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

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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. 

Trump refused to outright condemn the QAnon conspiracy group, testily declaring he would denounce white supremacy but complaining about the questioning. He also said, 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.”

The President also defended his administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“We have done an amazing job, and it’s rounding the corner,” he said.

Trump highlighted the decision to restrict travel to China in January while also saying he didn’t want to “panic”  the country by raising alarms early in the year.

Watch the video below, courtesy of NBC News, for Trump’s remarks on the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, Democrat Joe Biden said he doesn’t plan to eliminate all the tax cuts enacted by President Donald Trump, just those that apply to the top earners.

Referencing tax cuts for the top 1%, Biden said Thursday at an ABC town hall: “That’s what I’m talking about eliminating, not all the tax cuts that are out there.”

His running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, said in the vice presidential debate that Biden would repeal the tax bill passed by Congress and signed by Trump “on day one″ but also that he wouldn’t raise taxes on people making less than $400,000. Vice President Mike Pence pointed out repealing the entire tax bill would eliminate tax cuts for lower earners.

Biden also addressed Trump’s foreign policy saying, “we find ourselves in a position where we’re more isolated in the world than we ever have been.”

Watch the video below, courtesy of ABC News, for Biden’s remarks on foreign policy.

The town halls were arranged after Thursday’s scheduled debate was canceled when Trump, while he was being treated for COVID-19, said he would not agree to an event where he and Biden appeared remotely.

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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