Trump says Biden will face ‘soft’ questions in dueling town hall
President Donald Trump suggested that he’s likely to face tougher questions during a televised town hall meeting on Thursday night than Democrat Joe Biden, who will appear concurrently on another network.
“I’d like to watch him because I want to see if he can make it through the program,” Trump said at a rally in Greenville, North Carolina, on Thursday. “And, honestly, they’ll be so soft.”
The candidates’ hour-long appearances – each starting at 8 p.m. New York time with Trump on NBC and Biden on ABC – will make for one of the stranger moments of the 2020 campaign, fracturing television viewership as the candidates deliver their messages without the added tension and drama of a debate.
Even so, the event will give Trump one of his highest-profile opportunities before the Nov. 3 election to reverse his slide in polls that show Biden ahead.
The two candidates originally were supposed to debate Thursday night. Instead of sparring with each other over topics such as the coronavirus pandemic, the economy and health care, the town hall format typically gives the candidates a less contentious opportunity to lay out their positions, and engage one-on-one with voters about issues they care about.
Trump backed out of the originally scheduled town hall format debate after his campaign rejected revised plans by the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates for the candidates to appear remotely due to his infection with Covid-19. The campaign insisted that the president and his aides, a number of whom have also tested positive for coronavirus, posed no health risk.
Complaint to NBC
A group of more than 100 actors, writers and producers complained in a letter to Comcast Corp. and NBCUniversal about its decision to air Trump’s town hall opposite the Biden event. The letter, reprinted in publications such as Variety, called it “a disservice to the American public.”
“We believe this kind of indifference to the norms and rules of our democracy are what have brought our country to this perilous state,” according to the letter, signed by director J.J. Abrams, actor Jon Hamm and writer-director Aaron Sorkin.
NBCUniversal didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Trump often complains that journalists ask easy questions of Biden, an assertion he reiterated on Thursday, pointing to a recent town hall on NBC. “They asked him questions that a child could answer,” Trump said, even though it was largely voters doing the questioning.
With 19 days until the election, early voting is already underway in two-dozen states. In-person and mail-in voting are surpassing records amid concerns about Covid-19 transmission at polling places and what strategists in both parties say is heightened interest in the race.
The pandemic, which has killed more than 217,000 in the U.S. and left millions infected, is sure to be a top topic among voters’ questions for each of the candidates.
Two-thirds of registered voters say the president failed to take appropriate precautions against the virus, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll released over the weekend. Biden has hammered Trump for his cavalier approach toward the pandemic.The president has spent recent days downplaying the threat posed by the virus, touting an experimental antibody treatment he received while hospitalized and saying social-distancing measures advocated by Democrats did more harm than good.“The cure cannot be worse than the problem itself,” Trump said Wednesday in remarks to the Economic Club of New York.
While Trump had hoped to unveil a vaccine for coronavirus before Election Day, he’s acknowledged more recently that isn’t likely to happen after the Food and Drug Administration released safety guidelines, over objections from the White House, requiring a more strenuous safety review.
Similarly, the president’s pledge to quickly and widely distribute the experimental treatment he received and provide it free to American coronavirus patients has been held up as the FDA evaluates emergency use authorizations.
Both candidates are also likely to face questions about the Supreme Court. The town halls are taking place during the confirmation process for Trump’s high court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett.
Democrats argue that the nomination shouldn’t be considered while voting for the next president is under way. They’re warning that Barrett could cast a deciding vote to overturn the Affordable Care Act, which has become increasingly popular. The president and his campaign aides, meanwhile, see the nomination as a way to activate conservative and religious voters who care deeply about the court’s composition.
Trump and other Republicans have been pressing Biden to say whether he supports adding seats to the court, or “court packing,” an idea that has support from progressives who see it as the only way to regain a majority as conservatives appear on track to hold six of the court’s current nine seats.
After weeks of ducking the question, Biden said Monday that he’s “not a fan of court packing” but still left open the possibility. Trump has argued that Biden’s refusal to answer is evidence that the former vice president is a puppet of the more extreme elements of the Democratic Party.
Trump may be especially eager to discuss a report from the New York Post saying emails purportedly from Hunter Biden show he introduced his father, who was vice president at the time, to an executive at a Ukrainian energy firm. The paper claims the communication contradicts an assertion by Joe Biden that he hasn’t spoken to his son about his business dealings.
But the email doesn’t detail the extent of the meeting or whether Biden spoke to his son about it. It also doesn’t say definitively whether Biden actually met the executive. The Biden campaign said the former vice president never met the executive.
The Biden campaign has refuted the story, saying that Biden’s schedules do not include a meeting with the official, Vadym Pozharskyi. Biden has more broadly challenged his opponents’ claims that his son was able to influence Biden’s actions toward Ukraine, arguing he never discussed work with Hunter and also stressing that his views of the country aligned with the policy positions taken by the U.S. government and key allies.