each other on Thursday night, on opposite television channels instead of opposite sides of the stage — and with vastly different approaches.

Posted: Oct 15, 2020 8:42 PM
Updated: Oct 15, 2020 8:44 PM

NBC News - President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden faced off against each other on Thursday night, on opposite television channels instead of opposite sides of the stage — and with vastly different approaches.

Each held nationally televised town halls at the same time on different networks on a night that was originally scheduled to hold the second presidential debate.

Trump was asked whether he tested negative for the coronavirus before the first presidential debate, which was two days before he tested positive for the virus.

"I probably did," Trump said. "Possibly I did, possibly I didn't," he said, adding he thought he likely tested negative either that day or the day before.

In a testy exchange with moderator Savannah Guthrie, the president refused to condemn the QAnon conspiracy movement, which pushes a baseless assertion that Trump is waging a secret war against a powerful cabal of satanic pedophile Democratic politicians, liberal celebrities and the "deep state."

"I know nothing about QAnon," he told Guthrie, but "I do know they are very much against pedophilia. They fight it very hard."

While Trump was at times combative and argumentative, Biden in contrast gave long winded answers that focused on policy.

Biden's first question was related to the coronavirus, and he used it to criticize Trump's leadership.

"It's a presidential responsibility to lead and he didn't do that, because in my view, he kept talking about the stock market," Biden said.

He spoke in depth about his economic plan. He was asked about how he'd energize young Black voters and talked about making systemic changes to American institutions from criminal justice to homeownership and education to early childhood learning to close the racial wealth gap.

Asked by moderator George Stephanopoulos if it was a mistake to support the 1994 crime bill, Biden said, "Yes it was." He added, "Things have changed drastically since then."

Biden was again pushed about his position on court packing when asked about Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett - and again declined to answer, but acknowledged he's "not a fan" of the idea.

He said he will let voters know his full position depending on how the Senate handles Barrett’s confirmation, which he said puts the country's healthcare system in jeopardy.

In Miami, Trump touted his nominee, and said he didn't know how she'd vote on issues like Obamacare because he never asked her about it. Asked if he expected to vote in his favor on issues, he said he didn't know.

The second presidential debate was canceled after Trump backed out because he objected to the Commission on Presidential Debates' decision to make the event a virtual debate. The CPD made the change after Trump tested positive for the coronavirus.

The town hall forums gave each candidate a chance to answer questions directly from voters and lay out their vision of the country's future with less than three weeks remaining before Election Day.

Biden has consistently led Trump in polls and the margin widened after Trump delivered a widely panned debate performance and then contracted Covid-19, increasing the pressure on the incumbent president to find a way to revive his flagging campaign.

The hour-long Trump town hall, which was held in Miami, started at 8 p.m. on NBC, while 90-minute the Biden town hall in Philadelphia began on ABC at the same time.

The simultaneous town halls ignited criticism among some supporters of Biden, who called on NBC to reschedule the event with Trump, which had been scheduled after the vice president’s event.

More than 100 actors and directors involved in NBC Universal productions signed a petition calling for the townhall to be moved.

NBCUniversal News Group chairman Cesar Conde said the while the network shares the “frustration” of holding two events at the same time, the decision was “motivated only by fairness, not business considerations” because NBC had hosted a similar event with Biden on Oct. 5 at during the same 8 p.m. timeslot.

At a rally in Greenville, N.C. Thursday, Trump added his own criticism of the network, which he called "the worst." He complained that NBC's town hall with Joe Biden was "a joke," and predicted he'd get rougher questions than Biden did.

Both town hall venues had extra coronavirus-related safety measures in place.

The Trump event took place outdoors at the Pérez Art Museum in accordance with guidelines set forth by health officials and consistent with all government regulations. Guthrie and the president were supposed to be at least 12 feet apart from each other and the audience.

The audience was socially distanced and required to wear masks, answer a symptoms questionnaire and take a temperature check before entering the outdoor venue.

The Biden town hall at the National Constitution Center, was held in accordance with state and local government health and safety regulations, and guidelines set by health officials, according to ABC.

The debate the town halls are replacing was the first to be canceled since the advent of regular televised presidential debates in 1976.

The debate, which had been originally scheduled to take place in Miami, was to be moderated by C-SPAN's Steve Scully, who was indefinitely suspended from the network on Thursday after he admitted to making up a claim that his Twitter account had been hacked.

The final presidential debate is still scheduled for Oct. 22nd in Nashville, with NBC News's Kristen Welker moderating.

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