Following the cancellation of the second presidential debate due to the president’s case of the coronavirus — and his CDC guidance-defying behavior after testing positive — ABC News came up with an imperfect solution for their empty 8 p.m. slot: allowing Joe Biden to host a town hall in the airtime that Trump forfeited when he refused a virtual match-up.
NBC News soon followed, with the even more imperfect solution of giving Trump his own hour, despite his taunting of the network. At a rally on Thursday, the president told supporters that NBC, otherwise known as “con-cast,” is “the worst,” and made fun of several of its hosts. “And so they asked me if I’d do it, and I figured what the hell, we’ve got a free hour on television,” Trump said of his decision to appear.
At the town halls themselves, Trump kept up the combativeness, treating moderator Savannah Guthrie like she was his debate opponent, while refusing to answer questions about his taxes and COVID-19 case and failing to disavow the QAnon conspiracy. Below are the highlights from the substitute debate programming.
The Trump campaign suggests the town hall was actually a debate
Biden demands that Trump take a COVID test on the day of their next debate
Though the president did not confirm if he was tested on the day of the last debate, Biden said that he would demand that Trump test negative on the day of their contest next Thursday. He added that he was being tested every day and that it’s “just decency” to do so, given the potential of exposing the crew working on the debate stage.
It’s unclear if this critique from Trump campaign staffer Mercedes Schlapp will be successful
The intra-network conflict over airing Trump continues at NBC
A tale of two town halls as Trump’s wraps up at 9 p.m.
And over on the NBC feed, the president is getting some interesting questions from the crowd:
Biden again does not directly answer on potential plans to pack the Supreme Court
Biden continued dodging the simple question of whether or not he is open to expanding the Supreme Court if he’s elected president. Many in Biden’s party have come to favor so-called “court packing,” since Senate Republicans are violating their own invented rules to rush Amy Coney Barrett onto the Court before the election. Biden said he is open to other proposals like ending lifetime tenures for justices. After a push from moderator George Stephanopoulos, Biden seemed to tip his hand: “I’m not a fan of court packing.” But then Biden kept the door open, saying “it depends” on how Barrett’s nomination turns out, including whether or not senators debate it on the chamber’s floor.
Still without an answer, Stephanopoulos pressed again, asking Biden to honor his own word about leveling with the public. Biden refused to do so, saying he didn’t want to draw attention away from Barrett and the rush to confirm her just days before the election. “No matter what answer I gave you, if I say it, that’s the headline tomorrow, it won’t be about what’s going on now, the improper way they’re proceeding.” Biden promised to give an answer after Barrett’s nomination and before Election Day so voters can evaluate his stance.
Biden’s understanding of Senate politics appears less than realistic
Biden repeated his long-held belief that there will be a Republican epiphany if he’s elected president — the same prediction he made about Barack Obama’s reelection that definitely did not come true. “There will be, I promise you, between four and eight Republican senators willing to move on things where there is bipartisan consensus,” Biden told a disaffected Republican who asked him about bringing the country together.
Stephanopoulos followed up by asking Biden if his Justice Department would prosecute Trump for crimes, such as obstruction-of-justice offenses laid out in the Mueller Report. Biden said that would be up to the Justice Department. “They’re not my lawyers, my personal lawyers,” he said, adding, “I’m not going to rule it in or out.”
Trump confirms details from the Times report on his taxes
“I don’t owe money to any of these sinister people,” he added, regarding the unknown provenance of some of his loans.
Biden struggled to convince a young Black voter who said he may not cast a ballot to vote for him
Cedric Humphrey, a self-described progressive Democrat, asked Biden what he had to say to Black voters under 30 — besides “you ain’t Black,” referring to an infamous remark Biden previously made about Black people who do not support him. He spent nearly five minutes discussing his policy agenda including safeguarding voting-rights for minorities and funding pre-K education. At the end, Stephanopoulos asked Humphree if he heard enough from Biden. Humphree shrugged, cracked a half-smile, and said, “I think so.” Biden pleaded with to stay after the debate so they could talk further before adding on remarks about racial discrimination in banking. “I’m sorry,” Biden said softly as he slapped his thighs in apparent defeat with Stephanopoulos moving onto the next audience member.
Guthrie calls out Trump for laying the groundwork to contest the election
The president’s claims that Biden will defund the police don’t hold water
Trump didn’t provide any new info on his Obamacare replacement
Biden says he would introduce a national mask mandate
Though the former vice-president admitted that he would not be able to enforce such an order, he said that he would pressure governors and mayors to establish mask-wearing mandates throughout the country. “It matters what we say,” he added. Meanwhile, Trump spread false information on the use of masks.
Some interesting logic from the president
Meanwhile, the moderator appears to be a vast improvement over the last debate:
Trump says he ‘knows nothing about’ QAnon
When asked by moderator Savannah Guthrie, the president repeatedly claimed he didn’t know about the conspiracy that centers himself as a hero and claims there is a cabal of Democratic leaders engaging in child-sex-trafficking while adding that he appreciates that its adherents are “strongly against pedophilia.”
When asked about broadcasting another conspiracy — that members of Seal Team Six were to be killed to cover up the strike on Osama Bin Laden — Trump said, “That was a retweet.” Guthrie wasn’t buying it:
Joe Biden counters a comment from his VP candidate
The town hall with George Stephanopoulos in Philadelphia opened with questions about the coronavirus pandemic, coming from Democrats and at least one former Trump supporter who is undecided. Biden softly rebuked his running-mate Kamala Harris, who said she would not trust and take a vaccine approved by the Trump administration.
“If the body of scientists say this is what’s ready to be done, it’s been tested, it’s gone through the three phases, yes I would take it and i would encourage people to take it.”
Trump botches a CDC statistic
The president butchered a stat from the Centers for Disease Control, claiming that 85 percent of people who contracted COVID-19 did so while wearing masks at least some of the time. (Seventy percent said they wore them all the time and 15 percent said sometimes.)
Trump refuses to say if he was tested on the day of the debate
The president claimed that he no longer has COVID-19 symptoms and never had pneumonia. He told moderator Savannah Guthrie that he is not tested every day, and that he could not confirm if he was tested on the day of the last debate — two days before he his coronavirus case was announced. “Possibly I did, possibly I didn’t,” he said, and repeated his claim that a grieving military family may have given him COVID-19.
NBC staffers aren’t thrilled by the decision to host the president
The internal conflict extends to the highest levels of NBCUniversal, where MSNBC head Phil Griffin strongly disagreed with NBC News President Noah Oppenheim’s decision to unilaterally move forward with the town hall during that time slot, according to three high-ranking sources at the TV media giant.
Griffin and Oppenheim have been increasingly at loggerheads over the way the two networks present their news, with MSNBC moving more leftward in its commentary while NBC News tries to maintain a more traditional down-the-middle approach, the sources said.
“Each side thinks the other is ruining the other‘s brand, and this just ripped it open,” said one of the sources.
And as New York’s Charlotte Klein notes, critics of the network’s town hall include many big names from the network’s news and entertainment wings, who “sent a letter to NBCUniversal and its parent company, Comcast, to protest the decision.”