WASHINGTON (AP) – President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden have in some ways fought in duel with televised city halls that displayed striking differences in temperament, views on racial justice and approaches to a pandemic that changed the nation.
Just two and a half weeks before election day, the events on Thursday evening offered crystallizing contrasts and a national, albeit divided, audience. However, it seemed unlikely that a president would have a necessary moment to run out of time or the opportunity to appeal beyond his core base.
He has been defensive about his government̵
The Republican president also appeared to acknowledge revelations from a recent New York Times report that it was in debt and left open the possibility that part of it was owed to a foreign bank. But he insisted that he owed no money to Russia or any “dark people” and suggested that $ 400 million in debt was a “very, very small percentage” of his total wealth.
Biden denounced the White House’s handling of the virus, saying it was to blame for closing a pandemic response office he had set up by the Obama administration. Although vague at times, he suggested clarifying his position on expanding the Supreme Court when Trump’s candidate gets on the bench sits before election day.
After Biden’s 90-minute town hall event was officially closed, the candidate spent another half an hour answering questions from viewers who were not given the opportunity during the television program.
Trump and Biden were due to be on the same stage of debate in Miami Thursday night. But that faceoff was sunk after Trump’s coronavirus infectionwhich rocked the race and threatened the health of the American president.
Trump wouldn’t say if he tested negative on the day of his first debate with Biden on Sept. 29 and only allowed, “I may have done it, I may not have done it.” Under the rules of the debate, any candidate using the honor system had to test negative before the Cleveland event, but Trump spoke in circles when asked when he last tested negative.
The president’s rivals were asking questions in different cities on different networks: Trump on NBC from Miami, Biden on ABC from Philadelphia. Trump pulled out of plans for the presidential faceoff, which was originally scheduled for the evening after the debate organizers announced that it would take place virtually after his COVID-19 diagnosis.
City halls offered the two candidates a different format to present themselves to voters after the couple had a chaotic and combative initial debate late last month. The difference in tone between the men was immediate and noticeable.
Trump was Trump. He was loud and argumentativeHe reprimanded his FBI director, fought host Savannah Guthrie, complained about the interrogation – and finally said for the first time that he would honor the results of a fair election, but only after casting an extraordinary amount of doubts about the likelihood of justice .
“And then they say, ‘Will you accept a peaceful transfer?'” Trump said. “And the answer is, ‘Yes, I will. ‘But I want it to be an honest choice, and so do everyone else. ”
Trying again to minimize revelations from a New York Times investigation that found he owed more than $ 400 million in debt, he suggested that reports were false, stating that he had little in most years over the past two decades or paid no federal income tax at all.
Meanwhile, Biden took a completely different, softer approach to questions from the audience. The former vice president, who had difficulty growing up with a stutter, stuttered easily at the beginning of the program, and at one point screwed up his eyes and slowed his reaction to get his words clear. Sometimes his answers kept booming.
Holding a white cloth mask, the Democratic candidate brought a small card with notes on it and referred to it while pledging to reverse the tax cuts for the richest Americans. He said this would save when he consulted his notes, “Let me see … $ 92 billion.”
Biden pledged to say before election day if he would support expanding the number of Supreme Court justices if the Democrats win the presidency and Senate and hold the house after November.
He refused to answer the question for weeks but moved on Thursday evening. He said, “I’m still not a fan” of the expansion of the court, but his final decision depended on how the Supreme Court confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett is “handled” and “how much they speed it up.”
Biden has also blown Trump’s foreign policy, stating that “America first“ made America alone, ”and“ this president hugs all the thugs in the world. ”He became pensive when asked what it would say if he lost.
“It could say that I’m a bad candidate, that I haven’t done a good job,” said Biden. “But I think I hope that doesn’t mean we’re as racially, ethnically and religiously divided as it seems the president wants us to be.”
Biden said he plans to take part in the debate next week but would ask Trump to take a COVID-19 test before arriving. “It’s just decency” for everyone around him, including non-candidates like cameramen, Biden said.
The two men are slated to occupy the same room for debate in Nashville for the second and final time next week.
Lemire reported from New York. Additional coverage by associate press writers Bill Barrow in Wilmington, Delaware, and Zeke Miller and Alexandra Jaffe in Washington.