United States President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden on Thursday criticised each other in separate town halls, less than three weeks before the elections, Reuters reported. The opponents spoke in simultaneous town halls broadcast on separate television networks after Trump refused to participate in a virtual debate. A final debate is still scheduled for October 22 in Nashville, Tennessee.
Biden accused Trump of having done “nothing” to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed over 2,16,000 Americans. He called the president’s response to the situation “panicked” and denounced him for concealing the deadliness of the virus.
“He said he didn’t tell anybody because he was afraid Americans would panic,” Biden said. “Americans don’t panic. He panicked.”
Biden, who has a good lead over Trump in opinion polls, also criticised the president for closing a pandemic response office established by the Obama administration. He spoke about Trump’s language on use of masks, saying it has consequences. “The words of a president matter,” Biden added. “When a president doesn’t wear a mask or makes fun of folks like me when I was wearing a mask for a long time, then, you know, people say, ‘Well, it mustn’t be that important.’”
Trump, meanwhile, was defensive of his handling of the pandemic. He insisted that the country was turning the corner on the virus, less than two weeks after being diagnosed with the disease himself.
“Hey, I’m president – I have to see people, I can’t be in a basement,” Trump said on his primetime event hosted by TV network NBC in Miami, Florida. He also implicitly criticised Biden for spending months off the campaign trail as the pandemic continued.
“We’re rounding the corner,” Trump said, while refusing to directly answer questions about the last time he tested negative before contracting the virus. “I don’t know, I don’t even remember,” the president said, according to CNN. “I test all the time. I can tell you this. After the debate, like, I guess, a day or so, I think it was Thursday evening, maybe even late Thursday evening, uh, I tested positive. That’s when I first found out.”
The Republican candidate also claimed there were “many different stories” from public health officials about the efficacy of masks. However, his administration’s public health experts, including country’s top infectious disease expert, Anthony Fauci, have regularly stated that wearing masks is necessary to stopping the spread of the infection. He also falsely claimed that a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found that 85% of people who wear a mask contract the virus.
The president refused to denounce QAnon – a conspiracy theory that believes Trump is fighting a “deep state” linked to a mysterious global elite running the world’s governments, while also trafficking in child sex.
When moderator Savannah Guthrie asked Trump whether he would reject the movement, which the Federal Bureau of Investigation considers a domestic terrorism threat, he responded: “I know nothing about QAnon”. But he continued to praise its adherents for opposing pedophilia.
For the first Trump said he would honor the results of a fair election and accept a peaceful transfer of power if he lost. However, he did this only after casting an extraordinary amount doubt on the likeliness of fairness of the polls. He also made claims of the Obama administration officials spying on his 2016 campaign.
“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 dodged questions about The New York Times investigation of two decades of his tax returns, which he has refused to release publicly. At one point, Trump just said that the newspaper’s numbers were “wrong”, but did did not deny the report that he paid only $750 in federal income tax during his first year in the White House.
He spent much of the town hall arguing and trying to angrily talking over the moderator, who disputed many of his statements.